Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From the ridge

The New Year holiday is supposed to be an annual vantage point, a sort of ridgeline from which we survey the trail behind and gauge the territory ahead.

I'm reminded of a solitary trek I made from Kintla Lake, now 30 years ago but still bright in my memory. At one point I made a decision, arguably ill-advised, to leave the marked trail and venture north into a trackless section of the Boundary Mountains.

I recall how difficult it was to find a clear and easily navigable way upward, and I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt when finally I crested a high, open ridge from which I could take some compass bearings.

Behind me were the Kintla Creek lakes and the landscape through which I'd already passed. Canada lay ahead, with British Columbia in front of me and the southwestern corner of Alberta to my right.

Taking bearings gave me my position, but it didn't chart my course -- that was up to me. All I knew for sure was that I wouldn't be turning back. I pressed on, down-slope and northeast, making my way toward the international border.

Today, standing on a metaphorical ridge, I look back at the path that brought me here over the last 12 months. By any measure it was damned tough going, with dry washes and dead ends, uncertain footing and more than a few falls.

I've arrived at this vantage point weary yet still strong, aware of life's gifts and inescapable joys, and my family walks with me.

The trials of 2008 are behind me. I'll carry the year's lessons but drop its burdens, pressing on into new territory, both unknown and unexplored.

I have my bearings. As for 2009, all I know for sure is that I won't be turning back.

Handoff

Monday, December 29, 2008

Weak end

Michigan's had a rough year.

The state can lay claim to the nation's highest unemployment and lowest high-school graduation rates, home foreclosures happening at more than two-and-a-half times the national average and an auto industry that's circling the proverbial bowl (federal benevolence notwithstanding).

As bleak as things are in real life, you won't find many Michiganders singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Sports doesn't offer much of an escape these days, either.

With the Wolverines' unprecedented futility still fresh in fans' minds, yesterday afternoon brought yet another round of sporting shame -- the 2008 edition of the Detroit Lions officially became the least successful team in NFL history.

Sixteen games, sixteen losses.

There's still reason for hope, however. The Pistons may be in second place, well behind the division-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, but at least they're winning. The Red Wings have a good shot at a second straight Stanley Cup and the Spartans have a puncher's chance of upsetting Georgia on New Year's Day.

Sitting here in Ohio, I know I'm in no position to pitch rocks across the border. I mean, our own economy is nothing to brag about, and besides, the Browns and Bengals didn't win enough games combined to make the playoffs.

Looks like there's plenty of shame to go around.

Larry's last call
When I was an OSU student back in the '70s, everyone "knew" that Larry's, a dingy High Street joint across from North Campus, was a gay bar -- but it wasn't.

Larry's was a haven for edge-dwellers and counterculture types, welcoming all, including gays, into its dim confines. For most of its 85 years, the place hosted misfits, rebels and groundbreakers, cultivating legends along the way.

Now Larry's is gone, closing its doors Saturday night, a casualty of mismanagement and society's preference for more polished, cookie-cutter establishments. Maybe that's what progress looks like.

Some will say that an old beatnik bar is an anachronism in the 21st century. I say that Columbus is poorer for the loss.

House divided
To the delight of my Morgantown missus, West Virginia defeated North Carolina, 31-30, in Saturday's Meineke Car Care Bowl.
I may be a devoted Ohio State fan, but I cheered and fretted and celebrated right alongside my wife as quarterback Pat White willed his team to its fourth bowl win in as many seasons.

While the final seconds were ticking down in that football game, a basketball game was getting underway in Columbus -- OSU vs. WVU.

Uh-oh.

Ohio State entered the contest undefeated, the Mountaineers with two losses. Even though the young Buckeyes were down by seven at the half, I was sure that they'd pull out a victory, especially in front of the home crowd. They didn't, losing to West Virginia in humbling fashion, 76-48.

Mrs. KintlaLake is doing her best not to gloat.

Stupid is, stupid does
Chip Saltsman once chaired the Tennessee Republican Party. He ran Mike Huckabee's campaign for president. Now he wants to be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Seems like a perfectly reasonable career path.

Mr. Saltsman is promoting his candidacy with a 41-track CD, which he distributed to RNC members as a Christmas gift. One of the musical numbers is a parody called "Barack the Magic Negro."

Yes, it's sung to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon." And no, I have no idea what Mr. Saltsman has been smoking.

Predictably, GOP leaders are scrambling to issue statements decrying the song (publicly, anyway). Rush Limbaugh is defending it with typically idiotic froth -- and why wouldn't he? After all, the We Hate The USA CD, which also features "The Star-Spanglish Banner" and "Wright Place, Wrong Pastor" among its mindless selections, was produced by Limbaugh sidekick Paul Shanklin.

Most disturbing, I think, is Mr. Saltsman's judgment that the CD would find a receptive audience at the RNC. It may not be surprising that third-grade "satire," the daily fare of talk radio, still amuses some people, but it's sad to see that Mr. Saltsman (like those Committee members, presumably) believes that clumsily veiled racism is essential to resuscitating a dying party.

Until Republicans learn the difference between conservative and stupid -- and ditch the talk-radio compass -- make that a dead party.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Palm reading

I'm a certified (perhaps certifiable) "neat freak," and my penchant for orderliness extends to the way I organize information. That's why I've been a fan of Palm PDAs since I bought my first PalmPilot over a decade ago.

A Centro has been riding on my belt for about six months now. Naturally, it does everything I expect a Palm to do. This is the first time, however, that I've owned a device that combines a high-zoot PDA with a mobile phone, and I'm really into it.

As for the ubiquitous BlackBerry, I'm not envious and never have been. When my wife upgraded from a Motorola flip-phone to a
BlackBerry Pearl just after Thanksgiving, I messed around with it a bit and it didn't play nice with a Palm veteran like me.


Mrs. KintlaLake tried to love little 'Berry but simply couldn't. We never did figure out how to swap files easily.

Last night, my wife traded the Pearl for a Centro of her own. She's much happier already, even though she's not a Palm geek, and sharing data -- contacts, appointments, reminders, photos -- is a breeze.

I don't know much about "best," but but I'm widely regarded as an expert on what works for me. The Centro definitely does -- and now it's a family affair.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

It's bright, clear and cold. There's no snow, either on the ground or in the air.

Our perfect
tree stands in the corner of the living room and Christmas music echoes through the house.

Santa brought a bicycle to our younger spawn. Christmas is always better when a bicycle is involved.

This morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast casserole, my wife's labor of love and a family tradition.

Warmth, love and light. It's Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Whatever you celebrate this holiday season, remember to celebrate home, love, family and freedom.

Give thanks for life's blessings, great or meager, and know that there are others who have less.

Find those people and serve them -- and then don't tell a soul.

Give more than you get. Pay forward.

Watch children. See this night unfold through their eyes.

Christmas Eve is special, no matter how you hold it in your heart. So keep it, embrace it and make a memory to recall as long as you live.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No traction whatsoever

This afternoon's three-mile trip home from the grocery store took 45 minutes. A five-mile drive to my in-laws' house this evening took over an hour.

The holdup wasn't rush-hour traffic or last-minute holiday shoppers -- it was freezing rain, and unless you've driven in it, you've never truly puckered.

What I described in last Wednesday's
post as a "glaze" was Tiddlywinks compared to the half-inch of ice that encased our world late today. Until township crews managed to catch up with the mess -- a span of about two hours -- the roads were beyond treacherous.

For the uninitiated, think about sitting in your stopped vehicle on what you think is a straight, level patch of pavement, your foot on the brake. Then imagine turning the steering wheel side-to-side slightly, without letting off the brake or touching the accelerator -- and feeling the vehicle slide out from under you, looping slowly 90 degrees until you're perpendicular to the direction of travel.


As seen on TV, weather like this is just silly. Traction is where you find it and easily misplaced.

Good tires and a delicate touch with the throttle will get things moving on glare ice, and four-wheel drive definitely is a bonus. Nothing, however, will stop a vehicle reliably. Extreme following distances and hyper-caution, something approaching paranoia, can help a driver avoid most ditches, trees and other vehicles, but the smart choice is to stay the hell home.

We, of course, went the hell out.

On leaving the house tonight, we approached an uphill stretch a half-mile south. About a dozen cars were lined up in the rainy darkness at the bottom of the hill, patiently (and wisely) waiting while one vehicle at a time attempted the icy grade. Inevitably, one didn't quite make it over the crest and stopped, unable to advance and afraid to reverse course.

The road remained blocked until a salt truck made an assault on the hill, dodging brazen oncoming drivers and getting rather sideways itself. The local police commander, a friend of ours, pulled up in the department's SUV to join the frozen fray, putting out flares and ultimately blocking northbound traffic. We finally made the grade, passing seven (count 'em) ditched vehicles on our creep up the hill.

We continued at a cautious pace until we reached the relatives' house. It was a dicey, pucker-a-minute adventure. I love this stuff.

Now I'd be remiss if I didn't spend a moment on our 17-year-old spawn's drive home. When he walked out to his car, he slipped and nearly fell in his grandparents' untreated driveway -- and that, if you ask me, should've been a clue. The homebound roads were icy in spots but mostly just wet, lulling him into forgetting that our own short-but-steep driveway might be as slippery as the one that almost put him on his ass 15 minutes earlier.

I hit our driveway first, 4WD engaged, the spawn close behind, and in squirrelly fashion I chugged to the top. Meanwhile, the boy was discovering that a turbocharger, sticky tires, Swedish engineering and a case of amnesia combine to produce a lot of shaved ice, but not much progress.

Eventually, with teenage determination and after much spinning, he reached the garage. He opened his car door, stepped out -- and fell on his ass.

Well, this is how he'll learn. It's certainly how I did.

Lights out

Moraine Assembly, the General Motors SUV plant near Dayton, Ohio, opened in 1951.

GM's oldest plant, Janesville Assembly in Wisconsin, has been in operation since 1919.

At the end of today's shifts, both plants will close -- for good.

Nobody home

"It is an honor to be named your 'Conservative of the Year.' ... The biggest mistake made was that I could have called more shots on this: the opportunities that were not seized to speak to more Americans via media. I was not allowed to do very many interviews, and the interviews that I did were not necessarily those I would have chosen. But I was so thankful to have the opportunity to run with John McCain that I was not going to argue with the strategy decisions that some of his people were making regarding the media contacts. But if I would have been in charge, I would have wanted to speak to more reporters because that’s how you get your message out to the electorate." (Sarah Palin, to Human Events, which aptly calls itself the "Headquarters of the Conservative Underground")

"Everyone came at me to write a book. They had dollar signs in their eyes. '101 Things Joe the Plumber Knows' or some stupid shit like that. Excuse me, I am sorry. You know I will get behind something solid, but I won't get behind fluff. I won't cash in, and when people do read the book they will figure out that I didn't cash in. At least I hope they figure that out." (Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, to FOX News, promoting his new book, Joe the Plumber -- Fighting for the American Dream. Available for $24.95 plus $18.60 for shipping, the book comes with a one-year membership to his website -- a $19.95 value -- which includes full access to "Joe The Forum," where members can chat directly with Joe; a subscription to the monthly "Joe The Blog" newsletter; and free shipping on all "Joe The Plumber" merchandise.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chilled


Down in the basement, our furnace is working overtime.

Overnight, still-air temps fell to zero. With 20mph winds gusting to 35mph, the chill dipped below -20°F.

At the moment, the prospect of moving to Montana has lost its appeal.


We don't have to deal with this kind of deep freeze often, really, or for very long. Actually, according to the forecast, we'll see the mid-50s on Christmas Eve. It's just another whipsaw winter here in central Ohio.

Whenever it gets stupid-cold, the west side of our hilltop home takes the brunt of the blast. The upstairs plumbing is prone to freezing, so last night we left a thread of water running in each sink and set the washing machine to run during the wee hours. As usual, the frigid wind exposed some previously undiscovered thermal leaks and a few windows that don't quite seal. We plugged the gaps temporarily with caulk and covered the cracks with duct tape.

Pretty is as pretty does. We can make it beautiful later.

About an hour after sunset yesterday, we ventured out to a local restaurant to celebrate a birthday in the family. It was snowing, just tiny dry crystals, and the winds were at their peak -- not a good time to be outdoors for more than a few minutes.

I said recently that waiting for the school bus taught me how to dress for cold weather, but while traipsing back to the truck after dinner last night it occurred to me that my bus-stop experience was only a primer -- I didn't truly "go to school" until I started riding motorcycles.

On a moving motorcycle, wind is a fact of life. The blessed breeze that refreshes during summer months, however, becomes a poorly dressed rider's cursed critic when the temperature drops.

Think about it -- in still air, 60°F is comfortable, but at 60mph the wind chill approaches 30°F. Most bikers stop riding when the weather gets "cool." A few of us figure out how to dress for it and keep riding.

I'm not discouraged when autumn brings the 40s, and I get excited when early-spring temps finally rise into the 30s. Once, in a fit of bravado, I did a 25-mile freeway jaunt when it was 7°F. (Never again, by the way.) The principles I've learned are both invaluable and simple, and they apply directly to other relatively sedentary cold-weather pursuits (like life, for example).

Dress in loose layers, with a wind-blocking layer on top. Gear up right before going out. Cotton kills; fleece is a friend. Cover exposed skin, including the face. If it's too cold to keep riding, stop, get off the bike and warm up.

The enemy isn't frostbite, it's hypothermia. Cold hands, cold feet and uncontrollable shivering are signs that the body's core temperature has dropped too low. That's the time to stop, add another insulating layer and try again -- or just stop.

Staying reasonably comfortable in everyday cold weather isn't rocket science. And living with sub-zero wind chill is something we do around here every winter, if not necessarily every day.

As I finish this post, I see that the mercury has climbed to 4°F. Maybe I'll gear up, fire up and go for a quick motorcycle ride.

When frozen pigs fly.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Player

Ever since Art Modell stole the Browns from Cleveland in 1996, I've found it hard to say anything good about the Baltimore Ravens, either individually or as a team. After last night's game against the Cowboys, however, I can say this:

Derrick Mason is a player.

Mason, a wide receiver, played through the searing pain of a dislocated left shoulder. He left the field after re-injuring it in the third quarter, but he returned just five plays later, sneaked into the back corner of the end zone and caught a touchdown pass.

Watching the video replay, it was obvious that Mason's left arm was useless as he ran his route. He managed to bring his hand up far enough to secure the catch, falling backward onto his right side. As his teammates rushed toward him to celebrate, Mason turned his painful shoulder away, his arm hanging limp by his side.

Mason has what my high-school football coach called "a whole lotta wanna." In a world of prima donnas, Derrick Mason is a player.

Behind the glitz and soap-opera serials of sports are stories of courage and character. Willis Reed, Michael Jordan, Jack Youngblood, Kellen Winslow, Sr. and Emmitt Smith are remembered for playing through pain. Cal Ripken showed up for work 2,632 straight times. Chris Spielman walked away from the NFL to be with his wife as she battled breast cancer.


If we pay attention, we'll find those stories in every sport, in every game. When we look past the overpaid, over-hyped stars, we'll see the players.

That's what keeps me watching.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rubble

The RCA Dome is gone, falling to the forces of a controlled implosion a few minutes ago.

I'd been there several times for trade shows, but otherwise I had no particular connection to the place. My wife and our spawns are a different story.

In a previous life, Indianapolis was home. The RCA Dome was their destination for Colts games, pep rallies, monster-truck shows and the circus. As my wife recalled through misty eyes this morning, the kids would crane their necks for a glimpse of the big white pillow against the skyline, vying for the claim of who spotted it first.

Lucas Oil Stadium now has taken its place, practically speaking, and in many ways it's probably a superior facility. I understand, however, the sadness felt right now by anyone who holds fond memories of good times in the 'Dome.

What strikes me about today's demolition is that the RCA Dome opened just 24 years ago. Ohio Stadium, built in 1922, was renovated when it was outgrown, and at least Yankee Stadium has had a long (85 years) and full life.

The RCA Dome, which led the renaissance of Indy's downtown, went from showpiece to obsolescence in less than a generation.

There's something just plain wrong about that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Putting the funk in dysfunctional

Before the markets opened this morning, Pres. Bush reached into the TARP and scooped out $13.4 billion, funding short-term loans to U.S. automakers. The companies have until March 31st to demonstrate their "viability" or the loans will be recalled.

Translation:

"You're on the brink of bankruptcy -- you know it and I know it. And we both know that three months isn't enough time to prove a damned thing. So here, courtesy of American taxpayers, is some money to let you get your houses in order, so that you can file an 'orderly bankruptcy' in April, if not sooner.

"No, I don't know what 'viability' means, and I have no clue what an 'orderly bankruptcy' would look like. The next President will figure it out -- I'm outta here."

In theory, the Bush administration's "last in, first out" provision would seem to favor the American taxpayer -- that is, we'd get our money back before other creditors would see a red cent -- but it's hard to imagine how companies that haven't shown themselves to be viable would be able to repay billions in government loans.

That viability-or-bust condition also puts enormous pressure on both ends of the automakers' supply chain, which comprises, to a large extent, those "other creditors" and vital distribution channels. We can predict that the automakers, just like banks that sucked up TARP funds, will hoard the money, which could spell big trouble for upstream suppliers and downstream dealer networks.

The whole concept of "viability," defined under the loan arrangement as "a positive net present value," is itself a canard. Whatever the companies "prove" to Congress between now and the end of March would be, at best, paper viability. The arrangement does mandate that labor costs be brought into line with non-union workers at foreign automakers' U.S. plants, but U.A.W. concessions won't be nearly enough.

So what's left -- longer shutdowns? Closing plants completely and cutting more jobs? Suspending or eliminating production demonstrates desperation, not long-term viability. What's more, taking those steps would further weaken regional economies and, more to the point, consumers' confidence in the product.

The only credible definition of "viability" is increasing sales, reducing debt and turning a profit -- and none of that will happen in three months. In this economy, with American consumers reining-in their spending, the automakers have no possible shot at "viability" between now and March 31st.

That said, an Obama administration surely will find a way to further postpone the inevitable -- at taxpayers' expense, of course.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seasonal salutations

Happy Holidays!

Why not Merry Christmas? That's easy -- because when I offer you my greetings, it's an expression of respect and good wishes for what you celebrate, not an imposition of what I celebrate.

Maybe you celebrate Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or some ancient ritual involving a burning log. Maybe you don't celebrate anything at all, or maybe you're in it for the gifts. I don't know -- and because I don't know, I won't presume. So...


Happy Holidays!

But if you do mark the religious version of December 25th, then by all means, have yourself a merry little Christmas -- just don't demand that everyone adopt the particular significance that you ascribe to the holidays.

And please don't hand me the "reason for the season" line -- people were throwing big pagan parties this time of year long before mangers and virgins got into the act.

Don't get me wrong here -- I have no problem with true believers "putting the Christ in Christmas" and celebrating accordingly, nor do I object to Merry Christmas as a generic greeting. When I'm told, however, that Merry Christmas is the only proper way to express holiday wishes, well, that's where I get off the train.

This isn't about political correctness. It's about respect.

Suppose that on my next birthday I ran around wishing everyone a Happy Birthday, knowing that it doesn't hold the same meaning for anyone else, if it holds any meaning at all. That'd be patently silly, of course, as well as arrogant -- and no different from insisting that all of us embrace the Christian version of Christmas.


I love this time of year. I have a half-century of cherished memories, and the season holds special meaning for me. I promise that I won't impose my meaning on you and, with respect, I ask that you not impose yours on me. So, from my heart...

Happy Holidays! (inclusive)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weird going

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." (Hunter S. Thompson)

* * *
Chrysler just told the world that it'll shut down all 30 of its manufacturing plants for at least 30 days, starting Friday. Shortly after Chrysler's announcement, Ford revealed that it'll extend ten plants' two-week holiday shutdown for an additional week. GM said last Friday that it'll shut down most of its plants during the first six weeks of next year.

Idled U.A.W. workers, by the way, reportedly will be paid most of their wages and will be eligible to collect state unemployment benefits during these "temporary" closures. Their union contract requires it.

None of this comes as a surprise, really, considering that Congress (thanks to the U.A.W.) didn't throw the automakers a lifeline and neither has the Bush administration (so far). Only time will tell if we're seeing the final death throes of the U.S. auto industry.

* * *
Last week, I
wrote about state budget cutbacks projected by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland -- deep, across-the-board cuts in spending, but no tax increases. New York Gov. David Paterson, facing his own $13.7 billion budget deficit and a $6.6 billion drop in tax revenues, is taking a very different approach to closing the gap.

Gov. Paterson's proposed 2009-2010 budget actually increases spending overall, despite eliminating hundreds of state jobs, closing prison camps and youth facilities, releasing 1,600 prison inmates early and slashing school funding and senior services. And because this is New York, there must be higher taxes and fees:

  • Eliminating the tax rebate for homeowners.
  • Eliminating the sales-tax exemption on clothing under $110.
  • A new sales tax on cable and satellite TV and radio.
  • New sales taxes on manicures, massages and haircuts.
  • New sales taxes on movie tickets and downloaded music.
  • An 18% sales tax on non-diet soda.
  • Expanding the "bottle bill" to non-carbonated beverages.
  • Increasing the fee for the state fishing license from $19 to $29 for anglers in pursuit of salmon or trout.
Gov. Paterson can't be accused of never having met a tax he didn't love -- after all, he rejected a proposed temporary surcharge on the income of millionaires, warning that it'd spook high rollers into moving out of New York.

Now that's a pro.

I'll stay here in Ohio, thanks.

Glazed

After three days of dire warnings by local meteorologists, a much-hyped weather system has left us with nothing but a dusting of snow and a thin coating of ice. What a buzz-kill.

Most of the schools in the area -- last I looked, more than 200 -- have delayed the start of classes, and a few even closed. Our spawns' schools will open as usual.
Bad luck, that.

Mrs. KintlaLake called a little while ago to tell me that our driveway, which slopes down toward the road, was "a disaster" when she left for work. I took the hint, putting down about 20 pounds of ice-melt before our 17-year-old and his friend headed off to school.

Part of me wanted to use the slick surface as a sort of driver-education tool...but then I envisioned two teenagers' cars sliding out into traffic...besides, our spawn just got his
wrecked car fixed...

You get the idea. I salted the driveway.

While watching the list of school closings scroll across the bottom of our TV screen this morning, I tried to raise a childhood memory of the phrase, "two-hour delay." My best recollection is that our school district was either open or closed, period, with news of the latter coming to us by way of a phone call or the local AM radio station.


A "delay" was when the bus was late.

I acknowledge that this is a more cautious, more litigious society than the America of 40 years ago, and I understand why districts delay rather than close -- they're allotted a limited number of "calamity days" to use before being required to extend the school year, and pushing back the bell by an hour or two doesn't count against that number.

So yes, I get it. I reserve the right, however, to be incurably cranky about what passes for a "calamity" these days.

We used to call them "snow days," but should two inches of snow close schools in Ohio? (In
New Orleans, maybe, but not here.) What about dense fog? High winds? Heavy rain? Thunderstorms? Sub-zero temperatures?

Pull-eeze.

Most of what I know about dressing myself for winter weather came from long, cold waits for the school bus. The experience also taught me when to come in out of the rain and, radical as it sounds, when to wear a damned raincoat.

I had one bus driver pretty much throughout my primary-school days. Five days a week, this stout dairy farmer would get up long before dawn and help with the milking before starting her first bus route -- and most mornings she drove two routes, sometimes three. She had no trouble driving a school bus in snow and ice because her family's livelihood depended on her being able to drive tractors and farm trucks in all kinds of weather. And far from being the exception, she was typical of our district's drivers.

We humans tend to rise or fall with what's expected of us. We learn, adapt, perform and achieve in direct correlation to what life throws our way. This morning's events got me thinking, in my sidelong fashion, about expecting more of school-bus drivers -- right along with teachers, parents, merchants, public officials and, most important, our children.


I may have come to parenting relatively late in life, but the first step, it seems to me, would be to stop shielding our kids from everyday challenges. If we give them opportunities to be uncomfortable -- cold, wet, hungry, thirsty, or even poor -- they'll be more receptive to learning (or more inclined to teach themselves) how to avoid (or accept) that discomfort.

Only by allowing a child to fail, guided by our constructive support, do we equip them to succeed.

We might not be able to keep an entire generation from going soft, but at least we can disrupt the institutional pussification of our own kids.

(As for "soft," I'm sure that our parents said the same about us.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Election Day

Today, December 15th, is the day that Barack Obama will be elected the 44th President of the United States.

As set forth in the Constitution, when we went to the polls on November 4th, we chose our states' electors. Today those electors will cast their (ideally representative) votes for President and Vice President.


There's no suspense here, of course. For the record, I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of holding indirect elections in the modern age, nor will I discuss some states' punishment of so-called "faithless electors."

This is how Americans choose a president. Citizens are best served by examining our own role in the process -- engage, register, turn out, vote, repeat.

According to
statistics compiled and reported by Michael McDonald of George Mason University, voter turnout on November 4th was 61.6%, the highest national rate since 1968. State-by-state, rates ranged from just over half of eligible voters to almost 78%.

Kudos to the civic-minded citizens of Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Maine. Shame on the slackers in West Virginia, Hawaii, Utah, Texas and Arkansas. Here in Ohio, my neighbors and I beat the national turnout rate, with 66.9% of us going to the polls.

The numbers are interesting, mildly encouraging and, for McCain-Palin supporters especially, instructive. The GOP, however, doesn't seem to be paying attention.

Yesterday the Republican National Committee released a YouTube video entitled "Questions Remain." Reprising the guilt-by-association approach that sealed its fate in November, the RNC now attempts to link President-elect Obama to disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Questions remain? Sure -- just not the ones that Republicans are asking.

Maybe party leaders should ask themselves why they insist on appealing to a base that didn't (and couldn't) deliver enough votes to prevent a thumping six weeks ago. Perhaps it'd be worth wondering why the marginal, mind-numbing Sarah Palin, whose nomination contributed greatly to the ticket's doom, continues to be considered a rising star in a party that should be moving in the opposite direction.

Is Mort Kondracke right?
"How can the Republican Party rebound? The first step would be to quit letting Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham set its agenda. ...Step One is to fire Rush Limbaugh and his ilk as the intellectual bosses of the GOP."

Is the party willing to quicken its pace to keep up with a changing electorate? Might it be politically more productive to focus attention where the people live, not merely where 1980s-era votes are assured? Is the GOP capable of speaking to the interests of independent Americans, on whom its success depends?

And finally (for now), isn't it just a wee bit late to launch an attack ad?

Personally, I don't believe that the party has the self-awareness to conduct a proper interrogation -- it's been breathing its own fumes for far too long. Denial, like Kool-Aid, runs deep in the elephants' habitat.

Questions do, indeed, remain. Until Republicans ask (and answer) the hard questions, they're riding the express train to the political wilderness.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Decoration day

In the KintlaLake household, this will be a different kind of Christmas. It already is.

Yesterday we liberated our decorations from storage, dozens of boxes that spent the last eleven months stacked in the barn or crammed into a corner of the basement. In years past, that would've been followed by driving to a local tree farm, trudging through the woods and choosing the perfect tree.

There will be no live tree for us this year, no bright smell of fresh-cut pine wafting through the house. In the corner of our living room will stand a conical, pre-wired, steel-and-plastic faux fir, the one that usually greets holiday visitors to our front porch.

This will be my first artificial-tree Christmas. Just thinking about that saddens me, but our family makes compromises these days. Not spending money on a real tree this year is but a small one.

What I'm missing most of all, more than the live tree itself, is the ritual of choosing it. Whether it happens in a parking lot or on a snowy hillside, I've always looked forward to picking out the tree, always imperfect in some way but absolutely perfect, the one tree that's like no other in the world.

It's a sentimental journey that'll have to wait 'til next year, at least. Today my family and I will celebrate the home that lives in this oddly wonderful house, drawing holiday traditions from our hearts and fond memories from the boxes now piled around the tree.

We'll put sticks of cinnamon into a pot on the stove and play holiday music on the stereo. We'll take great care in handling fragile ornaments once hung by our grandparents and, with a smile and a tear or two, we'll linger over decorations made by our spawns in grade school. When all the boxes are empty, we'll step back and admire the twinkling trove.

In that moment, it won't matter that it's an artificial tree behind the glitter. It's still our Christmas tree.

What's more, we'll acknowledge that we're not stuck in some faraway sandbox, cradling a rifle in one hand and choking down MREs with the other. Neither finances nor
fire has driven us from our house. There's food in our pantry, a glow in the furnace and love in our home.

We're a fortunate bunch, we four -- and that, I think, will be the spirit that fills our holidays.

* * *
6:05pm: We just finished our "decoration day." It was full of emotions, for many reasons, especially for my wife and me.

The tree looks great.

Out on the porch sits a wooden child's wagon, missing its staked sides, that's as old as I am -- and I know that for a fact, because it was mine when I was a kid. Today, as is our holiday tradition, our spawns filled it with large colored ornaments and draped it in evergreen garland. I gathered an armload of cones that had fallen from the red pines out in the side yard and added them to the wagon display.

The simplest of pleasures.

Right now Mrs. KintlaLake is preparing dinner -- hollowed-out loaves of Italian bread layered with fresh basil, garlic, and plum tomatoes, plus slices of Provolone, pastrami, turkey and ham, dressed with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar and warmed in the over 'til the cheese melts and the flavors marry. This family-favorite "comfort food" will be shared this evening with our recently displaced young friend.

Another good day in this life. Our spirit thrives.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'Second Amendment Second Thoughts'


("Second Amendment Second Thoughts," originally published July 9, 2008, by Waterville, Washington-based cartoonist Andrew Wahl.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

The road ahead

Driving in thick fog, it's hard to see the edges of the road, never mind the bridge that's out up ahead.

Last night the U.S. Senate failed to muster enough support to bring the automaker bailout to a vote, essentially killing corporate-welfare legislation until late January. President Bush reportedly is considering issuing an executive order, tapping TARP money to temper the inevitable crash, but whether it's his action or the legislature's, no matter if it's this Congress or the next, an unimaginative addiction to taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts solves nothing.

It certainly won't lift our national economic fog. Here in Ohio, we're pumping the brakes -- not because we're afraid of the gloom, but because we know what lurks within.

If the auto industry goes belly-up, we could lose as many as 41,000 more jobs, paying a price second only to Michigan's. Home foreclosures are higher than 43 other states, unemployment has climbed to 7.3% and families have reined-in spending to the point that many small businesses are shuttering quietly. Even the usually prosperous holiday season is turning out to be an unmitigated bust.

State government, already pinched by shrinking revenues, is threatening to pull out an even bigger axe. Yesterday Gov. Ted Strickland painted a disturbing picture of an unprecedented 25% cut in state spending. According to this morning's edition of The Columbus Dispatch, here's a snapshot of what my fellow Buckeyes and I could be facing.

  • Six prisons would close, 5,237 workers would be laid off and some inmates would be triple-bunked.
  • Two juvenile-detention facilities would close and all parole supervision would be eliminated.
  • Tuition and fees at state colleges and universities would increase by an average of $2,000.
  • State aid to primary and secondary schools would be slashed by $840 per student next year, $870 the following year.
  • Some of Ohio's 74 state parks would close or be mothballed.
  • Child-care and pre-school programs would cut $300 million and 56,000 children would no longer be served.
  • Alcohol- and drug-treatment services would be reduced or eliminated for 25,000 Ohioans.
  • Unspecified cuts in the Ohio National Guard would "severely strain our ability to maintain the readiness of our forces and to respond in a timely manner when needed."
Increasing state taxes, according to Gov. Strickland, isn't an option for closing the gap, and it's important to note that these are projected cutbacks -- Ohio, like many of the 39 other states with budget shortfalls, is still chasing federal money. (Natch.)

County and municipal governments, of course, find themselves caught in the same revenue-spending pickle. We're seeing across-the-board cuts, from law enforcement to recreation and parks, senior services to snow removal. School districts, in the wake of voters rejecting November levies, are reacting by eliminating teaching jobs, sports, buses and more.

Chicken Little has left the building. This isn't pessimism -- this is life.

We're where we are because, as citizens and consumers, we've made stunningly poor decisions, and we can't rise above the current crisis by repeating a dysfunctional history. In the words of Abraham Lincoln:
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."
Chief among our mistakes has been counting on federal, state and local governments to save us, and first among our remedies must be weaning ourselves from that reliance. We're citizens of this nation, not of its detached leadership -- we must stop reaching empty hands up to our government and start extending servants' hands out to our neighbors.

We must disenthrall ourselves. We need to raise our children to be independent, not entertained. We must pull in, stay close, stand together, count on each other.

This is our Heartland. This is our home. Saving it is up to us.

* * *
Even in the best of economic times, those of us who cherish our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms often say, "When seconds count, help is just minutes away." And while we honor the dedicated service of law-enforcement professionals, we've never been wholly dependent on official agencies for our personal defense.

Now, cash-strapped governments are gutting police departments and hamstringing the National Guard. They're closing prisons, shutting down juvie halls and slashing the number of parole officers. For law-abiding citizens, the threats are more present and our rights more precious than ever before.

So here's a message for the incoming administration, the new Congress and anyone else bent on disarming individual American citizens: Leave my Second Amendment rights the hell alone.

If that's perceived as a gauntlet, so be it. Μολὼν λαβέ.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Trimming the fringe

Within my circle of friends, virtual and otherwise, it's understood that I don't do mass e-mails -- no idiotic humor, no videos of dancing babies, no chain letters and no religious tracts. With apologies to J.B. Books, I don't send these things to other people, and I require the same from them.

My wife, on the other hand, is a magnet for e-junk and doesn't discourage it. Occasionally she'll share something that she finds truly funny, deems unusually significant or, as was the case yesterday, calls for a shovel.

This particular message contained four links, all related to an exposé alleging official plans to replace U.S. legal tender with "Amero" currency, part of a top-secret government agenda to sacrifice U.S. sovereignty on the altar of a new North American Union.

The central "proof" of the theory consists of photographs of an Amero coin, said to have been minted in Denver, supposedly produced in great quantities and warehoused in China, awaiting the day when our government will spring the currency switch on an unsuspecting citizenry. The coin was photographed in the hands of a one-time Internet talk-radio host, who claims to have acquired the piece by way of a sympathetic soul who works at the Denver Mint.

I want to take a moment now to say that I won't be naming the nutjob who's holding the coin. First of all, he and his half-baked theory don't deserve any more publicity. Second, if talk radio is a wasteland where critical thought goes to die, then Internet talk radio is where common sense is interred -- and he couldn't even hold a job in that graveyard. And third, when I scoured the lunatic fringe for more of what this guy has to say, I learned that he traffics unapologetically in racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy -- and I have no use for any of the above.

Further, the Amero coin he's holding in the photos is a meaningless curio offered for sale by a Colorado company. Using a novelty coin to "prove" this cockamamie theory is akin to publishing a picture of a Franklin Mint die-cast Corvette to support a claim that the government has perfected technology capable of shrinking large objects to a fraction of their original size -- and that we, of course, are next.

Conspiracy theories, like the people who propagate them, do have a certain entertainment value, but only to a point. In the end, the only thing exposed by an exposé mentality is human ignorance.

Expressed in formal terms, it's a logical fallacy called argumentum ad ignorantiam -- "an appeal to ignorance" -- and here's how it works: I claim that something is true (or false), and if you can't prove it false (or true), then I win.
Because it's my theory, and since I reject all arguments to the contrary, I always win.

When you think about it -- which requires actually thinking about it, by the way -- it's a pretty damned silly way to look at the world.

Ignorance inflames paranoia which, in turn, sustains ignorance. Make no mistake -- skepticism is healthy. Even cynicism, tempered by rational thought, can be productive.

Government is deserving of scrutiny, but ignorant paranoia causes some to dismiss as false or suspect absolutely everything that our government says and does. Such is the defective mindset devoted to conjuring ghosts where they may or may not exist -- Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, Skull and Bones, New World Order. The list goes on.

It's an inescapable fact of life that most conversations happen out of earshot. It's also true that evil schemes are hatched behind closed doors and yes, the powerful keep secrets from the governed. None of those certainties, however, justifies categorical rejection of facts at hand.

Blind rejection, blind acceptance -- both are manifestations of ignorance. Not everything that our government does is sinister, any more than everything it does is wonderful. Skepticism (not paranoia) instructs us to differentiate between the two, and then critical thought (not ignorance) allows us to see facts.


Besides, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I'll wrap my rant with this assertion: An obsession with conspiracies, cover-ups and hidden agendas only distracts us from "exposing" what's happening right under our noses.


(See also "Forest" and "Trees.")

The way I see it, there's more than enough sinister stuff going on in public to keep retired conspiracy buffs busy long after they've figured out who really shot JFK.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Saving my hide

From shoes and boots to car seats and motorcycle jackets, I seem to have a lot of leather to take care of. I've learned, mostly through trial and error, that no single potion or paste works on every hide.

The shine on my dress shoes still comes from those same little tins of Kiwi polish I've used since I was a kid. I've cleaned and treated my biker gear -- jackets, chaps, saddlebags and seats -- with Lexol products, and I've become loyal to Griot's Garage Leather Care for auto upholstery. My favorite knock-around boots have gotten regular applications of Doc Bailey's. Over the years, I've used Sno-Seal on my hikers and saddle soap on just about everything.

Just when I thought I had leather care down to a personal science, I stumbled across something that threatens to retire almost everything else in my inventory.

The entire Montana Pitch-Blend line comprises just three basic compounds -- an oil soap, a conditioning oil and a dressing -- which are formulated using simple, natural ingredients: pine pitch, mink oil, beeswax and plant oils. None of these products contains silicone or petroleum.

I've been using Montana Pitch-Blend Products for almost two years now, starting with my Wesco boots and experimenting over time on other hides. According to directions, I've confined their use to what the company calls "rugged leather" -- they're not intended for lightweight "fashion" leather, suede or nubuck.

I'll leave it to the Montana Pitch-Blend people to explain how and why their products do what they do. All I know is that this leather-care system works better and lasts longer than anything else I've tried. And thanks to the all-natural ingredients, it's also a pleasure to use.

I'm not in the recommendations business. When I say good things about sharps, boots or gizmos, rest assured that I'm not paid to do so. I offer only my experience, giving praise where I believe it's due, and I don't chafe knowing that others make different choices.

With that in mind, then, I highly recommend Montana Pitch-Blend Products.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Friends in need

A certain classmate of our older spawn is a regular visitor in our home. He shares meals with us and often bunks here overnight. He drops by around 7:30am every schoolday, and then he and our spawn drive off "together" -- separate cars, nose-to-tail, as 17-year-olds will do.

About the time he was here this morning, an electrical fire was breaking out in the building where he lives. His mom was there when it happened, managing to escape with the family's dog moments before the blaze engulfed eight apartments -- including theirs.

They lost everything they own, save the cars they drive and the clothes on their backs.

We'll help them in whatever humble ways we can. Mrs. KintlaLake has gathered toiletries and a bag of our little-worn clothes, and tomorrow her parents will shop for stuff that actually fits. Our spawn's friend will join us here for dinner and will spend the night, a ritual he's welcome to repeat at least until he has a roof of his own again, longer if he wants.

Under the circumstances, no amount of kindness will make things easy for this young man and his mom. We'll simply do what friends do -- and that includes sharing their sadness.

Belated comparo

On the October day that I reluctantly went car-shopping, sitting side-by-side in the dealer's used-car lot were a 2005 Chevy TrailBlazer and a 2006 Chevy Equinox. The two vehicles had virtually the same odometer readings and were priced identically. Both were base models, both white.

I ended up going with the TrailBlazer, perhaps somewhat impulsively, for two reasons: body-on-frame construction (as opposed to unibody) and conventional four-wheel drive (over all-wheel drive). I never did drive the Equinox.

When I dropped off my TrailBlazer yesterday for minor service, the dealer tossed me the keys to a 2008 Equinox LT AWD -- so now I have a chance to compare it, for a couple of days anyway, to the vehicle I chose.


After only a few miles behind the wheel, it was clear that I was driving a car, not a truck, reflecting the fundamental difference between the Theta "crossover" platform and the GMT-360 on which the TrailBlazer is based.

Ok, it's a station wagon -- not that there's anything wrong with that. I actually like station wagons. One of the vehicles I just traded away was a much-loved station wagon.

Both in impression and in reality, the Equinox is smaller than the TrailBlazer. Dimensions are cozier, but neither uncomfortable nor inconvenient. The passenger compartment is decidedly more car-like, right down to the ergonomics.

I'd expected the smaller, lighter Equinox to be more refined and more nimble than it is. It's not a clumsy buckboard by any means, but at parking-lot speeds it lacks the TrailBlazer's agility and, from highways to backroads, its ride is somewhat stiffer. Both, especially the latter, surprised me.

The Equinox's on-demand AWD setup, in concert with a traction-control system that the 4WD TrailBlazer doesn't offer, just plain works. I can't attest to its performance in something like deep snow, but when I buried the throttle on a steep, ice-covered hill, it charged up the incline without so much as a hiccup. Color me impressed.

The standard 3.4-liter V6 strikes me as, well, adequate. I don't mean to damn it with faint praise -- power comes on predictably, with decent grunt and no drama. The engine, like the drive system, works.

Judging by published numbers, the Equinox AWD beats the TrailBlazer 4WD in overall fuel economy by about 19% (19mpg vs. 16mpg), an advantage likely attributable to its 20% lighter weight, smaller engine and better aerodynamics. Because the AWD version of the Equinox carries just 16 gallons of fuel, however, the 22-gallon TrailBlazer can travel an estimated 16% farther (48 miles) on a full tank. It's a trade-off.

Comparing the two vehicles' EPA estimates got me interested in researching some of the other numbers that matter to me. Here's how the TrailBlazer stacks up, relative to the Equinox.
  • Horsepower: +49%
  • Torque: +31%
  • Power-to-weight: +23%
  • Ground clearance: -1% (just 0.1 inch lower)
  • Turning circle: -13% (5.4 feet tighter, that is)
  • Cargo capacity: +17%
  • Towing: +75% (2,600 pounds more)
My brief impression of this Equinox AWD is that it's a pleasant, respectable car -- er, crossover. It seems capable and comfortable, and it has clear advantages over a typical front-wheel-drive sedan or wagon. I might even consider it (used, not new) as a second vehicle.

That said, I made the right choice -- for me. My personal preferences, supported by specs that I consider important, tilt me toward the TrailBlazer's more truckish personality.

Your mileage, as the saying goes, will vary.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Now that's more like it

The way I look at winter, as long as Nature's throwing us a cold-weather party, it might as well supply the decorations.

Let it snow.

I got my wish this morning, awakening to a landscape draped in a powdery blanket -- only a few windblown inches, but a welcome change from browns and grays.

The season's first real snowfall, greeting us as Sunday dawned, seemed to quiet everything. The only footprints outside my window are those of a rabbit, a pair of raccoons and a dozen wintering songbirds. Every now and then a car squeaks and crunches along the road, and overnight we heard the occasional county plow grind past, but otherwise our world is remarkably, gloriously silent.

This round of winter weather arrived yesterday afternoon, coinciding with my family's plans to travel north to celebrate a four-year-old's birthday. The 30-mile trip, mostly over Interstate highways, became something of an adventure and (naturally) a mild shakedown of our newly acquired SUV.

We held a steady, responsible pace, respecting the treacherous surface. The right-hand lanes were stacked with puckering motorists advancing at a crawl, while to our left drivers whizzed by without apparent caution, either ignorant of (or oblivious to) the road conditions. George Carlin was right:

"Anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac."
We saw many of those "maniacs" again later, of course -- spun into the median, wadded into guardrails and bridge supports, vehicles resting on their sides or roofs.


Sometimes, stupid hurts.

My family and I arrived at the birthday party, which was held at a suburban bowling alley, unscathed. (And yes, I executed several 4WD snow-donuts in the nearly empty parking lot, amusing our spawns.) The party was a pleasant departure from our everyday, and the drive home a few hours later was slow but uneventful.

An hour or so from now -- or whenever the rest of the family stirs from slumber -- our house will fill with the aromas of bacon and eggs, fried potatoes and fresh-brewed coffee. We don't often indulge, referring to this as a "special breakfast," but today strikes me as the perfect day to splurge.


I'll take my seat at the table, wrap my hands around a warm mug and gaze out the front window across the white, sunlit fields.

Special, indeed.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sponge-cake Rorschach

"...the Twinkie is a dynamic, complex food system, where the proteins (flour, caseinates, whey, and egg) build structure and the fat and sugar (oils, emulsifiers, and sweeteners of many kinds) fight with that structure, in order to provide moisture and tenderness." (Steve Ettlinger, author of Twinkie, Deconstructed, in which he reveals that a Hostess Twinkie comprises 39 ingredients)

"Deconstructing the Twinkie is like trying to deconstruct the universe. Some people look at the sky and think it's beautiful; others try to count the stars." (Interstate Bakeries Corporation, maker of Twinkies, in a 2007 statement)