Monday, December 24, 2012

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.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

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 BariItaly.

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).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Never Forget

Pearl Harbor Day is upon us, so let us recall what happened 71 years ago today. 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.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scenes...

...from the natural world this Thanksgiving weekend. With cool temperatures and cloudless heavens, the weather could not have been better.

The sky was so perfect it improved every photograph, regardless of whether it was playing a lead role or a supporting one. Here, its natural azure backstops a turkey oak's autumn leaves:


Here, it subtly enhances a sepia sunscape:


We spent a lot of time outdoors, where Sarah tried to get close to a calf:


And Parker seemed to run all over the world:


And these somewhat prehistoric-looking creatures were not at all bothered by our presence in their territory. If you are one to keep score, the first is a black vulture and the second is a gopher tortoise:



The weekend was glorious, and although these photos are mostly nature-related, it was the human side of Thanksgiving that made it as rewarding as a holiday can possibly be. I hope you enjoyed yours as much as I enjoyed mine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Scenes...

...from last Sunday's early, ten-mile walk on the Withlacoochee State Trail, starting with this photo looking down into a boggy field from a somewhat elevated vantage point:


And continuing with this one, looking out at a vantage point that is more elevated than the one from which I captured the shot above:


All I can say is, I wish I lived in that house on the left!

The bucks and does were in hiding when I was walking, probably due to the fact it is deer season right now...And unfortunately, by the time my sister and I came upon a hawk perched right beside the trail, my camera battery had already died a premature death...But hey, at least I was able to snap a picture of this snail crossing the trail's asphalt/rubber pavement:


No, I have not gone into a deep funk since the election, even though I think its results are potentially catacylsmic. I refuse to let politics intrude on how I enjoy God's gift of life, because I believe Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that "most people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be." Or as Hugh Downs once put it, "A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes."

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which means the Christmas season, that most wonderful time of the year, is upon us. When it is past, I will recommence commenting about the goings-on in the world, and thinking about how we can transmit the blessings of Americanism to our descendants. Until then, I will write about other things and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year's.

And for all my Jewish friends out there, including everyone in the admirable and war-torn nation of Israel, I know Hanukkah starts December 8th. I hope for that holiday's core meaning, the triumph of light over darkness, to become reality no matter how long the odds may seem.

To close this post, here is one more picture from last Sunday. I just love the feel that black and white (actually, cinnamon) gives to a scene:


Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Time

Election Day is finally upon us, so here are some of my thoughts on the whole shebang.


Who Should Win
Everybody who has ever read this blog knows I think Romney is the man for whom to vote. I think the reasons why are so obvious that he should be up by 20 points, but since he's not, I feel compelled to expand on them. Here goes:

The economy:  Obama has been president for four years, and in all that time, there has not been a single month in which the nation's unemployment rate was lower that it was in the worst month of his predecessor's tenure. By constantly vilifying business in general, and openly targeting specific industries for destruction (coal) or confiscation (medicine), Obama has created the kind of anti-business climate that ensures contraction, or at best, growth that is soul-sappingly low. In other words, he has created the precise kind of environment that is sure to reduce job opportunities and guarantee high unemployment...Romney, on the other hand, knows how the economy works by virtue of a decades-long career creating and preserving businesses in the private sector.

National defense:  It is one of the biggest enigmas of all time that so many people claim national defense is an Obama strength. The reality is that he has stabbed our allies in the back and coddled our enemies so much that they laugh in our face while acting against us. While doing nothing to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, he refers to that nation's top theocrat as "the supreme leader." He rolls over and lets Putin have his way with him. On his watch, the Taliban has come back from the brink of extinction and resumed power in Afghanistan.

Pardon my French, but when it comes to protecting America, and protecting the great human ideals for which America stands, Obama simply doesn't give a shit...Romney, on the other hand, knows evil when he sees it and is not afraid to call it what it is. From that alone, we can trust that he will not retreat to the cellar when the wolf howls at our door.

The Constitution:  It seems like a timeworn right wing cliche to say that liberals don't like the Constitution because it restricts the government's power. But in many ways that cliche is true, and Barack Obama is the most liberal person ever to occupy the Oval Office. The fact of the matter is that he has violated the Constitution so many times it might as well not even exist. His words and deeds have demonstrated contempt even for the First Amendment, which liberals supposedly love. When it comes to upholding the Constitution, that noble document that protects individual rights and liberty by restraining the central power of the federal government, it is hard to imagine how we could possibly do worse than reelect The Exalted One.

Character:  Obama constantly blames others for his shortcomings while taking credit for others' achievements. Benghazigate looks like it might be the biggest scandal in presidential history. And Obama routinely opines about things even when he doesn't know the facts, and even when the issue at hand is outside of his authority (see:  the Cambridge police "acted stupidly")...What about Romney's character, you ask? For my reply, go here.


Who Will Win
Your guess is probably as good as mine. I have my doubts about the polls that show the race basically tied, or that show Obama ahead. And I have good reasons for my doubts, since those polls assume Democrats will turn out to vote in just as high numbers, and Republicans in just as low numbers, as in 2008; and also because even when you look at the internal numbers in most of those polls, you find that Independents, who heavily favored Obama in 2008, now heavily favor Romney. Still, I remember not believing the polls in 2000, when they showed Bush and Gore to be basically tied, and we all know how that turned out...But having reliably C'ed my A, I now will go ahead and predict that Romney pulls it out.


The Coverage
As in, media coverage. It has been deplorable. The MSM has been cheering Democrats from the press box for longer than I've been alive, but this year, their Hallelujah chorus has become so obvious that many of them are no longer even trying to pretend they're unbiased. If Obama was a Republican, the coverage of Benghazigate would be so intense and relentless that either he would have resigned by now or the House would have already voted on Articles of Impeachment. Instead, the Old Gray Lady and major broadcast networks aren't saying a word.


Head-Scratching States
There are some states whose voting habits defy my ability to understand, and this year's Grand Prize, Ohio, is one of them. How can a state whose citizens embody solid Midwestern values and work ethic, and are unflinchingly patriotic, and not long ago installed John Kasich in the governor's mansion, be in a position to return a stuck-up anti-American lefty like Obama to the White House?

Pennsylvania is another. I understand why steel workers and coal miners would have reflexively voted  Democrat for some time after the New Deal and WWII drew to a close, but I have no idea why any of them have continued to do it all the way up to now. I hope things change this year, as polls suggest they might; but based on past presidential elections, I won't believe it until I see it.

Then there is Nevada. For a long time everyone has been calling this one for Obama, and on the eve of the election it looks like Romney is conceding it. Everyone says it's because of the state's large Hispanic population, but I just don't see how. First, Nevada has been ruby red, not royal blue, more often than not; and Obama has dissed it directly by criticizing people and companies for taking trips to Vegas. In that environment, its unemployment rate is highest in the nation. As far as I'm concerned, to say that Hispanics will vote as a bloc in spite of these figures is no different than saying Hispanics don't think.


NH/VA
New Hampshire and Virginia are states I love. Both have handsome coasts and beautiful mountains. Both have a native population whose sons and daughters cherish liberty and are willing to risk life and limb to support it. Virgnia was in many respects the cradle of the Revolution, and New Hampshire's state motto is "live free or die." 

Historically both states tend to vote conservative, but today they suffer from a geographical happenstance that has me worried. In recent decades, hordes of Bostonians have moved into the area around Manchester, New Hampshire, to flee the oppressive taxes and high cost of living  of Democrat-controlled Massachusetts. Similarly, hordes of D.C. bureaucrats have settled in Northern Virginia to flee the high crime and horrible schools of the city they run. And in both cases these "immigrants" continue to vote Democrat, oblivious to the cause and effect that say it makes no sense to run from a set of policies in one place, only to enact those same policies in the place you end up.

These states could go either way. Although national polls say Virginia belongs to Romney, my gut tells me not to believe that until I see it. And despite Kelly Ayotte's ascendancy to the Senate in 2010, I am hesitant to believe the Granite State has flipped back to red, though I admit that hesitancy it largely because I don't want to get my hopes up. In any event, I suspect that these two states will have a lot to do with who wins tomorrow night, regardless of what happens in Ohio.


And...
...we shall see what happens. I will be back to opining sometime after that happens. In the interim, as always, God Bless America!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Scenes...

...from this morning's walk on the Withlacoochee State Trail, north of Dade City and east of Brooksville:


This rails-to-trails project always turns up interesting sights. All you have to do is take time pay attention:



When it's 60 degrees and foggy, this paved country trail is the perfect place to be, so head on out and enjoy what nature has to offer!



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Beyond the headlines

As a class, politicians have never been known for maintaining close relationships with truth and integrity. Yet even by the dismal standards of politicians, Barack Obama has managed to sink to a new low ever since the debates and Benghazi began exposing the deep cracks in his foundation.

Ideally, presidential campaigns should be focused, and decided, on candidates’ positions regarding economic policy, national defense, and constitutional fidelity. But with a week to go until the 2012 election, Obama has chosen to avoid those issues and base his campaign on personal attacks against Mitt Romney.

Since his avoidance of the issues is telling enough (it is obvious that he avoids them because he knows he can’t win on them) I say we should resist the temptation to try to make him talk about them anyway. Instead, I say we address Obama’s calumnies and contest him on his own terms, because even then he can’t win. And what could be a better argument against his reelection than that?

Obama has plenty of ads that are underhanded in their portrayal of Romney, but for me, the one which stands out most is the one that plays off of Romney’s “47 percent” comment. The ad begins by referencing the aphorism that your character is revealed by what when you do when nobody’s looking -- then, in dark tones, it accuses Romney of attacking 47 percent of Americans when he thought no one was looking/listening. The message is crystal clear and in your face: Mitt Romney is a bad person who looks down on nearly half of our citizens while dismissing their real life concerns.

That message is false and intended to defame, and therefore it qualifies as slander by any common sense definition. It would be easy to respond to it by pointing out that Obama thought no one was looking/listening when he made his “bitter clingers” comment during the last campaign. But that response, while accurate, would not be sufficient. What must be stressed to the public is how utterly false the ad’s whole premise is -- an end that can be achieved by simply pointing to facts about Romney’s life.

I have long known of the morally driven actions Romney took when the daughter of one of his co-workers disappeared during a visit to New York in 1996. Far from being a business-first, money-first guy, he closed Bain Capital’s headquarters, travelled to New York, flew in all 50 Bain employees, and had everybody set out to find the missing 14-year-old. Romney hired private eyes, worked with the police department, and had his people (not just Bain employees, but also employees of other companies who did business with Bain) distribute 300,000 missing person fliers throughout the city. Bain set up a tip line, and the girl was found after someone called it.

While that incident is a sterling testament to one man’s goodness, it turns out that it is only one of many such testaments in the life of Mitt Romney. Here are some others that were recently highlighted in a column by Deroy Murdock, which he penned after reading an exposition by TheDaily.com’s Mara Gay, Dan Hirschhorn and M.L. Nestel:

After a 12-year-old boy died of cystic fibrosis in the 1980’s, Romney built -- with his own hands, not just his own money -- a playground in the boy’s honor. In subsequent years he again used his own hands, along with help from local Boy Scouts, to maintain that playground, which is known as Joey’s Park.

After learning that a single mom had had her heating oil shut off one cold Massachusetts winter, he and his sons filled their family car with firewood, delivered it to her home, and personally built a fire to keep the mom and her kids warm.

He paid the college tuition of a young woman who had been just five years old when her father, a co-worker of Romney’s, passed away. That woman is now a physician.

After learning that the sons of a new-to-town couple were paralyzed in a car accident, Romney, along with his wife and sons, purchased and hand-delivered Christmas presents to them. He went on to pay for their college and organize several fundraisers for their benefit.

Once, when a neighborhood home caught fire, he organized a random group of neighbors who entered the building to retrieve valuables until firefighters arrived on the scene.

During his time as governor of Massachusetts, while vacationing at Lake Winnipesaukee, he and his sons saw a boat sinking some 900 feet away. They set out on jet skis and rescued the passengers, with Romney himself making three trips transporting people to shore from the spot where the boat went under.

Those are the things Mitt Romney does without wondering if anyone is looking or listening. By contrast, Barack Obama, a millionaire who is arguably the most powerful man on earth, and who constantly lectures others about being their brothers’ keepers, will not spend a dime to assist his very own poverty-stricken brother who lives in a ghetto hut in Kenya.

Against this backdrop of facts, doesn’t it seem wrong that Obama and his media acolytes would have you believe it is Romney who suffers from lack of empathy? If empathy is really what matters most -- as Obama’s own campaign strategy suggests it is -- then the choice is clear: Vote for Mitt Romney come November 6th.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debate Dispatch

Contrary to what all liberals (and many conservatives) started saying when last night's presidential debate drew to an end, I think Romney was the clear winner.

Yes, Obama was not catatonic like he was in the first debate, a fact which pleased his perpetually petulant base. But it takes a lot more than mere lack of catatonia to win a debate in which substance matters and the most important job in the world is on the line.

It was obvious that Obama simply has no plan for the next four years, whereas Romney does. The already troubling notion of a president seeking reelection without even saying what he wants to accomplish should he get reelected, becomes even more troubling when you consider that his record during the four years he has already been president is so poor he does not even attempt to defend it.

Romney may not have hit as many home runs as some conservatives perceive he should have, but he always got on base and never struck out. From start to finish he answered what was asked, displayed command of facts and understanding of ideas, and comported himself respectfully...On the other hand, Obama was obviously sidestepping some questions; obviously lying when answering others; and frequently acting disrespectful...In short, Romney looked presidential and Obama looked petty.

The big, bottom line is that Romney did nothing last night to lose any of the votes he gained from so-called independents with the first debate; and Obama did nothing to regain any of their votes that he lost the last time around. In fact, Romney might have picked up even more votes from that demographic, given the differences between how he and Obama presented themselves.

Lastly, I have to mention that even though Obama told several whoppers during the debate, the one that struck me most was when he perpetuated the long-running liberal lie that 1) Planned Parenthood provides mammograms, and 2) Republicans are out to stop women from getting those mammograms by virtue of their desire to reduce the amount of taxpayer subsidies received by that cash-rich organization. The truth of the matter is that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, nor does it provide any other services for detecting breast cancer.

Essentially, it is nothing more than a nationwide abortion mill and pro-abprtion political advocacy group. When asked about breast cancer screenings during an undercover investigation, a Planned Parenthood staffer stated “We don't offer those services whatsoever.” That any elected politician is allowed to get away with the Planned-Parenthood-as-healthcare-provider lie is nauseating. That the president is allowed to get away with it is reprehensible.

Electorally speaking, the best thing about the debates is that they have given people who intend to vote, but are not political buffs, a chance to see Romney unfiltered. Fortunately, those people are realizing that he is not the monster our president makes him out to be.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Scenes...


…from yesterday’s visit to Sweetfields Farm, where we were greeted by sunflowers:


And Parker was impressed by the pumpkins:


The main attraction, however, was this maze that has been cut into the farm’s cornfield. You enter on the southeastern edge of the field, where you are handed a piece of paper with questions on it, and after successfully navigating through the maze you exit on the southwestern edge close to where you started. Along the way you encounter six numbered signposts:


The numbers on the signs direct you to corresponding questions on the piece of paper. How you answer each question dictates whether you turn right or left at the sign, and of course, one of those directions leads inevitably to a dead end. Even if you turn the “right” direction, however, you will encounter numerous forks before reaching the next sign, and of course choosing the wrong fork will also lead to a dead end…so if you step into the maze, be aware that you might be there for a while:


Sweetfields is located in Hernando County and serves the community well. A true family farm, it is owned and operated by Ted and Lisa Kessel, who have two young children. They started the farm in 2008 with the goal of selling fresh produce directly to their customers, who either pick it themselves right from the plants or purchase it already picked. The Kessels’ philosophy and operation tends heavily on the organic side, and their crops run the gamut of fruits and vegetables, all the way from blackberries to watermelons and snap peas to zucchini.

With the corn maze open to the public and hundreds upon hundreds of visitors coming out to enjoy it, Sweetfields had the atmosphere of a festival on Sunday. The smell of kettlecorn wafted through the air while kids had their faces painted and petted a pregnant cow named Rosie. Pig races were staged and a tractor pulled people on hay rides across the property. The Kessels showed their contentment to local business by having a stand where Strong Tower Winery, a local vintner, offered up its wine both by the bottle and by the glass.

Sweetfields and its maze are open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays through November 4th, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with last admission at 4:00. Entry is $8.50 for ages twelve and up, $4.50 for ages three to eleven. A visit to this place just north of Masaryktown and east of U.S. 41 is a fine way to spend the day:


In closing, here is Sarah and her fake-looking grin after she finished fashioning straw into a miniature scarecrow:


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Alex Karras, RIP


It is mere weeks before the election, and Obama & Co. have been caught not only lying about the nature of last month’s attacks which killed our ambassador in Libya -- but also covering up the fact that in the weeks leading up to those attacks, they were warned about what might be coming yet refused the now-dead ambassador’s request for additional security.

That is the kind of scandal that would be receiving 24/7 media coverage if Obama was a Republican, but is instead getting scant attention since he is a Democrat. In other words, it is the kind of thing I would normally be writing about feverishly. However, I am instead moved to write about the passing of a septuagenarian who was in the sad, early stages of dementia.

Alex Karras was born in Gary, Indiana, to an immigrant doctor at the height of the Great Depression. He made his first marks on the national scene during the 1950’s, as an All-American football player at the University of Iowa, where he won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top defensive lineman. He was so dominant that he did something almost unthinkable for a defensive player, especially a defensive lineman -- come in second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy -- and eventually he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Karras moved on to the NFL and played twelve seasons for the Detroit Lions, during which he missed only one game and was named to four Pro Bowls. Among his opponents and teammates, it is a nearly unanimous opinion that Karras was the best at his position during the 1960’s. Mike Ditka, who played tight end for the Bears at the time, said “I know there was Big Daddy Lipscomb. There were a lot of guys. But he was the best. I think if (Coach) Halas would have put in a play where I had to block him, I would have said, ‘No thanks.’”

Alex Karras’s last year in the NFL was 1970. I was born in 1971. Therefore, I never got to see him play, but that did not mean I was ignorant of who he was. For in an age when football was less popular than baseball and athletes rarely went on to become multimedia personalities, Karras proved to be ahead of his time by parlaying his gridiron notoriety into a television and film career that spanned decades.

Many people of my generation remember him mostly as the adoptive father of the title character in the 1980’s sitcom Webster. Many others remember him mostly as the hulking dunce from Blazing Saddles who punched out a horse and described himself as a “pawn in game of life.” I, on the other hand, remember him mostly from the first role I saw him in -- that of Hans “Potato” Brumbaugh, the innovative farmer in the 1978 miniseries Centennial, which was a faithful adaptation of James Michener’s epic novel about the settlement of Colorado.

Alex Karras is survived by six children and his wife Susan, an actress who appeared with him as his character’s fictional wife in Webster. They also appeared as small screen husband-and-wife back in 1975, in the made-for-TV movie Babe. That movie was a biopic in which she played legendary golfer Babe Didrickson Zaharias and he played Zaharias’s husband George. In a side note that is probably interesting only to me, I would love to see Babe sometime, because in real life the Zahariases resided in the neighborhood where Erika and I purchased our first home; and she designed the golf course that still wends through the neighborhood and bears her name to this day.

But I digress. There is much more to Alex Karras’s life story that what I have written here. For example, see wrestling; and 1963, suspension; and 1966, George Plimpton. But always know that the life of this big, stocky individual personifies much of what makes America great. Rest in peace.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Scenes...

…from this morning’s early bike ride down country lanes.


Fog made it hard for the sun to break through...


...while depositing its moisture on the gossamer of spiders and needles of pines...



I have always known that cattle graze, but not until today, when I encountered the following sight, did I realize they forage as well:


Although she appears to be staring me down in a not-so-pleased kind of way, the following Brahman was peaceful enough and happy enough to have her picture taken:


I never take my Canon on bike rides -- because my cell phone takes incredible photos and the Canon’s size and changeable lenses aren’t practical on a bike -- but I regretted being Canon-less for a few minutes this morning. Why? Because I watched a bald eagle land in an oak, and the zoom on my cell phone just wasn’t good enough to capture the kind of picture our national symbol deserves. After both zooming and cropping, here is what I got:


My angst was short-lived, however. When you are treated to views like this…


…and glimpses of equines like these…


…how can you possibly complain?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

et ceteras


Presidential debates. I hate ’em.

I hate ’em because the candidates have much less time than is necessary to answer the questions being posed…I hate ’em because the majority of questions are predicated on damn lies false assumptions that prevent the Republican one of the candidates from addressing the real issue because he must instead spend his allotted time rebutting the question’s premise…I hate ’em because Republicans candidates sometimes choose to answer a loaded question without rebutting its premise, thereby lending credence to the premise in the eyes of some viewers…And I hate ’em because the nature of television causes a candidate’s appearance to carry more weight than the logic and veracity of his answers.

For the reasons stated above, I have had a hard time sitting through a debate for many years. I always find myself hitting pause to explain to Erika why the question was ridiculous, or why the Democrat’s answer was dishonest, or how the Republican’s answer could have been worded better. Therefore, I am not glued to my television tonight. It’s better for my blood pressure that way.

*     *     *     *     *

Count me among those who are very suspicious about the accuracy of many recent polls and the veracity (there’s that word again) of those conducting them and commenting on them. I am not saying that Romney is ahead by ten points, or even two, but are we really supposed to believe that Obama has been enjoying a comfortable lead over him, even in swing states, when the last two years have seen the rise of the Tea Party be sustained, and an unprecedented GOP tsunami sweep Congress, and throngs of people dining at Chick-fil-A, and practically nobody in the world believing Obama’s cockamamie story about why the Middle East went aflame on the anniversary of 9/11?

*     *     *     *     *

Are we really supposed to believe that Obama’s image as a uniting force will not be scathed by the recently released video of a racially tinged speech he delivered at Hampton University?

*     *     *     *     *

Are we really supposed to believe that Univsion’s recent and very deep reporting on the Fast and Furious scandal will not cost him votes among Hispanics?

*     *     *     *     *

Go here if you want to read a brilliantly blunt piece about the Western Left’s attitude toward Muslims.


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And getting away from politics, not long ago I linked to an interesting story about a very old cold case being solved. Well, tonight I am recommending this article, which is about another very old case being reopened after 43 years.

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Until next time, keep your chin up!



Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Time Outside


Yesterday morning Sarah and I welcomed fall by walking a few miles on a trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest. It is Florida and still September, so the temperatures were not what I would call cool, but at least they were not hot.

Some of our hike was spent passing through dense hardwood forest:




But most of it was spent in a drier, more open forest of slash pine and turkey oak. Thanks to a plethora of wildflowers, there was plenty of color to be seen:





Much to my delight, all of it was spent walking on hills -- sand hills, to be geologically precise. They were not extremely high or steep, but were quite continuous. We spent a couple hours on the trail and there was not a single moment when we weren’t either on or surrounded by some level of vertical relief:




When it came to animals, we were treated to the sight of a red-bellied woodpecker hammering away on a pine branch. The other creatures stayed hidden but left their marks nonetheless:




I must say, it was a good way for a daddy and daughter to spend the morning!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

et ceteras


I might as well pick up where I left off; that is, by taking note of how little our president and media care about our nation’s security. This has become even clearer since my September14th post, as 1) the MSM has continued to not report the information divulged in the British press about security leaks at our Libyan consulate, and 2) U.S. officials continued to peddle the childish fantasy that last week’s attacks were spontaneous individual acts rather than planned acts of terror.

However, Obama’s lack of commitment to our security, and his lack of commitment to freedom and peace anywhere on earth, was most vividly demonstrated by his snubbing of Benjamin Netanyahu at a time when Netanyahu was trying to work cooperatively to counteract Iran’s nuclear armament. Make no mistake about it: Obama has, in a slippery but obvious way, sided against the only free and moral nation in the Middle East -- a nation which also happens to be our most loyal and important ally in the world. In so doing, he has sided with the forces of barbarism and theocracy. These actions mark him as a disgrace to the office he holds.

*     *     *     *     *

As dangerous as Obama’s presidency is, it can be argued that the reticence of so many Americans to say aloud what I wrote above -- purely because they don’t want to be considered racist for not looking favorably upon The Exalted One -- is far, far more dangerous for the future of our children.

*     *     *     *     *



The MSM can not be moved to care about standing up to defend freedom when it is assaulted by Muslims, but man, you sure can count on them to paint Romney as the enemy of normal people for making his completely logical “47 percent” comment. And they expect to be taken seriously?

Frankly, I am thrilled about Romney’s comment; it is way past time to hear such words come from the mouth of a politician, even if he only intended them to be heard by the in-room audience. They could go down as among the most consequential words ever uttered by a pol if they spur the nation into a serious conversation about the disastrous effects that dependency, coupled with an entitlement mentality, has on society,

*     *     *     *     *

America has had more than its fair share of high profile crimes that are never quite settled in the public’s mind. The kidnapping and murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. comes immediately to mind. So too do the butchering deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden (whose daughter Lizzie was acquitted, although people tend to forget that because of the famous rhyme which says that “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks”).

I was 13 when the book Fatal Vision was made into a TV miniseries starring Karl Malden. It was from watching that miniseries that I first learned about the case of former Army surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald, who was charged with murdering his wife and two daughters the year before I was born. MacDonald was convicted, but has so stridently claimed his innocence that he refused to apply for parole when he was eligible, because the requirement that he show remorse for the crime would suggest that he did in fact commit it.

In scrolling through the headlines yesterday, I learned that MacDonald is back in court this week, seeking to gain freedom via DNA testing that was not possible when he was originally tried. I have no particular opinion as to his guilt or innocence, because much like the JFK assassination, whoever is arguing for a particular side seems to make sense no matter which side they are on. I do, however, keep coming back to this thought: If the “innocent side” is still able to sound so compelling 42 years later, how can it be just for the accused to remain in prison?

*     *     *     *     *

On a similar note (albeit from the “other side of the coin”) did you hear that America’s oldest cold case appears to have been solved after 55 years? The details are intriguing and you can go here to read about them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

It's War


Much ink has been already spilled opining about Tuesday’s attacks on our embassy in Egypt and consulate in Libya. Fortunately, the public at large is not buying the spin that is being sold by liberal politicians and their loyal eunuchs in the media, so I will not spend this post trying to convince people whether the attacks were pre-planned to occur on September 11th (which is obviously the case) or were a spontaneous “people on the street” reaction to an obscure YouTube clip none of them saw (give me a break).

Instead I want to focus on two connections I have not heard anyone else make. The first of these to occur to me is the similarity between Tuesday’s attacks and the ones which took place in Africa in 1998. The second is the fact that the Obama administration has been known to compromise our national security before, and now a security breach has been cited in Tuesday’s attacks.

As to the first connection, our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were struck with car bombs on August 7, 1998, with the explosions killing more than 200 people and injuring 5,000 others…The date was significant because it marked the anniversary of American troops’ arrival in Islamic Somalia…The bombings were masterminded by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, marking the first time they and al Quaeda came to the attention of the American public.

Our government’s response to those twin assaults was underwhelming, and in the wake of that underwhelmingness, al Quaeda ratcheted up its aggression by bombing the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and bringing down the Twin Towers in 2001.

The similarity between those atrocities and the new ones is clear. Tuesday’s attacks, like those of 1998, were carried out at the same approximate time in neighboring African countries, with the targets being official, sovereign U.S. property…And they took place on a day of historical significance, since Tuesday was September 11th, of all days…And they were carried out by al Quaeda, as was evidenced by al Quaeda’s flag being 1) brandished by the attackers, and 2) raised on the grounds of our Egyptian embassy after our own flag was torn down.

Since the 1998 attacks were a steppingstone that led to an escalation of violence after our response proved to be anemic, it would be irresponsible not to assume that Tuesday’s attacks are of the same nature. We should be outraged, and more than a little worried, that our president’s response has been completely devoid of testosterone.

And as for that second connection I mentioned -- the one about security breaches -- it was only three months ago that some of us were sounding alarm bells about members of the Obama administration leaking classified national security information that jeopardized Americans’ security (for my take at the time, go here). Now, according to a very credible report in today’s issue of the U.K. newspaper The Independent, it appears that Tuesday’s attacks in Libya were abetted by a “serious and continuous” leak from within the U.S. consulate.

As everyone knows, Chris Stevens, our ambassador to Libya, was murdered and then his half-naked corpse was paraded through the streets. It has been reported that he was raped before being murdered. Well, it turns out that the details of his whereabouts in Lybia (to which he had just returned) and the location of his staff’s safe house (which fell under mortar fire) were supposed to be secret but obviously got out.

Further, confidential papers which have disappeared from our consulate are said to contain the names of Libyans who were helping us. It does not take a rocket scientist to discern what is going to happen to those people now that the murdering thugs who run the show know who they are.

Our media’s lack of concern about the serial compromising of our national security that occurs under Barack Obama’s unserious watch is every bit as scandalous as the compromising itself…as is the inability (unwillingness?) of anyone in our government, or anyone of note in our national media, to connect the dots when it comes to the loose lips in today’s executive branch.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reflections on 9/11




There it stood. Fifty-two months earlier, when America first saw the steel cross standing amidst the ruins of the World Trade Center, I had assumed that rescue workers fashioned it from beams found in the wreckage. I had assumed that was how it came to be a fitting tribute to those who perished on September 11, 2001, and I still thought that when I looked upon the cross in person on a cold January afternoon in 2006. It was not until shortly afterward that I learned the truth: This portion of crossbeam had fallen, as-is, from the upper reaches of the collapsing North Tower and landed upright in the debris.

As I stood at Ground Zero, it was eerily silent despite the fact that America’s largest city was bustling all around me. A gaping hole occupied the spot where the Twin Towers once stood. I looked at the cross and thought I could walk to it and touch it in less than five seconds, were it not for the chain link fence encircling the grounds.

Instead I turned and walked south, to the corner of the property where Liberty Street intersects with Church Street. Looking back to the north, I shifted my gaze from the hole to the street and recalled the images of people leaping hundreds of feet to their bloody deaths on the very pavement which was now before my eyes. How hellishly hot must the temperatures have been, for human beings to choose crushing their bodies to death before knowing the towers were doomed to fall?

I thought of rescue workers proffering aid to others at the very instant more than 100 stories of steel and concrete came crashing down to extinguish their lives.

* * *

Like most Americans, my thoughts about New York over the years had not been wholly positive. The city held poignant symbols of freedom, and hence of the American dream, which was very good. It housed many of the engines of capitalism and birthed some of the best jazz ever played, and those things were also good. Yet it swaggered with arrogance, oozed with moral ambivalence, and was the home of socialites who lived off inherited wealth while attacking the very institutions that made it possible for others to achieve success – and those aspects of the Big Apple were not good.

New York may have been the ultimate ethnic melting pot, but it was shuttered and monochromatic when it came to intellectual matters. How could a city with eight million citizens not have a single conservative? I loved the Statue of Liberty but could never bring myself to root for the Yankees.

Nonetheless, standing at Ground Zero I thought of how all roads seem to meet in this place. Visiting the city in person, walking its sidewalks among its inhabitants, brings a welcome realization that it actually likes the fact it is in the United States. Yes, there was the raw irritation of seeing Che Guevara's mug plastered with praise on a giant window in Times Square – but then I heard the patrons of a subterranean sports bar praise our troops.


The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was still up two weeks after Christmas, and the walkway to it from Fifth Avenue was lined with tall figures of angels blowing trumpets. Here, Christmas had not been neutered by any transformation to something called Happy Holiday.

One block from Rockefeller Center are the twin spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, from whose pulpit the late Cardinal John O’Connor delivered many of the strongest sermons in American history. Though a prominent and uncompromising foe of abortion, he was revered in this city that is considered a hotbed of abortion-on-demand secularism. Standing across the street from Saint Patrick’s, it was hard not to notice the street sign showing that this block of Fifth Avenue is officially designated as Cardinal O’Connor Way.

In the East Village we slurped beers at McSorley’s, an old Irish pub where Abraham Lincoln once quaffed ale after delivering a speech. Small and cramped, it does not appear to have been enlarged or significantly upgraded since Lincoln’s time. When our party of four made it inside, a rough-looking worker with an Irish brogue showed us to a small, thin, wooden table and asked if we wanted “light or dark.” Two of us ordered the former, two the latter, and it must have been two-for-one because he returned carrying eight mugs of beer with no tray. He slammed them onto the table in one theatrical move, and we drank them without ever knowing their brand.



* * *
And finally, at Ground Zero, we were a very short walk from my favorite New York City nexus. Head one block east and you come to Broadway. Turn south for two more blocks and you come to Wall Street’s western terminus, directly across from Trinity Chapel.

We strode onto Trinity’s grounds and wandered through its aged cemetery until we found what we were searching: The grave of Alexander Hamilton, marked by a modest obelisk. At its base someone had laid a bouquet. Amazingly, right beside Hamilton’s grave is that of Robert Fulton, father of the steam engine.

Leaving Trinity, you cross Broadway and start down surprisingly nondescript Wall Street. Just one block onto it, with Trinity’s steeple looming behind you, you come to the site where George Washington took the oath of office as America’s first president.

And across the street from that site sits the New York Stock Exchange. We’ve all seen the images of frantic traders on the exchange floor, and we know the atmosphere inside must be noisy and stressful and chaotic. But viewed from outside, the exchange building is a picture of serenity that is dwarfed by much of its surroundings. American flags fly beneath its facade of Corinthian columns, giving it the appearance of a county courthouse from somewhere in the heartland.


So here, in less than two city blocks, you can walk in the footsteps of at least two Founding Fathers; visit one of their burial sites; visit the grave of one of history’s most prominent inventors; stand at the spot where our republic’s executive branch came into existence, and see the building where more wealth has been created than at any other spot on the planet.

Here, you can feel the heart of freedom beating strong.


Update: I first published this piece in 2008. I did not realize until later that McSorley's serves only its own beer (hence us being offered simply "light or dark") and that it has a two-drink minimum (hence us being served twice what we ordered). In my mind, those facts make McSorley's even cooler than I already thought.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hernando County After the Rain


Steady downpours rained down on much of West Central Florida last night and this morning. This afternoon, Parker and I went for a little stroll on the countryside north of Tampa, and below is a snippet of what we saw.

For those of you not from Florida or the southernmost parts of Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, don't let that brown tinge in the creek make you think it's polluted. The tinge comes from naturally occurring tannins being leached into the water from plant life. Looking at the creek, it will not surprise you to hear that tannins are present in tea leaves. However, cypress trees are the main source of tannins down here.

Here goes:


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

et ceteras


Based on the philosophical/political nature of many of my posts, anyone who reads this blog probably finds it strange that the Republican National Convention took place in my home town without me writing a single word about it. But at least I have a good excuse in that I was out of town last week, on a pre-planned trip, deep in the mountains and mostly without Internet or TV; and for good measure, since I did not blog about the RNC I will also not blog about this week’s DNC. After it passes, there will be almost two entire post-convention months left until election day -- and therefore, plenty of time to weigh in on this starkly important election as the campaigns lock horns in crunch time.

*     *     *     *     *

I will, however, make one observation related to politics. A recent Gallup poll found that people who self-identify as pro-life outnumber those who self-identify as pro-choice by a margin of 50-41. This is a dramatic, 12-point swing from just eight years ago, when self-identified pro-lifers were outnumbered 48-45.

Since the Democrat Party opposes any restrictions on any abortion at any time, even on a baby’s due date, for any reason whatsoever -- and since Obama himself opposes laws to prevent people from killing babies who are born alive after abortions which do not succeed -- Democrats running for office should be even more worried about this poll result than they are about how people may answer the old question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

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Although I was mostly without TV while in the mountains, I did find a place where I was able to watch Thursday night’s college football opener between South Carolina and Vanderbilt. My only comment about that game is not about the game itself, but about the announcers: They mentioned Marcus Lattimore’s knee surgery every friggin’ time he touched the ball. If announcers continue to do that through the rest of the year, they need to be hoisted out of the press box as punishment for lack of thought and lack of originality.

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Last month, Erika and I lost a friend to cancer. A few days ago, we learned that another friend has been diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately hers was caught early, but I can’t help thinking about the fact that over the last two years or so, in my line of work, I have seen a significant increase in the number of cases in which young people are being diagnosed with various types of cancer (by young, I mean most of the examples are people in their thirties, with some in their late twenties and some in their early forties). This trend seems too long and sustained to be an anomaly, and it makes me wonder if something specific is driving it. Has anyone else noticed or heard of this? And if so, is anyone with scientific know-how looking into it?

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Piggybacking on my cancer observation, I can not help but stress how important it is to live each moment to the fullest and to soak up everything life has to offer. Last week I saw hummingbirds flitting about Appalachian branches. This morning, while driving Sarah to school, she and I saw a doe and two fawns running alongside the road. Tonight I stepped outside and noticed how many stars and constellations were glittering against the black sky. No matter what we do, we should never forget to take note of these things and appreciate them.

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In closing, here are a couple sights I have managed to photograph in the past month. The first was taken along a rural road north of Tampa, while the second shows a post-sunset sky in Western North Carolina: