Friday, August 24, 2012

Sweet Sorrow

Life can be a bitch for many reasons, one of which is that there is no escaping our own deaths, nor is there any escape from the bereavement that is rained upon us by the deaths of others.

Last Saturday, one of the finest women I have ever met “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” at the way-too-young age of 56. Joanne Duke spent the last four years of her life battling cancer, often in terrific pain, yet very few people ever saw her without a smile on her face. She was funny, vivacious, and down to earth…and seemed to become a friend to every person she ever met.

Even hot shots like Keith Urban could not help but embrace her charms. That is Joanne standing to his left (your right) in the picture below. It was taken on a Nashville sidewalk during what she knew might be the last vacation of her life, and according to someone I know who was with her, it was Joanne who grabbed Urban’s arm and made this happen:

Part of me feels like it is not right for me to post about Joanne because others knew her far better than I did. She babysat my brother-in-law and his three siblings when they were kids, and became such an important family friend that she remained a big part of their lives, and attended their children’s birthday parties, all the way to the end…Nevertheless, Erika and I have known her for years and even vacationed with her on Key West. I admire her and feel it would be a dishonor to let her passing go without comment.

Joanne’s memorial service was yesterday morning and something about it was a sight to behold. Her favorite color was turquoise and many, many people wore it to the service. None of those somber black outfits to commemorate her life -- people knew she was cheeky, not dour, and they knew she loved turquoise so they dressed themselves in her honor.

The bad news is that Earth has lost an angel. The good news is that Heaven has gained one, and she will be waiting to greet her loved ones when they complete their journey to eternity.

Here she is (with my brother-in-law’s father) on that Key West trip from November 2005:

Rest in peace…

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

V-J Day

One week ago today, the 67th anniversary of the end of World War II passed, and for the first time in the history of this blog I did not publish my recurring post about that "red letter date." But in the spirit of "better late than never," here it is, altered only to reflect the number of years since the event occurred and the fact that I am a week late:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Veep

I am not one to put a great deal of stock in who a presidential candidate selects as his running mate. Although I was certainly excited about Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention speech when I blogged about it, I have always said that it makes almost no difference who the vice presidential candidate is because people cast their votes based on the person atop the ticket.

Nevertheless, something feels different when it comes to Romney tabbing Paul Ryan as his VP choice. I felt it in my bones the night before the announcement was even made, when National Review published this obscure but juicy bit of flight data.

Rush Limbaugh is dead right in his observation that putting Ryan on the ticket proves Romney is 1) serious about winning the election on philosophical grounds, as opposed to dumbed down talking points, and 2) serious not only about winning, but about governing.

Ryan was already the conservatives’ putative leader in Congress by virtue of him facing the government’s fiscal problems head-on and making sober, detailed proposals to pull government back within its means. Being unafraid to make his “hard call” proposals in a time of economic distress, to a graying population, in an environment which dictates he face reelection every 24 months, demonstrates that Ryan is a statesman driven by principle, not a politician driven by opportunism.

And there is a certain amount of cosmic perfection in the fact he hails from Wisconsin. Voters in that traditionally blue state sent stalwart conservative Scott Walker to the governor’s mansion to push back against bureaucracy and staunch the flow of red ink. Then, when leftist agitators led by heavily funded public sector unions sought to have Walker recalled, the voters responded by handily defeating the recall effort. If this is how things are going in Wisconsin, and one of Wisconsin’s own is on the GOP ticket, Obama & Co. must be getting nervous.

Within hours of the announcement that the Romney campaign had become the Romney-Ryan campaign, Democrats broke out their tired old playbook and tried to scare senior citizens by claiming that Ryan wants to destroy Medicare. That lie won’t work for them this time, however, because Ryan’s plan explicitly saves Medicare from its looming collapse, whereas Obama’s plan explicitly defunds it by more than $700 billion. And unlike a couple decades ago, today’s generation of seniors is not as susceptible to rhetoric because they are not weighed down by manipulated recollections of the Roosevelt era.

Finally, those who doubt whether Paul Ryan has any detailed plans for the macroeconomic troubles facing America need only realize that his budget would reduce the number of personal income tax brackets to two, with the lower bracket paying 10 percent and the upper paying 25 percent. It would also reduce the corporate income tax rate (which  makes us uncompetitive because it is among the highest in the industrialized world) from 35 to 25 percent.

While Ryan’s ideas about taxation should be music to the ears of conservatives and horror to the ears of liberals, everyone in the middle just needs to be educated about the fact that across-the-board cuts in tax rates have historically led to increased tax income for the government, since lower rates lead to economic growth, which in turn leads to higher employment and higher wages, which in turn lead to a bigger pie for the government to take a piece of.

If your concern is the citizenry, then the promise of higher employment and higher wages should make you smile because it is good for the economy in general. If your concern is government revenue, the promise of higher employment and higher wages should make you smile because 20 percent of 100 is more than 30 percent of 50. Everybody wins.

When the Ryan pick became known, many in the Media-Democrat Complex began crowing that it was good news for them and bad news for Republicans because voters would be sure to reject Ryan’s budgetary discipline. If they actually believed that (which I doubt) they must be scratching their heads over the plethora of polls which show that Ryan’s favorability ratings have improved by some 20 percent since the announcement was made and people became more familiar with his ideas. They must also be scratching their heads over the massive crowds that have packed events attended by Romney and Ryan the last few days, compared to the sparse attendance at events attended by Obama and Biden.

Granted, there is no way of knowing whether Romney will adopt all, or even most, of Ryan’s proposals. But I suspect he will adopt many of them, especially the big ones, and now there is no doubt that the two men see eye to eye when it comes to their overall vision for America. I have always believed that Romney is more conservative than his critics on the right suggest, and I am happy to see those critics finally coming ’round.

Monday, August 13, 2012

et ceteras

The last week has seen me too busy to write, but not too busy to know what is happening in the world. In my bit of free time tonight, here are my thoughts looking back:

I am very pleased with Mitt Romney’s choice of running mate. Part of me wishes that Paul Ryan would remain in Congress, because the work he has done in taking leadership of the budget debate and pointing the way toward fiscal sanity is invaluable. However, his presence on the presidential ticket confirms Romney’s seriousness on fiscal matters and strengthens Romney’s chances to defeat Obama. Plus, should Romney win in November, Ryan would be the perfect “right hand man” to help deliver fiscal sanity.

Finally, Ryan would be more than capable to step in as president should something happen to Romney. Four of our forty-four presidents have been assassinated while in office, and four others have died of natural causes. Also, two were shot but survived (Jackson and Reagan) and one suffered a stroke but survived (Wilson). This means that one-fourth of our presidents have either died in office or been lucky not to -- which means the question of whether a person is ready to become president is probably the most important fact in choosing a veep candidate, even though it is the one least talked about by the media.

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While I am on the topic of Romney, I might as well add my voice to the chorus of conservatives and independents/moderates who are decrying Obama & Co’s “Romney killed my wife”ad. Last month I referred to another Obama & Co. ad as being “in the same league as the infamous ‘daisy girl ad’ from 1964,” but this new one is even worse. It is not only “in the same league” as the daisy girl ad, but equal to it when it comes to lying and character assassination.

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How great it is to see our athletes finish the London Olympics atop both the overall medal count and the gold medal count.

Obvious American highlights were Gabby Douglas winning the all-around gymnastics gold, and the women’s gymnastics team winning gold by an incredibly comfortable margin…And of course, Michael Phelps closing out his career with four golds and two silvers to make him the most decorated Olympian in world history…And, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh winning their third consecutive beach volleyball gold probably ranks right up there in the public’s mind, since that duo finally got the kind of media hype they deserve.

Personally, I think the following stories deserve just as much attention: Allyson Felix prevailing in the 200-meter run in her third and final Olympics, after coming up short in 2004 and 2008…Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee finishing one-two in the decathlon, marking the first time in more than half a century that Americans have done that in the same Olympics…Galen Rupp coming from back in the pack on the final lap of the 10,000-meter run to pass everybody but Mo Farah and win the silver -- in an event where East Africans (especially Kenyans) always dominate the podium and no American had medaled in 48 years…Kim Rhode winning gold in skeet shooting by hitting 99 of 100 clays, thus breaking the world record. Her feat is even more impressive when you consider that this is her fifth Olympics and she has medaled in every one (gold in 1996 and 2004, plus silver in 2008 and bronze in 2000, in case you were wondering).

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Internationally, what struck me most about these Olympics was the amazing success of the Brits. Although Great Britain has never been known as an athletic powerhouse, it finished the 2008 games fourth in the medal count, and I mentioned it at the time…Well, this time around they not only repeated their 2008 success of finishing fourth in the overall count, but exceeded it by finishing third in the gold medal count. They increased their total number of medals from 47 to 65, and finished with 21 more than Germany and 30 more than Australia (the “perennial powers” I compared them to last time.)

Saturday, August 4, 2012


We all have memories of Olympic moments watched on television, and we all know the names and accomplishments of certain legends from the past. Nevertheless, with so many events and such a wide a disparity in coverage, many great Olympians slip from the national memory with the passage of time and many others don’t get the attention they deserve in the first place. So while this year’s summer games unfold, here, in alphabetical order, is a reminder of five of our nation’s greatest Summer Olympians who are in those categories.

Bob Mathias
It’s hard to believe that a two-time decathlon gold medalist who went on to serve four terms in Congress could simply vanish in the mist of time, but that seems to have happened to Bob Mathias.

Within living memory I can recall when his name was commonly known; when no conversation about great Olympians could take place without his name being brought up; when nobody could refer to Bruce Jenner as America’s best decathlete because everyone knew that title belonged to Mathias. However, it has been years since I last heard him mentioned either in public or private.

The decathlon is widely considered the event which determines the world’s best athlete, and it has long been one of the Olympics’ premier spectacles. Mathias won it in 1948 and 1952, and to this day is the only person ever to win it more than once. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider that 1948 was the first year he started doing the decathlon, and that his margin of victory in 1952 was a staggering 912 points.

On an interesting side note, at the same time Mathias was making headlines as a decathlete, he played fullback for Stanford and led them to the 1952 Rose Bowl, becoming the only person ever to compete in the Olympics and Rose Bowl during the same year.

Billy Mills
Now 74, Mills is an Oglala Sioux who became an orphan at the age of 12 and was raised by his grandmother on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. From that humble beginning, he earned an athletic scholarship to Kansas University and emerged as an All-American cross-country runner. He entered the Marine Corps after college and was serving as a first lieutenant in the reserves when he appeared in the 1964 Olympics.

Mills competed in the 10,000-meter run and was not even among the favorites. Australian Ron Clarke held the world record and was heavily favored to win, while the only people expected to challenge him were the Soviet Union’s Pyotr Bolotnikov and New Zealand’s Murray Halberg. When the day came, however, it was Mills who left his mark on the Tokyo track.

Entering the final backstretch of the nearly half-hour race, he was in third place and boxed in behind Clarke and Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia. Unable to make any move on the more advantageous inside lanes, he bounced outside, to lane three, and sprinted for the finish line with laser-like focus. He passed both Clarke and Gammoudi and broke the tape in an Olympic-record time of 28:24.4.

Mills is the only American in the 116-year history of the Olympics to ever win the 10,000 meters, and his story was riveting enough for Hollywood. The 1983 movie Running Brave, starring Robby Benson, was about him and rekindled interest leading up to the Los Angeles Olympics. Maybe it is time for a re-release…

John Smith
During the Cold War, Eastern European Communist regimes ran orchestrated steroid programs to boost their countries’ medal counts and project an image of ethnic supremacy. Unsurprisingly, they seemed to own the wrestling events and it was considered a given that sports on the mat would be won by Soviets, Romanians, Bulgarians, etc. The thought of an American wrestler winning gold didn’t feel realistic.

Then John Smith arrived on the scene. An Oklahoma native who had won NCAA championships at Oklahoma State, Smith sent waves through the international wrestling scene with his exploits at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Competing in the freestyle event and weighing in at less than 137 pounds, he suffered a fractured nose during a preliminary round victory over Bulgaria’s Simeon Shterev, and kept plugging along as the rounds went by. In the gold medal match he shut out the USSR’s Stepan Sarkisyan by a score of 4-0. In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he won gold again by defeating Iran’s Asgari Mohamadian.

With four world championships to his name in addition to his Olympic golds, Smith is thought of in wrestling circles as the best in American history, perhaps even the best in world history. He returned to Oklahoma State as its coach and five of his teams have won national championships. It’s just that competitive wresting, as opposed to WWE wrestling, receives almost zero media attention.

Amy Van Dyken
You would think the American woman with the most swimming gold medals in Olympic history, and also the most gold medals in a single Olympics, would be widely recognized for years after her achievements. Oddly, you would be wrong.

Maybe it’s because Amy Van Dyken comes not from the usual swimming hotbeds of California and Florida, but from land-locked Colorado. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t possess the expected look of a swimmer, whatever that means. But regardless of the reason, there should be no doubt that she is one of the most accomplished female athletes in American history.


Van Dyken won four gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics -- the same number that Janet Evans won during her entire career -- yet Evans, who did not win a single medal in those games, continued to receive the lion’s share of media coverage during them. Van Dyken suffered numerous injuries between those games and the ones in Sydney in 2000, yet she still managed to earn a pair of golds in the latter. Her six career golds are the most ever won by an American woman in any sport, in either the summer or winter games.

John Woodruff
If everything else was equal, John Woodruff would be remembered as one of the most significant Olympic heroes in American history. But everything else is not equal, because he happened to make his appearance the same year as Jesse Owens.

The 1936 Berlin games are remembered as the ones in which Adolf Hitler expected German athletes to dominate and confirm his vision of Aryan superiority -- only to see that vision shattered when Germany’s best were repeatedly beaten by Owens, who was not only an American but a black American to boot.

As rightful as Owens’s place in history is, he was neither the only black American nor the first black American to win gold in Berlin. Woodruff struck gold first, so it was he who originally got under Hitler’s skin and caused butterflies to unsettle der Fuhrer’s stomach. A freshman from the University of Pittsburgh when those Olympics took place, he came from behind to win the 800-meter run in what was considered one of the most exciting races ever staged.

Trapped on the inside by other runners on the first lap, he later remarked, “I knew that the rules of running said if I tried to break out of a trap and fouled someone, I would be disqualified…but I had to do something.” What he chose to do was very unusual for a runner, especially in a relatively short race: He stopped and let everyone get ahead of him, then started running again in the hope of passing the entire field. Incredibly, it worked, and as described by the New York Times, “with his stride of almost 10 feet, Woodruff ran around everyone else. He took the lead, lost it on the backstretch, but regained it on the final turn and won the gold medal.”

He passed away in 2007 at the age of 92, having been the last living member of that supreme group of athletes who upstaged the Nazis in their own back yard. It’s a shame that Woodruff’s passing did not receive greater attention in the press.