Monday, August 14, 2017

V-J Day

72 years ago today, the bloodiest war in human history came to an end when Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The announcement of Japan's surrender set off celebraions around the globe, including the one in Times Square during which this iconic picture was taken.

After six years, during which more than 60 million people from 27 different countries were killed, World War II was finally over. In the United States, August 15th came to be known as V-J Day, for Victory in Japan Day, since our European enemies had surrendered three months earlier.

Despite the fact that America was brought into the war when it was bombed by Japan, and despite the fact that atomic weapons were used to hasten the war's end, and despite enormous cultural differences, the two countries became strong and lasting friends whose alliance is now one of the most dependable on earth.

That is a direct result of the respectful and helping way America dealt with Japan after the war ended. One of the reasons we are unique in world history is that as conflicts conclude, we always seek to befriend our antagonists and to better their lot as well as our own. That fact needs to be burned into the hearts and minds of those who believe America is always the aggessor.

In my younger days, V-J Day was noted on calendars. Today it is not. This is not how it should be.

The Greatest Generation is rapidly passing to the other side of eternity's veil. Before its members are gone, may the rest of us thank them for the freedom they transmitted to us. And may we resolve that their sacrifice shall never be forgotten, and that it shall not have been made in vain.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 3 of ?

This is the third post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first two can be read here and here.

My previous installment argued that the meticulous workings of nature could not have resulted from random chance; in other words, that the facts of life on Earth, made possible by Earth's placement at this precise distance from the sun, furnishes overwhelming evidence of a Creator.

That premise is far from original.

Going back at least as far as Cicero (who died in 43 B.C.) many thinkers have expressed variations of the watchmaker analogy, which holds that the universe functions in ways that are as finely tuned as an always-accurate timepiece, and that it thus implies the existence of a divine watchmaker. Those thinkers include such scientific titans as Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes.

Thomas Paine was one of America's most brilliant founding fathers. He was also an opponent of organized religion, and his 1794 book The Age of Reason fiercely criticized many parts of the Bible itself. Yet, based on logic and deduction, even he was a firm believer in the Divine -- so much so that right there in The Age of Reason he stated "the creation we behold is the real and ever-existing word of God, in which we cannot be deceived. It proclaimeth his power, it demonstrates his wisdom, it manifests his goodness and beneficence."

The same year Thomas Paine died in New York, a baby was born in Shrewsbury, England, who would grow to up to become a leading man of science. At the age of 50, that man wrote a book and concluded it with a sentence in which he professed that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one." At the age of 64 he remarked that (emphasis mine) "the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God." Six years after that, in a private letter, he wrote the words "I have never been an Atheist." That man was Charles Darwin, and the book in which he talked of life being "breathed by the Creator" was On the Origin of Species, the very same one in which he posited the theory of evolution.

Three years before Darwin died, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. Einstein also lived to assert "I am not an atheist," and in 1936 he wrote that (emphasis mine) "in all the laws of the universe is manifest a spirit vastly superior to man, and to which we with our powers must be humble."

Francis Collins, who currently heads the Human Genome Project and is director of America's National Institutes of Health, wrote the following for CNN: "I have found that there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship."

The more we learn about science (whether the science be biology, astronomy, physics, or anything else) the more evidence we find that the world and universe were deliberately designed. Not only do we find more evidence, we find continuously stronger evidence, for we always learn that nature is even more complex and entwined than we thought the day before but that it continues to hum along no matter what -- like a flawless watch crafted by an infallible watchmaker, if you don't mind me going back to the old analogy.

But of course you would never know this by listening to the combined forces of our cultural vanguards and mainstream media, or as I have decided to start calling them, the CMC, for Culture-Media Complex.

The religion of choice for members of the CMC is atheism, though they often try to obscure that fact by calling themselves merely "agnostic" or "secular." And in order to advance and defend their religion, they wield the exact same tools they accuse preachers from other faiths of using: fervor and rigidity.

The CMC's fervor and rigidity are evident from the way its members start off by suggesting that they are smarter than those who believe in God, then use that suggestion to automatically dismiss the thought that there might be empirical evidence of God. With a figurative wave of their hand and implied roll of their eyes, all they need do is utter that "everyone knows" there's no evidence of God and that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded, and their like-minded co-stars and co-hosts nod in agreement and start tsk-tsk'ing about Bible-thumping rubes in backwater hick towns. All the while, no one in the CMC ever gets asked to provide any support for what they say, and none of them ever get asked to comprehend or even acknowledge the many rational reasons for thinking differently than they do.

Unfortunately this same impulse (to wall one's self off from opposing thoughts and evidence) plagues the world of science as well. And the impulse is exponentially worse in the world of science, because even though scientists are supposed to evaluate all evidence and consider all possibilities before reaching any conclusions, many of them do the exact opposite when it comes to the central question facing humankind. They are humans, not robots, and just like poets and politicians and accountants and everyone else, scientists can be very guilty of the ancient sins of pride, arrogance, and pre-judgment; their job title does not erase their humanity, nor does their schooling prevent confirmation bias in their work.

Scientists, seemingly above all others, should grasp the enormity of the conundrum I mentioned in my previous post when talking about how life on Earth could have come to be after the big bang: "The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero."

Of course there is no shortage of scientists who have looked at the conundrum and concluded that a deity exists. Their conclusions are also based on their evaluation of the bottomless intricacy of life's continued existence, for example the functioning of gills that allow fish to breathe underwater; the presence of hundreds of different kinds of wings that allow thousands of different kinds of creatures to take to the skies; the physiological slowdown that allows Siberian brown bears to survive the long foodless winter by hibernating until it's over; and the symbiotic relationship between Joshua trees and yucca moths that allows both species to survive in the harsh habitat of the Mojave uplands, where a disappearance of either species would cause the other to go extinct.

But of course there is also no shortage of scientists who reflexively ignore the conundrum without giving it a passing thought, who never bother to look at evidence of a deity because they reject out of hand the very notion of a deity. Their knee-jerk rejection of contrary input is decidedly unscientific and renders them extremely vulnerable to the second half of Keirkegaard's warning: There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

Regrettably, the CMC automatically portrays scientists from the latter camp as credible and those from the former camp as nutty... and meanwhile, scientists from a third camp -- those who have yet to study the matter, or who have started to study it but have not yet drawn conclusions -- seem practically invisible because they aren't mentioned at all... and this state of affairs is shameful, because it leaves billions of us ordinary people misinformed about the topic that happens to be the most important one in each of our lives.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 2 of ?

This is the second post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first can be read here.

All living things are comprised of cells -- other than microscopic germs that consist of just a single cell, such as bacteria.

To get an idea of how incomprehensibly small cells are, consider that one teaspoon of soil is home to 40 million bacteria, and despite being so numerous in such a tiny space, they are invisible to the naked eye, even in their aggregate.

The average-sized human body is built of 37.2 trillion cells, and to put that number into perspective, consider that in order to travel 37.2 trillion miles you would need to make the journey to the sun and back more than 200,000 times, with every one of those 200,000+ journeys being 186 million miles round-trip.

Living things exist and function because all of their infinitesimally tiny cells do their jobs and work in concert. Each cell is made up of component parts which include (but are not limited to) the membrane that protects it from invasion; the ribosomes that manufacture protein; the endoplasmic reticulum through which protein is transported; and deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA, that double-helix-shaped molecule which determines the color of our eyes, the color of our hair, whether we can curl our tongues, whether we can wiggle our ears, ad infinitum.

If you were a bear in western Canada belonging to the species known as black bear, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your fur was in fact black, or whether it was one of the other colors your species sports in that part of the world: brown, cinnamon, or white.

If you were a dachshund living with your owner in Munich, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your hair was smooth and dapple or wiry and brown.

Each of our eyes consists of millions of cells (six million in the cones alone) and receives light through the cornea, which bends it upon entry... the pupil then controls the intensity of that bended light, which proceeds to strike the lens, which in turn focuses it to the retina through a gelatinous substance... then, having received that focused light, the retina transforms it into an electrical impulse and sends it to the brain along the optic nerve, and the brain takes that electrical impulse and translates it into an image... and all of that happening, unfathomably fast, is how we see.

But of course, our eyes are neither the only nor the best to be found. Whereas human eyes have some 30,000 cones in the fovea, which is the most sensitive part of the retina, falcon eyes have around 1,000,000... and whereas we have one fovea per eye, falcons have two... and whereas our brains cannot perceive more than 20 events per second from the information sent by our eyes, falcons can perceive 70 to 80 per second from the information sent by their eyes -- which, in the words of British naturalist Helen Macdonald, means that "events in time that we perceive as a blur, like a dragonfly zipping past our eyes, are much slower to them...allow(ing) them to stretch out a foot at full speed to grab a bird or a dragonfly from the air."

And on the opposite end of the predator-prey spectrum is the common house fly, whose eye has not one lens but thousands. Their eyes do not enable them to see far, but do enable them to detect the slightest of movements so quickly that it is almost impossible for us to swat them (or predators to snatch them) before they dash away.

All of which brings me to the words penned by William Peter Blatty in his pilosophical novel Legion: "Someone had created the world. Made sense. For why would an eye want to form? To see? And why should it see? In order to survive? And why should it survive? And why? And why? The child's question haunted the nebulae, a thought in search of its maker that cornered reason in a dead-end maze and made Kinderman certain the materialist universe was the greatest superstition of his age."

The secularists of our age -- the God deniers, if you will -- would have you believe that this all occurred by random.

They would have you believe that after the big bang 14 billion years ago, random dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form stars and planets... and some of those dust and particles accidentally formed our sun... and some of them accidentally formed Earth at the precise distance from the sun that its heat, vitamins, etc., arrive at Earth in exactly the right amounts to make life possible... and some of the particles coalesced to accidentally wrap Earth in an atmosphere that accidentally includes oxygen, which is necessary for life.

They would have you believe that as dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form Earth, a googoplex of indescribably miniature (to the point of being invisible) bits of matter collided together in just such a way that they accidentally created cells and accidentally arranged those cells just how they needed to be arranged to form eyes that could see and lungs that could breathe and ears that could hear and tongues that could taste... and et cetera and et cetera, from the deepest seas to the highest peaks, from the driest deserts to the wettest jungles, with each accidentally created organism just happening to be perfectly designed to survive in whatever its accidentally created habitat happens to be.

The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero. This is a very inconvenient truth for secularists, particularly atheists, many of whom remain oddly unaware of it, while those who are aware of it tend to ignore rather than address it -- and yet they would have you believe that their scientific acumen is superior to that of people who comprehend the math and ask them to stop ignoring and start addressing.

The secularists would have you think you are nuts for concluding that the infinitely interconnected complexity of the world and universe must be by design. But what makes more sense: Concluding that it occurred by design, or believing that it occurred by mathematically impossible happenstance?

To be continued...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Off To See The Wizard

It's hard to believe how much time has flown by, but it was six years ago to today that Sarah and I watched "The Wizard Oz" on the big screen. On this anniversary of that great Daddy-Daughter Day, I figured I would go ahead and republish the piece I wrote about it at the time:

It is somehow reassuring that today's children are just as familiar with The Wizard of Oz as prior generations were, even though it has been 72 years since the movie was released. I file it under the category of "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same." And I file yesterday afternoon, when Sarah and I went to watch it on the big screen, under the category of "Great Daddy-Daughter Memories."

Downtown Tampa is home to one of America's best examples of a movie theater from Hollywood's golden age, back when they all had one auditorium and were often extravagant in their decor. Designed by John Eberson and opened in 1926, the Tampa Theater is bedecked with red upholstery and Greco-Roman statues, and its auditorium evokes a Mediterranean courtyard at dusk: The screen is surrounded by castle walls, while the ceiling is painted dark blue like the twilight sky, fitted with tiny lights reminiscent of stars.

I took advantage of my cell phone camera while we were there. Here is a view of the floor level, taken beneath the balcony after the movie was over and almost everyone had left:

Here is one taken from our seats in the balcony, when the organist was providing pre-show entertainment:

And here is another one taken from our seats, looking into the corner to give a sense of how high the walls go. To add to the perspective, keep in mind that we were sitting in the lower third of the balcony:

As part of its Summer Classics Series, the theater broke out Oz for matinee screenings this weekend. Sarah was fascinated with the opulence and I appreciated being able to watch a cinema classic while sitting inside a classic cinema. Even if you have seen a movie before, there is something different about seeing it on the big screen.

The event was touted as a singalong, and as you can tell from the following picture, the lyrics appeared on screen. I certainly didn't sing, nor did the bare majority of people in the audience, but quite a few did.

There were other examples of audience participation that, um, you just wouldn't get at home. Every time the Wicked Witch appeared (or Miss Gultch, her Kansas incarnation) large numbers of people hissed at her. And they applauded when she melted and whenever Toto made an escape.

Yes, some people came in costume, and not all of them were kids. One trio of folks who -- well, I will just say they probably got the senior's discount -- dressed up like the Lollipop Guild.

Yesterday was far from Sarah's first time watching The Wizard of Oz, but it was the first time she realized it was all a dream. She has already asked to go again next summer.

I can't believe that with all the pictures I took, I failed to take any of us. I (or Erika) will make up for that next time, but for now I leave you with the photo that turned out to be yesterday's coolest by far. I was taking one of the Scarecrow on screen and apparently my shutter snapped just as the next frame, of Dorothy, was coming round -- because you can see both their images on the screen, with hers fainter:

Note: "Movie palace" (or "picture palace" in the U.K.) was the name given to the style of theaters designed by Eberson and other cinema architects of his time. For a list of 150 of his creations, most of which are now closed and not all of which were in the U.S., go here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thoughts On Divinity: Part 1 of ?

Talking about your belief in God is uncomfortable because it leads to people questioning your intelligence. However, this present age might be the most important one in history for believers to talk about God and explain why they believe in Him.

G.K. Chesterton is said to have remarked that "when a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything." Evidence that those words are true litters every corner of modern America, and comes in the form of everything from social pathologies run amok to flaky nonsense being considered deep thinking.

The social pathologies I'm talking about -- fatherlessness, substance abuse, welfare dependency, obtaining your sense of belonging from gang members and ideologues rather than family members and mentors, etc. -- are not new, but their commonness is, and I do not believe it's a coincidence that they have grown to their highest levels at the precise moment in history that our belief in God has shrunk to its lowest level.

The American ideal -- indeed, the human ideal -- is based not on people having (in the words of P.J. O'Rourke) "the freedom to put anything into their mouths, to say bad words and to expose their private parts in art museums," but on people knowing (in the words of Pope John Paul II) "that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." It is tragic that so many Americans have lost sight of this, but then again, when massive numbers of Americans believe there is no God, it's inevitable that massive numbers of Americans will have a self-centered worldview in which everything revolves around them and whatever their whims and desires of the moment happen to be.

*     *     *     *     *

Life and its many problems are complex and sometimes the answers are too, but oftentimes the answers are not complex. After all, simple causes frequently have far-reaching effects, and an increase in the number of people who believe in God would go a long way toward curing our earthly ills -- and note that I am not even talking about following a religion or joining a church, but simply believing in God.

For those of us who do believe, one of the annoying things about contemporary culture is how quick and eager its vanguards are to call us ignorant and stupid, when they themselves are ignorant and they themselves usually operate on emotion rather than intellect.

Most of the vanguards couldn't pass an elementary school science test, yet they toss the word "science" around like a shibboleth because they are under the false impression that science and religion are at odds -- and based on that false impression, they assume that by pretending to be aligned with science they are somehow confirming they're smarter than those who logically believe that the infinitely complex, intricately connected, and supremely balanced wonders of nature are not some accidental result of an origin-free firecracker that went bang for no reason.

But of course, the irritation I just displayed is unbecoming. There is nothing wrong with skepticism -- I myself have a skeptical nature -- and there is no denying that the people I called cultural vanguards have a reason for their skepticism.

In many of their minds, people who believe in God have no reason for doing so other than an unsophisticated desire to cling to childhood fantasies about an invisible friend. Many of them see believers as people who live their lives hoping/assuming that at some moment a deus ex machina will magically appear and solve all their problems with no effort on their own part. And the vanguards' skepticism is given wings by the undeniable fact that God has never sat down on their couches looking like Charlton Heston or Morgan Freeman and talked to them.

On top of that, add the fact that the vanguards rarely if ever engage in conversations with believers, and their skepticism becomes a self-sustaining fire: They are of the earnest opinion that believers come to their faith by ignoring evidence and refusing to grow up, and so they portray believers that way without ever hearing (much less understanding) that the overwhelming majority of believers arrive at their faith after contemplating the world's facts and enigmas through agonizing periods of doubt and reflection.

They automatically reject the idea of God without entertaining the abundant evidence that He exists (often not even realizing that there is such evidence), yet they portray as fools anyone who unautomatically accepts the idea of God after having scrutinized both the evidence of His existence and the evidence of His non-existence. This means that they reject the Scientific Method while acting as if they are science's avatar, and because they hold massive sway in the popular culture, their bogus portrayals of believers (and equally bogus portrayals of non-believers) have become accepted as a reality they are not.

As a result, living, breathing human beings suffer because the vanguards' rejection of God fuels a socially domineering rejection of God, which in turn renders people uninformed and leads them astray.

It is far past time for the logical -- and yes, scientific -- reasons for believing in God to be explained and understood.

*     *     *     *     *

So what am I to do as a 46-year-old father of two and husband of one, who leads an ordinary and unremarkable life and whose blog is read by dozens, maybe scores, but definitely not by hundreds or thousands or millions?

I do not seem like much of a messenger for any "come to God!" post, for I swear like a sailor and am too fond of beer and often disdain the way I was designed by the God whose existence I feel driven to affirm.

But I do feel driven to affirm His existence, and do feel qualified to do so. Maybe "what am I to do?" amounts to laying out my reasons for believing and publishing them and hoping that each individual who reads them will consider them fairly and without prejudgment.

In my Easter post this year I wrote that "I believe in God not on faith alone but also on evidence (though that's a whole other blog post)..." Well, it's time for that whole other blog post to get written, but it is going to be several posts, not one, because the subject matter is too important and too large to be limited to a handful of paragraphs.

Consider this piece to be the first in a series, as I will start "making my case" for God in the next one, which I hope to publish soon.

The series will probably be intermittent, as I might write posts about other topics in between writing posts about this one, but I consider this topic to be transcendent and I hope you will follow along.

Until next time, take care.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mankind's Greatest Hour

Today, as we fire up our grills and crack open our beers, let us remember why we even have a July 4th holiday: to commemorate the greatest act of shared, selfless courage the world has ever seen.

Everybody should know that Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Most people know the names of a handful of the 56 men who signed it, such as John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and of course Jefferson himself. But few people seem to realize that when those men signed their names, they were committing what was considered an act of treason against the British crown, punishable by death. Those men were property owners who were successful in their lives and businesses. Their lives were comfortable and they stood to lose everything by signing the Declaration -- yet they chose to sign it anyway, because they knew that casting off the crown and forming a new government based on individual liberty was the right thing to do, not only for their own descendants but for all of humanity. And here is what happened to some of those men after they signed the Declaration:

Five of them became prisoners of war.

Nearly one-sixth of them died before the war ended.

British forces burned, and/or looted, the homes and properties of nearly one-third of them.

When the British did that to the property of William Floyd, he and his family fled and spent the next seven years living as refugees without income. His wife died two years before the war ended.

After being forced into the wilderness by British forces, John Hart struggled to make his way home. When he finally got there, he found that his wife was dead and his 13 children were missing. He died without ever seeing them again.

Richard Stockton was dragged from his bed and sent to prison while his property was ravaged. From the day of his release from prison until the day he died, he had to rely on charity from others to feed his family.

Francis Lewis’s wife was imprisoned and beaten. Meanwhile, his wealth was plundered. His last years were spent as a widower living in poverty.

Thomas Nelson Jr.’s home was captured and occupied by British General Cornwallis, who used it as what we would now call an operations center. Therefore, Nelson ordered his troops to destroy his own home with cannon fire during the Battle of Yorktown. To assist in funding the war, he used his own credit to borrow 2 million dollars, which today would equal more than 25 billion dollars. Repaying that debt bankrupted him, and when he died he was buried in an unmarked grave.

It is a safe bet that fewer than one percent of our citizens have ever heard of these people, much less know anything about the devastating sacrifices they made so that future generations could have the freedom necessary to build the kind of upwardly-mobile, always-progressing society we would come to take for granted.

The Founding Fathers bequeathed to us a wonderful gift called America, and we owe it to our children to make sure we don’t allow that gift to be destroyed. We should never hear the words “Fourth of July” without feeling a skip in our heart and a tear in our eye.

Much thanks to Jeff Jacoby, the late Paul Harvey, and all the others who have written and spoken about the fates of the signers, to keep their story alive.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sowell

Thomas-Sowell-in-1974-900.jpg (900×884)

I started this blog on June 30, 2008, which makes today the tenth June 30th of its existence. Although the first post was about political turmoil in Zimbabwe, six of the next eight June 30th posts were acknowledgments of the birthday of my all-time favorite non-fiction writer, Thomas Sowell.

As far as I'm concerned, him deciding to retire from writing at the end of last year is no reason for the birthday acknowledgments to stop. If a nation truly values diversity, it should openly celebrate a black man who lives in the San Francisco Area while being an unapologetic conservative with a strong libertarian bent.

Sowell was born 87 years ago today in Gastonia, North Carolina, when Jim Crow was flogging the American South and the Great Depression was preparing to throttle the American economy. In that moment, the odds of a bright future could not have seemed high for an infant such as he; but fortunately, he grew up to become the kind of man who turns his shoulder against the odds and does not waste his time caring what others have to say about him.

Sowell was the fifth child of a widow (his father died while she was pregnant with him) and as a youth he moved to Harlem, where he was raised by his great-aunt and her two daughters. After dropping out of high school because he needed to earn money for the struggling household, Sowell tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers and worked in a machine shop and was a deliveryman for Western Union... and then he was drafted by the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Korean War.

Following his military service, Sowell earned his GED and attended Howard. Because of his extremely high scores on board exams and recommendations from two of his professors, he was accepted at Harvard, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1958.

One year later he graduated with his master's from Columbia, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago, where he studied under the legendary Milton Friedman (speaking of which, his salute to Friedman five years ago is a must-read).

Sowell -- unlike most of the world's curriculum vitae-obsessed snobs, who pass themselves off as intellectuals while holding conformist views and walling themselves off from opposing thoughts -- is an authentic thinker who follows the evidence and facts wherever they might lead.

I once watched an interview in which he was asked to name his three favorite presidents, and he answered by saying FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan, then proceeding to explain his exact reasons for liking each of them despite their very obvious differences. Clearly, he is a man who regards labels with the disdain they deserve.

Although Sowell was an avowed Marxist throughout his twenties and into his thirties, a lifetime of study, analysis, and living led him to become one of the staunchest and most eloquent advocates of limited government and free markets that you will ever find. Clearly, he is a man who is unafraid to put his mind and instincts to the test without any fear of accepting the results.

Over the decades, the books and syndicated columns he published have been like philosophical manna for me and many others, covering a vast range of sociological, political, and philosophical issues. My personal favorite is his 1995 book The Vision of the Anointed, but there are many great ones including (just to name a few) such books as Migrations and Cultures, Rhetoric or Reality?, Late-Talking Children, Ethnic America, Basic Economics, Race and Economics, Inside American Education, and Dismantling America.

And then there is his 2005 classic Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Admit it: You gotta read that based on the title alone, don't you? Go ahead and do so because you won't be disappointed, regardless of your political bent or party affiliation.

A big part of my misses the fact that Thomas Sowell hung up his pen/keyboard last December. I first become aware of him when I read one of his syndicated columns in the Tampa Tribune back in 1992, and over the quarter-century between that day and his retirement I always looked forward to seeing what he had to say about things. There is literally no other human being whose opinion on public issues I hold in higher esteem.

But a bigger part of me is very happy for Thomas Sowell, for he hung up that pen/keyboard on his own terms, in his own time, and is using the rest of the gas in his tank the way he wants to.

His mind is still sharp as a tack after 87 years on this planet, and rather than stressing over the state of word affairs he is spending his time visiting his beloved Yosemite National Park and photographing this planet's many beautiful sights.

Yes, he is known as a writer, but has been an expert photographer for more than 65 years, which is obvious if you check out any of his work on Google Photos.

And if you do that, you should also go ahead and visit his own web site which has all kinds of stuff on it.

Your life has been "in full," Mr. Sowell, and is appreciated. May it have many years remaining on this side of eternity.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

All Rounds Done, Part Three

The NHL playoffs ended more than two weeks ago, so I really should stop writing about them, but first I feel like listing what I consider to be the best goals scored during them.

So, below are my picks for the Top 15, in no particular order, along with links for watching them.

You might ask: Why 15 instead of some other number? Well, I have to admit that 15 is a bit random. On the one hand, limiting the list to 5 or 10 would, in my rarely humble opinion, cause too many fine goals to go unrecognized. But on the other hand, extending the list to 25 would seem too long, even though it too would still result in fine goals being controversially excluded. And so I have decided on 15.

Since there were probably about 30 goals scored this post-season that deserve being included on a top 15 list, but, obviously, there only 15 spots to give out, I have proudly engaged in some affirmative action -- which is to say that I have made a point to include goals that represent certain categories, such as redirects, one-timers, etc.

But dammit I'm rambling and need to stop, so here are the 15. And fyi, although most of the links go directly to video, some go to articles that include embedded video of the particular goal, which means you'll need to scroll down after you open the link...

In Game Three of Round Two, Connor McDavid's pivot and pot saw him undress Sami Vatanen then rifle a top-shelf shot past John Gibson -- a shot that flew so rapidly Gibson still hasn't seen it.

At full speed this goal by Auston Matthews looks good, not spectacular... but then you watch in slow motion and realize it was a virtuoso performance, with him stopping the hotly bouncing puck and snapping it over Braden Holtby's arm and under the crossbar on one of the tightest angles imaginable, all in a split second.

We always marvel at quick-release shots, the kind that leave a stick so fast they're behind the goalie before he has a chance to react. On May 1st Evgeny Kuznetsov showed why we should also marvel at the opposite kind of goal, the kind created by patience: Collecting a pass down low from Marcus Johansson, he shifted the puck about on his stick blade while calmly waiting for Marc-Andre Fleury to be so committed to the bottom half of the cage that he couldn't guard the top half -- and once Fleury was so committed, Kuznetsov coolly deposited the puck over him and he never stood a chance.

Fleury was also victimized by patience on this beauty by Andre Burakovsky, who stole the puck near his own blueline and then charged through the neutral zone into the offensive end... then eluded Chad Ruhwedel... then held his fire just long enough to freeze Fleury before burying a shot high glove side.

Corey Perry's double overtime winner versus Edmonton featured classic dipsy doodle stickwork through the slot capped off with, yes, just the right amount of patience (fyi, the slow motion reply starts at the 1:08 mark).

It's rare to see someone snipe the far top corner as good as Jakob Silfverberg did to open the scoring in the Western Conference Final.

It's equally rare (if not rarer) to see someone thread the needle as good as Hampus Lindholm did on this zipping wrister later in that same game to force OT.

Though they don't display mind-bending creativity, there is always something awe-inspiring about one-timer rockets that, like I mentioned above, a goalie has no chance to react to. There were several worthy candidates from that category this year, but due to their "no mind-bending creativity" nature I opted to include only one on this list. The one I chose is this blast by Vladimir Tarasenko, because it happened late in the third period against Nashville and won the game. Please notice how he played the puck without a hiccup after it deflected off a teammate's skate (fyi, the highlight is in the second video in the article to which I linked.)

Bobby Ryan's overtime breakaway blast to win Game One of the Eastern Conference Final featured the precise set of skill and specificity that makes hockey fun.

Colton Sissons's conference-winning bagger in Game Six against Anaheim was an almost perfect example of a teamwork goal. After bringing the pick into the offensive zone, Sissons was knocked off of it and back towards the middle -- but with teammate Calle Jarnkrok jumping up to take possession of the suddenly loose puck, he sidled over to the low part of the left circle, where Jarnkrok saw him and fed him with a perfect cross-ice pass that he banged home for what proved to be the winner.

Nashville delivered another almost perfect example of a teamwork goal on this one in Game Four of the Stanley Cup Final, when an upending Mike Fisher managed to scoop the puck forward to Viktor Arvidsson, who in turn snapped it past Matt Murray with a wicked wrister.

Pontus Aberg's quick-but-patient, crease-crossing lamp-lighter to open the scoring in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final was masterful.

Backhanders off the high, inside, far edge of the post don't come any better than this one by Bryan Rust.

And wraparounds don't come any better than this one by Frderick Gaudreau.

Redirect goals don't get the respect they deserve. It takes incredible awareness, quickness, and skill to tap a fast-moving puck as it rifles by you, changing its trajectory so suddenly that a goalie has no chance to do anything about it. Check out Evgeni Malkin's shifty one against Ottawa that tied up Game One of the ECF.

And finally, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin showed how to make an opponent pay for "playing prevent," as the former slipped a pass back to the latter and the latter netted it up into the far corner.

Gotta love this game!

Friday, June 23, 2017

All Rounds Done, Part Two

Time for some more closing thoughts about the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Since I already opined about the Nashville Predators who came up short, today's post focuses on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won the whole ball of wax for the second year in a row.

The blueprint
Last season, the Pens' championship ale was perfected with a brew of scoring depth, team defense, confident goaltending, and veteran leaders whose example was followed by high-performing whippersnappers. This season's was brewed with the same ingredients and strategy, although the steps taken to get it from raw material to finished product appeared quite different.

The 2016 Pens blew opponents out in dominating fashion and controlled the action for long stretches of time, whereas 2017's were usually outshot and often had to deal with their opponents controlling the action for long stretches of time -- yet they managed to win it all anyway, for they knew how to capitalize on opportunities, deal with pressure, and deliver in the clutch.

Last season Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin led the team in playoff points with 22, 19, and 18 respectively; this season they were the league's top three playoff points scorers with Malkin having 28, Crosby 27, and Kessel 23... Last season, rookie Bryan Rust impressed with 6 playoff goals, including the one that won the Eastern Conference Final; this season, rookie Jake Guentzel made an enormous splash by potting 13 playoff goals (second most by a rookie in NHL history) and accounting for 21 total playoff points (tied for the most ever by an NHL rookie).

If you think the above numbers suggest that the Pens scored at an even greater clip this post-season than last, you're not going crazy. Last spring they tallied 73 goals in 24 playoff games and this spring rang up 77 in 25, which works out to an increase of 0.04 per game... And while they had nail-biting victories like 1-0 over Ottawa in Game Two of the ECF, they also enjoyed blowout victories like 7-0 over Ottawa in Game Five, 6-2 over Washington in Game Two of the second round, and 6-0 over Nashville in Game Five of the SCF... All of which puts a big asterisk on my previous remark about them controlling opponents last spring but getting controlled by opponents this spring. Clearly the Pens are a club that has mastered the art of being highly efficient, cashing in chances, and making opponents pay.

And on top of that there was the goaltender factor: Last year rookie Matt Murray took over for injured starter Marc-Andre Fleury and proceeded to play every post-season game steady as a rock, so much so that he seized the role of starter going forward. But this time around, Murray got injured before Game One of Round One, so Fleury resumed his role as starter and proceeded to play every game of the first two rounds plus the first three of the ECF -- and played spectacular, rescuing the Pens several times by delivering victories in games they should have lost.

Murray, by then fully recovered, returned to the net for good in the second period of Game Three and was his usual solid self. And when the klieg lights shined brightest and hottest, he did something remarkable by pitching shutouts in the last two games of the SCF, thus taking a series that was tied 2-2 (and seemed to be tilting in Nashville's favor) and transforming it into a 4-2 Pittsburgh triumph that will appear fairly comfortable when looked at in history books.

Fleury is a 13-season veteran who ranks as Pittburgh's all-time winningest goalie and who has three Stanley Cups, two All-Star appearances, one Olympic gold, and one team MVP to his name. Murray, on the other hand, has played less than two full seasons in the NHL and has already won two Stanley Cups in a starting and starring role, something no other goalie in history has ever managed to pull off.

When you think about everything above, the blueprint the Penguins followed seems invincible. They were the best team this season and were going to win no matter what. Looking at things with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, Nashville never had a chance.

A Best Pen
Let's revisit the matter of Marc-Andre Fleury. If anyone ever makes a list of the all-time best Pittsburgh Penguins, Fleury won't rank #1 and probably won't be close, seeing as how the team's sweater has been worn by players whose names rank among the highest of cotton: Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Evgeni Malkin. Nevertheless, Fleury deserves to be on the list and recognized as one of the best Penguins ever.

A partial snapshot of his career success can be found three paragraphs above, and going back to how excellent he was in this year's second round, I will simply quote my own May 11th post: Washington frequently controlled long stretches of play in their offensive zone...They banked 32 or more shots on goal in five of the games and never registered less than 26, whereas Pittsburgh was thrice held to 18 or fewer shots on goal and only twice registered more than 22. For the series, the Caps outshot the Pens by a staggering 229-154. But in the end, none of that mattered...The reason Pittsburgh's superior efficiency was able to make a difference was that Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending was nothing short of brilliant. He kept the Penguins in games until their snipers were able to ripple the nets and thereby fire darts through Washington hearts. He faced 75 more shots than Washington's Braden Holtby and surrendered fewer goals -- and many of his saves were so spectacular they qualified as grand larceny.

And check out the final three games he completed during this year's Stanley Cup run: A Game Seven shutout of Washington to win that series and a Game Two shutout of Ottawa to even the ECF, sandwiched around an overtime loss in which he gave up just one goal in regulation and finished with a .943 save percentage (i.e., a loss that was not his fault).

Fleury is not the first athlete to become known as a team-first guy, but he is probably the most accomplished athlete to be known more for that personality than for his accomplishments. Ever since he played his first NHL game (for the Penguins in October 2003) he has embraced the city and its fans and made it clear that playing in this town, for this team, was how he wanted to spend his entire career.

Fleury does what is best for the team and never lets his ego obscure the big picture. When he got sidelined by concussions in 2016, it was assumed that he would resume his starting role after he recovered, but the much younger Murray performed so well in relief that Fleury became a back-up after more than a decade as the top dog. He accepted that reality without complaining, and when called upon to fill in he continued to deliver by posting an 18-10-7 record during the 2016-17 regular season and 9-6 mark during the 2017 playoffs.

When Murray returned to the net during the ECF and Fleury was again relegated to back-up duty, he did not complain even though he was largely responsible for having gotten the team that far: He understood the reasoning and kept himself ready in case he was called upon again.

If George Harrison had been a hockey player, he would have been Marc-Andre Fleury, and if Fleury was a musician he would be Harrison: The impactful and influential yet unassuming Beatle, the one who played splendid guitar and composed "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun," "Something," "Taxman," and "Old Brown Shoe," the one without whom the band could not have been the same and yet was happy to sit in the background while John and Paul got the headlines.

All of which makes current reality suck, even though it should be joyous after Fleury played a major role in the Pens winning their third championship in his time there... for realty is that the NHL has a salary cap; the 32-year-old Fleury has a contract with an annual cap hit of $5.75 million, whereas the 23-year-old Murray carries a cap hit of only $3.75 million; the rules prevent a team and player from ripping up an existing contract and writing a new one even if they want to; there was an expansion draft this week, in which teams could only protect one goaltender from being plucked off their roster by the NHL's new squad, the Las Vegas Golden Knights; and teams have to think long-term, not short-term... some time ago, this reality reared its ugly head and made it clear that there was no logical way for the Pens not to expose Fleury in the expansion draft, which meant that as the season wound down, everyone knew that Fleury's time in Pittsburgh was ending... and sure enough, when the expansion draft happened two days ago, the Golden Knights plucked him away from the city and team he loves.

This is excruciating if you have any emotional bones in your body, and becomes even more excruciating when you consider that Fleury's contract has a no movement clause. Under the rules of the expansion draft, that would have forced the Penguins to protect him, which would put their long-term future in jeopardy considering his age and cap hit and the near certainty that Vegas would have plucked goalie-of-the-future Murray off of Pittsburgh's roster; and so with an eye on that uncomfortable fact of life, the team approached Fleury in February and asked him to waive his no movement clause for the obvious reason. He agreed to do so because he understood the reality, and knew it was best for the franchise that had given him a chance all those years ago, and both sides kept their agreement secret until after the Stanley Cup was won twelve days ago. So yes, just like George Harrison always aimed to do what was best for the music and the band, Marc-Andre Fleury always aims to do what is best for the game and the team.

When players cleaned out their lockers last Thursday and spoke to the media for their final time as the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins, Fleury openly wept. When asked what he would miss most about Pittsburgh if Vegas came calling, he answered with a single word: "Everything."

So yes, the business side of sports sucks, and life itself can suck even when you are standing on what appears to be its pinnacle and your bank account is flush.

Then came this Wednesday, when the Golden Knights picked him on what happened to be the 14th anniversary of the day he was selected by the Penguins in the 2003 entry draft. Fleury walked onto the stage to give what he expected would be "a quick wave," and was caught by surprise when the Vegas crowd erupted in a thunderous and prolonged standing ovation. In a post-draft fan forum, Golden Knights partisans chanted his name and one of them shouted "I love you," to which he responded by saying "I love you too."

The world would be a better place if more people had personalities like that of the high-achieving man from Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, the man whose masculinity is not drawn into question by the fact that fellow players call him "Flower" because that's what his surname means in his native French.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are among the best forwards to ever play the game, and they have spent their entire careers in the 'Burgh, They could have gone elsewhere and grabbed higher salaries by playing for teams that wouldn't need to find room under the cap for both of them. And if they played in larger and more media-centric markets like New York or Boston or Toronto, they would likely be getting more endorsement deals than they get playing in Western PA. But they are happy with their status in the City of Bridges and eager to pursue championships above all else, and so they remain.

"Sid and Geno" have a kind of loyalty that is in line with Marc-Andre Fleury's. Wedded to their long-term team success -- eleven straight playoff appearances, five trips to the conference finals, four conference championships, and three Stanley Cups including the first back-to-back Cups of the cap era -- that kind of loyalty will make their names go down in history much deeper than if they had left for other digs.

They are an interesting tandem. Both are superb shooters and superb passers, though Malkin is known more his sniping shots and Crosby more for his artful passes... Though known for speed and skill rather than fisticuffs, they are both (especially Malkin) more than willing to throw punches and get their hands dirty when the situation warrants it... Their offensive prowess has gotten so much press over the years that their defensive prowess goes almost unnoticed; however, if you pay attention to their defensive play you will see that it (especially Crosby's) is outstanding.

I mention Crosby and Malkin because how can I not? As good as they are as individual players, their careers are joined at the hip. As true as it is that this Penguins team would not have won the Cup without Fleury's brilliance against Washington, it is also true that they would not have won it without the scoring and leadership of the centermen from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia and Magnitogorsk, Russia. Despite how long they have played -- their careers are already approaching three times the length of the average NHL career -- they are still in their primes, having just finished 1-2 in points for this year's playoffs and with Crosby having led the league in goals during the regular season.

Previous generations were blessed to see Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay play simultaneously for the Red Wings, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull for the Blackhawks, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito for the Bruins, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier for the Islanders, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier for the Oilers, Mario Lemieuz and Jaromir Jagr for the Penguins, Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov for the Red Wings, and Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg for the Avalanche. Right now we have Crosby and Malkin to watch, and they right rank there with those other tandems.

It is often hard to appreciate something while it is happening. Appreciation usually comes only with benefit of hindsight. Hopefully, hockey fans today, even those who are Pittsburgh-haters, realize how special it is to watch Crosby and Malkin skate for the same organ-eye-zation.

As noted above, these Penguins are the first team to win back to back Cups in the salary cap era. Surely you've heard they are also the first team to pull off back to back Cups since Detroit a couple decades ago, back in 1997 and 1998.

And of course, the Penguins also won the Cup in 2009 (and went to the SCF in 2008) with some of the same important pieces that made up 2017's puzzle.

So do they count as a dynasty? I think so, especially when you consider how different the league is today than it was in the past.

And are they the best "modern" dynasty? There is certainly a fascinating debate to be had there, when we also have this decade's Blackhawks and the 1990's-2000's Red Wings and 1990's-2000's Devils to choose from. But I will save that debate for another time and another post, because I have said more than enough for today.

This was an outstanding Pittsburgh Penguins team and what they did will go down in history. It was fun to watch.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice

Because I do not like hot weather, summer is my least favorite season. But there are still things I enjoy about it, and surprisingly, some of them are specific to this sweat-soaked state in which I live. So here are some thoughts on summer’s first day:

I love Independence Day.

I love that there is one time of year when I am able to prefer chilled white wine over room temperature red wine.

I love when evening breezes carry the sweet scent of orange blossoms across Florida.

I love watching swallow-tailed kites, one of my favorite birds of prey, as they soar in the air and seem to stay up there forever without flapping their wings.

I love seeing hummingbirds hover around the blossoms of honeysuckle and aloe.

I love watching fireflies illuminate the woods at dusk.

I love San Diego.

And I love the dramatic pulse of Florida’s afternoon storms, when black clouds darken the sky and spew lighting and thunder and unleash torrents of blinding rain – only to blow away and be replaced by sunny skies in less than an hour.

Friday, June 16, 2017

All Rounds Done, Part One

Just like that, it was done. The Stanley Cup Final was suddenly over and the Pittsburgh Penguins were once again the champs.

Below are some thoughts about the 2017 SCF now that it has come to an end, and rather than do one post I will do two: This one focuses on the Nashville Predators who came up short, and the next will focus on the Penguins who came up big.

The Whistle
First, let's put to bed the matter of "the whistle," since it has been subjected to vitriol not just from Predators fans but from the unfathomably large population of Pittsburgh haters that lives from coast to coast.

A minute into the second period of the decisive Game Six, with the score tied at zero, Filip Forsberg fired a shot that Matt Murray stopped. From the spot where referee Kevin Pollock was watching, Murray appeared to have also caught it. Unable to see the puck, Pollock did what refs are supposed to do when it's not in the net and they can't see it in the crease: He blew the play dead.

It's almost certain that Pollock thought Murray was holding the puck, but he wasn't. Murray was turned almost perpendicular to the goal line, and the puck landed on the other side of his frame so that his own body blocked it from Pollock's view. Nashville's Colton Sissons saw it sitting there and managed to make a move and jab it home -- but not until an instant after the whistle sounded, and thus there was no goal.

To recap: The call was in keeping with the rules and therefore was not wrong. But it still sucked, and royally so, because Pollock blew the whistle so quick. If I was reffing I would have spent more time looking for the puck before deciding I couldn't see it. I would have at least tried to get a view from another angle. However, none of that changes the fact that the call was per the rules.

Regardless, the main purpose of this segment is not to say that the call was legalistically correct; it is to point out that the call was not the reason Pittsburgh won and Nashville lost on Sunday. Pollock called the play dead with two-thirds of the game left to play, and then he and the rest of the officiating crew more than made up for it by allowing the Predators to ignore the rulebook for the rest of the night. The Predators, including sainted Pekka Rinne, committed many obvious penalties and literally were not called for even one of them.

Every single power play after Pollock's whistle (and even before it) belonged to the Preds, including a stint of 5-on-3 during the third, yet they barely generated any chances during all those golden gift-wrapped opportunities. Do I really need to point out that that is not how a champion performs when everything is on the line? A champion does what Pittsburgh did: Rise up and snuff out its opponent's chances. Hence, Pittsburgh is a champion and Nashville is not. Sounds harsh, is true.

A radio host here in Tampa who is extraordinarily knowledgeable about hockey, and who was openly rooting against the Penguins, moaned on Monday that the Preds "never recovered" from the blown-dead call. That sentiment has been echoed across the fruited plain. Here's my problem: A championship team is, by definition, a team that will not lose over one crap-luck call that happens when two-thirds of a game remains to be played -- especially when the overwhelming majority of calls throughout the game go for them rather than against them, and when they get four power plays and their opponent gets zero. Champions capitalize on at least one power play when the grail is in sight. Champions take the one crap-luck call and use it as gas to pour on their competitive fire, and as a result that fire burns so hot it scorches the earth and leads them away from defeat and straight to victory.

The '85 Bears, '99 Rams, Joe Montana 49'ers... 1980's Miami Hurricanes, 1990's Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2010 Auburn Tigers... 2002 Red Wings, Gretzky-Messier Oilers, LaFleur-Dryden Habs... Can you imagine any of those teams wilting and losing due to one shitty-but-not-wrong call not going their way? Of course not, because wilting and losing over spilled milk is the opposite of what champions do. Champions wipe up the milk and burn down the kitchen.

A team capable of getting derailed by a lone unfavorable call early in a contest is a team not capable of winning a championship -- at least not yet. I believe that even if Sissons's goal had stood, the Penguins would have found a way to win on Sunday. I suspect this series wasn't going to a seventh game no matter what, especially when you look at how the Penguins kept improving all the way from the beginning of Game One through the end of Game Six.

Which is not... take anything away from the Spring 2017 edition of the Nashville Predators. These Preds were a great group of guys supported by a great swath of fans, and they accomplished a lot and I loved watching them play. Their future is bright and they may yet get to drink from the Cup.

They and their fans should realize that before the Gretzky-Messier Oilers became the dynasty remembered for winning five Cups in seven years, they reached the SCF and got swept by a New York Islanders squad that had won the three previous Cups. Sure, the Oilers were overflowing with Hall of Fame talent in 1983, but those future Hall of Famers needed to have their asses handed to them by champions in order to learn how to become champions themselves.

The 1993-94 Red Wings had the best record in the Western Conference, but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by bottom-seeded San Jose... The following year they had the best record in the entire NHL, only to get swept in the SCF by fifth-seeded New Jersey... And the year after that they had the best record in NHL history, yet failed to even make it to the SCF because they fell in the third round to eventual champ Colorado... It was not until the year after that, in their fourth kick at the can, that those Wings finally broke through and won it all -- and today, all anyone remembers about that era is that the Wings won back to back Cups in '97 and '98 and three Cups in the five calendar years from June '97 through June '02.

Your time may come, Nashville... or it may not, since sports are capricious... but there is more reason for you to be happy and optimistic than there is for you to be sullen and cynical, so you should seize the former mindset as you skate into next season.

Depth and youth
One of the Penguins' defining traits during their consecutive title runs has been how deep their talent runs, and how their resulting ability to get bushels of goals from anywhere on their roster makes them so hard to put away. Well, if these playoffs taught us anything, it's that the team from Music City is almost as strong in that regard.

We all knew coming in that the Preds were deep on the blue line, but most of us thought their forward depth was not remarkable, and boy did we find out we were wrong! Yes, there is the oft-cited fact that the Preds' 14 game-winning goals during the playoffs were scored by 12 different players -- but then there is the less-cited fact that 19 different Preds, including 15 forwards, scored goals for them during the playoffs (nearly equaling the all-time record of 21 players and 16 forwards, which was set three decades ago by the '87 Flyers).

Of their eight players who recorded double-digit points in the playoffs, four are under the age of 25 and the oldest (P.K. Subban) is just 28. Their three highest scorers from the regular season (Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg) are 24, 24, and 22, respectively, and all three of them were impact players during the post-season as well, as Forberg led the team with 16 playoff points and Arvidsson and Johansen finished tied for third at 13. Damn.

The depth gets even more impressive when you consider the unlikely stories of Pontus Aberg (who has the coolest name in sports) and Frederick Gaudreau... Prior to this post-season, the 23-year-old Aberg had played in only 15 NHL games and scored only one NHL goal; but then he tallied three assists and two goals in the post-season, including what was arguably this year's best playoff goal of anyone from any team, plus the game-winner in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final... Meanwhile, prior to this post-season the 24-year-old Gaudreau had played in only nine NHL games without scoring a single goal; but then he bagged three goals in the Stanley Cup Final, including the game-winners in the only two SCF games the Preds won... I don't believe this is coincidence. I believe there is something special and infectious in the team's culture, something that infuses everyone who enters that locker room and laces up skates and pulls on a sweater emblazoned with a saber-toothed cat.

If you're on the Nashville bandwagon, you gotta be enthused by demographics like those above, for they provide ample reason to believe your team will be a competitor well into the foreseeable future.

But be that as it may.. would be unwise for the Preds and their fans to take their eye off of Father Time, for he is undefeated and lurks in the locker rooms of all teams... and he is on the prowl with a chance to take out key contributors even on this impressively young club.

No matter how much we talk bout Nashville's balanced scoring and well-oiled defensive corps, we all know that goaltender Pekka Rinne was their best player during their playoff run, and we all know they wouldn't have gotten so close to Xanadu without him playing so spectacularly. Rinne will turn 35 before Thanksgiving gets here, and while I believe he has a few more good years in him, there's no denying that he is at the age where Father Time could pounce at any time and make his skills deteriorate drastically.

Should Father Time strike Rinne, to whom will the Preds turn to protect their net? Do you really believe Juuse Saros has what it takes to deliver a title, to steal wins against contenders when the Preds' skaters are struggling to score?

Father Time is also breathing down the neck of team captain Mike Underwood Fisher, who turned 37 last week and has now logged 17 seasons in the NHL. You won't find Fisher putting up Arvidsson-like stats these days, but you will find him doing tons of other things that are vitally important for a team to contend. He is a force in the face-off circle, blocks shots, sets up teammates, and provides invaluable leadership. His steady character (he's an avowed Christian who exhibits calm in the midst of storms) affects teammates in positive ways and is the kind of thing that can make a difference in the clutch.

Fisher's contract ends at the end of this month and there is no doubt that if he plays in the NHL next year, he will once again do so for the Nashville Predators. But what if he decides to hang up his skates instead of signing a new contract? What if he does sign another contract, only to have Father Time strike in the near future and render him unable to contribute like before?

The Predators' youth is impressive and suggests they will be competitive for a long time... but their chances of winning it all will go down if Rinne and/or Fisher are no longer as effective as they have been... in fact, their chances will go way down if Rinne is the one whose effectiveness takes a big drop... and so it would behoove the Predators to keep the pedal to the metal and keep pushing to win now, rather than listen to the Sirens who sing about the promise of "the future."

In closing... were a great story, Nashville/Smashville, and you should continue to be, but the Penguins were better... and although a fine line is thinner than gossamer, it is still a line, and the difference between "almost there" and "there" is simultaneously tiny and huge... and while on the one hand that sucks, on the other hand it means you had a helluva run... you were not best-in-the-world material this spring, but you were second-best-in-the-world material, and that ain't bad.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Flag Day

Prayers to Steve Scalise tonight, and may James Hodgkinson and his ilk spend eternity rotting in Hell.

But I will wait for another time to opine any further about the politically motivated mass murder Hodgkinson tried to pull off this morning.

Today is Flag Day, so let our thoughts simply go there for the time being. Here again is my post from 2011 "illustrating" the lyrics to God Bless America, using photographs I've taken throughout our country:

God bless America...

Land that I love...

Stand beside her and guide her...

Through the night...

With the light from above...

From the mountains...

To the prairies...

To the oceans white with foam...

God bless America...

My home sweet home...

Note: The final picture was taken by Kelly Noel.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


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

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

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

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

In military parlance, the phrase “D-Day” refers to the first day of any operation, but in the public’s mind, it will always refer to the events on the beaches of Normandy. Now the men who braved the bullets on that distant shore are dying away at a rapid rate. Let us give them our thanks while they are still alive to hear it.

After all, we might never have tasted freedom if not for the valor of the soldiers of '44. Because of that, we must resolve to pass their story on to our children, so that they may pass it on to theirs, to preserve what Abraham Lincoln referred to as "the mystic chords" of our nation's memory.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

Today, back porches across America will be filled with the scent of grilled burgers and sight of beer-filled coolers as we gather to celebrate Memorial Day.

In the process, we should remember that Memorial Day is much more than an excuse to get together and toss horseshoes while the kids swim in the pool. It is set aside for the solemn purpose of honoring our servicemen who died while defending America's citizens from armed enemies who sought to drive freedom from our shores.

From the first person who perished on Lexington’s village green in 1775, up to the most recent fatality in the Middle East, the list of the fallen is long. We should never forget that each person on that list made a sacrifice that was ultimate in its finality. We should resolve to do everything in our power to defend America's founding principles against all foes -- domestic in addition to foreign, orators in addition to terrorists -- to ensure that those people did not die in vain.

To observe past Memorial Days, I have published letters that were written by soldiers during wartime. Here they are again.

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This first one was from Sullivan Ballou, a major in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, to his wife. He was killed in the Battle of First Bull Run one week after writing it:

July 14, 1861

Camp ClarkWashington

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield. The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And it is hard for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly I would wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness.

But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be near you, in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights…always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

Sullivan Ballou

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This next letter was written by Arnold Rahe, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, with instructions that it be delivered to his parents if he did not survive. He was killed in action shortly thereafter:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Strange thing about this letter; if I am alive a month from now you will not receive it, for its coming to you will mean that after my twenty-sixth birthday God has decided I’ve been on earth long enough and He wants me to come up and take the examination for permanent service with Him. It’s hard to write a letter like this; there are a million and one things I want to say; there are so many I ought to say if this is the last letter I ever write to you. I’m telling you that I love you two so very much; not one better than the other but absolutely equally. Some things a man can never thank his parents enough for; they come to be taken for granted through the years; care when you are a child, and countless favors as he grows up. I am recalling now all your prayers, your watchfulness -- all the sacrifices that were made for me when sacrifice was a real thing and not just a word to be used in speeches.

For any and all grief I caused you in this 26 years, I’m most heartily sorry. I know that I can never make up for those little hurts and real wounds, but maybe if God permits me to be with Him above, I can help out there. It’s a funny thing about this mission, but I don’t think I’ll come back alive. Call it an Irishman’s hunch or a pre-sentiment or whatever you will. I believe it is Our Lord and His Blessed Mother giving me a tip to be prepared. In the event that I am killed you can have the consolation of knowing that it was in the “line of duty” to my country. I am saddened because I shall not be with you in your life’s later years, but until we meet I want you to know that I die as I tried to live, the way you taught me. Life has turned out different from the way we planned it, and at 26 I die with many things to live for, but the loss of the few remaining years unlived together is as nothing compared to the eternity to which we go.

As I prepare for this last mission, I am a bit homesick. I have been at other times when I thought of you, when I lost a friend, when I wondered when and how this war would end. But, the whole world is homesick! I have never written like this before, even though I have been through the “valley of the shadows” many times, but this night, Mother and Dad, you are so very close to me and I long so to talk to you. I think of you and of home. America has asked much of our generation, but I am glad to give her all I have because she has given me so much.

Goodnight, dear Mother and Dad. God love you.

Your loving son,
(Bud) Arnold Rahe

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God bless them all, and may they never be forgotten.