Sunday, June 30, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sowell

Thomas Sowell turns 83 years old today. Over the years I have read the writings of many great thinkers, and none of them can match Sowell's analytical skills or his ability to communicate important ideas in plain English. When I first discovered him in the early 1990's, his columns and books invigorated my mind like a jolt of lightning, and they have continued doing that ever since.

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

The Loss of Trust

Who "Needs" Immigrant Labor?

When the Lybia Lies Fell Apart

"Diversity": The Magic Word

Academia's Unexamines Assumptions

To follow his columns, and read other things about him, you can visit his web site here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stanley wrap-up

What an ending that was to the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday! No one saw those two goals coming -- just 17 seconds apart with less than a minute and a half to go -- to completely upend all that had taken place that night.

One second the building was roaring. With the Bruins outplaying the Blackhawks and leading 2-1 as the clock wound down, Boston fans were certain their team was about to force the series to a seventh game...But the very next second, the puck was suddenly in Boston's net and the game was tied. The building abruptly fell silent...Then, 17 seconds after the ensuing faceoff, the puck was in Boston's net again and somehow the building became even silenter than silent.

In the blink of an eye, Beantown's puckheads went from crowing to catatonic while Chi-Town's went from sullen to ecstatic. Next thing you knew, fans had fled the building en masse and the Blackhawks were skating 'round the ice kissing Lord Stanley's Cup.

Every Cup presentation is an object lesson in what George Will describes as "sports serv(ing) society by providing vivid examples of excellence." It is also an object lesson in the importance of effort and persistence, for who can forget the image of Ray Bourque lifting the Cup in 2001, having finally won a championship after more than 20 years in the league? Or Dave Andreychuk doing the same in 2004? Or Zdeno Chara getting downright giddy when he hoisted it in 2011, more than a decade after arriving on this continent needing to engage in years of work to overcome the gangliness of his 6'9" frame?

The game that unfolded right before this year's presentation was even more of an object lesson in persistence. Every parent should show it to their kids as an example of why you should never stop grinding away and never let your guard down. Game Six gave stark proof that "it's never over 'til it's over" and "it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings" are wise truths, not mere words.

Having said that, here are a few more observations about the postseason that just ended:

The Forgotten One
I am surprised that almost nobody is talking about David Krejci's goal that didn't happen on Monday. In the first period, with Boston leading 1-0 and dominating pretty much every spot on the ice, Brad Marchand attacked down the left wing, drew Corey Crawford toward that side of the crease, and fired a perfect cross-ice pass to Krejci who was just to the right of the slot.

The net was w-i-d-e open and the puck hit the blade of Krejci's stick. But somehow he didn't have the stick positioned how it needed to be and the puck bounced wide, transforming what looked like a sure goal into something that didn't even count as a shot on goal. Had his stick been set ever so slightly different, the Bruins would have been up 2-0 after one instead of 1-0 after one, and who knows how that would have changed the complexion of the game?

The Conn Smythe
To be clear, Patrick Kane did deserve it. His deft goals in the Cup Finals combined with his elimination game hat trick in the conference finals are the stuff of which hockey legends are made, especially when you consider that he was already known for that famous goal that won the Cup in 2010.

However, several of his teammates deserved the Conn Smythe just as much. Hell, you could make an equally strong case for each of his linemates, since Jonathan Towes centered the line to perfection and Bryan Bickell's skating had a lot to do with opening the space in which Kane thrived. Corey Crawford was also deserving, as I will discuss below.

Awarding the trophy to Kane was awarding it by default. When no one is clearly ahead of the leading pack, you give the MVP to the highest profile player so long as he makes impact plays, which Kane certainly did. That no one was clearly ahead of the leading pack just shows how much of a team game hockey is. It also shows that we (by which I mean me and my fellow U.S.-born hockey fans) should not interpret Kane being the third straight American winner to mean that the U.S. has knocked Canada from the top of the hill. Sochi 2014 will provide the only stick by which to measure such a claim, and until then, depth alone tells us that Canada's game is undoubtedly Canada's game.

What can I say about Corey Crawford? You wouldn't know it from all the media howling after Game Four, but other than that one game, the Montreal native was stellar throughout the playoffs. He rang up a .932 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average, which is essentially the same postseason that Jonathan Quick had when he won the Conn Smythe last year. Plus, his goals-against was better than Tim Thomas's was when Thomas won the Conn Smythe in 2011. Many of the same people harping about Crawford giving up five goals in Game Four have conveniently forgotten that Thomas gave up five goals in three different games just to the Tampa Bay Lightning during his Conn Smythe run. And finally, the only reason Chicago was within striking distance to pull off Monday's comeback was that Crawford kept them alive by denying one excellent scoring chance after another.

If I am going to defend the Quebecer, I am also going to defend the Slovak that many in the media took to criticizing over the past week. Plus/minus is obviously an important stat, but it is often unfair and deceiving. Just because somebody was on the ice when the opposing team scored does not mean it was his play that allowed them to. Zdeno Chara played strong and stubborn throughout the playoffs, and to my eyes, he was not at fault in any of the goals Boston surrendered during the last three games. If any other defenseman had taken his spot, I believe the Bruins would have given up far more goals, especially in Games Four and Five.

There has been water cooler talk about whether the current Blackhawks deserve to be called a dynasty. I say not yet. Two Cups in four years, with an additional trip to the conference finals five years back, makes them a very special team that should be talked about for years to come -- especially with that remarkable 24-game unbeaten streak they had to open the season. But I think they need another championship ring before they can be mentioned in the same breath as the 1970's Habs (four straight Cups to close out the decade) and 1980's Islanders (four straight to open that decade) and 1980's Oilers (five in seven years to close out one decade and usher in the next).

Admittedly, I am being stodgy and old-fashioned by adhering to the traditional understanding of the word dynasty. If today's salary cap had existed back then, none of the above dynasties would have happened because none of them could have been sustained; and even before the salary cap, economics were already dictating that teams in non-leviathan cities like Edmonton would no longer be able to produce a dynastic champion. In fact, economics was the main reason the Oilers reign didn't continue even longer than it did, for it was economics that separated Gretzky from Edmonton and soon dissolved much of the remaining core in the prime of their careers -- only to see pieces of that core reconvene as New York Rangers and lead that franchise to its only championship in the last 73 years.

And that's enough for now. Until next time, take care...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Adieu to Spring

With today being the first day of summer, I decided to look back at the season that just ended by posting some of the things I photographed over the last three months.

I don't know what the pink flowers pictured below are called, but they beautify many of our fields and roadsides at the beginning of every spring. This year they lasted longer than normal (presumably because temperatures stayed cool longer than normal) and it was early May when I came upon the following scene:

Here are a couple of the crocuses that graced us with their presence:

While thousands of families were thronging to you-pick-em blueberry farms in the area, Sarah was busy discovering some wild local produce of another variety. It happened because she took a liking to a particular mulberry tree that grows right up through the boughs of an oak:

The tree wound up producing a tasty harvest of purplish red berries:

Parker and I channeled our inner Huck Finn by exploring creek beds, sometimes with dog in tow. People usually don't think about walking in creek beds, but they make for good exploring when they're dry:

They also make for good exploring when they're flowing with shallow water:

One afternoon we heard a rustling while walking between the creek walls pictured above. When I looked in its direction, I found this armadillo milling around the lip of the wall:

This being Florida, reptiles and amphibians hold a sizable market share when you tally up the animal population. This frog seems to have taken up residence on the front porch, and he made for a nice picture when I saw him lounging in a slat on the back of an old rocking chair:

On a country fence we saw a pair of long blacksnakes who appeared to be in the act of propagating their species:

And just to give you an idea of how long I am talking about, check out this picture I snapped from behind them:

At the end of the day, however, my favorite picture from the spring is the following one from Mother's Day. With me hiding behind the camera, it shows Erika hanging out with Sarah and Parker -- well-earned mimosa in hand!

But then again, how can I put anything ahead of the action shot of Sarah and my niece Lexi experiencing trampoline bliss? Sarah is the one who is airborne:

The next three months are going to be hotter than the three that just passed, but I'll enjoy them anyway!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Congrats, Marty

With the hockey world eagerly awaiting Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals, I am taking time to toss some accolades in the direction of a player who will not be on the ice when Chicago and Boston face off this evening.

Martin St. Louis is one of the NHL's best players in the last 15 years, and undoubtedly the greatest in the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is remarkable that at his age (he turns 38 on Tuesday) he led the league in points this season by averaging 1.25 per game -- a number that puts him in rarefied air because Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe are the only other players to achieve it after the age of 36.

Marty St Louis 2007.jpg

In addition to capturing the Art Ross Trophy by leading the league in points, it was announced yesterday that St. Louis earned the Lady Byng Trophy for the third time in the past four years. The Lady Byng goes annually "to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability." A statistic that contributed mightily to his receipt of the Lady Byng is this: Despite logging the second most ice time of all forwards in the NHL this season, he accumulated merely 14 penalty minutes.

The word "gentlemanly" is not to be confused with "wimpy." At 5'8", St. Louis is one of the smallest players in a game marked by ruggedness and occasional violence, and thus has relied on scrappiness and tenacity to attain the kind of success he has had for so many years.

This was the second time he has won the Art Ross, and it should be remembered that he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP in 2004, the same year he guided the Lightning to their only Stanley Cup championship. He was also the winner of the Lester  B. Pearson Award that year.

Those of us who are Lightning fans know St. Louis has extraordinary defensive skills to go along with his offensive prowess. Throughout his career he has been a key contributor on the penalty kill and has shown an uncanny knack for scoring shorthanded goals.

In 2003, it was his top-shelf goal in double overtime that defeated the Washington Capitals in Game Six to advance Tampa Bay to the postseason's second round for the first time in franchise history. 

In 2004, it was his blistering double overtime goal on a breakaway that defeated Calgary in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals -- forcing the series back to Tampa for that glorious Game Seven that the Lightning won to earn the honor of drinking from the chalice.

And now, nearly a decade hence, Martin St. Louis continues to play with the heart of a lion while churning out the numbers of a Hall of Famer. We appreciate it, and congratulate him for this year's trophies. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

About that Monsanto Protection Act

Over the past week or so, social media sites have seen a flurry of posts encouraging the repeal of the so-called Monsanto Protection Act. Although the posts have not yet propagated into a digital version of a wildfire, it is clear that a segment of America's grassroots is aflame with all the wind blowing in one direction.

Most of you are probably wondering: What the hell is the Monsanto Protection Act? Turns out it is not a piece of legislation in its own right. Rather, it is wording that got sneaked into Section 735 of a recent budget resolution despite having nothing to do with the federal budget. The wording became law by virtue of Congress passing the budget resolution in March.

Generally, what the MPA deals with are genetically modified foods, a.k.a. genetically modified organisms. These are fruits and vegetables that are cultivated by injecting them with specific genes from other species in order to produce certain traits. Those who agree with this approach to agriculture refer to it as innovation that benefits mankind by increasing the size and durability of harvests. Those who disagree refer to it as toying with nature and thereby exposing  people and the environment to risks we can't yet know.

Specifically, what the MPA deals with is the power the federal government has in determining which genetically modified foods go to market and how they are labeled. Supporters claim that the MPA prevents special interests from using shoddy science to deny consumers access to food that is safe, nutritious, and uniquely affordable. Its critics claim that it allows large agricultural firms to avoid adequate legal scrutiny concerning the safety of the food they produce.

The wording at issue is actually called the Farmer Assurance Provision. Opponents dubbed it the Monsanto Protection Act after learning that executives from Monsanto Company, a biotechnology firm, co-authored it with Missouri Senator Roy Blunt.

Based on my unscientific method of paying attention to a) who is posting about the MPA on social media, and b) which organizations are opining about it on their web pages, I have deduced that most of the people outraged by it are liberals. As an unapologetic member of the right wing, I am here to tell my fellow conservatives that they should consider joining the liberals on this one.

My emotions are somewhat mixed. Most of the liberals whose ire is raised by the MPA have been full-throated in condemning the manner in which it was passed, and they are one hundred percent correct in that regard, yet half of me struggles to believe that its manner of passage is really what raises their ire. I am tempted to believe they would be every bit as angry even if the MPA had been passed in the light of day. But to dwell on that would be to sidetrack myself from my belief that this bit of legislative chicanery needs to be struck down. Why should it matter if my primary reason for believing so is different than the primary reason some other people have for believing the same thing?

It is an age-old government trick to subvert the democratic process and make things legal (or illegal) by slipping irrelevant language into unrelated bills. In a hypothetical example, Congressmen A and B sponsor a bill called the Federal Dam Safety Act (FDSA) which requires all federally built dams to be inspected for weaknesses and cracking on a semi-annual basis, with a requirement that any problems found during the inspections get repaired within two months of being discovered. The bill has broad-based support in Congress and from the public, and thus there is no way it will get voted down. Then, Congressman C attaches a rider to it shortly before the vote. The rider mandates that every homeowner whose mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac fork over a $500 annual fee to the federal government, with all resulting proceeds earmarked to fund art-themed summer camps in Idaho. And thus, when the FDSA gets enacted, the dubious rider gets enacted right along with it.

This game is a perfect illustration of why the American people should not trust the American government. Conservatives are usually the ones decrying it because liberals are usually the ones playing it, but when it is played by one of our own, we have a duty to make sure he doesn't get away with it. Equal treatment is equal treatment, after all; and more often than not, it is damaging to any cause when the people who believe in it choose to be blind to someone's means simply because they agree (or even worse, assume they agree) with his ends.