Friday, February 22, 2013

A Leader Like No Other

He is called The Father of Our Country. Everybody knows the image of his face that was memorialized on the dollar bill, and everybody knows he was America’s first president. Most people know he was a general in the Revolutionary War and that he led colonial troops to victory over the British. But beyond that, few people know anything about George Washington, so with today being his 281st birthday, here are a few facts.

Though Washington was not born poor, he was also not born into the elite like most people assume. He was 11 years old when his father died, and in his young adulthood he worked as a land surveyor.

Some 20 years before the Revolutionary War, Washington fought heroically for the British in the French and Indian War.

Based on his role as a brigadier general in the Monongahela Expedition of 1758, he is considered a major player in the founding of PittsburghPennsylvania.

Throughout the Revolutionary War his troops were greatly outnumbered and underequipped, and experienced defeat more often than triumph. But his intelligence, especially as manifested in his knack for trickery and espionage, led the way to ultimate victory. His crossing of the Delaware River is a classic example of him outwitting the enemy in the face of imminent disaster.

Washington became the nation’s first president after a unanimous vote of the electoral college in 1789. He was so revered that many wanted him to be king, and he probably would have kept getting re-elected for as long as he sought re-election. However, after finishing his second term he chose not to run again, because he thought that one man holding executive power for a long time ran counter to America’s founding principles and was not in America’s best interests. This was an unprecedented abdication of power at the time, and its vivid example served to solidify the founding and put America’s limited-government experiment on the right course.

Modern day America-bashers like to denigrate Washington’s stature by pointing out that he owned slaves. However, of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves, Washington was the only one to free them. His will accomplished that (upon his wife’s death) and established means by which they were provided for and given educations so they could become self-sufficient.

In the interest of getting information “straight from the horse’s mouth,” here are some of the things he wrote and said during his time on earth:

The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army…We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.

To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, ’till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People, is sacredly obligatory upon all…

There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation.

Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.

True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity, before it is entitled to the appellation.

I am embarked on a wide ocean, boundless in its prospects, and in which, perhaps, no safe harbor is to be found.

Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.

I look forward, with a kind of political faith, to scenes of national happiness, which have not heretofore been offered for the fruition of the most favored nations. The natural, political, and moral circumstances of our nascent empire justify the anticipation.

I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery.

’Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.

Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

My manner of living is plain, a glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready, and such as will be content to partake of that are always welcome.

A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.

Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Unusual Case of Ray Anthony Lewis, Jr.

Super Bowl XLVII has come and gone, and the spotlight no longer shines on Ray Lewis as brightly as it did during the build-up. Now that he has exited at the top of his profession, I feel compelled to revisit the topic that will follow him for the rest of his days like a ravenous dog biting at the heels of his reputation. And I am not talking only about the events of January 31, 2000 -- I am talking about people's perception of him in the wake of those events.

On the night in question, Lewis and two of his friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, went to a party at Atlanta's Cobalt Lounge following Super XXXIV. Before they even got inside, a fight broke out between them and several other Cobalt patrons, and within seconds two men named Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar were fatally stabbed. In the instantaneous aftermath, Lewis and his friends piled back into their limo and left the scene. During the ensuing police investigation, some of Baker's blood was found in the vehicle.

Lewis and his friends were charged with murder eleven days after the killing, but the charge against him was soon dropped, and he pled guilty to obstruction of justice (a misdemeanor) after admitting that he originally gave a misleading report to cops. Oakley and Sweeting were tried and acquitted.

To this day many people believe Lewis is a murderer who got away with it, and Lord did they come crawling out of the woodwork when Baltimore reached the Super Bowl. On the one hand I understand where they are coming from because they point to something that appears damning, namely, the fact that the suit Lewis wore that night was never found...But on the other hand I think they come to their belief by ignoring most of the evidence, and I find the intensity of their belief to be very disturbing in a nation where a person is supposed to be presumed innocent.

In the final analysis, I side against the people who are in the "he's a murderer" camp. I side against them not only because Lewis's guilt has not been proven, but because I truly believe he is innocent. Why? Well, here are some facts that rarely get mentioned in the press:

1.  Although scores of people were present when the killing occurred and many of them watched it happen, no one has ever testified that Lewis stabbed either Baker or Lollar. In fact, no one has testified that Lewis even had a knife.

2.  A contemporaneous AP report of the trial of Oakley and Sweeting contained the following sentence, buried deep in its body: "Evidence showed Baker started the brawl by hitting Oakley in the head with a champagne bottle" (emphases mine). This tells us, or should at least suggest to us, that whatever Lewis, Oakley and Sweeting did during the fight was done in self-defense -- just like they said!

3.  The limo driver told authorities he saw Lewis throw a punch (not a stab) during the chaos. Later, while testifying at trial, he clarified that he did not know whether or not the punch landed. In a grotesque example of media malpractice, almost all of the American press referred to this clarification by stating only that the driver "changed his story" -- and neglecting to mention that none of the driver's statements ever incriminated Lewis of murder.

So, the evidence backs up Lewis's (and Oakley's and Sweeting's) claim that they were viciously attacked and reacted by defending themselves as if their lives were in danger. In my opinion, that is the smartest and most responsible thing a person can do in such a situation. There is nothing illegal about carrying knives (in fact, the decision to carry them proved to be wise) but even if it was illegal, there is neither any evidence nor any testimony that Lewis was carrying them.

Plus -- and I can not emphasize this enough -- Lewis has never been associated with or accused of violence at any other point in his life. This simple fact lends even more credence to what he has always contended: That he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and reacted in defense rather than on offense.

Some say: But what about that misleading report he admitted giving and what about the missing suit?

Yes, Lewis has not publicly said everything there is to say about those things, but there is a strong chance he is not free to do so because of the legal settlement he reached. And most importantly, whatever he told authorities was good enough for them, so it ought to be way more than good enough for the rest of us.

Unlike most Americans, I have actually sat through a criminal trial and watched prosecutors in action, and let's just say that they are not necessarily the pure, conscientious characters movies make them out to be. Based on my observations, I am extremely confident that prosecutors would have never dropped the murder charge if they really suspected Lewis was guilty of murder. It is telling that they dropped it so quickly.

There is a special kind of hypocrisy that oozes from some of Ray Lewis's detractors, and it is the kind that gets under my skin the most. It is the arrogant, presumptuous kind of hypocrisy that drives people to say what they would or would not have done if they were in a certain situation -- even though they have never been in that situation and therefore have no clue what they would do in reality. Those who ooze this hypocrisy when talking about Lewis do so in order to cast doubt on his claim of self-defense, by suggesting that they would never have fled the scene and would have definitely handed their clothing over to authorities.

By all accounts, the incident 13 years ago happened in the proverbial blink of an eye. When Lewis and his friends got back in the limo, they had no way of knowing if other people were about to attack, and given what had just happened, they had every reason to fear that more attacks were coming. Fleeing was not an illogical decision at that moment.

Regarding the missing suit, let's assume it had blood on it. Now, put yourself in Lewis's situation. You are in a sudden melee you didn't see coming, and now find that your clothes are spotted with blood because some of the people in that melee were bleeding. Then you find out that those people died, which means you are wearing clothes that you fear will incriminate you in a murder you didn't commit, and you worry about proving your innocence because you just don't know if people charged with crimes are really, really "innocent until proven guilty" in the eyes of a jury. Especially if the person charged is, like you, young and black and tattooed and weighing in at 240 pounds. Disposing of the bloody clothes might be a bad idea in hindsight, but it would not be an illogical one in the moment, especially when you consider the fact that Lewis was just 24 years old at the time.

Contrary to what Ray Lewis's detractors would have everyone believe, he is not blithely going about his life acting like nothing happened on that cold night. Three weeks ago he was asked about the incident on Super Bowl Media Day, and responded by telling the reporter "I live with that every day. You maybe can take a break from it. I don't. I live with it every day of my life and I would rather not talk about it today."

Those are not the words of a man without a moral compass. It is past time for people to stop armchair quarterbacking how they would have dealt with an event they know little about...and stop acting as if they know all the facts...and start reflecting on all the facts and angles they previously overlooked.

The evidence shows that Number 52 is not only innocent, but that he is spending his life carrying a heavy cross of regret all the same. Those who continue to harp about what happened in Atlanta are serving no purpose other than fanning the flames of their oversized egos.

Much thanks to David Daniels for resurfacing some of the facts cited in this post.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lincoln's Birthday

204 yeas ago today, Abraham Lincoln was born in a tiny log cabin in Kentucky. Even the “Reader’s Digest version” of his life is impressive: he was almost entirely self-educated; he rose through the ranks of state and federal government to become President of the United States, in which capacity he oversaw the ending of slavery and preservation of the country; then he was assassinated by a national celebrity while watching a play.

It is obvious that we all have many reasons to be thankful he won the 1860 and 1864 presidential elections. Rather than recount those reasons, I will simply leave you with some of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotations:

Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.

Property is the fruit of labor -- property is desirable -- is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing?

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.

I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Most people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

Gold is good in its place, but living, brave, patriotic men are better than gold.

The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises among you.

Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.

It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.

If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.

When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

As President, I have no eyes but constitutional eyes; I cannot see you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Post-Super Bowl Miscellany

Complaining about the officiating
Stop it. Enough already. The non-call on San Francisco's last offensive play, when it was 4th-and-goal from Baltimore's five, absolutely did not decide the game.

Did it look like Jimmy Smith was holding Michael Crabtree? Yes. But it also looked like Crabtree was pushing on Smith, which is just as flaggable as the hold. Not throwing a flag was the right thing to do, just like not throwing one would have been the right thing for Terry Porter to do in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

Even if the contact between Smith and Crabtree was one-way and the complainers were unambiguously right to say defensive holding should have been called, it still would not matter in the final analysis...because those complainers (along with every television and radio pundit I have listened to over the last two days) have conveniently forgotten a first quarter play in which a San Francisco defender clearly interfered with a Baltimore receiver but was not called for the infraction. Baltimore's drive ended because of that non-call, but had the flag been thrown, the Ravens would have probably scored a TD and therefore been ahead by twelve points instead of five when the Smith-Crabtree incident ultimately occurred.

I was not taking notes so I do not remember who the receiver and defensive back were, but I am pretty sure they were Jacoby Jones and Chris Culliver. In any event, the receiver ran a deep fly pattern and was pushed off-course by the defender way more than five yards past the line of scrimmage. And even with that interference, he recovered so well that he was only inches from making the catch. If not for the interference he would have caught the ball in stride within sniffing distance of the goal line, making it only a question of whether he scored on that play or got pulled down so close that his team scored a play or two later.

It is one thing for fans to complain about the officiating and selectively forget some incidents while remembering others. But it looks very petty for the losing team's head coach to do it, especially after being badly outcoached.

Speaking of which
I love Jim Harbaugh as a coach and admire his no-nonsense approach to competing, but on Sunday he clearly was not as good a coach as his brother John. He visibly lost his cool at multiple points in the game while John did not. In more than one instance, his play-calling looked frightened both inside his own twenty and inside the opponent's, while John's was consistently bold.

On the Niners' final drive they had first-and-goal from the seven and Jim did not call for a single play to be run from the pistol formation -- even though they were averaging eight yards per play from that formation. Not once did Jim call a play for Frank Gore after they achieved first-and-goal, and all three passing plays were to the same receiver even though the defense was keying on him.

Not really much else to say on this topic. There is no doubt that John was the better Harbaugh Sunday night.

Elite? Hell, yes
Joe Flacco has won more road playoff games than any other QB in the history of the NFL...He throws deep balls like Dan Marino and completes intermediate throws with needle-threading accuracy...He reads defenses better than anyone currently playing, and distributes his passes throughout his full receiving corps better than anyone else...While having played nine fewer seasons than the media's beloved Peyton Manning, Flacco has won just as many postseason games and just as many Super Bowls...Flacco has reached the playoffs every year of his career, and won at least one playoff game in every of those years...He just finished this postseason's four rounds without throwing a single interception...Yes, he is a pocket passer, but no, he is not confined to the pocket. In fact, he is more mobile than most of the QBs in the Hall of Fame, and he frequently makes defenses pay when he scrambles outside of the tackle box...In my opinion, those who argue that Flacco is not elite are either hopelessly oblivious to evidence, or hopelessly engaged in an internal struggle to never admit they were wrong.

Best job by an announcer
Phil Simms's explanataion of the rationale behind Jacoby Jones returning the second half kickoff from eight yards deep in the end zone. Like most Americans, I initially wondered what Jones could possibly be thinking. And after he crossed the goal line on the opposite side of the field, I found myself thinking he was lucky that his great run during the return would allow him to escape being remembered for the terrible decision to attempt it in the first place.

Then came Simms to explain that Jones's decision was, in reality, very smart. After pointingout that the kick was coming in low, and reminding viewers that John Harbaugh started out as a special teams coach, he went on to cite Harbaugh's own explanation of how his players are trained to decide whether to return kicks from inside the end zone. Specifically, they are to make the decision based not on the oncoming attackers but on the trajectory of the kick, for if the trajectory is not sufficiently high it means the kick is arriving too soon for the attackers to get where they need to be. In other words, Jones played it smart and just like his coach wanted.

The Star-Spangled Banner
I, for one, liked Alicia Keys's rendition. I am usually not a fan of artists "personalizing" songs like our (or any country's) national anthem, i.e., songs whose initial composition is not only classic but purposeful, and reflective of the nation's identity. But Keys's rendition gave true reverence to the spirit of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and her soulful delivery echoed musical traditions that were born specifically in America. Hers was not my favorite version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," but I disagree with most of the criticisms I have heard people hurl her way.

The Hall of Fame
I was happy to see offensive linemen get their due with the inclusion of Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, even though neither of them were on my own list of the five people I would have voted through this year. However, I was not happy to see Andre Reed passed over yet again while Cris Carter got in.

For a few years, conventional wisdom has held that none of the three eligible receivers (Reed, Carter, and Tim Brown) were being inducted because they were stealing votes from each other. For most of those years, Reed was coming in ahead of Carter in the vote counts with Brown running third. Saturday, Brown remained in his customary third while Carter leapfrogged Reed to make it into the Hall.

To be sure, all three of those players had stellar careers and Carter does belong in the Hall of Fame. But Reed was the best of the bunch and it is not right for Carter to reach the Hall ahead of him, especially when Reed has been retired longer and has less time remaining before his eligibility runs out....Carter did have great hands and did score many TDs, but he was basically a possession receiver with prolific numbers. Reed, on the other hand, was a game-changer who struck fear in the hearts of opponents and forced opposing coaches to alter game plans...Reed made it to four Super Bowls while Carter made it to none...Can you imagine Bradshaw in the Hall without Stallworth, or Montana without Rice? If not, then how is it that Jim Kelly's bust is sitting in Canton without Reed's?

Hall of Fame injustices are nothing new, and it can be argued that this one pales in comparison to others since I just admitted that Carter belongs in the Hall. Still, I can't help but write about it because two things really stick in my craw. One is the feeling that Reed is being penalized for not winning a Super Bowl, even though Carter never even made it to one, and even though Reed would have won one if Scott Norwood hadn't missed that field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV. The other thing I can't shake is the feeling that Carter leapfrogged Reed because he is now a media personality and his media friends have been loudly shilling for him for years...while no one outside of Buffalo publicly mentions, much less stands up for, the man who played his college ball for little Kutztown University before moving on to the pros.

Ray Lewis
My thoughts about him -- and more specifically, my thoughts about his critics -- will be the sole topic of my next post. Until then, watch hockey for your sports fix!