Monday, September 28, 2015

Fourth Impression: Chaos!

The first four weeks of the college football season are behind us, with the slate of games for Week Five set to begin in three nights, and so far:

Top-ranked Ohio State needed a fourth quarter pick-six to escape their own stadium with a 20-13 win over Northern Illinois.

Michigan State ascended to the #2 spot in the polls largely because of their 31-28 home victory against perennial national title contender Oregon -- but then Oregon played Utah and got blown out by 42 points in their own stadium, so how impressive does MSU's win look now?

And speaking of those Oregon Ducks, they opened the season ranked #7, but after four weeks, they are now 2-2 and surrendering an average of 40.75 points per game to their opponents. That includes 42 points scored by Eastern Washington, which plays in Division I-AA, and 28 by Georgia State, which went 1-11 and 0-12 the last two seasons.

TCU opened the season ranked #2 with a veteran roster, nine months after narrowly being kept out of last season's playoff. And, yes, they are admittedly 4-0 right now -- but they barely eeked out wins over the medicorities that are Minnesota and Texas Tech, and their defense has given up 89 points the last two weeks.

Alabama lost by only six points to a veteran squad whose juniors ranked as the nation's #1 recruiting class when they were signed ... and that loss was, in no small part, due to a semi-fluky play in which a pass was grabbed from the air after bouncing off of players like a pinball ... and for that, the Tide plummeted all the way from #3 to #12.

The team that beat them was Ole Miss, and afterwards, while Bama promptly plummeted, Ole Miss promptly rocketed up from #15 to #3. Then Ole Miss proceeded to struggle against Vanderbilt. After spending the first three weeks averaging more than 50 points per game and winning by more than 43 per game, they managed only a 27-16 win against the 1-3 Commodores.

For the first time since 1887, Notre Dame might actually be under-rated ... even though they are ranked #6, are undefeated, and beat Texas by five touchdowns ... you can't make this shit up.

Auburn opened at #6 and was considered a contender for the SEC championship and the inevitable playoff spot that that championship would bring ... then they proceeded to get worse in each of the first three weeks ... then, heading into Week Four, they benched their starting quarterback and made lots of position and personnel changes on defense ... and today they are 2-2 with a blowout loss to LSU and 17-9 loss to lightly regarded Mississippi State, and are far, far out of the Top 25.

And: Delaware has a RB named Thomas Jefferson and Army has a WR named Edgar Allan Poe. Neither of those facts mean anything, but they are still fun to mention.

In my September 14th post I wrote this: "There should be no college football polls until the season's first month is in the books. Until then, nobody knows enough to develop an opinion worthy of respect."

Well, this college football season is making me think that I should have declared the threshold to be the season's first month and a half, not just the first month.

So far, this season is a hot mess layered with chaos and cooked well-done, and from one week to the next there is no way to even begin to guess what will happen.

And do you know what? That ain't half bad.

Well, except for the Auburn part, which is (in my opinion) all bad.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Autumn Equinox

Some thoughts about autumn on this, its first day:

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!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Strange Case of Kim Davis

Now that the heavily publicized case of Kim Davis has passed into the realm of "last week's news," it's worth looking at it with a non-feverish temperature. After all, it ranks as one of the strangest in recent memory and the issues involved are consequential.

Davis holds the office of County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, a rural jurisdiction not far from the spot where Kentucky borders Ohio and West Virginia. Throughout the controversy, the home page of the Rowan County government has continued to list her as its contact ( and continued to consist of an introduction whose author is explicitly identified as her. The introduction states such things as "I am responsible for providing many services to the people" and "Our office is here to serve the public in a friendly, professional and efficient manner."

As you probably know, Davis has made waves by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples -- and refusing to allow her employees to do so -- on the grounds that doing so violates her religious beliefs. Because she continued to refuse even after a federal court ordered her to relent, she was jailed for contempt of court on the order of U.S. District Judge David Bunning.

What you probably don't know is that Davis is a Democrat. Something else you probably don't know is that Bunning is a conservative who was appointed by George W. Bush.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

Most Democrats (i.e., most liberals) oppose her and consider her vile, but most of them have no idea she's one of them (!) because the mainstream media have been silent about that fact. I can't help but wonder what Democrats/liberals would do if they knew? Would they ignore the fact and give her a pass like they did for the late Robert Byrd (a Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate until 2010 despite having been a Grand Keagle for the KKK and having never apologized for his activities with that peculiar institution)?

(I hereby take this opportunity to state that if you've spent any time paying attention to the media's ways, the fact that they did not disclose Davis's political party when they identified her as a bigot should have immediately clued you in that her party's mascot is a donkey, but I digress.)

As for Republicans (i.e., most conservatives) it's fair to say that their reactions to Davis are all over the map. Because the media is not giving the public an honest or fair description of the range of conservative thinking on this matter, I have decided to do their job for them, and here I go.

*     *     *     *     *

One conservative school of thought is that Kim Davis is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with government. This is because she's refusing to follow the law despite being elected to do so and taking an oath to do so -- an oath that states "I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor, affection or partiality, so help me God" (emphasis mine). The rule of law is one of conservatism's core principles, and to flagrantly break such a vow is to flagrantly violate the rule of law

For those who don't know, the rule of law, often described as "a government of laws and not of men," means that each person is equally bound to follow the law regardless of his or her place in society. It means there is not one set of rules for the government and another for the governed. It means there is not one set of rules for the rich and another for the poor. It means that if an elected official or millionaire CEO breaks a law, he or she must endure the same punishment a bricklayer would endure for breaking the same law. In short, the rule of law makes us equal and protects us as individuals.

The virtues of this principle are obvious... If history tells us anything, it tells us that when government officials are allowed to violate one law, they: 1) are certain to violate more; 2) will not give a damn if their violations infringe on the rights of citizens; and 3) will probably take all kinds of measures to punish citizens for doing things they, the government officials, don't like... Therefore, conservatives who oppose Kim Davis for violating the rule of law are right to do so.

*     *     *     *     *

In response to those who oppose Kim Davis's violation of her oath, other conservatives say: "But wait! Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and American jurisprudence has always affirmed that government may not force individuals to act in ways that are against their religious beliefs. Therefore, Kim Davis should not be compelled to sign off on gay marriage licenses if her theology holds that gay marriage is against the will of God." Conservatives who make this point are also right to do so.

In response to them, other conservatives (including some already on record opposing her violation of her oath) chime in to say: "But wait! Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is anyone guaranteed a right to a particular job. If Kim Davis refuses to perform a public duty that is in keeping with her oath, why should she keep the job? For that matter, if she believes she can not in good faith put her imprimatur on gay marriage licenses, how can she in good faith work for an entity that puts its imprimatur on them? Would a pro-life OB/GYN agree to work for Planned Parenthood as long as he personally was not required to perform one of the 300,000+ abortions that Planned Parenthood performs every year? Of course not! Kim Davis should either resign or face the consequences imposed by Judge Bunning. To voluntarily work for an entity that does something you abhor is to tacitly endorse whatever that thing is." Conservatives who make this point are right to do so.

Then, the counter-counter-rebuttal goes like this: "But wait! A choice between unemployment and imprisonment is no choice at all, and certainly not a just choice. Since a gay couple unable to obtain a marriage license in Rowan County can simply drive a short distance to Carter County and get one there, their rights have not even been denied, not in any real sense. Kim Davis, however, has had her religious rights denied if she is forced into prison or unemployment as a consequence of adhering to her faith. Therefore, if you don't support her you don't support social justice." Conservatives who make this point are right to do so.

People making the above claim are likely to add: "It is hypocritical for liberals to advocate the rule of law where gay marriage is concerned, while openly celebrating law-breaking when it comes to immigration, blocking loggers from cutting down trees, etc." And they are right to say so.

But meanwhile, the counter to the counter-counter-rebuttal goes like this: "Your counter-counter-rebuttal does not actually address the point I made in my counter-rebuttal, so let me again stress that Miss Davis is free to seek employment from every entity in America, not only from the Rowan County Government -- but no entity in America, including the Rowan County Government, can be forced to employ her. In fact, since her employment by the county government is dependent on her getting a majority vote from the county's citizens, her so-called right to work for it is even more non-existent than my non-existent right to work for my employer. Nothing is a right if it forces a person or entity to do something that he, she, or it would not do voluntarily."

Conservatives making that statement could also add, with the enthusiastic support of every secular liberal on Earth: "By the way, by taking a vow to 'faithfully execute' her official duties 'so help me God,' and then refusing to execute those duties, Kim Davis actually broke a promise she made to God; and since she was not elected until ten months ago, at which time she had to know the Supreme Court was going to be ruling on gay marriage, she can not claim that she didn't see this coming and that her promise-breaking is thus mitigated."

Conservatives who make either of the statements in the two previous paragraphs are right to do so.

So round and round it goes and where it stops nobody knows, because every position regarding Kim Davis is based upon valid concerns, and those concerns are built on valid foundations.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

*     *     *     *     *

I find it noteworthy that the back-and-forth debate among conservatives shows they are focused not so much on Kim Davis, or on gay marriage in and of itself, but instead on larger, more consequential matters about the power and scope of government. They are focused on how precedents set today could affect future generations tomorrow.

Conversely, liberals seem to be responding emotionally and their reactions seem to be inextricably bound to their beliefs about gay marriage, even when their beliefs about gay marriage are intellectual.

But I am becoming politically partisan about something that is not politically partisan. When it comes to Kim Davis, I get the impression that emotions and thoughts tend to bleed through and fuse together even more than usual; and therefore, I get the impression that at the end of the day it's hard to separate your thoughts about her from your feelings about gay marriage. Thus she has become a proxy for some people's real and imagined enemies, and a proxy for other people's real and imagined heroes.

On a similar note, it is hard to separate your thoughts about her from your feelings about religion, but this difficulty leads different people to different conclusions. After all, among the pious are some who oppose gay marriage (Rick Santorum) and some who support it (Greg Baugues).

It is also hard to separate your thoughts about Kim Davis from your beliefs about political affiliations, and this leads many people to make faulty assumptions, as evidenced by the fact that most Americans assume she is a Republican when she is actually a Democrat. Contrary to the media spin, there are quite a few conservatives who favor gay marriage (Dick Cheney) and more than a handful of liberals who oppose it (David Blankenhorn).

In fact, there are famous gay people who oppose gay marriage (Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana).

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

*     *     *     *     *

So what should the average citizen think about all this?

Obviously, each citizen must decide that for himself, but as I see it, the many wrinkles in Kim Davis's situation illustrate why we should respect each other's opinions without making judgments about each other's character. This case is a perfect example of one in which reasonable people can simply disagree and then enjoy a beer together. It is a perfect example of why The Thought Police should not be allowed to run roughshod in a free society, which we Americans fancy ours to be.

Most people who support gay marriage are not opposed to the traditional nuclear family. Rather, they see marriage as a fundamental affirmation of two people committing themselves to each other, and they believe it is wrong to deny homosexuals the right to make that affirmation simply because they were born homosexual.

Most people who oppose gay marriage do not hate gay people. In fact, many of them have gay friends and relatives. However, they believe that marriage is based specifically on children and they know that homosexual relationships, by definition, are incapable of even producing children. By extension, these people believe marriage to be the primary building block of society, and they believe that any fundamental change in a society's concept of marriage could undermine that society's long-term stability.

Both positions are defensible and ethical. Those who stand on either side of this issue should be able to acknowledge the validity of the other side. Those who reflexively dislike Kim Davis should be able to acknowledge that the concerns raised by her case are important, and are not even about her.

Those who reflexively rush to Davis's defense should be able to understand that she is far from a martyr, since a thrice-divorced woman makes for a rather peculiar defender of traditional marriage.

Many people are eager to exempt Davis from the charge of hypocrisy because of the fact she did not convert to Christianity until a few years ago -- but an equal number of people, including more than a few Christians, are wondering just what kind of person she is to have chosen the fiery Apostolic Church as the one to call home.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

*     *     *     *     *

So where do I stand?

Well, first I should affirm some things about my mindset, for that background is important.

I believe religious freedom is essential to human freedom and I believe it is the core American principle. I believe this intuitively, and I believe it based on what I have learned from studying history. After all, religious freedom is the very reason the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower, and it was free religious conscience that eventually drove a majority of Americans to support the Civil Right Movement.

I believe that marriage, as originally constructed in multiple religions and multiple societies around the globe, is not about the adults who enter into its covenant. Instead, it is about the children who are meant to be conceived within the covenant.

I believe the original purpose of marriage was to create a stable and loving environment in which to rear children. The "micro" reason for this is that such an environment is integral to children's well-being, and remains integral to their psychology after they reach adulthood. The "macro" reason is that the raising of children into well-adjusted adults is necessary for any society to prosper and endure.

Because children were the raison d'etre for marriage being conceived, I believe marriage was conceived as a "one-man, one-woman" arrangement. For that same reason, I have long believed that people involved in any other arrangement could not have any interest in marriage. I remember when plenty of people mocked marriage by calling it "just a piece of paper," and I suspect that a majority of those very same people are now supporters of gay marriage.

However, I also believe that the construction of marriage changed several decades ago, and that it changed with society's approval.

Further, I believe it changed with the consent (and thus the approval) of religious authorities, as evidenced by the signatures of countless preachers appearing on the marriage certificates of fiftysomething brides and grooms who were divorced from their original spouses and could not bear children together.

I also believe that religious authorities knowingly relinquished their authority to call the shots whenever it was that they consented to government being involved in marriage (after all, preachers themselves say "by the power vested in me by the state of _____" every time they marry people).

And here's the kicker: Contrary to what most Americans think, the institution of marriage in our country is now stronger than it was thirty years ago. Divorce rates have been dropping since the early 1980's, and the percentage of couples who married in the 1990's and made it past their 15th anniversary exceeds that of couples who married in the 1970's and 1980's. And when compared against available anniversary benchmarks, couples who married in the 2000's are doing even better than those who married in the 1990's. (If you don't believe me, go here to start reading more and here to peruse a year-by-year chart of divorce rates.)

Of course, multiple factors influence every issue, and just because A correlates with B does not mean that A causes B. Nonetheless, the numbers are what they are, and they show that America's marital stability has grown stronger throughout the same period that America's acceptance of gay marriage has increased. So count me unconvinced that the sky is falling, and pardon me for not assuming the worst of my fellow Americans.

I admit that I am sympathetic to the concerns raised by the defenders of traditional marriage, and like I already said, I do not believe the majority of those people are bigots. But I also do not believe that the majority of gay couples applying for marriage licenses are doing so flippantly; and since I know gay people who are married, I can say with certainty that those particular individuals take their vows just as seriously as Erika and I take ours.

Given all the problems in the world, gay marriage strikes me as an odd hill for the defenders of marriage to choose to die upon. Those defenders were not exactly quiet when "no fault divorce" became vogue, nor were they exactly quiet when society stopped being openly scornful of adultery, but I don't remember them being nearly as noisy then as they are now. Why is their dedication suddenly so much more fierce than it was before?

Count me among those who believe that Kim Davis should resign if she thinks she can not carry out her oath in good conscience. But at the same time, I struggle to get the words "she belongs in prison" out of my mouth tonight, even though I have said them in conversation and typed them in Facebook messages. The more I think about it, the more I think she does not belong in jail or prison -- largely because plenty of much bigger fish, including recent Attorney General Eric Holder, have openly defied the law and walked away free.

Religious freedom is real, and no matter what we think about Kim Davis's personal character or choice of denomination, it is not for us to judge her sincerity. Like I said, gay couples in Rowan County can simply drive to a neighboring county for a marriage license, so she has never put their rights in anywhere near as much jeopardy as the liberal zeitgeist has put hers.

But Kim Davis has no more right to be employed by the citizens of Rowan County than does anyone else who lives in the county. She is free to live according to the dictates of her conscience, but she is not free to do so at the expense of others who have no say in the matter. The Rowan County taxpayers pay her salary and fund her benefits, and when they elected her in November 2014 they did not know she was going to defy the oath they asked her to take by electing her. Therefore, she should resign and "get a real job" like everybody else.

But so should Barack Obama, in my opinion, for he too has defied the law (actually the Constitution) after taking an oath to uphold it.

It makes no sense to focus on small fish like Davis while ignoring the big fish whose malfeasance affects everyone.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Second Impressions

My September 8th post opened with the following sentence: "In the college football world, opinions and generalizations based on only the first week of the season have a tendency to be, um, inaccurate." As if to prove me right, Week Two looked a lot different than Week One. Here are some thoughts now that Week Two is over:

Classic might be too strong a word, but three of Saturday's games turned out to be the kind of dramatic nail-biters that make the game awesome.

Chief among them was the high profile showdown between #5 Michigan State and #7 Oregon. The former edged the latter on a cool night in East Lansing, largely on the strength of two TD passes by Connor Cook and two scoring runs by LJ Scott... However, in a bit of a surprise for a fairly high-scoring game, it was defense that made the difference as the Spartans stuffed the Ducks' prolific offense all four times they went for it on fourth down. One of those stops came on a goal-line stand in the second quarter and another came on the Ducks' final possession... Circle November 21st on your calendar, for that is when the Spartans travel to Columbus to do battle with Ohio State, in a late-season contest that may well have major national title implications.

Meanwhile, down in Knoxville, Tennessee dominated Oklahoma for three quarters and looked to be back among the nation's elite -- only to see the Sooners rise up and storm back like a cyclone roaring east from Tornado Alley... After completing just 8 of 25 passes in the first three quarters, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield proceeded to go 11 of 14 the rest of the way, forcing the game to OT by throwing one TD pass to Samaje Perine with 8:20 remaining, then another to Sterling Shepard with only 40 seconds left on the clock. Then, after Tennessee went up by a touchdown in the first overtime, Mayfield ran it in on fourth-and-goal from the one to force a second overtime -- during which he threw an 18-yarder to Shepard that proved to be the game-winner. All three of his scoring throws came on third down... Just like that, what had been a 17-0 Tennessee lead morphed into a 31-24 Tennessee loss; and thus, Bob Stoops's reputation as an SEC killer remains intact and we learned that his moniker "Big Game Bob" still applies.

However, the most exciting game took place in Charlottesville, VA, where Notre Dame and Virginia went back and forth like Balboa and Creed... The Irish jumped to a 12-0 lead with a touchdown, missed two-point conversion, and two field goals. Then the Cavaliers scored a pair of TD's to go up 14-12 at halftime; the second of those scores was a perfect 42-yard bomb from Matt Johns to Keeon Johnson, completed despite the fact that threw it while leaning back with a defender in his face... Then the Irish scored a pair of third quarter touchdowns which allowed them to start the fourth quarter holding a 26-14 lead -- only to see Johns run one in from four yards out, pulling the Cavs within 26-21 just two minutes into the final frame... Then it became super dramatic in the game's final six minutes, as Virginia drove 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by a one-yard run by Albert Reid to put them up 27-26 (the two-point conversion attempt failed). Notre Dame got the ball at their 20 and seven plays later DeShone Kizer threw a perfect 39-yard TD to Will Fuller on a flag route, followed by a two-point conversion toss to Torii Hunter, Jr., making the final score 34-27.

My Auburn Indulgence
I probably shouldn't call this an "indulgence," because Auburn's game against Jacksonville State felt like torture, but it was also a perfect example of how different the college football world can look from one week to the next.

As laid out in the already-linked September 8th post, I was fairly high on my Tigers after their Week One win over Louisville. But when they played I-AA foe Jacksonville State on Saturday, they struggled to find their bearings and were fortunate to escape with a 27-20 overtime win. The defense went from looking very strong to looking hapless. The offense went from productive and promising to unambiguously subpar. Other than the fact Auburn came back to win, there was literally nothing positive about Saturday's game, which came within one or two plays of being the worst loss in school history.

But then again, does anyone with a brain have any idea why the AP rated Auburn #6 to start the season? We finished last year with three straight losses and a record of 8-5. We lost one of our most effective, level-headed quarterbacks ever, and are playing lots of freshmen and sophomores. Plus, we played Saturday with four major injuries on the defensive side of the ball.

Basically, this year's Tigers prove something I have thought for years: There should be no college football polls until the season's first month is in the books. Until then, nobody knows enough to develop an opinion worthy of respect.

In Week One the SEC went 12-1 and notched good victories against the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12. That collective performance helped send it into Week Two with ten teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

But in Week Two it went 9-5; and while that record might seem worse than it is because it includes SEC-on-SEC games, it also includes a loss to the MAC and harrowing escapes against the Sun Belt and American Athletic, plus Auburn's harrowing escape against I -AA Jacksonville State. That collective performance resulted in three of its teams dropping out of the AP Top 25.

So what does that mean? Probably not much, other than what I already said: There should be no polls until the season is a month old, because right now we don't know squat. For the record, I am an SEC guy and am sure that in more years than not, the SEC is the best top-to-bottom conference in the nation; however, I am also sure that the gap between it and everyone else has never been as wide as it's often made out to be.

On a bad precipice
Central Florida:  Less than two calendar years removed from a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor, the Knights are 0-2 with a loss to lowly Florida International, and just learned that starting QB Justin Holman will be out two to four weeks with an injured throwing hand.

South Carolina:  The Knights' September 26th opponent has problems of its own. Although the Gamecocks do have a non-conference win against North Carolina to their credit, they looked very unconvincing eeking it our and then they followed it up by losing at home to Kentucky. And now they just learned that their starting QB, Connor Mitch, could be out for the season due to a separated shoulder and hip infection.

The Mountain West Conference:  It went 0-10 against the Power Five conferences on Saturday. Sure, Boise State had a lead over BYU in the final minutes and lost on a Hail Mary, but does that make things any better?

And now...
...I am signing off because this post has already been long and not very insightful. Until next time, take care.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Reflections on 9/11

There it stood. Fifty-two months earlier, when America first saw the steel cross standing amidst the ruins of the World Trade Center, I had assumed that rescue workers fashioned it from beams found in the wreckage. I had assumed that was how it came to be a fitting tribute to those who perished on September 11, 2001, and I still thought that when I looked upon the cross in person on a cold January afternoon in 2006. It was not until shortly afterward that I learned the truth: This portion of crossbeam had fallen, as-is, from the upper reaches of the collapsing North Tower and landed upright in the debris.

As I stood at Ground Zero, it was eerily silent despite the fact that America’s largest city was bustling all around me. A gaping hole occupied the spot where the Twin Towers once stood. I looked at the cross and thought I could walk to it and touch it in less than five seconds, were it not for the chain link fence encircling the grounds.

Instead I turned and walked south, to the corner of the property where Liberty Street intersects with Church Street. Looking back to the north, I shifted my gaze from the hole to the street and recalled the images of people leaping hundreds of feet to their bloody deaths on the very pavement which was now before my eyes. How hellishly hot must the temperatures have been, for human beings to choose crushing their bodies to death before knowing the towers were doomed to fall?

I thought of rescue workers proffering aid to others at the very instant more than 100 stories of steel and concrete came crashing down to extinguish their lives.

* * *

Like most Americans, my thoughts about New York over the years had not been wholly positive. The city held poignant symbols of freedom, and hence of the American dream, which was very good. It housed many of the engines of capitalism and birthed some of the best jazz ever played, and those things were also good. Yet it swaggered with arrogance, oozed with moral ambivalence, and was the home of socialites who lived off inherited wealth while attacking the very institutions that made it possible for others to achieve success – and those aspects of the Big Apple were not good.

New York may have been the ultimate ethnic melting pot, but it was shuttered and monochromatic when it came to intellectual matters. How could a city with eight million citizens not have a single conservative? I loved the Statue of Liberty but could never bring myself to root for the Yankees.

Nonetheless, standing at Ground Zero I thought of how all roads seem to meet in this place. Visiting the city in person, walking its sidewalks among its inhabitants, brings a welcome realization that it actually likes the fact it is in the United States. Yes, there was the raw irritation of seeing Che Guevara's mug plastered with praise on a giant window in Times Square – but then I heard the patrons of a subterranean sports bar praise our troops.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was still up two weeks after Christmas, and the walkway to it from Fifth Avenue was lined with tall figures of angels blowing trumpets. Here, Christmas had not been neutered by any transformation to something called Happy Holiday.

One block from Rockefeller Center are the twin spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, from whose pulpit the late Cardinal John O’Connor delivered many of the strongest sermons in American history. Though a prominent and uncompromising foe of abortion, he was revered in this city that is considered a hotbed of abortion-on-demand secularism. Standing across the street from Saint Patrick’s, it was hard not to notice the street sign showing that this block of Fifth Avenue is officially designated as Cardinal O’Connor Way.

In the East Village we slurped beers at McSorley’s, an old Irish pub where Abraham Lincoln once quaffed ale after delivering a speech. Small and cramped, it does not appear to have been enlarged or significantly upgraded since Lincoln’s time. When our party of four made it inside, a rough-looking worker with an Irish brogue showed us to a small, thin, wooden table and asked if we wanted “light or dark.” Two of us ordered the former, two the latter, and it must have been two-for-one because he returned carrying eight mugs of beer with no tray. He slammed them onto the table in one theatrical move, and we drank them without ever knowing their brand.

* * *

And finally, at Ground Zero, we were a very short walk from my favorite New York City nexus. Head one block east and you come to Broadway. Turn south for two more blocks and you come to Wall Street’s western terminus, directly across from Trinity Chapel.

We strode onto Trinity’s grounds and wandered through its aged cemetery until we found what we were searching: The grave of Alexander Hamilton, marked by a modest obelisk. At its base someone had laid a bouquet. Amazingly, right beside Hamilton’s grave is that of Robert Fulton, father of the steam engine.

Leaving Trinity, you cross Broadway and start down surprisingly nondescript Wall Street. Just one block onto it, with Trinity’s steeple looming behind you, you come to the site where George Washington took the oath of office as America’s first president.

And across the street from that site sits the New York Stock Exchange. We’ve all seen the images of frantic traders on the exchange floor, and we know the atmosphere inside must be noisy and stressful and chaotic. But viewed from outside, the exchange building is a picture of serenity that is dwarfed by much of its surroundings. American flags fly beneath its facade of Corinthian columns, giving it the appearance of a county courthouse from somewhere in the heartland.

So here, in less than two city blocks, you can walk in the footsteps of at least two Founding Fathers; visit one of their burial sites; visit the grave of one of history’s most prominent inventors; stand at the spot where our republic’s executive branch came into existence, and see the building where more wealth has been created than at any other spot on the planet.

Here, you can feel the heart of freedom beating strong.

Update: I first published this piece in 2008. I did not realize until later that McSorley's serves only its own beer (hence us being offered simply "light or dark") and that it has a two-drink minimum (hence us being served twice what we ordered). In my mind, those facts make McSorley's even cooler than I already thought.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

First Impressions

In the world of college football, opinions and generalizations based on only the first week of the season have a tendency to be, um, inaccurate. Still, it's impossible not to leap to conclusions and that is part of the fun, so here are a few of mine:

Texas Sucks
Notre Dame fans are right to be happy about their team's convincing win over Texas, but they are wrong to think it's a bigger deal than a convincing win over Nevada or Western Michigan would have been. Teams are defined by their players, not their jerseys, and the players wearing burnt orange have been soft for years. No Texas Longhorns team has accomplished much of anything in quite some time, and at best, UT currently has only the fifth-best program in the state of Texas. It is going to take a while for Charlie Strong to turn around the moseying culture than Mack Brown allowed to infiltrate the program.

The Return of Defense
After several years of seeming to be absent from the game, defense is making a comeback. I have no stats or facts-laden arguments to back that up. But my eyeballs tell me what they tell me, and I just witnessed more single-weekend examples of wrap-up tackling, swarm-to-the-ball linebacking, and dominant D-line play than I have seen in several years. That is very, very good for the game.

Like an elderly curmudgeon from Queens who continues to call the airport Idlewild (instead of Kennedy), I refuse to use the cumbersome phrases Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision. The categories of Division I football shall forever remain Division I-A and Division I-AA in my book, for there is clarity in that. When you hear the phrases, you know the former is the first tier and the latter is the second.

But having said that, I am convinced that the bottom fifth of the programs in Division I-A are no better than the upper fifth of those in Division I-AA. It could even be that the bottom quarter of one are no better than the upper quarter of the other.

This past week, Portland State shocked Washington State, South Dakota State beat Kansas, Fordham knocked off Army, and North Dakota upended Wyoming by double digits. Meanwhile, perennial national championship contender Oregon did not lose, but did surrender 42 points to Eastern Washington. And Indiana escaped with a one-point win over Southern Illinois.

And go back to last year, when Georgia Southern and Appalachian State played their first seasons at the I-A level after having been rivals in I-AA. GSU finished their inaugural I-A season as the Sun Belt Conference champions while ASU finished third in the same conference. The Eagles actually went 8-0 in Sun Belt play, and when they stepped outside of the conference, their losses to NC State and Georgia Tech were by a mere five points combined -- giving them a credible talking point claim that they could play in the ACC and finish in its top half.

I believe the increasing fuzziness where the I-A and I-AA worlds meet is not a sign of the former getting worse. I believe it is a sign of the latter getting better, combined with the inevitable fallout from the 85-scholarship limit. I also believe it speaks to how fallible college recruiters are when evaluating high school players, and I believe it testifies to the caliber of I-AA coaches and diligence of I-AA players. I think it means that teams from I-A's "non-power-five" conferences should not be taken lightly, and on balance I think that is good for college football.

Grains of Salt, Part One
Take several of them if you want to pontificate about the significance of Texas A&M's victory over Arizona State. For the most part, I say this because Arizona State has been undependable and inconsistent for the last few years, which means that beating the Sun Devils counts as a good win but should not count as anything near a big win. Plus, it's hard to forget how Texas A&M was considered a national title contender last year because of how good it looked beating South Carolina in Week One -- only to wither away and finish the season 7-5.

Grains of Salt, Part Two
I like Northwestern and have talked up its football program for a long time. After a disappointing 2014, I want to believe that their upset win over Stanford heralds their return to competitiveness for 2015. I want to believe that the stifling D they played against Stanford heralds their return to the kind of bruising, clamp-down identity that defined them in the mid-1990's, when current head coach Pat Fitzgerald was an All-American linebacker... But from what I saw of that game, I simply could not tell if the Wildcats were playing outstanding defense or the Cardinal was playing pathetic offense. So for now, I say take the win with a few grains of salt and wait to see more.

My Auburn Indulgence
Coming off a disappointing season, my Tigers traveled up Interstate 85 and defeated a ranked opponent despite having a roster heavy with freshmen and sophomores. Their defense looked better than it has in years. They dominated most of the game and led 31-10 midway through the fourth quarter, despite three interceptions by Jeremy Johnson and several drive-killing penalties. Contrary to the media narrative, it was the closeness of the 31-24 final that was deceptive, not the fact that the final showed Auburn on top.

Having said that, Johnson must improve on his decision-making. He showed his accuracy and arm strength on two long TD passes (one of which was called back) but all three picks came on awful decisions. He was barely pressured on any of them, yet he threw right to defenders in areas where there was no receiver anywhere close to being open. Plus, there was a third down play on which he scrambled, ran downfield, and had plenty of open field to make the first down, yet dove to the turf and came up short by ten or eleven inches. He got away with those things Saturday, but if he keeps them up he will cost his team a couple games before all is said and done.

The Injury Superbug
Football is a tough sport and there are injuries every week, but I don't remember any opening week having as many major injuries as the one that just ended. Out for the season are Notre Dame RB Tarean Folston (ACL), Pitt RB James Conner (MCL), Stanford DT Harrison Phillips (ACL), Georgetown LB Ty Williams (broken neck), BYU QB Taysom Hill (foot), TCU LB Sammy Douglas (unspecified), and Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt (Achilles tendon)... Also out, but expected back before the season ends, are Arizona LB Scooby Wright (meniscus), Louisville WR James Quick (ankle), Kansas State QB Jesse Ertz (unspecified), Clemson WR Mike Williams ("small" neck fracture), Virginia Tech QB Michael Brewer (collarbone), UCLA DL Eddie Vanderdoes (ACL), and Missouri RB Russell Handsbrough (ankle)... Oregon QB Vernon Adams and Wisconsin S Michael Caputo left their respective games with possible concussions... And this list is far from complete.

Bring It On
I can't wait for this season to play itself out. As it does, I will be back here to opine from time to time. But no matter what happens, I say this: War Eagle!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kickoff Time

With apologies to the Monatna Grizzlies and North Dakota State Bison, who served up a thriller last Saturday, the college football season is set to kick off tonight. Therefore, it feels appropriate to republish this post from seven years ago: 

College football finally returns this week, and in the coming month campuses will come alive all over the land. From Baton Rouge to Boulder and Clemson to Corvallis and Morgantown to Madison, alumni will return in their RV’s and the aroma of beer and beef will waft through their tailgate parties.

There is nothing on earth like college football. Because a single loss can take you out of the running for the national title and maybe even your conference title, college football has the most important regular season in all of American sports.

It is the only sport in which you can win every game but one, yet the whole year is remembered in a bad light because the one loss came against your archrival. Likewise, it is the only sport in which a season-ending win against your archrival can turn an otherwise bad year into one worth celebrating.

In different corners of America, longtime rivals play for chintzy but endearing objects: Minnesota and Michigan for the Little Brown Jug, Purdue and Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket, Tennessee and Kentucky for the Beer Barrel.

Alumni from different schools argue that not only does their alma matter have the best football team on any given Saturday, but that every aspect of their alma matter is better than every aspect of every other school in America.

It is obvious that Auburn’s “War Eagle” is the greatest fight song ever played. Yet Michigan grads will tell you that no song is as stirring as “The Victors.”

It is obvious that the sweeping angles of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium make it the best place on earth to watch a football game. Yet Arizona State grads will tell you there’s no better place than the upper deck of Sun Devil Stadium at sundown, from which you can watch a game and see the desert turn to fire at the same time.

And it is obvious that Auburn-Alabama is the most heated rivalry in the world. Yet, inexplicably, some will say that title belongs to Michigan-Ohio State or Texas-Oklahoma or Army-Navy.

Meanwhile, Tennessee grads claim that the greatest pre-game tradition in America is the procession of their Vol Navy, when alumni arrive by boats on the Tennessee River.

And Wisconsin grads claim that the greatest post-game tradition is their Fifth Quarter, when the band stays in the stadium to play and the fans stay in the stadium to party, regardless of who won.

As someone who was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, I watch Bucs games while feeling my stomach boil with intensity, but I have little interest in spending hours of my life watching other professional games. On the other hand, as someone who graduated from Auburn, I watch Auburn games while feeling heart-stopping anxiety – and I also watch any other college game that’s on TV when Auburn is not. I will stay up into the wee hours of the morning to see Boise State vs. Hawaii and enjoy every minute of it.

College football fans do things like that. And they wonder about all kinds of topics that relate to the sport but not to their school, such as: Will Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno end the year with more career victories? Will Ohio State make it to the national championship game yet again, only to get embarrassed yet again? Will Notre Dame continue its downward spiral that enables millions of Americans to revel in schadenfreude?

No other sport can match college football’s blend of pageantry, passion, and season-long drama. So cue the marching bands, let the cheerleaders adorn our televisions, and let us all argue about who’s number one. I am ready.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Planned Butcherhood: From Here, Where?

This is the final post in a three-part series. The first and second posts can be read here and here, respectively.

In the still-widening wake of undercover videos centered around Planned Parenthood, those of us who are not embarrassed to call ourselves "pro-life" should be asking "where do we go from here?"

We are the adults in the room and should act like it. We are caring and contemplative and should act like it. And though that sounds easy, it is not.

Try telling intelligent and well-meaning friends that by "supporting a woman's right to choose," they are effectively sanctioning the intentional murder of babies. It is a perfectly natural reaction for them to feel like you've attacked them personally and accused them of the most grotesque form of immorality.

Try telling a friend or relative who once had an abortion that you know abortion to be murder, but that you still love her and believe her soul can be redeemed. No matter how friendly and supportive you mean those words to sound, it is almost impossible for the person on the other end of the conversation to translate them as anything other than "you committed murder and would spend eternity in Hell if you died today."

This does not put us in an easy or fortunate place, but we have a duty to act properly in this place, for we are on the right side and the stakes are high as can be. Human life itself -- in fact, human life in its most innocent state -- is what's on the line.

But there are two pieces of good news. First, of course, is that we have truth on our side. But the second piece of good news is something you might not know: Contrary to what the media would have you believe, most Americans are pro-life, even among card-carrying Obama-voting liberals. It's just that people who don't follow politics with eagle-eyed closeness are woefully misinformed about the positions held by our politicians and political parties.

*     *     *     *     *

Over the years, numerous polls have borne out that an overwhelming majority of the American population supports legislative restrictions on abortion, including a large majority of those who identify themselves as pro-choice.

Today I am going to cite this one that was conducted in January. It did find that 49% of respondents called themselves pro-choice versus 47% who called themselves pro-life. However, the rest of its findings clearly reveal that most people who call themselves pro-choice do not mean it in the way the abortion lobby wants; i.e., all they mean is that they don't favor an absolute ban on abortion without any exceptions whatsoever.

Specifically, and most significantly: 84% of respondents said they support "significant restrictions" on abortion, while only 9% said they believe it should be "available to a woman any time during her entire pregnancy."

Also, 69% of those who call themselves pro-choice said they believe abortion should be allowed "at most, in the first trimester or only in cases or rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, or never permitted." (emphasis mine)

Think about that 69% figure. It means that more than two-thirds of Americans who self-identify as pro-choice also believe that notable restrictions should be placed on abortion.

Plus -- contrary to what jittery Republican consultants have been saying for years -- there is evidence that candidates who make a centerpiece of their pro-life position are helped at the ballot box when they do so, not hurt. In other words, abortion is not the third rail that the political elites believe it to be.

As reported by Adam Scheffer, when pro-life, doctrinaire conservative Gary Abbott and pro-choice, doctrinaire liberal Wendy Davis faced each other in the Texas governor's race, "exposure to just one pro-life video shifted Democratic-leaning women by 10 points away from Davis and toward Abbott. Moreover, voters ages 18 to 34 shifted about 8 points, and Hispanic voters shifted about 13 net points from Davis to Abbott."

In the Virginia governor's race between pro-life, doctrinaire conservative Ken Cuccinelli and pro-choice, doctrinaire liberal Terry McAuliffe, Scheffer reports that "a single phone message emphasizing McAuliffe's support for unrestricted, late-term, and taxpayer-funded abortions shifted support a net 13 to 15 points away from McAuliffe and toward Cuccinelli." (I assume that the 13 to 15, range as opposed to a specific number, and the use of the word "toward" rather than "to," are because Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis was also a major player in that election.)

Granted, Texas and Virginia are not California and Vermont, but those numbers are huge and you can bet that Democrat higher-ups are concerned about them. Scheffer's reports can be read here and here.

In any event, the upshot is that although desensitization to abortion has affected American society, it clearly has not affected it as badly as many of us fear. It has not put us on the road to perdition and has not made the conservative position the minority one.

*     *     *     *     *

Combining the above poll results with my own experiences while talking with people over the years, I am convinced that most liberals, and thus most Democrats, are opposed to abortion.

Their opposition may not be as all-consuming as Rick Santorum's. It may not be as flammable as that of a rural Pentecostal who donated to Pat Robertson in 1988. But it is real. The problem is that they are not aware of the actual position of the Democratic Party versus the actual position of the Republican Party, and do not realize how cold-hearted and extreme the pro-choice movement's power brokers have become.

I will never forget something that was said about ten years ago by a personal friend of mine. She is one of the finest people I know, and extremely smart. She fancied herself liberal, and I believe still does. She voted reliably Democrat, and as far as I know, still does. She was married without children at the time, and is now married with a daughter. At the time, she was in the closing stages of nursing school and actively doing rounds and being involved with patients; today she is a skilled LPN. And as you have probably guessed, she identified herself as pro-choice.

It was a Friday night party. She looked at me with a look of palpable and unmistakable shock, and said that until earlier that day "I didn't know you can have an abortion for any reason you want."

Since 2012, the Democratic Party's official platform has asserted that it will stand for no restrictions on abortion at any time, for any reason. In other words, if your due date was yesterday but your baby fetus still hasn't fully exited your uterus and come entirely to this side of your cervix, you are welcome to go ahead and kill it. Just don't call it "her" or "him." Oh, and by the way, taxpayers can be forced to pay for the killing even if it appalls their moral sensibilities.

To the contrary, the GOP's official platform since 2012 opposes sex-selective abortion; the denial of care to born-alive babies who survive an abortion; and forcing taxpayers to pay for abortions. In addition, it supports "health-protective clinic regulation" and "protect(ing) from abortion unborn children who are capable of feeling pain," as well as to supporting informed consent laws and mandatory waiting periods. (It is silent regarding exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother -- though as Ben Carson pointed out, given the state of modern medicine, it is almost impossible than an abortion could be necessary to save a mother from death.)

Note and read the links in the two paragraphs above, and think about this. When I have mentioned the truth on social media (namely, that the Democratic Party supports abortion on demand for any reason at any time) I have been met by outraged shrieks from Democrat voters who: 1) proclaim that they do not approve of abortion on demand, and 2) demand that I prove the veracity of my claims.

Those shrieks are not disingenuous, nor are they made in bad faith. They are sincere. They show that the shriekers comprehend the bloody wounds of abortion and cannot conceive that their political allies are hunky dory with abortion on demand. The shrieks show that some people have simply been conditioned to think of pro-lifers as reactionary troglodytes.

In short, no matter how conservative you feel and how many times you have voted Republican, the odds are that most avowed pro-choice Democrats secretly agree with you when it comes to abortion.

*     *     *     *     *

So from here on out, we should take heart from the numbers and proceed with a humble breed of confidence.

Rather than dance a "told you so" jig over the CMO video, we should address them with the solemnity they deserve.

Rather than breathe fire when someone says Planned Parenthood is integral to women's health, we should respectfully refer to the large number of outlets that do an even better job providing women's health (please visit my August 18th post for examples, including links).

We should stress that the pro-life movement is far more devoted to women's health than the pro-choice movement, as evidenced by its concern for women's complete and long-term well-being, from both a physical and emotional perspective.

We should remind people that the Democratic Party resolutely refuses to voice an opinion regarding the intentional killing of babies -- even babies who are full-term and fully viable.

Most of us agree that abortion should be permissible when the life of the mother is at stake. We should stress that this is so, and that it is so without reservation -- but we should stress the tragedy of such a situation, and, drawing on Ben Carson's words, we should admit that we are not certain whether such situations really exist in 21st century America.

We should not judge women who had abortions in their past, when they were confused by the conflicting siren songs of our culture... We should not judge them as they struggle to come to terms and find peace... We should put our arms around them, not scowl at them. We should acknowledge that we know people who made the same choice in their youth, and/or in their panic, and we should assert our love for those people. (On a personal note, one of those people happens to be someone who shall remain nameless, but who has meant the world to me for more than 30 years.)

Some of us are unsure if we can square the circle of being okay with the taking of human life when that life was conceived by rape or incest... All the same, the majority of us who feel unsure are nonetheless willing to accept rape and incest exceptions... We should openly state our willingness to compromise, while simultaneously admitting our mixed emotions.

We should coax our liberal, Democrat-voting friends into realizing that when it comes to this topic, they are on the same side as us. We should coax them into realizing that when it comes to this topic, their chosen party rejects their ethics and scoffs at their ideals.

No matter how much the media tries to cover it up, we are in the right and are already winning this race. Now CMP has dealt us a hand so rich it's hard to fathom. At this point, there is no reason for us to lose unless we waver in our resolve and fail to play our hand.