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.

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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.

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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,

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: