Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: In Memoriams

A look back at some of the impactful people who reached eternity this year:

Shirley Temple
The girl with the unmistakable curls and endearing smile -- who charmed the silver screen as a child in the 1930's, and whose name and face remain known even to people today who have never watched her movies -- departed this world four days before Valentine's Day.

As an adult Temple had a long and effective career in many high level posts. A lifelong Republican, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana from 1974-76, U.S. Chief of Protocol from 1976-77, and U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989-92. She was heavily involved with the Commonwealth Club of California, a prestigious think tank, and served as its president in 1984. Earlier, acting as a representative for the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, she happened to be in Prague when the Soviet Union invaded in 1968; she took refuge on her hotel's roof as tanks rolled through the city, and it was from there that she witnessed Soviet troops murder an unarmed woman on the street below.

And all of that represents just a portion of her overall accomplishments, for she also was on the boards of directors for Walt Disney, Del Monte Foods, Bank of America, Fireman's Fund Insurance, and the National Wildlife Federation -- among others. What a life!

Mickey Rooney
Two months after Shirley Temple moved up to the stars she was joined by Mickey Rooney, who also rose to fame as a child star in the 1930's. Unlike her, he remained in the acting business all the way to the end, and in fact he appears in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which is in theaters at this very moment. Here's hoping those two are currently yukking it up on the Good Ship Lollipop, and that Rooney has finally been able to put a smile on the tortured soul of his old pal Judy Garland.

Joe Cocker
If I could, I'd sing the word "farewell" in a growl so throaty it would make other people reach for cough drops, and I'd do it while moving in an awkward, herky jerky manner. But I can't. Only Joe Cocker could get away with that, and nine days ago cancer took him away from us. Let the record show that despite his high profile as an international music star from working class England, he remained married to one woman and they spent their last two decades living on a ranch in the Colorado Rockies that is not -- repeat, not -- near Vail or Aspen.

Joan Rivers
Go here for the thoughts I spilled at the time.

Robin Williams
When he hanged himself in August it seemed like everyone on Earth was stunned -- except for those who were closest to him, as evidenced by comments saying he had recently been "struggling with depression." Though I don't recall the exact source of those comments, I do remember them percolating from relatives or publicists or spokespeople, or some combination of the three.

But perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised. Like his earlier battles with alcohol and cocaine, Williams's battles with clinical depression were not a secret. Within minutes of hearing that his death was suspected to be suicide, my first thought was this: When you look at his based-on-his-own-life stage jokes  ("I had to stop drinking because I kept waking up on the lawn with the keys up my ass") against the backdrop of his serious acting roles (the English teacher in Dead Poets Society, psychology professor in Good Will Hunting, the dead man in What Dreams May Come) I can easily see him being one of those people who harbors a genuine love and concern for his fellow humans but a genuine dislike of himself.

In the end, he was able to beat the external demons of booze and drugs but not the internal demons of misfiring brain chemicals. So sad. So very, very sad.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Only four years older than me, with an acting career that was marked by virtuosity and did not include a single ho-hum performance, Hoffman perished in a dirty apartment with a heroin needle protruding from his vein. Just like that, three children were suddenly made fatherless. Like Neil Young once sang: "I've seen the needle and the damage done...every junkie's like a setting sun." Whose death is sadder, Williams's or Hoffman's? Pick your poison because there ain't a speck of beauty in either.

Geoffrey Holder
When you consider how each man met his end, Geoffrey Holder's life stands out as a kind of counter-balance to the lives of Williams and Hoffman. People of my generation may not know Holder's name, but we know him from those 7Up commercials in which he beckoned us to drink "the un-cola" and described it as "crisp and clean, and no caffeine." His imposing size, baritone-ish voice, and Caribbean accent left an impression that served him well in an acting career that included key roles as Punjab in 1982's Annie and Baron Samedi in the Bond film Live and Let Die

On Broadway, Holder starred in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot way back in 1957. Later, in 1975, he directed The Wiz and won Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Costume Design.

And before any of that he was recognized as a superb dancer. Holder began dancing professionally in his native Trinidad in 1937, when he was just seven years old. In 1955 he became a principal dancer for New York's Metropolitan Opera Ballet.

Plus, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for his painting.

When asked why a man of so many talents filmed TV commercials, Holder told People magazine: "I'm no snob. The commercial is an art form unto itself."

He died of pneumonia on October 5th, survived by his wife of 59 years, Carmen, and their son Leo. Looking back on his life, we realize that Sidney Poitier was not the only black islander who came to our shores and helped push down racial barriers in mid-century America.

Alois Brunner
Everyone else on this list is a person who contributed to the world, who you are sad to see go, and each of them is known to have died during this year -- but such is not the case with Alois Brunner, who was born in 1912 and joined Germany's Nazi Party in 1931. One year later he joined the Sturmabteilung, which predated the Nazi Party but was then acting as its paramilitary wing. Brunner eventually became the director of Hitler's SS and worked closely with Adolf Eichmann, who referred to him as his "best man."

During World War II Brunner deported Jews to concentration camps from Austria, Slovakia, and Greece. He is held responsible for sending at least 140,000 people to gas chambers; i.e., for having murdered the equivalent of the entire population of Savannah, Georgia. He escaped capture after the war and found sanctuary in Syria, where his brand of genocidal anti-Semitism was (and still is) celebrated rather than deplored.

While in Syria he lived with an openness and shamelessness that should anger every decent person on Earth. In 1985 he granted a remote interview to a German news magazine, telling it "my only regret is that I didn't murder more Jews." He eluded attempts by Simon Wiesenthal to capture him and by Mossad to kill him with letter bombs (though the latter efforts did result in him losing an eye and fingers in 1980).

On November 30th of this year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported that it had received credible information indicating Brunner died in 2010. If true, the only downside to him dying is that he did not first experience retribution at the hands of humans.

Johnny Winter
As an accomplished white blues musician, Winter would have been an unusual sight in any event, but as an albino his appearance on a blues stage was unique in the literal sense. With his height, long white hair, pale eyes and extra pale skin, he looked almost like a vampire in plain clothes -- and it speaks well of his musicianship that his appearance never overshadowed his talent.

Winter was born in Texas in 1944 and began recording at the age of 15. The $600,000 he received for signing with Columbia Records in December 1968 is believed to have been the largest advance in recording history up to that point.

He did not fail to live up to expectations, as the near-concurrent release of his eponymous Columbia debut and extended distribution of his previous album The Progressive Blues Experiment propelled him to stardom. Winter released a series of albums, some of which were traditional blues and some of which were blues-rock, and in the late 1970's he fulfilled a childhood dream by playing with Muddy Waters in a trio of recording sessions. As the years went on he headlined the Chicago Blues Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and Sweden Rock Festival.

On July 16th, two days after performing at a blues festival in France, Winter was found dead in a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, and no cause of death has been determined. In September his final album was released, featuring appearances by Eric Clapton, Brian Setzer, Ben Harper and Joe Perry, to name just a few.

Harold Ramis
Just glance at a partial list of the movies Ramis created: Animal HouseCaddyshackStripesNational Lampoon's VacationGhostbustersAs Good As It GetsAnalyze ThisKnocked Up. Ponder that list. The comedies are comedy for its own sake, not dragged down by personal bitterness or political bias. And the lone drama is a purely human one, for as it embraces the idea that our shortcomings exist alongside our yearning for goodness, As Good As It Gets does not get dragged down by personal bitterness or political bias. Need I say more?

James Garner
Garner passed away on July 19th at the age of 86. American television would not be American television without this Oklahoman who starred in Maverick in the 1950's and The Rockford Files in the 1970's.

Ralph Waite
Nor would American television be American television without Ralph Waite, the New Yorker who portrayed the family patriarch in The Waltons in the 1970's. He passed away in February at the age of 85.

Jean Beliveau
Beliveau was born 83 years ago in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, and died 29 days ago in Longueuil, Quebec. From 1950 to 1971 he established himself as one of the greatest hockey players ever to lace up a pair of skates, spending the majority of those years playing for the Montreal Canadiens and helping make them the game's most storied franchise.

A centreman blessed with a deadly left-handed shot and uncanny view of the ice, Beliveau led the Canadiens to 10 Stanley Cups and served as their captain for 10 of his 18 full seasons with the team. He played in 13 All-Star Games and was the first hockey player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 1965 he became the only team captain in NHL history to score the Cup-winning goal and win the Conn Smythe Trophy (for playoff MVP) on the same night.

Beliveau's statistics were so strong that although he retired 43 years ago, even today he ranks as Montreal's second all-time leading scorer. In addition to his athletic tenacity, he was so admired for his intelligence and character that in the 1990's he was twice offered a Senate seat by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and once recommended as a candidate for Governor General of Canada by the subsequent prime minister, Jean Chretien. In all three instances, Beliveau declined.

At his funeral, his casket was draped in a Candiens team flag and four of his old teammates were among his pallbearers. In one of the eulogies given that day, Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden said of Beliveau that "no place was was too small or remote, because no fan or person was unimportant...He treated everyone with such respect. He said the right thing, in the right way -- in French and in English -- because that's what he believed and that's what he was."

Of course, there were many other people deserving of notice who passed away in 2014, but time is limited and I have already been long-winded. So be safe tonight, have a Happy New Year, and may 2015 bring peace and prosperity to your life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Essence of the Season

It happened -- actually, the beginning of it happened -- one hundred years ago tonight.

When Christmas Eve came round in 1914, Europe was in the throes of trench warfare that walked the line between brutality and barbarism. The weaponry of the age was advanced but the medical care was not, and therefore the percentage of battlefield wounds that resulted in death was much higher than it is today.

The war that was raging in 1914 seems incomprehensible to most of us living in 2014. It is difficult to understand how the assassination of an Austro-Hungarian archduke while he was visiting Bosnia could plunge all of Europe, and eventually the United States, into a war in which the main foes were Britain and Germany. While it was happening and for some time afterward, it was referred to simply as The Great War. Nobody could have thought to call it World War I -- not, that is, until World War II erupted a mere two decades after The Great War ended.

As you would expect in the northerly latitudes where the war was unfolding, its western front was cold on December 24th of that year. After dark enveloped the countryside near Ypres, Belgium, soldiers from Britain's 18th Infantry Brigade heard their German counterparts singing "Silent Night," though of course the Germans were singing it in their own tongue as "Stille Nacht."

Some accounts say the British responded by singing "Silent Night" back to the Germans, while others say they responded by belting out "O Come All Ye Faithful." Though the exact exchange is now lost in the fog of time, there is no doubt that enemy soldiers reached out in peace by singing Christmas carols to each other across the no man's land which separated their foxholes.

After dawn broke the following morn, the soldiers emerged anxiously and met in no man's land, opting on Christmas Day to lay down their arms and mingle as human beings. They chose, if only for a day, to embrace their commonality and ignore the deadly designs drawn up for them by politicians in distant capitals. They talked -- haltingly given their different languages, but effectively nonetheless -- and they exchanged trinkets as gifts. They even played soccer, using actual soccer balls in some games and empty corned beef cans in others.

And those references to "some" games and "other" games reflect the most remarkable thing about the impromptu civility shown by enemy troops: It occurred not only near Ypres but at multiple spots along the western front. 

Friendly Limey-vs.-Kraut soccer matches popped up in several places. The most famous involved Germany's 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment facing a UK brigade comprised mostly of Scotsmen. The Germans won that one by a score of 3-2 and one of their lieutenants, Johannes Niemann, wrote that "us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts."

Some military leaders were appalled that their charges were fraternizing with the enemy, and some lower-ranking personnel were also appalled. According to a German soldier in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, one of the regiment's corporals said with disgust that "such things should not happen" and went on to ask if the Germans participating in the friendliness had "no sense of honor left at all." The corporal was 25 years old and his name was Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the resistance of leaders and of people like the young Hitler serves only to strengthen the significance of what happened when those unofficial truces took place on December 24th and 25th, 1914. They are known collectively as the Christmas Truce and have, to a certain degree, become mythologized as the intervening century has passed. But the Christmas Truce did happen and continues to serve as a testament to the inner goodness that dwells in humanity -- the inner goodness that can come to the fore and propel us upward in the darkest of times.

To a maddening degree, that goodness is locked in a struggle with the badness that also dwells within us all. Man's divided heart is a paradox that vexes anyone who dares think about it. It drove Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to agonize that "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

The beauty of Christmas is that it spotlights the good and gives rise to the good without denying the existence of the bad. In his old age, Ebeneezer Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and compelled to make a choice -- to choose between continuing on a road to perdition or switching to a road to salvation. There is no sugar-coating in the telling of Dickens's tale, and we remember the glory of Scrooge's salvation precisely because of how close he came to experiencing the horror of the alternative.

But back to the Christmas Truce: A full century later it stands out as a shining example of how the power of good, genuinely felt and properly perceived by individual human beings, can overcome the power of bad.

In the most tangible sense, the triumph of that 24-hour period was brief because it was not repeated in the subsequent Decembers of World War I. As the war unfolded, commanding officers tightened the clamps to prevent a recurrence of the truce. Plus, a rapid increase in the use of chemical weapons made people less inclined to take the risk of being the first to step into no man's land in plain view of enemy forces.

However, intangibles are just as real as tangibles; and they often turn into tangibles; and they often bear fruit much later in the growing season of Time, long after early-season tangibles have withered and died.

One hundred years later, after the subsequent invention of nuclear weapons and subsequent proliferation of mass-scale terrorism, a strong case can be made that old-timey World War I remains the cruelest and bloodiest war the world has ever seen. And yet, the Christmas Truce is its most remembered and talked-about event -- more so than the battles of Scimitar Hill, Verdun, and the Argonne; more so that the sinking of the Lusitania; more so than the downing of the Red Baron; more so that the arrival of American doughboys; more so than the Armistice.

Corporal Hitler despised the Christmas Truce, and today he is remembered as such a vile character that everyone but the lowest reprobates recognizes him as the personification of evil. Conservative and Liberal, Jew and Gentile, Religious and Atheist, Germanic and non-Germanic, European and non-European -- virtually all of humanity is in agreement that Hitler's name should be infamous forever. Looking back with the fullness of time we see that the commoners who enacted the Christmas Truce, by singing at night and shaking hands by day, did more to stir man's heart than the corporal who would go on to mesmerize millions and rule a nation.

Every Christmas we should recall the unofficial truce of 1914, but this Christmas is its centennial and it deserves to be loudly celebrated. We should make a point of telling our kids about it and holding it in the front of our thoughts, for it might be the greatest true example of what the Christmas season is all about.

Note: To commemorate the centennial, the British grocery chain Sainsbury's produced a three-minute, forty-second ad portraying the Christmas Truce. Yes, it does show a Sainsbury's chocolate bar that a British soldier gives to a German soldier, but it is the shortest and most unobtrusive product placement I have ever seen. The commercial is superbly filmed, superbly acted, and arguably the best I've ever watched. You can view it by going here. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

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.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

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 by America’s greatest poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, more than 150 Christmases ago. 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.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Christmas Miracle

I published this post six years ago, and it just feels right to "reprint" it today:

My grandfather passed away two months ago.  

I have wanted to write a post about him ever since, and there are a thousand things I want to say in that post, yet it remains unwritten for one very unmovable reason:  I have no idea where or how to start saying those thousand things.  When a man lives 81 years, has 39 direct descendants, and impacts not only his family but countless other people as well, how can you sum up his life in a handful of paragraphs?  You can’t. 

But I do not have that problem when it comes to writing about Granddaddy and Christmas, after the way they converged three years ago. 

Granddaddy’s love of God, family, and country; his zeal when talking about those things to anybody with whom he came into contact; his faith in the perfectibility of man; his irrepressible Scotch-Irish mischief; his unsurpassed diligence in everything to which he set his mind or his hands – those qualities will all be written about in time, but for the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that in the last few years of his life they were cruelly stolen by Alzheimer’s disease. 

His mental sharpness started to dull about five years ago.  In 2005 his memory faded as well, and the fading was fast.  He carried on conversations with Nana without realizing it was her.  Remembering how she looked in their youth but not in the here and now, he said things like “I wonder when Peggy’s going to come home” while looking into her very eyes. 

When he and Nana arrived at our family’s 2005 Christmas Eve party, nobody expected to be recognized by him.  Because I did not want to confuse him by addressing him in a way that would suggest he was speaking to his grandson, and because I knew his recollections of battling the Nazis remained vivid, that night I simply called him “Corporal.” 

He asked if I was in the Army like he had been, and I told him I was not because of my diabetes. I told him that we nonetheless had some similarities, because just like him, my last name was Stanton and my blood carried Scotch-Irish genes.  He nodded and said it was good to meet me.  He said I should come around again sometime. 

Everyone at the party walked a tightrope, balancing holiday cheer on one hand with the sadness of loss on the other.  The man we loved, who had known each of us by name just a year earlier, had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. 

But as the night started to grow long, something sparked inside Granddaddy’s mind.  When most of us were assembled in and around the kitchen, he “addressed the room” and said it was great that we were there.  He did not specifically acknowledge that we were all family; however, when he looked at my Aunt Sharon, the third of his five children, a glint appeared in his eyes and he spoke the word “daughter.” 

He and Nana stood on the driveway as the party wound down.  I stood there too, as did several others, hoping to give Nana some sense of normalcy.  But it turned out that our presence was not needed, for while Venus shone brightly like the Star of Bethlehem, Granddaddy came back as if by magic.  Looking up at the Milky Way, he spoke to Nana by name and said:  “Peggy, I’m trying to remember the night we got married.”  Some minutes later, when he said goodbye to each of us, his face bore a look of recognition and for that moment it no longer seemed that there was a stranger trapped in his body. 

As his wife of 59 years drove him back to the house they had called home for 53 years, they talked about their life and their family and it was as if the dementia had never been.  After finishing that 45-mile excursion from rural Hernando County to urban Tampa, they sat up late into the night conversing and reminiscing and sharing life’s small but inimitable joys.  They lay down in bed like they had done so many times through the years, and for that one holy night Granddaddy was Granddaddy again:  John Stanton, Jr., child of the Great Depression, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, pastor, proud but humble, flawed but good.

When the sun rose, the dementia was back and my grandmother's husband, as she knew him, never returned.  But they had gotten that one last night together on Christmas Eve, and had gotten it after everyone assumed it was not possible.  As Nana said:  “That was my Christmas miracle.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

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).

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Never Forget

Pearl Harbor Day is upon us, so let us recall what happened 73 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 squandered what was handed down to us by people like Larry Perry, and as a result we failed to transfer freedom’s blessings to our descendants... And since you probably don't know who Larry Perry is, I recommend you look here and find out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

et ceteras

Just like newfallen snow makes landscape scars vanish beneath a blanket of white, the Christmas season always lifts my spirits and helps me overcome life's irritations. For that reason, I usually spend the month of December publishing more posts about Christmas and fewer posts about politics and social issues.

This year will be no different, but before I start smiling wide and serving figurative online eggnog, I do have a few things to get off of my chest. So here goes.

"Black-on-black crime"
I would just as soon never hear that phrase again. Although it has gotten lots of mileage since the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, it's been around for ages -- sometimes used by black activists (mostly liberals) to scold their melanin-endowed brethren for behaving in ways that damage racial solidarity, and sometimes used by white commentators (mostly conservatives) as a way to change the subject rather than debate something about which they're unsure of the facts.

The problem I have is this: The whole notion of "black-on-black" crime being different than any other crime is bogus.

Most criminals target victims in their own neighborhoods, and almost all murder victims on Earth are killed by someone they know, often by someone they know intimately. Combine those truths with the fact that most Americans continue to live in racially distinct neighborhoods (and with the fact that most black Americans who "leave the hood" relocate to areas with particularly low crime rates) and you see it's inevitable that 93 percent of black crime victims are victimized by black perpetrators... For the exact same reasons, it is unremarkable that 84 percent of white crime victims are victimized by white perps... And since a large percentage of American Indians Native Americans reside on reservations where only their fellow tribesmen are allowed to live, just imagine what the rate of American Indians Native Americans burglarized by other American Indians Native Americans must be!

Nonetheless, people often talk about "black-on-black" crime and never about "white-on-white" or any other "_____-on-_____" crime, thus creating the false impression that the former is some kind of anomaly in the world of statistics. To my ears, no one comes off good when dealing in such terms because: 1) When a black person talks about "black-on-black" crime, it sounds like he's implying he would not be bothered by black criminality if only its victims were white -- even though that's not what he means; and 2) When a white person talks of "black-on-black" crime, it sounds condescending at best and bigoted at worst, like he's implying "damned if we should care about 'you people' when you don't even care about yourselves" -- even though that's not what he means.

The phrase is deceiving even if the speaker doesn't mean for it to be. Plus, it's almost never relevant to whatever topic is at hand. And to top things off, it's unproductive. Our nation would be better off if it disappeared from our discourse.

"Sexual assault"
Since I'm on the topic of phrases I would rather not hear again, can we please do away with "sexual assault" and go back to "rape"?

I remember a George Carlin skit in which he talked about society changing the words it uses to describe something, and thereby causing the meaning of that thing to get lost in translation. To illustrate what he was talking about, he pointed out that during World War I, when a soldier experienced mental trauma after witnessing and being forced to participate in the barbarism of war, the phenomenon was called "shell shock" -- but come World War II, it was downplayed by referring to it as "battle fatigue," and come Korea it was made unclear by calling it "operational dysfunction," and come Vietnam it was made even more flavorless by calling it "post-traumatic stress disorder."

In my opinion, something similar is occurring with our elevation of the term "sexual assault," which is happening in concert with an obvious (though unacknowledged) phasing out of the word "rape."

To be fair, "sexual assault" does not sound benign by any sense of the imagination. But it's not "rape" either. When you hear that a woman was raped, your eyes widen and you know she experienced terror, violence, and forced submission, and you know she was branded with emotional wounds that might never heal. But when you hear there was a "sexual assault," you tend to wonder "so, what exactly was it that happened?"

Somehow, the term "sexual assault" sounds more legalistic than humanistic, and at the end of the day that is a disservice.

Obviously I am not against justice. I am, however, against any corruption misuse of the word "justice," which is another not-new phenomenon that has been on heightened display since the Ferguson grand jury made its decision.

Unsatisfied with Darren Wilson losing only his job, Al Sharpton intoned: "We weren't after Darren Wilson's job. We were after Michael Brown's justice."

The student newspaper of Santa Monica College reported: "A group of Santa Monica College students lead (sic) a protest on campus yesterday afternoon demanding justice for Michael Brown."

Jared Keller of News.Mic remarked that Brown's parents "aren't through seeking justice."

NAACP President Cornell William Barnes spoke of "bringing about justice."

Writing in USA Today, Tavis Smiley opined that "this case reeks of social injustice." He also referred to the grand jury's "failure to indict" and remarked that the U.S. Justice Department "appear(s) to have failed to find a civil rights violation," clearly implying that Wilson should face legal punishment -- even though Smiley concedes, in the very same article, that where this case is concerned "the facts were always a bit more stubborn, and to some degree, in doubt."

Facebook pages called "Justice for Michael Brown" and "Justice for Mike Brown" (as well as a page on the NAACP's web site titled "Justice for Michael Brown") have drawn flurries of updates and comments.

The problem I have is that justice is what happened when the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, yet none of the above parties are willing to entertain the idea that such might be the case.

If Michael Brown had been surrendering, if his hands had been in the air, the people seeking "justice for Michael Brown" would be in the right. However, the combination of forensic evidence (especially the blood spatters) and eyewitness testimony shows he was charging at Wilson when he was shot, his hands were not raised, and that he confronted Wilson inside the squad car.

Every principle of justice dictates that when a person is being attacked he has a right to defend himself; and that when he believes the attacker might kill him, he has a right to defend himself with deadly force. There is more than ample reason to believe that Wilson thought his life was in danger, not only given the evidence and testimony but also given Brown's violent theft of Swisher Sweets earlier that night. The surveillance video from the convenience store showed that Brown was willing and able to practice brutality, and that he in fact did practice it in the hours leading up to his demise.

To shackle Darren Wilson and put him through a trial, when it is abundantly clear that his actions were justified, would be the opposite of justice. Had the grand jury done that, it would have been not because of evidence and logic but because the jurors feared the mob beyond the gates... And if they had been swayed by their fear, who's to say that the people on the subsequent trial jury would not also have been swayed by fear and opted to convict in order to avoid the backlash? That would result in a man who was not proven guilty being sent to prison without regard to facts and evidence.

If that had occurred, it would have been one of the most grotesque injustices in the recent decades of American history, yet it is precisely what is desired by people claiming they want justice. Like someone once said, it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

Eric Garner
Different story. He was wronged and now he is dead, and his death is an example of the police state gone awry. And the protesters are right.

I know of one hard-assed prosecutor (is there any other kind?) who has written that he "cannot in good conscience say there was insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Pantaleo for involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide."

Yes, Garner resisted arrest. But he did not resist violently, and nobody -- not even the officers involved in taking him down -- has claimed he was a threat to anyone's safety. He was bigger than any of the cops in the video, but seriously, since when do we as Americans think it is okay to dispatch four officers of the law to take someone down for selling individual cigarettes on the sidewalk? That is dictatorship-type stuff, and in this instance, a man died because of it.

I know a number of police officers, and I know that police officers know of something called positional asphyxiation, which in plain English means you can die of suffocation if left cuffed in a prone position for a period of time. In order to prevent positional asphyxiation from happening to people who are under arrest, cops are supposed to put them in a sitting position after handcuffing them. This is not secret voodoo type stuff, it is basic common knowledge in law enforcement -- and if you watch the Garner video, you will see that instead of putting him in a sitting position, the arresting officers left him prone even after he told them he couldn't breathe. Right there is your "negligent homicide" charge.

I do not know if Pantaleo would have been found guilty at trial. Nor do I know if he should have been found guilty, since I have not seen all of the information the grand jury reviewed. But I am certain that Daniel Pantaleo (and not only him) should have stood trial for Eric Garner's death.

Until next time:  au revoir! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Game Planning

Based on precedent, those of us who are not on the Left have little confidence that the GOP knows what to do believe it is healthy to give the GOP advice about what to do with the mandate it received on November 4th. Therefore, here are some things I believe the incoming Republicans should do after they take their oaths of office.

Follow George Will's advice
By which I mean, take up the six items he recommended in this column.

Follow Charles Krauthammer's recommendation...
...of passing one good and popular piece of legislation per week and sending it to Obama's desk, forcing the president to either sign it into law or veto it. If he chooses the latter route, it will further cement his reputation as America's first imperial president, as one who governs unambiguously against the will of the people. The fact of it being Obama's pen that strikes the legislation down will dim the Democratic Party's chances of retaining the presidency in 2016.

And if Obama chooses to enact rather than veto, that will also dim his party's hopes of retaining the presidency because it will reinforce what the public appears to already believe about Democrats: That they follow the people's will only when they desperately need to get back in the people's good graces.

There is a third possibility: That Senate Democrats will filibuster House-passed legislation to prevent it from being voted on. This too would hurt them and help the GOP.

Before the first week of the new Congress is done, announce the party's plan to combat Obama's dictatorial action of November 20th executive order granting de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens Jeffersonian individualists.

The Exalted One is announcing his unilateral action on the same evening I am writing this, and I am not yet going to offer any thoughts on what the GOP's counter plans should be, for the simple reason that I need more time to think through my ideas before putting my name on them. I will, however, stress that the Republicans' November 4th  mandate was clearly a demand for them to stop this autocrat president! In light of that, if they still can't summon the gumption to stand up to him after the amnesty outrage, the disaster which flows from that outrage will be just as much their fault as his.

Obamacare, Part A
Attack it on multiple fronts and do so by root and branch. The public has never approved of it and polls show it is even less popular now than ever. On November 4th, Republicans who won Senate races in key states did so after making a point of opposing it during their campaigns.

Of course, Obama is almost one hundred percent certain to veto any legislation that substantially changes the law which bears his name, but as noted above, him using his veto pen against popular measures will hurt Democrats and help Republicans when 2016 rolls around.

The GOP should start by passing a repeal of Obamacare itself. When El Presidente vetoes it, they should start repealing specific parts of it or challenging them in court. The parts they target should include the individual mandate, business mandate, death panel Independent Payment Advisory Board, tax on medical devices, and many others. If these piecemeal repeal measures also get vetoed or filibustered, well, again, so what? Each veto or filibuster shows who it is that's truly blocking what the public wants and needs -- and while I know my "each veto will hurt the Democrats" claim must be getting repetitive, I am going to repeat it here because it is especially true when the veto protects an unpopular law that was passed solely by Democrats.

Obamacare, Part B
In concert with attacking specific parts of Obamacare, Republicans should pass the kinds of health care reform measures they believe in. Things like: 1) allowing medical insurance carriers to sell a broad array of plans customized to customers' desires and budgets, rather than forcing them to sell only plans that cover what and how Master Government decrees; 2) removing the pointless regulations that force insurers to incur large compliance costs, which are always passed on to their customers in the form of higher premiums; 3) allowing medical insurance to be sold across state lines, which will increase competition and thus could put downward pressure on premiums; 4) allowing tax deductions for medical expenses, and counting insurance premiums as one of those expenses; and 5) encouraging the kind of tort reform that has led to a health care boom in Texas.

In addition, Republicans should leave alone whatever aspects of Obmacare are good and popular (there have to be some).

Obamacare, Part C
They should openly debate and ultimately pursue some health care reform measures that do not fit into the doctrinaire conservative box. One of these might involve making treatment for life-threatening conditions, such as chemotherapy or a coronary bypass, be paid for by the federal government -- while leaving all other treatment, such as your rotator cuff repair or Obama's grandmother's hip replacement, to be paid for by private insurance or by the patient going out of pocket.

(In case you were wondering, although treatment for life-threatening conditions can be overwhelmingly expensive for an individual, it is a relatively small percentage of America's overall health costs. Therefore the government might be able to take up that responsibility without capsizing its fiscal ship, especially if private insurers can also cover such treatment and government steps in only when there is no private coverage.)

Court the "black vote"
I have always contended that based on their stated policy positions, the majority of black Americans ought to be in the Republican Party. (I also base that on the the facts that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican while Jefferson Davis was a Democrat; Governor Orval "Block the Little Rock Nine" Faubus was a Democrat while President Dwight "Protect the Little Rock Nine" Eisenhower was a Republican; George Wallace and Bull Connor were Democrats while MLK was a Republican; Jack Kemp was a Republican; Greg Anthony is a Republican; Charles Barkley trends Republican; Lionel Hampton was a Republican, and on and on.)

I long ago made my peace with not being able to comprehend why such a high percentage of black voters pull the Democrat lever, but I have never wavered in my desire to bring more of them into the Republican tent -- and like I already touched on here, November 4th shows us that the time is ripe to do just that.

I do not believe the goals of the GOP and the goals of black voters are different. To make that clear to the only people who matter -- black voters themselves -- Republicans should engage in the very simple and extremely important task of speaking directly to black audiences about issues on which they agree. By "speaking directly," I'm talking about doing so year-round, not just in election years, and in intimate settings like churches and community meetings. And I mean "talk with" as opposed to "talk to." When Republican leaders are in the LA area, they should spend more time conversing with parishioners in the middle of Watts than dining with members of Rick Warren's Orange County megachurch.

The issues on which Republicans and the majority of black Americans agree include, above all else, school choice. Not far behind that are protection of religious liberty, protection of property rights, and creating a friendly market environment with genuine and visible prospects for new jobs.

Perhaps most importantly, however, today's GOP leaders should make it a centerpiece of their speeches to stress that they are dedicated to preserving a welfare safety net for those who truly need it. They should stop superficially playing the "What Would Reagan Do?" card, and instead point to what the the Gipper actually did regarding welfare when he was governor of California: Enact reforms that removed those who did not need assistance from the state's rolls, while increasing benefits by more than 40 percent for those who did need it.

Republicans have never wanted to eliminate welfare; but they tend to be poor communicators, and therefore they have always assumed everyone knows they don't want to eliminate it, and thus they have failed to state so with the kind of passion that makes doubters believe. As a result, for decades on end the Democratic Party has been able to say the GOP wants to throw the indigent on the street and eliminate school lunches and do all kinds of nefarious things that will have a disparate impact on America's black population -- and the GOP's listless denials to those charges have caused many members of America's black population to suspect that there might be some truth to them.

It is time for Republicans to stop committing this abominable unforced error. By simply making it clear that they don't want to eliminate the safety net, they can get millions more black people to listen to what they have to say. Once that happens, a not-insignificant percentage of them might decide to pull the Republican lever.

It would only take 20 to 25 percent of black Americans voting GOP to make the GOP almost unbeatable, and let's be serious:  A piddling number like that should not be hard to obtain. Getting to it is not the easiest lift in the world and it won't happen overnight, but it's not the heaviest lift in the world either.

The black vote is available. The GOP should go out there and earn it.

I'm kind of riffing off the above section with this. Like I just said, Republicans tend to be poor communicators and it's time to put an end to that. It bothers me that the same party which produced Lincoln and Reagan has not been able to produce any other excellent communicators in its 150+ years of existence.

Thankfully, the GOP does have some good communicators in its younger ranks and it's not necessary to send them to speech class. They simply need to get their face directly in front of the public more often, talk candidly when they do, and eventually each of them should mature into the best version of himself.

Republicans can't count on the media to accurately portray conservative ideas and ideals, because the media never has and never will. Instead, Republican officeholders need to go on talking head news shows (national and local ones alike) and state their case to the viewers. They should welcome doing so at the same time that another guest is presenting "the other side," so that the public can see a debate rather than a monologue. They should pen commentaries to appear in their local newspapers. They should often travel back to their states and districts and talk at all kinds of community gatherings, public holiday observances, etc.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz should do everything possible to make Univision their second home. So too should the fluently Spanish-speaking Jeb Bush, who, contrary to what some radio fire-breathers claim, is a bona fide conservative with a long public record that proves it.

A little communication can go a long way. Like Vincent "Bo" Jackson famously said on behalf of Nike: Just do it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ten Days Later

Since McConnell & Co. are dying to know my ideas for what the GOP should do next, I will share some of them in my upcoming post, and at some point after that I will wrap up last month's "Loquacious Latina" series.

Today's post, however, takes a look back at some lessons that can be gleaned from the Republican wave that rolled ashore last week. Such as...

Take nothing for granted
The obvious takeaway is that American voters rejected Obama's brand of big-government socialist liberalism for the pure and simple reason than it has been failing at an escalating pace for six years running, both in economic and national security matters, and the pace of its failure is now so fast as to feel supersonic.

Perhaps I should focus on that takeaway, but I'm not going to because I know the voters' rejection of Obamaism does not necessarily mean they have accepted the vision of Milton Friedman.

If you doubt me, consider that in an Edison Research exit poll of 18,000 voters, 52 percent said they believe Hillary Clinton would not make a good president, and by a 16-point margin they said they would vote for "the Republican candidate" over her (a good sign!) -- yet in the very same poll, 60 percent said they believe Rand Paul would not make a good president and 64 percent said the same of Chris Christie (a not so good sign).

Basically, all the voters have done is reject Obama's worldview; ask Republicans to stop his ideas from continuing to become reality; and invite them to articulate a vision of their own and prove they have the nerve to implement it.

Demography is not destiny
In my mind, the biggest takeaway from the midterms is the rapid erosion of Democrats' ability to convince minorities that the Democratic Party is their salvation. And by "minorities" I guess I mean any demographic group that pandering liberals claim to love.

Women:  Liberals have long accused Republicans of wanting women barred from lucrative jobs and forced to give birth to ten children by the age of 35. Though the accusations were never true, they became even more egregious when Democrats kept making them in spite of the fact that red states like South Carolina and Alaska elected women as governors. Then came last Tuesday, when Republican women won U.S. Senate seats in two non-red states.

Up in Iowa (which voted twice for Obama and has gone Republican only once in the last seven presidential elections) Jodi Ernst handily defeated Bruce Braley by a margin of 52-44. And in West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito clobbered Natalie Tennant 62-34, becoming the first Republican to win a Senatorial election in that state since 1956 (and the first woman from either party to ever win one there).

Making things even better is that Democrat Wendy Davis -- the media's pinup, intellectually shallow, abortion-on-demand candidate for Texas governor -- lost the female vote to Republican Greg Abbott by six points.

Dems have long condescended to women by acting like the only things they care about are 1) forcing someone else to pay for their contraception and 2) being allowed to kill their children terminate their pregnancies without any restrictions whatsoever, for any reason they desire, at any time they desire right up to the due date and beyond, so long as some portion of the baby's body has yet to slip outside the vagina. Fortunately, it looks like more and more women are seeing that condescension for what it really is.

The "black vote":  For the last half-century or so, no voting bloc has been as one-sided as that of black Americans. In race after race, state after state, the percentage of blacks who vote Republican has been stuck in single digits -- until last Tuesday brought some surprising results.

In Obama's home state of Illinois, which is bluer than the sky, Republican Bruce Gauner did what everyone thought impossible by beating incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn in the governor's race. And not only did he win, he did so while receiving an astonishing 20 percent of the black vote. It might sound pathetic to celebrate winning only 20 percent of something, but when you think about the math, it seems that if the GOP could get that much of the black vote nationwide, it would almost never lose an election. The fact that Gauner got 20 percent in Illinois, of all places, shows that that number can be attained and even exceeded.

Then there is Maryland, which has the fourth-largest black population in America, at 29.44 percent of its total. On top of that, Maryland is a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one. In short, it sounds like a place where Republicans could never win, and for much of its history that has been the case. However, when last Tuesday came, white Republican Larry Hogan defeated black Democrat Anthony Brown in the governor's race. (Keep in mind that in addition to having the advantage of being a Democrat and being black, Brown also had the advantage of being Maryland's incumbent lieutenant governor).

Maybe this video is having an effect.

Black Americans as Republicans:  Related to the Left's assertion that black people in this country should never vote for Republicans is its belief that black people could never run as Republicans. Because, you know, Republicans are racists and would never allow a black candidate to get through a primary. But in South Carolina, Republican Tim Scott just became the first black person since the 1800's to win a U.S. Senate seat in one of the former Confederate states (though as recently as 2010, there was a Democrat serving in the U.S. Senate who actually was a Ku Klux Klansman).

Plus, out in Utah -- where the black population is almost invisible -- black, female, Brooklyn-born Republican Mia Love was elected to the U.S. Senate after winning more than half the vote against white, male, Utah-born Democrat Doug Owens and white, male Libertarian Jim Vein.

The "Hispanic vote":  Historically, up through the near-history that is the 2012 election, the nationwide Hispanic vote has gone overwhelmingly for the Democrats. Not as overwhelmingly Democrat as the black vote, but still Democrat by an extremely wide margin. Then, last week, there were signs of change when Greg Abbott received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas, Nathan Deal received 47 percent in Georgia, and Sam Brownback received 47 percent in Kansas. (Comparatively speaking, Mitt Romney received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, though admittedly, that 27 percent is a national figure rather than a state-specific one.)

Considering the above...
...don't you think some of the honchos at Democrat Headquarters are getting worried that their electoral foundation is starting to crack?

Two Transcendent Issues
During this election season, for whatever the reason was (and it was probably to avoid having its words mischaracterized), the Republican Party itself chose not to say anything at all about its platform. The party, kind of like a football team playing prevent defense or trying to milk the clock late in a game, decided that its safest bet for achieving victory was simply to point out that the other team sucks.

Fortunately, it did not impose that game plane on its individual candidates, and those candidates who made the biggest splash did so by focusing on two specific issues over which the public is truly energized: fighting Obamacare and turning back the tide of illegal immigration.

With regard to the former:
David Harsanyi made this observation: "Another myth we heard for weeks leading up to the elections was that Republicans had abandoned Obamacare as an issue. Turns out some of the biggest winners in the most competitive states -- Cory Gardner in Colorado, Jodi Ernst in Iowa -- were full-throated critics of the Affordable Care Act and never shied away. According to Kantar Media's Compaign Analysis Group, Obamacare ads dominated TV and radio. The GOP ran about 13,000 Obamacare ads in Senate races in one week leading up to Election Day. When was the last time a single piece of legislation dominated a midterm that way?"

Actually, I would submit that the answer to Harsanyi's question is the midterm immediately preceding this one; and I would add that the galvanizing issue then was the very same one, since the GOP's 2010 landslide was driven largely by Americans' bipartisan dislike of Obamacare and outrage over the way it was passed against their will. You may go here to read Harsanyi's entire column (which was about several election-related matters, not merely about Obamacare).

With regard to the latter: Well, well, well. The Exalted One and his minions used the first half of his first term to shove his brand of "health care reform" down the public's throat without the public's approval, and the public responded by poleaxing his party at the midterm. And now that the the first half of The Exalted One's second term has resulted in another midterm poleaxing, he is seeking a bookend kind of symmetry by plotting to shove amnesty for illegal aliens down the public's throat without the public's approval.

Make no mistake about it: The public loathes the idea of amnesty. From coast to coast, in states blue and purple as well as red, Republicans who vowed to combat illegal immigration defeated Democrats who did not.

Oregon is far from the southern border and arguably the most liberal state in our blessed Union, and even its voters voiced an unambiguous "Hell no!" to illegal immigration when they voted against Measure 88 by a margin of 67-33 (the measure would have allowed illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses, and Oregonians cast more votes over than particular issue than they did over any other item on the ballot).

New Hampshire has been predominantly blue for 20 years and is about as far from the southern border as you can get without crossing into Canada. In addition to facing the disadvantage of being a Republican candidate in that state, Scott Brown faced the obstacle of being called a carpetbagger because he moved there less than a year ago. He was thought to have no chance against incumbent Jeanne Shaheen when he decided to run against her for one of the state's U.S. Senate seats, and indeed, for most of the election season he was far behind her in the polls... However, in the weeks before Election Day the large gap between them rapidly closed after Brown made illegal immigration a central issue in the race. Yes, he wound up losing by a hair, but if not for the issue of illegal immigration, he would have gotten blown out.

So make no mistake about this: Barack Hussein Obama knows very well that the public loathes the idea of amnesty, just as he knew we loathed the idea of nationalized medicine when he forced it upon us in 2010. If he was unconstrained by public opinion then, when a midterm was visible through his windshield and he himself faced reelection in two years, just imagine how unconstrained he is feeling now, with his final midterm in the rearview mirror and he himself not facing reelection for the rest of his life.

And finally, make no mistake about this: When Barack Hussein Obama quickly makes millions of illegals legal with the stroke of a pen -- giving them all access to a smorgasbord of taxpayer-funded benefits; giving them a pathway to citizenship that ignores the rules millions of people from other countries have followed by coming here legally; screwing millions of blue collar Americans who will suddenly have to compete for jobs against once-illegals who work for less -- he will do so not in spite of public opinion but because of it. He loathes the American public for disagreeing with him, and this act will be his most cathartic way of saying "fuck you" to the nation that made him its first black president and even gave him a second chance after his first term proved a disaster.

His spiritual mentor, the Right Reverend Jeremiah Wright, will be smiling.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Midterm time

Saturday November 1st
8:16 a.m. -- 76 minutes after the polls opened on the last day of early voting in Florida, I submit my ballot, complete my duty, and walk back outside where the sky is gray and the air chilly. It was a long drive home from Atlanta the day before, but it's always worth it when I get to kiss Erika and see our kids smile.

4:33 p.m. -- I sit down to start writing this post, and decide I might as well say how I voted. Which was this: Rick Scott for governor, Pam Bondi for Attorney General, and yes on Amendment 2 (which would legalize medical marijuana). Since neither of the state's senate seats are on the ballot, those three line items are the only ones likely to generate any national interest.

4:35 p.m. -- I think about writing an explanation for why I voted Scott, Bondi, and yes -- but decide it would take too long, especially once I start talking about the once-Republican, then-Independent, now-Democrat, snakeoil-selling charlatan running against Scott.

4:51 p.m. -- I decide to add that I did not vote on any of the judicial seats, for the simple reason that I do not know enough about the candidates to make an informed choice. On a similar note, I skipped voting on Amendments 1 and 3 because I had not spent enough time thinking about their pros and cons to make a well-considered decision... But in the off chance anyone is curious, I was leaning towards no on Amendment 1 (which would commit a set percentage of excise tax revenue to land acquisition) and no on Amendment 3 (which would in some circumstances require, and in others allow, the governor to "prospectively fill" judicial seats before they become vacant).

5:13 p.m. -- I decide to make a few predictions about the midterm elections nationwide: The GOP will add approximately a half-dozen seats to their current advantage in the House of Representatives, and gain seats in the Senate but not enough to give them more than 50... I also decide to make a Florida prediction: Scott will edge the snakeoil-selling charlatan, even though a large percentage of Floridians don't like his personality, because an even larger percentage of Floridians is acutely aware that the snakeoil-selling charlatan is a snakeoil-selling charlatan.

Tuesday November 4th
8:37 a.m. -- I take a bathroom break at work and sneak a peek at a Michael Barone column. I had recently heard that Millennials are no longer supporting Obama, but in my mind I downplayed the notion by assuming that "no longer supporting" him did not mean they had "switched sides." However, Barone's column got specific by citing a Harvard Institute of Politics poll that showed Millennials who were likely to vote favored Republicans 51-47. That is huge when you consider that Millennials voted 66% for Obama in 2008 and 60% in 2012. It makes me smile, but it still does not make me expect a Republican wave.

10:11 a.m. -- I sneak another peak and what I see is a story that broke overnight about Jeanne Shaheen, incumbent U.S. Senator from New Hampshire. In a nutshell, the story reveals that documents released by the IRS -- after years of refusing to release them -- appear to show that Shaheen not only knew about the IRS targeting conservative groups but actively worked with the IRS in an effort to make it happen.

8:29 p.m. -- I get back to the hotel after having a lovely dinner with my cousin Sarah and her husband Jarrett. I look at the TV, which I had left on, and the first thing I see is Mitch McConnell giving his acceptance speech after winning re-election in Kentucky.

8:32 p.m. -- Fox News calls Arkansas for Republican challenger Tom Cotton over Democrat incumbent Mark Pryor. With twenty seats left to be decided, the GOP holds a 41-39 Senate edge and has a decent chance to take control of the Senate.

9:15 p.m. -- Back in Florida, with 96% of precincts reporting, Rick Scott leads Charlie Crist 49-46 in the governor's race. But news outlets refuse to call the election, which tells me that the outstanding 4% must be in the heavily populated (and heavily corrupt) Miami-Dade area.

9:54 p.m. -- Fox News calls Colorado for Republican challenger Cory Gardner over Democrat incumbent Mark Udall, giving the GOP a 47-42 Senate lead with ten states yet to be called and one (Louisiana) headed for a runoff.

10:47 p.m. -- Fox News calls Kansas for Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, who was thought to be in trouble. It's now 48-43.

10:49 p.m. -- Up in New Hampshire, Republican challenger Scott Brown just pulled even with Jeanne Shaheen, despite the race having been called in Shaheen's favor a couple hours earlier. Maybe that 48-43 count should be changed to 48-42 for the time being.

10:57 p.m. -- According to the Drudge Report, Rick Scott has been re-elected governor of Florida. I love how the headline ("Crist Loser") mocks the snakeoil-selling charlatan he just beat (a charlatan who, much to my chagrin, graduated from the same high school as me).

10:59 p.m. -- Fox News calls the Georgia U.S. Senate race for David Perdue and the Idaho U.S. Senate race for Jim Risch. Those calls, combined with a few West Coast races going to the Dems, bring the GOP Senate lead to 50-45. The Republicans are therefore on the brink of winning control of the Senate.

11:22 p.m. -- Iowa's U.S. Senate race gets called for Republican Jodi Ernst over Democrat Bruce Braley, giving the GOP 51 of the 100 seats. Unless some of the "called" results turn out to be wrong, the GOP has prevailed.

11:27 p.m. -- North Carolina's U.S. Senate race gets called for Republican Thom Tillis over Democrat Kay Hagan. Make it 52 apparent seats for the GOP. There are races yet to be decided, but it looks like we've got this one in the bag.

Wednesday November 5th
6:52 am -- While getting dressed for work, I hear some results that I also heard last night, but somehow I managed not to think about their significance until now. One of them was Republican Tim Scott winning the U.S. Senate race in South Carolina by 61-37, thus becoming the first black Senator from the South since the 1800's (do you think that will get Democrats to stop calling Republicans racists? -- neither do I)... The other results involve GOP candidates being elected governor in Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts. They weren't expected to have a chance in the first two states, and all three of the states voted heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Final thoughts
Despite my earlier "don't expect a wave" thoughts, this election truly was a wave.

It was a wave because every surprise outcome (like the governor races mentioned above) went against the Democrats. In every other election I can remember, surprise outcomes have cut both ways.

It was a wave because incumbent Republicans won while incumbent Democrats lost.

It was a wave because the Republicans won races they weren't expected to, and came within a whisker of winning races in which they weren't even expected to compete.

It was a wave because the Republicans expanded their number of governors when many prognosticators thought that number would go down.

It was a wave because the Republicans gained control of more than half of the Democrat-controlled state legislatures the party decided to pursue.

It was a wave because when you combine federal seats and state seats, the Democratic Party is now in its weakest position since the 1920's.

And lastly...
May I suggest that the Republicans react to the midterm election not by "reaching out" to Democrats, but by opposing Obama and passing their own legislation with or without Democrat support.

And may I suggest that when they do things, they clearly and repeatedly explain the benefits of what they are doing.

Guys and gals, you have two years to prove you are worthy of the victory the people just handed you. Our party's past performances don't do much to inspire confidence, other than the period from early 1995 to mid-1996, so please step up and make sure you don't blow it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ten Weeks In

Don't look now...
...but Missouri, who lost to Indiana and got shut out 34-0 at home by Georgia, is all alone atop the SEC East and in the driver's seat to reach the SEC Championship Game.

That fact encapsulates everything about this crazily unpredictable and nonsensical season. And since the season is crazily unpredictable and nonsensical -- and everyone in America assumes the SEC West will win the conference and maybe send two teams to the four-team College Football Playoff -- perhaps it's not so nuts to consider the possibility of Mizzou reaching Atlanta and pulling an upset to win the SEC and thereby causing voters' minds to melt from coast to coast. 

Go Lower Midwest, Young Man!
You don't have to convince me how good Kansas State is, and over the last couple weeks much of America has come around to my way of thinking about Bill Snyder's Wilcats.

And you don't have to convince me that TCU is a legitimate top ten team, though you do have to convince me that they are a national title contender. Over the last couple weeks, much of America seems to have persuaded into the latter way of thinking about Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs.

When the two teams meet in Fort Worth on Saturday, it will be for the inside track to the Big 12 crown and to make a case for being in the College Football Playoff. I cast my lot with the WIldcats.

Go Upper Midwest, Young Man!
When Michigan State and Ohio State lock horns, the stakes will be extremely high for Michigan State -- and for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten's reputation is in tatters and MSU's hard-nosed approach to football is the only thing about the conference th8at garners any national respect. Meanwhile, OSU's reputation as the most overrated program in the country is so deserved that if the Buckeyes were to defeat the Spartans, America would respond not by saying "OSU is good" but by saying "man, we were wring about MSU."

Auburn, Part One
Every team has strengths and weaknesses. That has been true for every team ever, all the way up to the professional level and the Steelers dynasty of the 1970's and 49'ers dynasty of the 1980's. And when you watch every game a team plays, you become just as familiar with its weaknesses as you do with its strengths. For that reason, you will not find me placing my beloved Auburn Tigers #1 in my rankings below.

Yet I am here to say this: Auburn's body of work is better than any team's in the country: They have beaten two top ten teams on the road, they pulverized LSU 41-7, and their lone loss was on the road against the team that most most voters are ranking #1.

Auburn, Part Two
In the wake of their well-deserved, 35-31 win over Ole Miss two nights ago, almost all of the media attention has been on the horribly broken ankle suffered by Ole Miss WR Lequan Treadwell with a minute and a half remaining as he tried to score a go-ahead touchdown.

From a human interest perspective, that is as it should be. However, Treadwell clearly fumbled, and facts are facts, and as John Adams once wrote: "Facts are stubborn things."

Auburn, Part Three
In any event, the real story of the Auburn-Ole Miss game was how much Auburn outplayed the Rebels and won the game outright. Naturally, you won't hear the real story from the MSSM that are eternally eager to use words like "lucky" and "fortunate" to describe AU victories.

Those who watch sports know that the most dangerous opponent is a top-notch contender coming off a loss with its back against the wall. Ole Miss was just such an opponent on Saturday, and Auburn beat 'em in their own house.

Long-standing conventional sports wisdom says that a good defense beats a good offense. Ole Miss entered Saturday as one of the most feared defenses in America, having given up only eight touchdowns in eight games, yet Auburn scored five against them will relative ease... Ole Miss's defense had not given up 20 points in any game all year, yet Auburn hung 35 on them... Auburn moved the ball seemingly at will, piling up 507 total yards and 248 on the ground; and when they didn't score, it was usually because they stopped themselves with penalties.

Those who trumpet the "Auburn is lucky" canard by pointing to Treadwell's fumble and QB Bo Wallace's fumble on the prior drive are ignoring: 1) the fact that Wallace did not fumble, but was stripped of the ball; 2) the fact that many, and probably most, ball carriers would not hold onto the ball through the kind of tackle that Kris Frost put on Treadwell; and 3) the fact that Ole Miss had a continuous spell of good fortune all night long by virtue of an avalanche of 15-yard and 3rd-down penalties that extended Ole Miss drives and snuffed out Auburn drives.

In short, don't by the "Auburn is lucky" canard. Llike the old saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and "Auburn is lucky" is nothing more than jealous bullshit peddled by people whose teams fail in the clutch while Auburn comes through in the clutch. "Auburn is lucky" is something I've been hearing since George H. W. Bush was president, and those who speak it will never stop speaking it; but the rest of us don't have to fall for it.

And now...
...based on what has happened, here is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty:

1.    Florida State
2.    Mississippi State
3.    Alabama
4.    Oregon
5.    Auburn
6.    Michigan State
7.    Kansas State
8.    Notre Dame
9.    TCU
10.  Ole Miss
11.  Oklahoma
12.  West Virginia
13.  Ohio State
14.  Arizona State
15.  Nebraska
16.  Duke
17.  LSU
18.  Utah
19.  Georgia

20.  UCLA

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Nine Weeks In

Now we are nine weeks into the college football season and we know a little more about who is and is not a legitimate title contender than we did when I wrote about the topic after Week Six. But only a little.

The list of teams vying for conference championships and spots in the inaugural College Football Playoff remains incredibly long for this late in the year. There are at least a half-dozen players in the thick of the Heisman race, all of whom are deserving and none of whom is a clear favorite. But from an excitement standpoint, that only makes things better! Who cares if It gives headaches to the self-important folks who vote in the polls or on the playoff selection committee or for the Downtown Athletic Club?

The two teams who played in last season's national championship game, which was not decided until the final play, are tied for the longest home winning streak in America. Wouldn't a rematch be delicious?

Why is nobody talking about Alabama when they are 7-1, one play away from being unbeaten, and getting better every week?

Florida State finished last season as the #1 team in America. They haven't lost this season and have continuously found ways to win, so I would still rank them #1. But their offensive line continues to look vulnerable at times, and everything I believe about football tells me that the offensive line is the one position where you can't have a weakness and win the whole shebang.

The state of Mississippi -- not the state of Alabama or state of Florida -- is currently the epicenter of the college football universe, even after Ole Miss's gut-wrenching loss to LSU... Yet it is still very conceivable that Auburn and Alabama will move past Ole Miss and Mississippi State over the next four weeks and knock the Magnolia State from its well-deserved place on the pedestal.

Speaking of Ole Miss's gut-wrenching loss, say what you want about Bo Wallace's go for broke pass on the final play, but you can't say he went down without a fight. If single coverage is what he saw (like he claims) then it came down to if his audible works he's a genius and hero, but if it doesn't work he's a lunkhead and goat. We all know there were two defenders there when the ball arrived, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Duke is once again putting together a fine, winning season and showing that football can compete with basketball on Tobacco Road. With them sitting at 6-1 and in control of the ACC Coastal Division while Stanford is 5-3 and two games back in the Pac-12 North, it appears that the award for "strongest football team at a smarty pants institution" has taken up residence on the East Coast this year.

Regarding the Big-12, I say this: 1) West Virginia, whose only losses were in closely contested battles versus Alabama and Oklahoma, is only about a dozen plays away from being in the national championship conversation; 2) watch out for K-State; 3) Kliff Kingsbury is a pansy ass pretty boy; and 4) although TCU's recent run is impressive, something about those basketball-like point totals makes me skeptical about whether they are playoff worthy.

As an Auburn grad I say this about my team: 1) they are a legitimate top ten outfit; 2) Nick Marshall is one of the better quarterbacks in the country, no matter what anyone says to the contrary; and 3) their D has done a good job not breaking at clutch time even when they have bent alot in the build-up ... However, 4) that D needs to stiffen up significantly, because no D can keep bending for three quarters in each game without eventually breaking at some point in the season; and 5) three of Auburn's five remaining games are on the road against top ten opponents, which means a) the odds are very much against them winning out, but b) if they do win out, their spot in the playoff is all but secure even if an unbeaten Mississippi State keeps them from appearing in the SEC championship game.

Finally, I have to give props to the Georgia Southern Eagles. This is their first year in Division I-A after a 30-year run at the I-AA level that included six national titles between 1985 and 2000. You might recall that they beat Florida in the Swamp last November. Anyway, they are currently 6-2 with their only losses being by one point at NC State and four points at Georgia Tech -- which means they are good enough to compete in a power five conference.

Anyway, since Week Ten begins in two nights when FSU and Louisville do battle, I better get around to hitting the "publish" button on this post. So, based on what has happened up to now, below is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty.

1.    Florida State
2.    Mississippi State
3.    Alabama
4.    Oregon
5.    Michigan State
6.    Auburn
7.    Notre Dame
8.    Kansas State
9.    Ole Miss
10.  Georgia
11.  TCU
12.  West Virginia
13.  Oklahoma
14.  Ohio State
15.  East Carolina
16.  Arizona
17.  Baylor
18.  Utah
19.  LSU
20.  Arizona State