Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Week Later

Last week's referendum in Scotland, about whether it should leave the United Kingdom, resulted in a convincing vote of "no" despite the introduction of abnormal voting laws that were clearly intended to boost the number of yes voters while suppressing the number of no's. I was not surprised by the outcome for a very simple reason: history tells us that nations that are free and peaceful do not choose to tear themselves asunder.

Vietnam once split into South Vietnam and North Vietnam because the former wanted to free itself from Ho Chi Minh's murdering dictatorship. Ditto for Korea.

In Europe, the Moscow-piloted communists of the Cold War forced two divergent peoples together and concocted  an unnatural nation called Czechoslovakia. When communism finally failed, those peoples separated and established the natural nations now known as Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Ditto for "the former Yugoslavia" down in the Balkans.

But a rich "leading light" nation, blessed with liberty, splintering and ceasing to exist? Please. When has that ever happened?

Look across our northern border and you will see that Canada is still one country, and, in comparison to the other countries on Earth, it is stronger now than at any point in its history. This is true despite the fact that Quebec has held referendums to secede twice in my lifetime and on both occasions (especially the most recent) the U.S. media made it seem like secession was inevitable.

After the Quebec separatists lost for the second time, in 1995, they picked up their toys and went home. Although they vowed to return, the last 19 years have passed with nary a peep from them, and during that time Canada's sense of nationhood has solidified and its economic power has burgeoned to an extent that observers in the 1990's would never have predicted.

My analytical side tells me that if Quebec didn't secede, there was never a chance of Scotland seceding. Even if Quebec breaking away from Canada's other nine provinces was not a good idea, the case for "Quebec independence" was still much stronger than the case for "Scottish independence."

Quebeckers speak a different language than the rest of Canada and their provincial government goes so far as to enforce language laws that make English-speakers know they are not on native soil. Quebeckers are keenly aware that their ancestral roots are planted in a country that has often been at odds with Great Britain, which is where the roots of the other provinces are planted. Queen Elizabeth's visage appears on Canadian currency, but most Quebeckers, if asked to pledge an "overseas loyalty," would thumb their noses at Buckingham Palace and cast their lot with the Elysee.

Across the Atlantic, on the other hand, Scotland and England are so linked that they have functioned as one for almost 300 years. Sure they have squabbles, like brothers are prone to do, but they have also stood together like brothers are supposed to do. I don't mean to minimize old royal transgressions, but with apologies to William Wallace and countless Braveheart fans, Scotland and England joined together peacefully and voluntarily in 1707 because the parliaments of both countries passed the Articles of Union.

Scotland and England have a common language, similar accents, and not-dissimilar cultures, which goes a long way toward explaining why they have achieved so much while functioning as one -- while functioning as the nation most of the world knows as the United Kingdom.

It takes only a rudimentary reading of history to see that the highest achievements to come from the British Isles occurred after the kingdoms combined and their people started thinking of themselves as Britons rather than as Scotsmen and Englishmen.

The Industrial Revolution, which gave birth to more prosperity and upward mobility than the world had ever seen, began in the U.K. roughly 50 years after it was founded.

In 1739, Scotsman David Hume published A Treatise on Human Nature, in which he declared that "reason is...the slave of the passions" and went on to oppose many of the ideas held by preceding philosophers, by positing that human behavior is governed more by psychology than by logic.

In 1776, Scotsman Adam Smith published An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in which he explained the positive force of free markets and coined the term "invisible hand" to describe how well they work.

America's Founding Fathers -- who considered themselves Britons -- drew much of their inspiration from Hume and Smith, who were influenced by the writings of Englishman John Locke. Applying their ideas by opening markets and organizing checks and balances on government to account for human nature, the Founding Fathers created the first nation in human history to be founded on a creed of personal liberty.

As complicit as some Brits were in the early days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the fact of the matter is that slavery was the world's norm at the time and it was the U.K. that led the way in abolishing it. Specifically, it lit the anti-slavery fire by passing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act on March 25, 1807.

In World War II, it was London-born Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery whose leadership of British and Allied forces helped defeat the Nazis in Northern Africa, Sicily, and Italy. It was to him that the Nazis surrendered all of their troops in Holland, Denmark, Northern Germany, and all Northern European islands on May 4, 1945. That surrender presaged the end of the war in all of Europe three days later.

In 1964, American airwaves were not overrun by an English Invasion or Scottish Invasion. They were overrun by the British Invasion.

Nobody thinks of Glasgow-born Mark Knopfler and Surrey-born Eric Clapton as being from different nations.

Nobody refers to Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair as having been "English Prime Minister" or "Scottish Prime Minister" (or, for that matter, as "Welsh Prime Minister" or "Northern Irish Prime Minister"). Everybody refers to them as having been the British Prime Minister.

In You Only Live Twice, Ian Fleming wrote that James Bond had Scottish antecedents. But through all the Bond books and Bond movies, 007 has only been known as a British agent, not a Scottish one; and when he skied off of land and into a canyon in The Spy Who Loved Me, his parachute was emblazoned with the U.K.'s Union Jack, not Scotland's Saltire.

The U.K. is too strong, accomplished, and good to slice its own carotid artery and die by bleeding out.

Nebraska and California have a different culture in many regards and a shared culture in some regards, and at the end of the day, their commonalities are more important and transcendent than their differences. Both states are contributing parts of the greater whole we call the United States of America. Their citizens often grit their teeth at each other's ways, but they would never put themselves in a situation where a flight from Lincoln to Los Angeles requires them to bring a passport.

So too with Scotland and England. In my humble opinion.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autumn Equinox

Some thoughts about autumn, since it begins tonight at 10:29 Eastern:

I love stepping outside on that first morning that fall’s nip is in the air.

I love how changing leaves turn Appalachian mountainsides into fiery palettes of orange, red, and gold.

I love driving winding roads through those mountains, catching glimpse after glimpse of falling leaves as they twirl their way to the ground.

I love cold nights marked by the scent of campfire and the sound of wind in the trees.

I love watching my kids skip through the pumpkin patch looking for the perfect one to bring home.

I love walking behind them as they trick-or-treat on Halloween night.

I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and how it sets the ideal tone to start the Christmas season.

I love watching flocks of birds land in Florida at the end of their migration, while others keep flying to points further south.

And last but not least, I love football, especially college games at which the fans are loud and the bands are blaring...and most of all, college games in which Auburn is winning and the song you keep hearing begins with the line: War Eagle, fly down the field / ever to conquer, never to yield!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Equal Time

Call this my "set the record straight" rant about Thursday night's clash between Auburn and Kansas State. It's kind of like the time last November when I had to correct the media's grossly inaccurate portrayal of the Auburn-Georgia game.

Regarding the AU-KSU game, Auburn went on the road, to an entirely different region of the country, to play a ranked opponent...and in the course of that night they overcame adversity, played very well in the exact parts of the game everyone thought to be their weaknesses, and they won legitimately...but of course you would never know that from the media coverage.

I am sure you've heard that Kansas State held Auburn to 55 rushing yards in the first half -- but have you heard that Auburn held Kansas State to 40 rushing yards for the entire game and 1.3 yards per carry, versus the 236 and 5.1 they were averaging coming in?

I am sure you've heard that KSU kicker Jack Cantele unfortunately missed three would-be field goals -- but have you heard that Auburn receiver D'haquille Williams unfortunately dropped a would-be touchdown in the second quarter?

And have you heard that Auburn receiver Sammie Coates left even more points on the field when he didn't lay out for a long bomb that missed his fingertips by the space of a fingernail? (Had he caught it, he would have either been tackled in field goal range or made it to the end zone.)

I am sure you've heard that K-State receiver Tyler Lockett "dropped" a touchdown pass that resulted in an interception -- but have you heard that the ball never even touched his hands? Have you heard that the pass was so fast and hard that he couldn't get his hands in position in time, and instead it bounced off his shoulder pads?

Have you heard that Auburn held K-State to its fewest yards per catch of the season despite playing without its best DB?

Have you heard that Auburn cornerback Trovon Reed, who made an outstanding fourth quarter interception that helped "seal the deal," is actually a receiver who was recently moved to the other side of the ball? (Obviously that makes the Tigers' defensive performance in Manhattan even more impressive).

Oh, and have you heard that the Big 12 refs called zero penalties on K-State after the opening kickoff? Despite the fact that K-State's offensive line committed several blatant, mugging-variety holds that were obvious even to toddlers?

I do not like to complain about officiating, as you might know if you read my recap of last season's national championship game, and that is especially true of holding since garden-variety holding happens on almost every play. However, when holds are flagrant, and in the open, and several of them against one team go uncalled in the same game that several questionable flags do get thrown against the other team -- and the team on the "blessed end" happens to be the home team, and happens to come from the same conference as the refs -- I do believe it's worth mentioning that confluence of facts. But true to form, the media has not bothered to mention the confluence when it comes to the AU-KSU contest.

Am I an Auburn partisan? Of course I am, where my heart and my cheering are concerned; but I am not a partisan where my viewing is concerned. I believe my recap of the national title game shows that I analyze games objectively, and I guarantee that if you were to ask anyone who has watched an Auburn game with me, they would tell you that my partisanship reveals itself in how critical I am of my team. I unfairly expect them to never surrender a point and never get stopped on a drive.

But when I see allegedly objective observers of college football report about my team in ways that are clearly not objective, I can't help but call them out and set the record straight.

Do the Tigers "look like a championship team" right now? No, they don't, but they do look like a championship contender, and Thursday night's win was as solid a road win as anyone in the country has posted up to now.

Auburn did not "look like" a championship team at this point last year, but they kept improving every week and wound up winning the SEC. They did not "look like" a championship team at this point in 2010, but they kept improving every week, finished 14-0, and won the national championship.

In fact, it is almost unheard of for the team that wins a sport's championship to "look like" a champion every single week. The 2007 LSU Tigers lost twice during the regular reason. The 1996 Florida Gators lost the final game of the regular season. The 1993 Florida State Seminoles got trampled by Notre Dame, only to get reinserted into the championship picture when Notre Dame lost the following week.

There are things this year's Auburn Tigers need to improve upon, including in the passing game. Yet every touchdown against K-State was through the air, and there would have been one more through the air if not for Williams's drop; and there might have been two more through the air if not for Coates pulling up short. Nick Marshall converted several clutch third down throws and made good decisions all night in a hostile environment.

Thursday night's game was a good one, and a big one, and a reason to smile. For whining, bedwetting media figures to suggest the opposite is a borderline disgrace.

Oh, and it also infuriates me that nobody is giving Auburn credit for being the only major power to have the balls to schedule a non-conference game at KSU since the Wildcats became a contender two decades ago. The last major power to go there was Penn State, in 1969, but of course the Wildcats were a doormat and laughing stock back then.  

War Eagle!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Three weeks in

Week Four of this college football season kicks off in three days, when my Auburn Tigers travel from the so-called plains of Eastern Alabama to the so-called plains of Eastern Kansas to take on the K-State Wildcats. (Usually plains are not "so-called" in Kansas, but the KSU campus is located by the beautifully rolling Flint Hills that extend northward all the way from northeastern Oklahoma to southeastern Nebraska.)

It will be a road game versus a ranked opponent, in prime time on ESPN, and I expect it to be a pitched battle like the one that unfolded when the teams met in 2007.

But I digress. Tonight I am here to ask: What did we learn from Weeks One through Three?

Actually, I'm here to answer: We learned nothing, except that the whole idea of pre- and early-season polling is stupid.

For many years I have been saying that there should be no polls until after the first four (or perhaps even five or six) weeks of the season have been played. Friends can vouch for me.

Early polls are nonsensical for a number of reasons, most of which are obvious. The primary one is that college football teams are college football teams and are therefore hit by significant attrition every year. If a team lost eight starters to graduation and three of them went pro, how can a bunch of journalists possibly know how well their replacements will play and thus how well this year's team will fare?

There is also the matter of college kids being much more susceptible to emotion and momentum and perception than professional players. After all, we're talking about 19-year-olds living away from home, often for the first time, not 29-year-old millionaires with families.

The inevitable innacuracies of early polls get proven every single year and this year is no exception. To wit:

Georgia went from being considered a middling SEC squad to being considered a national title contender because they beat Clemson by double digits in Week One. But why did anyone think Clemson would be a formidable foe in that game, when it was their first appearance after losing the best quarterback in school history and arguably the best receiver in school history?

South Carolina opened the year being thought of as a contender in the SEC East. Then they were considered an afterthought after losing to Texas A&M in Week One. But now they are again considered a contender because they beat Georgia in Week Three. But like I just illustrated, why was Georgia considered a power on the basis of one game (on their home field) against a team whose top talent from last year is depleted?

Out west, USC got elevated to the status of Pac 12 contender and national spoiler after a three-point win over Stanford. That was understandable, but it is noteworthy that no one asked if Stanford's six red zone trips without a score might be the result of their incompetence rather than USC's defense. Then, one week later, USC travelled to New England and got bulldozed by lightly regarded Boston College, which hasn't made much of an impact on the national scene since they upset Notre Dame 21 years ago.

And speaking of Notre Dame: They are currently ranked #9 based solely on their clothes. Our bedwetting sports media always ranks them at least ten spots higher than they deserve just because they are Notre Dame.

Naturally, media members want to think of themselves as credible, so they always invent a rationale for the ranking they grant the Irish. This year's rationale is the Irish's win over Michigan -- but as those of us in the real world know, Michigan is coming off a 7-6 campaign, has gotten worse in every year since Brady Hoke's first, and plays in a conference that is a shell of its former self.

Please, College Football Media, spare us the polls and rankings and projections and Heisman front-runners until there is more solid material to base it on!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

et ceteras

Never forget
Today is 9/11, the thirteenth such date to pass since the one on which Islamic terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center's twin towers and damaged the Pentagon -- and on which they would have also destroyed the White House, had it not been for the valor of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93.

But the date 9/11 is not only about the 2001 attack, for today also marks the second anniversary of the attack on our country's consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the murder of four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Notably, that attack happened on the same day that the Muslim Brotherhood stoked anti-American riots in Cairo. Surely it was no coincidence that those things happened on the 11th day of September.

If we allow our memories of those events to fade, we do so at our own peril because the threat of Islamic terrorism is as imminent as ever. Perhaps it is even more imminent, since mullahs in the Middle East are creeping closer to nuclear capability while imams in the West are recruiting more than a few U.S. and U.K. nationals to join the jihadists.

As for now
Fortunately, due to the recent beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, even hardcore leftists seem to be under no current illusions about how real the terrorist threat is. But isn't it horrible to be in the position of using the word "fortunately" to discuss any fallout that flows from such barbarism? And isn't it horrible that it took beheadings to rouse so many Americans from their slumber, since, after all, Foley and Sotloff were not the first American journalists to have their craniums sawed off by Islamic swords.

On an official level, our president has finally acknowledged the authenticity of the threat posed by ISIS. However, he has not made it clear whether he understands that ISIS is just one piece of a much larger puzzle, and that the threat comes from the puzzle as a whole. Even if we were to destroy ISIS, that would not, in and of itself, remove the threats posed by al Qaeda, by al Qaeda's affiliates, by nuclear ambitious Iran, by the Assad regime in Syria, by Hamas, by Hezbollah, by the Muslim Brotherhood, by the resurgent Taliban, et al. In short, our enemy is terrorist Islam, and until our government clearly identifies it as such and clearly combats it as such, our chances for defeating it are small.

Obama's speech last night got it right as far as the tone was concerned. He finally spotlighted the contrast between the good done by America and the bad done by ISIS, and he finally showed resolve in standing up to the bad guys. But as you can gather from the above paragraph, I think he failed to adequately identify the bad guys. Also, I think he erred badly by declaring that we will not engage in a ground war, because once you tell your enemies what you aren't willing to do, you essentially hand them a guide book on how to defeat you.

And I think his idea of building a coalition, while good and honorable, is unworkable given the way he has been loathe to lead since taking office and the multitude of ways he has betrayed our friends (see Poland and the Czech Republic vis-a-vis our promised missile shield, Ukraine vis-a-vis giving them weapons to defend themselves against Russia, Israel vis-a-vis everything, Canada vis-a-vis the Keystone pipeline). Our friends have good reasons for not trusting him, and that makes the lifting he must do all the more difficult. Hopefully he proves himself up to the task.

What a paragraph
Regarding Obama's penchant for trying to prop up his agenda (and himself) by concocting myths that never were, check out this deadly accurate paragraph by Victor Davis Hanson:

Most of the assertions uttered in the 2009 Cairo speech were untrue, from false claims about Islamic achievement to supposed Islamic tolerance during the Inquisition in Cordoba -- at a time when there were no Muslims in Cordoba. Emperor Hirohito no more surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur than George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or FDR were in office when their respective wars ended and they supposedly agreed to prisoner exchanges -- or than Barack Obama's grandfather helped to free Auschwitz. Obama sees history in the same postmodernist fashion in which he looks upon his own past -- details are constructed by everyone, and thus truth is a relative construct that should not be adjudicated by those with privilege against those who are using narratives to advance social justice. The result is that almost any time the president makes reference to the past, ours or his, we can assume two things: His facts are wrong, and they are wrong in a way that is meant to highlight his own godhead.

In case you are one of the two or three people who still doubts whether Obama makes stuff up, consider that he once told the British-born journalist Richard Wolffe, while smiling: "You know, I actually believe my own bullshit." I don't need to point out that Obama would never describe his claims as "bullshit" if he really thought they were factual, do I?

Freedom of speech
Or as Ice-T put it back in '89: Freedom of speech...just watch what you say.

In case you haven't heard, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would effectively repeal the First Amendment. The measure was authored by New Mexico's Tom Udall and is being championed by Nevada's Harry Reid, both of whom are Democrats.

It is extremely unlikely to pass, especially since that would require a long run in which it must be ratified by 38 of the 50 states. Nonetheless, it is chilling to think that Reid is bringing it to a vote. To read about it you may go here and here (and I am sure you may go to many other sources as well).

Ray Rice
I thought from the beginning that a two-game suspension was extremely weak for an incident in which Rice was known to have knocked out his fiancee with an intentional punch.

But I have to come clean about something. I also thought the public should withhold its harshest judgment about Rice, and my reasoning went like this: "There is a second video the public hasn't seen -- the one from inside the elevator -- and surely the NFL, with all its resources and power, has seen it. So if they only gave Rice two games and Janay herself does not want charges to be pressed, surely that video must show her attacking him in some way that shows his punch was understandable, even if it's not forgivable."

Well, thanks to TMZ we have now seen the other video and all it does is make Rice look worse. Janay approached him and was clearly irritated, but she did not approach him with arms flailing or fists clenched; and his response was not to talk back to her, or shoo her away, or even restrain her. Instead his response was to level her with a vicious left hook to the face, which he delivered so fast that it's barely a blur even when you are looking for it.

The NFL claims it did not see the video until TMZ released it, but somebody from law enforcement claims the NFL is lying about that. The million dollar question is whether or not the NFL is lying. If it is, the PR damage to the league could (and should) be as bad as the damage done to Major League Baseball by the 1919 Black Sox scandal. And if the league's "didn't see it" claim is a lie, Roger Goodell must go. Immediately.

But then there is this: What about Ray and Janay as a couple? They got married after the elevator incident and she is passionately standing by him at the time. Most of us attribute that to some kind of abused woman psychological defect, but what if she's right and we're wrong? What if this incident really was a 30-second anomaly, fueled by alcohol, that would never repeat itself? What if Ray Rice is genuinely contrite and has prostrated himself before Jesus and is trying to put the pieces of his and Janay's lives back together? What good does it do either of them, or their prospective children, to brand him with a scarlet letter and obliterate his earnings potential while he is still in his twenties?

Thinking about this case makes my head spin like it's going down a whirlpool to the bottom of the sea. I don't know the answers and I don't think any of us do.

Speaking of Jesus
Go here for an excellent interview of David Limbaugh by Kathryn Jean Lopez, touching on the former's book in which he takes an empirical look at the existence and divinity of Jesus. I have not read the book, but after reading the interview I certainly want to. Limbaugh was once a skeptic and the topic makes me think of something I have often felt to be true: Where religion is concerned, the world's most authentic believers worked their minds through tumultuous periods of doubt before arriving at a state of true belief.

And finally...
...I am signing off. That was one long "et ceteras." I'll be back soon enough.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Joan, RIP

I never disliked Joan Rivers, but I was not necessarily a fan either. Sometimes I loved listening to her and sometimes I found her to be as annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard.

In other words, I never thought I would spend space on this blog eulogizing her when she passed. But here I am, eulogizing away.

At the end of the day, you had to like her spitfire wit and personality.

At the end of the day you had to believe that even if some of the criticisms of Rivers were fair in the details, those same criticisms were unfair about the big picture.

Maybe those contradictory impulses explain why her death comes as a shock even though she was 81 years old. How could someone so tough and resolute die? How could the Grim Reaper possibly be a match for someone as steel-willed as she?

I always assumed that when the Grim Reaper came calling, Joan Rivers would give him the middle finger, spit in his eye, and kick him down the street chased by a stream of obscenities about how he is evil and stupid and thus totally incapable of getting his hands on her.

*     *     *     *     *

Although Joan was her real first name, the last name Rivers was a pseudonym. FDR had been in office less than six months when she was born in Brooklyn and given the name Joan Alexandra Molinsky. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia.

After Rivers reached adulthood and achieved fame, more than a few people dipped into their bags of ethnic slurs and called her a JAP (which means "Jewish American Princess," for those of you too young to remember when slurs were tossed around even in mixed company). Rivers had champagne tastes and the financial largess to indulge those tastes many times over, and she would never consider apologizing for it. She was a success on her own terms and would never apologize for it. She was confident and didn't hide it. She had plastic surgery countless times, starting before it became fashionable, and unlike so many other vain celebrities she never hid or shied away from the fact.

But so what? Doesn't champagne taste imply good taste, and isn't good taste, well, good? And why should anyone feel guilty about succeeding, when succeeding is precisely what our free enterprise system is supposed to enable? And how can you succeed without being confident?

What you don't hear much about is the fact that Joan Rivers was a hands-on volunteer for the charity God's Love We Deliver, which prepares and delivers "nutritious, high-quality meals to people who, because of their illness, are unable to provide or prepare meals for themselves." The organization does not discriminate among illnesses, but a majority of the people it serves have AIDS or cancer. In addition to performaing actual work for the organization and giving it money, she served on its board of directors from 1994 until she died. That she never sought publicity for her charitable acts says something positive about her character.

*     *     *     *     *

If Rivers lived a pearls and caviar lifestyle, it was not handed down to her on a silver platter covered with silver spoons. She earned it the old fashioned way.

In the 1950's she appeared in a play called Driftwood, portraying a lesbian who had a crush on a character played by Barbra Streisand. At the time, neither of those future superstars were well-known and "such things" were rarely discussed in public. The play's run ended after six weeks.

She later became employed as a gag writer for (and occasional participant in) Candid Camera, but it was on February 17, 1965 that she made her first big splash when she appeared on The Tonight Show. Impressed with her joke-telling and potential, Johnny Carson had her come back repeatedly over the years and eventually she began substituting for him on his days off. She guest hosted for him more than 80 times before becoming his first permanent guest host in 1983.

There were practically no female comedians before Joan Rivers appeared on the scene, but today they are legion. Surely all the Sandra Bernhards and Brett Butlers and Ellen DeGenereses and Whoopi Goldbergs and Rosie O'Donnells and Paula Poundstones and Wanda Sykeses who have filled our screens over the last 35 years owe her a debt of gratitude for having paved the road on which they drive.

And of course, she parlayed her stand-up success into a multifaceted entertainment career as an actress, writer, talk show host, all-around fashionista, and can't-miss guest on both TV and radio.

*     *     *     *     *

Rivers was engaging precisely because she took a no-holds-barred approach to absolutely everything, and thus defied the quaint notion of behaving ladylike. She was brutally honest in her observations and they were funny precisely because they were so unvarnished. No topic was safe from Rivers's barbs, nor was any demographic group (including her own) or any person (including herself).

Her comedy routines amounted to a torrent of satire and glibness that dealt with everything from sex to gossip to world affairs. The torrent was delivered bluntly and with no attempt to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.

Always true to her opinion, she once said "I've learned to have absolutely no regrets about any jokes I've ever done...You can tune me out, you can click off the TV, it's ok. I am not going to bow to political correctness." Don't we all wish we felt as free as she did about using our right to free speech that was given to us by God and is protected for us by the U.S. Constitution?

In January of this year, Rivers appeared on an Israeli variety show whose host asked why nobody loves Israel. Rivers responded by saying: "If they don't love you, tell them to go fuck themselves." Then she proceeded to recite ten reasons she loves Israel, one of which was "because it's not Egypt" and another of which was "because I love your blue and white flag, it matches my legs." For reason number one, she showed her serious side by saying "you had me at shalom."

This summer, when approached by a TMZ reporter who asked for her thoughts on the situation in Gaza, Rivers let him and them have it by saying: "Palestinians -- you cannot throw rockets and expect people not to defend themselves!" And this: "Let me just tell you, if New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe them out. If we heard they were digging tunnels from New Jersey to New York, we would get rid of Jersey."

When the TMZ reporter asked about Palestinian civilians being killed in the crossfire, she said of/to Hamas: "You started it. Don't you dare make me feel bad about that."

I never heard Joan Rivers refer to herself as either a conservative or a liberal, and I don't believe either of those labels would apply. But on the topic of religious violence in the Middle East, it was refreshing to hear her say what she believed and not give a damn about the fact that most of the Hollywood types in her circle would stridently disagree.

*     *     *     *     *

Like I indicated earlier when I mentioned her charity work, there was much more to Joan Rivers than her sardonic wit and acidic tongue.

I learned of her death when I glanced at my phone and saw that a high school friend of mine had written the following on Facebook: "I met Joan Rivers once and she was delightful. Rest in Peace, Joan." I believe her.

Since Joan Rivers passed, media have been camped outside her Manhattan apartment building. It was reported on NY1 (New York's 24-hour news station) that Melissa Rivers had pizza delivered to the media members because Joan would have wanted them to be taken care of.

Those are glimpses into the great comedienne's soft side.

There was also a sandpapery side that joked about Adele's weight and about the Ohio women who were held hostage for a decade by Ariel Castro.

And there was an over the top showbiz side that manifested itself when she remarked that when it came time for her funeral, "I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene!...I want Meryl Streep crying in five different accents...I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce's."

So, every person in America could look at her and see things about her that he or she loved, as well as things about her that he or she couldn't stand. And what could be more American than that?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Burgers, Donuts, and Teachable Moments

It has been announced that Burger King has reached a deal to purchase Tim Hortons, causing it to become the third-largest fast-food chain in the world. If you have to ask "what is Tim Hortons?" then you are a U.S. citizen who either doesn't watch hockey or doesn't live within a slap shot of the 49th parallel.

Tim Hortons is a donut chain that started in Ontario in the 1960's and serves up not only some of the best donuts on Earth, but also an impressive variety of pastries, cookies, hot breakfast sandwiches, coffee, tea, etc. Its cursive logo, which graces the sideboards of many NHL arenas, is more inviting than the blocky font of Dunkin' Donuts.

But getting back to the matter at hand, it is interesting to watch American politicians and MSM whores policymakers and media figures react to the idea of a Yank burger chain purchasing a Canuck donut chain.

Are they congratulating Burger King for taking action to increase its earnings and profit share? No.

Are they congratulating it for taking action that will yield financial benefits for the millions of ordinary people who own its stock through their mutual funds and 401(k)'s? No.

Are they congratulating it for protecting American jobs by finding a way to grow and bolster its strength during these troubled times? No.

Instead, the policymakers and media figures are crucifying Burger King because the deal states that it will shift its headquarters north of the border and domicile itself in Ontario, effectively making it a Canadian rather than American corporation.

On the radio I heard that some dunderhead from Ohio was accusing Burger King of "turning its back on its customers." That is an odd thing to say about a company that has no plans to close any of its restaurants, and that is expected to increase the breakfast and sweets options available to its customers by boosting the number of Tim Hortons outlets in the U.S.

So if the company is helping rather than hurting our nation's overall economy, why is it being subjected to so much negative oratory? The answer is simple and twofold: 1) Our policymakers, who work in government and have devoted their lives to government, don't care about the country's citizens or founding principles; all they care about is government, and they are pissed that they will no longer be able to use the U.S. tax code to pad government coffers by fleecing this particular corporation. And, 2) most media figures, no matter how much they deny it, are in bed with the political party that favors big and intrusive government, so when members of that party start accusing a corporation of betraying America or failing to engage in "economic patriotism," the media figures regurgitate the talking points like Pavlov's dog.

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I know schoolkids who can quickly realize why a move like the one Burger King has in the works makes perfect sense, and why it is beneficial to employees, customers, and shareholders alike.

Meanwhile, college-educated journalists swallow the "Burger King is leaving America so Burger King is bad for America" line without spending one second using their college-educated brains to analyze whether there is any truth or logic to the sentiment.

The gulf between reason and propaganda is often immense, but when it comes to this topic, in this day and age, the gulf is immense even by its own standards. The Left spends most of its waking hours contending that America's national borders are an artificial construct that should not exist and ought to be ignored. It acts as if the very idea of nationhood is a sham, as if we should all consider ourselves to be citizens of the world rather than citizens of particular nation-states. But as soon as Burger King announced plans to walk across the border, the Left let out a witch's shriek and accused it of being a traitor to America. Even the anti-American pseudo-Commies of have alleged, in a petition, that Burger King is "treasonous" for planning to change its address.

Most liberals I know adore Canada and are perpetually eager to slap that maple leaf flag on their backpack, as the saying goes. Yet somehow those same people think it is evil for Burger King to place its home offices in Canada.

Burger King has added to the confusion by defensively saying that tax savings have either nothing or little to do with its decision. It claims that it expects to pay roughly the same effective tax rate after moving than it does right now, but as I will discuss, that claim lacks credibility.

Can someone please explain all these inconsistencies and disconnects?

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What is inarguable is this: The United States has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world, at 35 percent.

And this: Canada's rate, at 15 percent, is much more friendly to business. Thus, it offers more stability to employees.

Where things get muddy is when the issue of deductions, exclusions, credits, waivers, and protection by politicians (in other words, the things darkly referred to as "loopholes") come into play.

I have heard some cynics claim that no big corporations pay high taxes in the United States, but those cynics are wrong. Yes, some corporations do skate (like GE and big sugar conglomerates) but many others do not -- and you can bet your bottom dollar that when Burger King decided to relocate its headquarters from Miami to Oakville, Ontario, the decision was not based on Oakville's warmth, beaches, variety of cultural activities, or level of international pizzazz.

Burger King claims that after taking advantage of the above-referenced "loopholes," it currently pays an effective federal income tax rate in the mid- to high-twenty percent range. Taking it at its word (which I do) means it is still shelling out more than it would at Canadian rates.

Perhaps the difference would not be enough to justify the upheaval and expense of moving its home office northward by more than 1,400 miles, except for this: With Burger King domiciled in Canada, the higher U.S. rate would apply only to the revenue it generates in the U.S., the lower Canadian rate only to what it generates in Canada, the lower German rate only to what it generates in Germany, etc. However, with Burger King domiciled in the U.S., the higher U.S. rate currently applies to every net penny, yen, Euro, peso, etc. that it generates anywhere on the globe, in addition to whatever rate gets assessed by whatever local nation we are talking about.

Therein lies a huge difference in taxation, and it is one Whopper of an omission (if you will pardon my lame pun) for neither the media nor Burger King to mention that difference.

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Just like most American citizens aren't aware that the U.S. has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world, most American citizens are not aware that the U.S. is the only country in the industrialized world that taxes income regardless of where on the planet it is earned.

If a French citizen spends three months of the year working in France and nine months working in Australia, he pays French taxes for the three months and Aussie taxes for the nine months. Along the same lines, a French corporation pays French taxes on the profits it makes from its stores in France while paying Aussie taxes on the profits it makes from its stores in Australia. No block of revenue gets double taxed.

Conversely, American people and businesses get hit with a financial ramrod by our supposedly "friendly" government. If an American citizen spends three months working in the U.S. and nine months working in Japan, he pays U.S. taxes for all twelve months in addition to Japanese taxes for the nine months worked in Japan. Along the same lines, an American corporation doing business in both countries would pay U.S. taxes on the profits it makes from stores in both countries, while paying Japanese taxes only on the profits it makes from stores in Japan.

So with Burger King having restaurants in many nations, there is no doubt that shifting its domicile outside of the United States will boost its bottom line. It will do so by the simple fact of protecting its international earnings from the ravenous grasp of our Leviathan.  

It is a disgrace that the United States has such a punitive and retrograde tax system, especially when you remember that it was an anti-tax revolt that led to the United States being founded.

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It would be easy to opine about the curiosity by which policymakers respond to moves like Burger King's not by rethinking whether the taxes and regulations they impose are fair and just, but by defaming the relocating companies as "corporate deserters" who refuse to practice "economic patriotism" (in the words of President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew).

But such opining would be too easy and there is a chance it would miss a big part of the story, for there is something to the idea of economic patriotism, even if that idea is not what Jack Lew envisions it being.

In my opinion, one of the reasons for our population's declining faith and pride in America stems from the fact that businesses, by and large, look at America not as a homeland but as a market. In cold, hard terms, there is the Brazilian market from which x number of real can be earned, the Indian market from which y number of rupee can be earned, and the U.S. market from which z number of dollars can be earned; and lots of businesses, perhaps most of them, look at our country through that lens and no other.

That seems bad, and on many levels it is bad, but when you think about it, how can you blame the businesses? For the United States to be looked at differently than other countries, it must be different than other countries and the difference must be significant. The United States must in fact be fundamentally better than other countries, and right now it is not.

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For most of its history the United States has been better than other nations, not because the humans who inhabit it are better people than the humans who inhabit other nations, but because its founding principles place freedom and enterprise front and center and our government functioned accordingly, even if it didn't want to.

Those founding principles protected people (and, yes, businesses) by creating an environment in which people and businesses were free to maximize their potential by pursuing their goals and writing their own stories, so to speak. That environment was created by tying down the government with the chains of the Constitution, in the phrase used at least twice by Thomas Jefferson.

Once upon a not-long-ago time, it was understood that government can not allocate resources any more ethically or effectively than those who earn and create the resources...It was understood that because of that fact, confiscatory taxes and heavy-handed regulations should not be imposed on our citizens, whether those citizens be individual or corporate...And despite some obvious shortfalls, the nation functioned in accordance with that understanding, and as a result it consistently grew and flourished. For generations, it was a given that "today's kids" would achieve a life better than their parents' lives, so long as they kept their noses clean and retained their work ethic.

Back in the 1950's, when General Motors CEO Charles Erwin Wilson remarked that "I thought what was good for General Motors was good for America, and vice versa," he did not mean it in the arrogant "we run the country" way his critics claimed. He simply meant that policies which favor free enterprise are good for America, and because GM is an American company those policies are also good for it. In Wilson's formulation, everything was mutual on a macro level.

In the six decades that have passed since he uttered that phrase before Congress, much has changed for the better. Jim Crow has been vanquished. Man has ventured into space and walked on the moon. Computers have reached the masses and become ubiquitous. Soviet Communism has disappeared.

But much has also changed for the worse. Our government now ignores the Constitution far more than it observes it. After gains in personal freedom were achieved in the first half of those six decades, an alarming retraction of personal freedom has taken place in the second half. Divorce rates have soared and so have out-of-wedlock births. Educational quality in our public schools has collapsed. Cynicism has replaced optimism.

And the United States, which was once the most business-friendly and therefore most upwardly mobile nation on Earth, has become strikingly unfriendly to business. And that is not only because of tax rates and politically motivated favoritism; it is also because of class warfare rhetoric, environmentalist overreach, biased journalism, an uncritical soft spot in our universities when it comes to Marxist thinking, and on and on.

In order to benefit their citizens, national governments from Canada to Sweden to Australia have spent recent years altering their governance to bring it more in line with what ours once was. Simultaneously, in order to benefit itself, our government has been altering its behavior to be more in line with what was traditionally the case in those other nations.

As a result, today's youth and middle aged question whether upward mobility is a realistic possibility, or whether it is a pipe dream sold to suckers by fat cats who hold all the cards. That questioning does a lot to explain why Burger King is looked at like a villain when it should be looked at like a steady ship in a storm.

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Now I have started to ramble, and have started to wonder how I can tie this post together and bring it to a decent denouement.

I've been struggling with the ending for a few days, and I think I have finally decided to stop trying and call it quits. But I think I have made myself clear, and I certainly hope I have made myself clear.

Basically, Burger King is not abandoning America. Instead America is abandoning Burger King.

By shifting its address northward, Burger King is supporting American principles by drawing attention to the fact that America's federal government has abandoned those principles. Burger King is supporting those principles by pro-actively refusing to tolerate their abandonment. In that light, emigrating to Canada is a pro-American move at the moment.

The next time I find myself at a Tampa Bay Lightning game, I intend to make my way to the Tim Hortons outlet in the arena and purchase something from that venerable Canadian institution, precisely because I think it is the patriotic thing for a U.S. citizen to do. After all, our nation is based on principle and philosophy, not geography and ethnicity -- ay?