Sunday, March 30, 2008

Where there's smoke

It's been over a year since health Nazis convinced voters to pass our statewide smoking ban.

For my wife and me, both smokers, going out to dinner hasn't been the same since -- so these days we rarely do.

It looks like we're not alone in waxing nostalgic over the after-dinner cigarette. Business is suffering at once-packed restaurants and bars. Even the courts and public-health officials are annoyed -- reportedly, every time a smoker appeals a $100 fine, it costs the government thousands of dollars just to make it stick.

A state statute designed, in theory, to protect us from ourselves and reduce health-care costs has, in practice, chipped away yet another right from free citizens, been bad for business, clogged the courts and cost the state untold millions.

One more big win for those who know best.

Last night, my wife and I climbed aboard the WABAC Machine when, by invitation, we walked into the smoke-filled atmosphere of a pub in a neighboring town.

Ashtrays graced the bar and tables. The front door was open to the main street, almost daring passers-by to call the county health department -- or to join us for a beer and a smoke.

An odd coexistence of civil disobedience and social intercourse, and it felt just right.

Such libertarian establishments are just as rare as further infringement of our freedoms is certain. Perhaps someday we'll untangle this increasingly repressive society but, sadly, the trend is moving in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pulse check: Campaign 2008

The Democrats are eating their young.

In an election year tailor-made for a Democratic walk-over, Hillary Clinton is giving new meaning to "blind ambition" -- if she can't win the nomination, by Christ, no Barack-come-lately is going to win it, either. Aided by scorched-earth surrogates, Sen. Clinton is obsessed with gutting and dividing her party, in the process weakening Democrats' chances in November.

The ruthlessness is breathtaking.

Predictably, Sen. Obama's high-road strategy is crumbling under siege. And party chair Howard Dean is powerless (which isn't really news).

Gov. Bill Richardson, he of Pres. Bill Clinton's administration, endorsed Sen. Obama and was labeled "Judas" by Clinton attack-dog James Carville. When given a chance to soften his incendiary comment, Carville responded:

“I was quoted accurately and in context, and I was glad to give the quote and I was glad I gave it. I’m not apologizing, I’m not resigning, I’m not doing anything.”
You gotta love it when a talking head doesn't backpedal.

Meantime, we're all trying to figure out how Sen. Clinton can repeatedly recount ducking snipers' bullets in Bosnia and then, when confronted by video showing that a Bosnian child handed her a bouquet of flowers and read her a poem, say this:

"I misspoke."
When Sen. John McCain said that Iran is aiding Sunni militants in Iraq, he misspoke. (Iran is helping Shiite extremists.) When Sen. Obama said he'd discuss trade with "the president of Canada," he misspoke. (Canada has a prime minister, not a president.)

Sen. Clinton didn't misspeak. She exaggerated for political advantage -- period. No other explanation passes The Smell Test.

Any citizen with an ounce of independence now should question her assertions of "35 years of experience" -- along with the rest of the posing, pandering and posturing we hear from the world of politics.

With apologies to
Jack Cafferty, it is indeed getting ugly out there.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bugging, Part IV: The Right Stuff

Considering what's at stake when preparing for the worst, it's no surprise that people are constantly looking for the perfect, ideal or ultimate something-or-other -- as if owning the best is some sort of talisman against misfortune.

Sure, some gear is better than other gear, and preparedness does involve putting together the right stuff. An unrestrained "shopping list mentality," however, misses this fundamental point:

The best SHTF stuff available is the stuff I have when the SHTF.

Not having the ideal stuff becomes so much spilled milk then, doesn't it? At that moment, what I have is what I have. It must be as capable and as reliable as it can be, and I need to know just how good it is.

Don't skip over that last point. I'm talking about testing -- actually using -- my SHTF stuff and, more important, developing the skills and ability to use it well.

If I own a genuine Swedish Army firesteel but haven't used it to start a fire in the pouring rain, I'm putting my family's survival at risk. Without training and practice, my tacticool carbine becomes about as useful as a Louisville Slugger. If I'm in poor physical shape, my mountain bike isn't going to be much good as SHTF transportation.

Singer, not song.

Although my family's kit comprises the best stuff we can justify, I lose no sleep pining for ideal SHTF gear, nor do I consider us somehow doomed or defenseless without it. I believe we're better off acquiring stuff that's capable and reliable, then acquiring the skills to use it effectively -- beginning with familiarity, striving for proficiency, and pursuing mastery.

Bugging, Part I: Securing the Castle
Bugging, Part II: My Tin Hat
Bugging, Part III: In or Out?

Bugging, Part III: In or Out?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go? (The Clash)

Many of us consider evacuation more likely than it actually is.

Outside of the geographic areas that regularly deal with floods, wildfires, hurricanes and other natural hazards, in most crises the vast majority of Americans should stay put, at least in the short term.

Whatever the crisis, whether my family stays or goes, our over-riding concern will be our own safety, survival and defense. Those considerations -- not sentiment or the well-meaning advice of public officials -- will drive our decisions.

What's more, altruism and benevolence have no place in our plan. Sound selfish? You bet it is -- becoming a charity during a serious crisis is akin to committing suicide.

Let the prepared survive.

Stocked for Survival
Naturally, our home holds the largest stores of what we'd need to survive for an extended period:
  • Water, or the ability to gather & purify water
  • Food, or the ability to gather & prepare food
  • Shelter & warmth, or the ability to find shelter & create warmth
  • Tools
  • First aid & medical
  • Communications
  • Defense

I won't include a detailed checklist here -- that's not really the point of this installment, and besides, each of us has different needs -- but I do suggest taking full advantage of the WWWeb. Among the resources we've found useful:

We prefer to download Adobe Acrobat (*.pdf) files whenever possible, saving them for later reference offline.

There's No Place Like Home
Where we live, there are few reasons that my family and I would need to "bug out." As described in Part II, we've researched hazards and threats, and we've concluded that our best shelter and most defensible position is right here -- what's known as shelter-in-place.

Safety, survival and defense become more difficult while on the move and, ideally, most everything is simpler in familiar surroundings -- by itself, that's reason enough to shelter-in-place. In addition, our home is well-equipped and well-stocked, and yes, we know what it can provide, but we've gone beyond everyday familiarity and stockpiling.

Within a two-mile radius of our home, for example, we know where natural water supplies are located. (We're mindful, of course, that surface water may not be an option under some circumstances.) In the same area, we know where we can forage for edible plants and hunt game. We've practiced small-scale sustenance gardening, with the goal of expanding it if the need arises. And since the nature of home defense changes during a prolonged crisis, we've created a precise map of the perimeter around our home, out to 600 yards.

The last point I'll make is the need, in my opinion, to keep a low profile. Since most people won't be adequately prepared for a crisis, the quickest way for a prepared family to become a target family would be to shelter-in-place with generator whirring, house lights aglow, and gas-fired grill sizzling on the deck -- dumb and dangerous.

Time to Go
"Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man." (Gen. George S. Patton)
A stay-or-go "pivot point" may present itself at the outset of a crisis, or something may force our hand later, or it may not happen at all.

If we do choose to leave our home behind, we'll make that decision because it's in the best interest of our family's safety, survival and defense. We won't leave because everyone around us is leaving, and we won't stay for sentimental reasons.

That said, we've prepared for two bug-out scenarios: Light (one or two people) and Full (family).

Our grab-and-go packs are subsets of our shelter-in-place stores. Each member of our family has ultra-minimalist kit for a light evacuation. Obviously and necessarily, we'd tote more in a full bug-out. Again, our supplies include provisions for water, food, shelter, etc.

We've mapped primary and contingency routes, rendezvous sites and retreat locales, along with potential hazards and threats -- a calculated bug-out, if you will, not a random dash. Our destinations do not include public shelters -- we refuse, categorically, to join the masses of refugees who chose not to prepare.

Note that I haven't mentioned the word "evacuation" to describe my family's plans. We prefer to call it "bug-out" or "retreat," because we have our own routes and destinations. Despite the fact that we may be putting distance between ourselves and a threat or a hazard, we'd be moving toward something, not merely running away.

Bugging home
Finally, here's an often-ignored piece of the preparedness puzzle: the virtual certainty that our family won't be conveniently assembled when the SHTF. I may be at home, my wife at work, the spawns at school.

That's when preparedness planning becomes especially crucial. Everyone must know the plan and execute their responsibilities -- no freelancing. My wife will bug home if she can; ideally, she'll pick up the spawns on her way. If it's apparent that shelter-in-place is impossible and a bug-out is called for, the drill is to follow the primary route and try to assemble at established checkpoints.

And so on.

Of course, as countless military leaders have observed, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy."

Still, whether we stay or go, we're glad that we have a plan.

We hope we never have to use it.

Bugging, Part I: Securing the Castle
Bugging, Part II: My Tin Hat
Bugging, Part IV: The Right Stuff

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bugging, Part II: My Tin Hat

A few weeks ago, my older spawn presented me with my very own tinfoil hat.

Okay, I do spend a fair amount of time preparing myself and my family to survive under less-than-ideal circumstances. That's because I believe that the future, whatever it looks like, will belong to those who prepare -- not out of unchecked cynicism, but with a firm grip on the risks present in today's world.

Some among us are obsessed with Red Dawn scenarios,
SHTF, TEOTWAWKI and the like. I don't (and won't) belittle those folks -- in fact, I've learned a lot from their approach to preparedness. I've just attacked it a bit differently.

The Mindset
Everyday life has a set of rules and resources dictated by personal obligations and societal norms. My fundamental responsibility is to function and prosper in that context.

For me, preparation happens within the context of everyday life, not at its expense -- that is, I don't live each day as if it's TEOTWAWKI, but I know what I need to do to prepare and survive.

I live my life, taking advantage of its opportunities, neither paranoid nor naive.

The Lay of the Land
It's tempting (and typical) to begin the preparedness process with a shopping list and an evacuation route, ignoring what I believe is the first and most important step: assessing risk.

So, with the invaluable aid of
Google and Microsoft Streets & Trips, I've plotted relevant risks, hazards and resources.

What could possibly threaten my peaceful rural-suburban home in the Midwest? In terms of natural hazards:
  • Tsunami: No risk.
  • Hurricane: No risk.
  • Wildfire: Negligible risk.
  • Earthquake: Negligible risk.
  • Landslide: No risk.
  • Tornado: Moderate risk.
  • Flood: Moderate risk in the surrounding area; negligible risk to my home.
That list is obvious and straightforward. Now, what man-made characteristics could pose a risk?
  • Rail: Two active freight lines pass through the 10-mile radius around my home, running a total of 42 miles in length, with one coming as close as 1.25 miles and the other 2 miles away. Also, there's a major rail yard 10 miles WNW.
  • Airports: A major airport lies 10 miles NW, and another is 10 miles WSW; the latter is the preferred arrival-and-departure point for high-ranking government officials and other dignitaries, since it shares facilities with an Air National Guard base. There's also a small airport 10 miles SE.
  • Power plants, nuclear: None within 150 miles.
  • Power plants, coal: One, 15 miles WSW.
  • Utility transmission, electricity: One 345kV+ high-tension run passes within 1.5 miles.
  • Utility transmission, natural gas: One large transmission line passes within a half-mile of my home; a major pipeline passes 45 miles SE.
  • Municipal water supplies: Three well-sites within 5 miles; five water-storage towers within 5 miles.
  • Biohazards: A sewage-treatment facility 0.5mi N.
  • Radiation hazards: None within 25 miles; numerous nuclear pharmacies and two NRC-regulated sites within 35 miles.
  • Military: An Air National Guard base 10 miles WSW, and a major national-defense supply depot 10 miles NW. Numerous bases, installations and armories within 50 miles.
  • Other: After a local televangelist recently called for the destruction of Islam, his statements appeared widely in the Arab media. His church's two large facilities are 1.5 miles and 3.5 miles NW of my home.
I'm willing to bet that most of my neighbors are largely unaware of what surrounds us. Most people either don't care or don't take the time to find out.

For example, there's a major NSA listening post nestled deep in the West Virginia mountains, and yet most of the locals (like most Americans) remain blissfully ignorant -- a common mistake and, in my opinion, a dangerous one. I do my best to avoid making it.

Finally, I've identified various emergency-assistance resources in close proximity to my home, keeping in mind that some of these services (or all of them) may be unavailable in an emergency situation:
  • Tornado sirens: Two within 5 miles, with the closest 1.5 miles away.
  • Fire/EMS: Five stations within 5 miles, with the closest 2 miles' travel.
  • Law enforcement: Four stations within 5 miles, with the closest 2 miles' travel.
  • Medical: The closest hospital is 10 miles' travel; there are two urgent-care clinics, three medical-arts facilities and at least six pharmacies within 5 miles.
  • Food & provisions: Within a 5-mile radius are three large groceries, five mass-merchandisers and ten convenience stores. There are three produce farms within 10 miles.
  • Defense: Three mass-merchandisers, both within 5 miles, sell ammunition; there are three FFL retailers within 10 miles, with the closest 5 miles away.
  • Fuel: More than a dozen gas stations and five propane stations within 5 miles.
All of this information, taken together and especially in the face of a present danger, helps form the basis for every preparedness-and-survival decision that follows.

Bugging, Part I: Securing the Castle
Bugging, Part III: In or Out?
Bugging, Part IV: The Right Stuff

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Present ambition

"Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow."

(from Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig)

Friday, March 21, 2008

How to swing an election

The year was 1950. In the Florida primary campaign for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Claude Pepper faced challenger George Smathers.

Long before "swing voter" became part of our electoral lexicon, Smathers knew what he had to do: appeal to uneducated rural Floridians.

According to Time magazine, the Smathers stump speech went like this:

"Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert?

"Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York!

"Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, he habitually practiced celibacy!"

(No doubt Smathers also accused Pepper of masticating at the dinner table, even as an adult.)

This was no Norm Crosby malaprop routine. It was calculated to exploit ignorance in order to inflame fear. And it worked -- Smathers beat Pepper by a reported 67,000 votes.

In 1999, David Howard, a white aide to Washington, D.C.'s African-American mayor Anthony Williams, used the word "
niggardly" in discussing a city budget with co-workers -- one of whom, Marshall Brown, presumed (incorrectly) that Howard had uttered some sort of racial slur.

Predictably, a flap followed. Howard was forced to resign ten days later -- even though "niggardly" isn't a racial slur (it means "miserly") and doesn't share etymological origins with the infamous "n-word." No, David Howard was vilified because he'd used sixty-four-dollar language that sounded suspiciously offensive.

That Mayor Williams ultimately reinstated Howard is entirely beside the point. Ignorance was rewarded, and fear gained ground that it still holds.

For present-day equivalents, look no further than your e-mail inbox. There you'll find messages trying to persuade you that Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is Muslim (
false) and that he intends to take the presidential oath-of-office on the Quran (false).

Better yet, spend some time listening to political talk radio -- left- or right-leaning, it doesn't matter. The poster boy for appealing to listeners' ignorance might be Rush Limbaugh, if it weren't for Cincinnati's Bill Cunningham.

Cunningham and his ilk repeatedly invoke Sen. Obama's middle name and then feign innocence. ("What's wrong with that? That's his name, isn't it?") Their game isn't to link the candidate to anything truly sinister. They know that today's electorate, like the Florida voters of 1950, are just as easily swayed by something that simply sounds sinister.

Ignorance reigns. Fear flames. Votes swing.

Of course, you're smarter than that.

Aren't you?

The truth about 'talk radio'

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The way it should be

Let's get one thing out of the way, right up front.

I'm a life-long fan of Ohio State football.

I attended my first game in The 'Shoe in 1962, watching the wizardry of a young halfback named Paul Warfield. A personally autographed photo of Woody Hayes has adorned my wall everywhere I've lived over the last thirty-nine years. If you cut me, I bleed Scarlet and Gray.

But this isn't about football.

In October of 2001, I stood in section 8A of Ohio Stadium with a friend, an officer in the Ohio Air National Guard. We cheered the pre-game tradition of The Ohio State University Marching Band. Then, as the snares rolled, we proudly began to sing our national anthem.

The Stars and Stripes sailed briskly skyward. One-hundred-six-thousand voices were raised.

And twice as many eyes wept.

It was the first home game after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

In that moment, in my fortieth year of tracing that autumn ritual, I saw a familiar stadium tradition as something much more.

Virtually every big-time sporting event is preceded by the Star-Spangled Banner, of course. Often it's a performance by some recording artist who's promoting a new album or an upcoming tour.

That's just wrong.

The national anthem is our national anthem -- it should be joined and sung by The People, not performed for The People. The People should celebrate -- insist on celebrating -- the privilege of honoring our freedom in unison.

On that October day, I shared these thoughts with my game-day companion. She smiled and said, "That wasn't just our national anthem. It was common prayer."


To every high school, college, sports franchise and racing organization that respects The People and our national anthem: Thank you.

That's the way it should be.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Political refreshment

I've admired David Gergen's thoughtful independence for many years. I enjoyed his bantering with Mark Shields on PBS in the '80s and '90s, and these days I look forward to hearing his perspective as a political analyst for CNN and MSNBC.

Last night, the punditocracy was all over Sen. Barack Obama's "
A More Perfect Union" speech. (Natch.) Gergen, appearing on CNN, observed:
" other thing about the speech that I think really stood out, (Obama is) one of the rare figures...who speaks to us as adults.

"We have been so accustomed to our political leaders talking to us like children, that to have someone stand up and give a serious talk and face up to the issues that are on everybody's was a serious conversation...that's refreshing..."
Once again, Mr. Gergen, you've nailed it.

Sen. Obama may not get my vote for President of the United States, but he has my support for what he brings to American politics.

His voice, not Sen. Hillary Clinton's, is the one we should hear from the Democratic Party during this fall's campaign. A national conversation between Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain will, in my opinion, serve the American people far better than the alternative.

At a time when an ignorant and shallow electorate can be influenced by patently puerile tactics, it may be naive to think that we can move politics off the playground and into the classroom.

But if we do, if we can, we'll be better off four years from now -- no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bugging, Part I: Securing the Castle

First thing every morning, I confront a stark reality: This is not the world I grew up in.

Howdy Doody Time is over. The Beaver has left the stage. Happy Days? Only in re-runs. By any measure, this is a far more dangerous world than the one in which we lived even a decade ago.

Our enemies, once marked by flags and isolated from us by borders and oceans, now are shadows that move among us. Law enforcement and homeland-security professionals, brave and dedicated as they are, cannot stem the tide of illegal immigration or prevent grandstand-style homicides. Home invasions are as common as fender-benders on the freeway.

It's time to live our lives accordingly -- not paranoid, but prepared.

The first and best place to tackle today's reality, I believe, is at home. Secure castle, hearth and family, then expand security preparations outward.

My family and I have spent a lot of time on home security and defense. Here, in general terms, is our approach.

I married well -- my bride was working in private security when we met, trained professionally in security and defensive tactics. For the purposes of home security and defense, however, her skills are perhaps less relevant than her mindset.

When we bought our home, we addressed locks and lighting immediately. We also scouted the property and formulated our plan for electronic measures.

Then we chose a system installer -- a 20-year-old moonlighter, the relative of a co-worker -- and that's when the fertilizer met the ventilator. Hard.

The kid's electrical work was solid, if slow, but he hit a wall when it came to programming the system. When we told him that we'd withhold further payment until the system was operational, he bolted for our basement and started ripping live electrical lines from the joists. Fortunately, my hand-to-hand skills weren't as rusty as I thought, and I was successful in persuading him (and his brother, who made the fracas two-on-one) to leave.

What happened to us was the embarrassing result of several bad choices, illustrating how important it is to choose a skilled, experienced and trustworthy installer. Get professional and personal references -- don't make the choice based on an infomercial or a Yellow Pages ad.

Or nepotism, for that matter.

Long story short, we now have three-level electronic security, with a fourth to come. Belt and suspenders, if you will.

Even the best security system is no guarantee against intrusion, so the next step was preparing to defend our home.

My personal choice of a home-defense handgun was based largely on my wife’s primary. Why? They share the same manual-of-arms and the same caliber, which means that we don't have to perform mental gymnastics if one or the other becomes a backup under stress. Likewise a pair of kissing-cousin shotguns, which join a rifle kitted specifically for home defense.

Because our spawns are in their curious and hormone-charged teens, our defensive weapons and ammunition are always secured -- but they’re secured in such a way that my wife and I can access them in seconds.
Finally, we acknowledge that the most important part of choosing firearms to defend our home is professional training. As Col. Jeff Cooper said:
"You are no more armed because you own a gun than you are a musician because you own a piano. The instrument is not the answer; the skill to use the instrument is the answer."
Other hardware & software
Completing the picture, in no particular order:
  • Our mobile phones are either on the belt or charging at the bedside.
  • We're equipped with weapon-mounted and hand-held SureFire flashlights and numerous handy Maglites.
  • A pair of alarm dogs are effective flesh-and-blood adjuncts to our electronic system.
  • We've posted generic electronic-security signs conspicuously around the property, to discourage opportunists.
  • We cultivate a good relationship with our monitoring service, which knows our duress and hostage codes.
  • Our system incorporates a “cell backup” in case our land line is down or has been cut.
  • Each member of our family carries a panic fob.

Plan & drill
We believe that the real key to surviving a threat is our plan. We've designated a primary "safe room," and our spawns have “safe places” where they can hunker down in relative concealment and cover until we can reel them into the safe room (or if we can’t).

We've established code words to communicate threat (intruder), acknowledgement (the equivalent of “Marco...Polo”) and all clear. That may seem like a contrivance, but our spawns know the difference between “C’mon out, everything’s ok” and the code for that condition -- no secret word, no safety, stay put.

Most important, we drill our plan -- daylight, low light and no light -- with the goal of survival-in-place until law enforcement arrives. No heroics, no machismo.

Security first, survival second, defense as a last resort.

About Castle Doctrine
Preparing to employ armed defense to protect oneself and one's family is a personal choice and, thanks to our elected officials, not at all a simple one.

The crux here is called
Castle Doctrine, and whether or not it applies varies from state to state. It designates a person's place of residence (and in some states a person's vehicle or workplace) as a "castle" in which that person may expect to enjoy protection from illegal trespassing and violent attack. It gives a person the legal right to use deadly force to defend that "castle," and other innocent persons legally within, from violent attack or intrusion which threatens violent attack.

Fundamentally, Castle Doctrine enables a person's right to self-defense, trumping the misguided "duty to retreat" principle and the idiotic mandate that a person use only proportionate force against an attacker. And legally speaking, it permits the criminal defense of "justifiable homicide" when the use of deadly force actually causes death.

Castle Doctrine is
not a get-out-of-jail-free card, and again, it's not universal. It's also important to note that the law almost never permits armed defense of property -- only life. Each of us is obliged to know our state and local laws and make our own choices. And if we choose to make armed defense part of protecting self and family, professional training is a must.

Bugging, Part II: My Tin Hat
Bugging, Part III: In or Out?
Bugging, Part IV: The Right Stuff

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fulcrum: DC v. Heller

fulcrum / ful·crum /ˈfʊlkrəm, ˈfʌl-/ noun / the support,
or point of rest, on which a lever turns in moving a body.

For those of us who hold sacred Amendment II of the Constitution for the United States of America, the future of our right to keep and bear arms sits atop a judicial fulcrum.

On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a landmark case, District of Columbia v. Heller, marking the first time in nearly 70 years that a Second Amendment challenge to a firearms law has reached the high court. The District is appealing a 2007 D.C. Circuit Court ruling affirming that our Constitution guarantees an individual's right to keep and bear arms, and that D.C.'s bans on handguns, carrying firearms within the home, and possession of loaded or operable firearms for self-defense violate that right. Specifically:

"[T]he phrase 'the right of the people,' when read intratextually and in light of Supreme Court precedent, leads us to conclude that the right in question is individual."

The District also had argued that the Second Amendment doesn't apply because D.C. isn't a state, a claim rejected by the lower court.

In the face of repeated and persistent attacks on our Second Amendment rights, gun owners have been heaving on a short stick for the last three decades. If the Supreme Court agrees with the D.C. Circuit Court -- a big "if" -- and Heller goes our way, we'd begin to regain much-needed leverage.

Local and state infringement of Second Amendment rights wouldn't collapse automatically, of course, but they'd become vulnerable to challenge. Federal legislators' attempts to reinstate the so-called "Clinton Gun Ban" would confront a significant roadblock as well.

Like many judicial matters, however, Heller isn't necessarily a zero-sum proposition; that is, the Supreme Court's ruling, which likely will be issued in June, may be neither a complete victory nor a total loss -- for either side.

Complicating matters further is the fact that 2008 is a presidential election year, and that two of the three remaining candidates (or all three, depending on one's level of pessimism) pose potential threats to individuals' Second Amendment rights -- to say nothing of the current makeup of the U.S. Congress.

We already know that gun-control advocates will take extreme measures to circumvent the Constitution, and even with a pro-Second Amendment outcome in the Heller case they'd surely employ new and creative ways to disarm law-abiding American citizens.

Let's say, optimistically, that the Supreme Court affirms, categorically, the lower court's ruling. With all-out gun bans difficult at best, it's reasonable to predict that we'd see myriad proposals to tax virtually everything related to our constitutional right to keep and bear arms -- guns, ammunition, parts -- and oppressive new licensing-and-registration regulations.

One way or another, attacks on American citizens' Second Amendment rights will continue, perhaps even intensify, and gun owners need to disabuse themselves of the notion that "they wouldn't dare."

They would, and they will. Count on it.

To be clear, then, this is the constitutional guarantee at stake:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

If you believe that affirms an individual citizen's right to keep and bear arms, it's time to back up your belief with action. Join the National Rifle Association or state-level advocacy organization, or both, and become familiar with the issues. Get active. Be vocal.

After all, as it's often said, the Second Amendment guarantees the one right that protects every other right that American citizens enjoy. Don't let our elected officials run roughshod over it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Springtime ritual

This time last week, I was pushing 20-plus inches of heavy, wet snow off my driveway. The storm set an all-time record in this part of the country, closing schools, making travel a challenge and reminding us that Nature remains in charge.

Thanks to six days of moderate temps and a good bit of rain, my homemade snow drifts are all but gone. Stepping outside with my morning coffee, I close my eyes and feel the sun on my face, tempted to welcome spring.

And then I remember that the previous snowfall record was produced 21 years ago by an April storm.

Still, March 15th marks the first day of spring, my spring, the day when I liberate my motorcycles from winter storage. It's a familiar annual ritual.

Brew a pot of coffee. Gather wallet, keys, helmet, jacket, gloves and boots. Trundle out to the garage. Turn on the radio. Pull the covers off the bikes. Check tire pressures. Roll each machine to the door, switch the fuel petcock to ON, turn the key -- a silent prayer is optional at this point -- and press the starter button.

If I've done my November pre-storage ritual just right and charged the batteries periodically throughout the winter months, the next sound I'll hear will be the satisfying (if hesitant) sound of internal combustion.

Yesterday was a perfectly satisfying day.

Each bike got a brief ride, long enough to bring the machine's fluids up to operating temperature (and the rider to the brink of hypothermia). With the mercury just shy of 40 degrees yesterday, the former took longer than the latter.

Despite the chill, it was exhilarating. Like waking after a long nap.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

'Independent citizen-patriot'

I suppose this calls for a brief explanation.

I'm a citizen of the United States of America. As one who reaps the benefits of my citizenship, I pay my taxes. I vote. If I'm called to serve in just defense of my country, I'll serve. And because I'm a citizen of this nation and not of its government, I'm also obliged to raise my voice in dissent when our elected officials are, in this citizen's opinion, in error.

I'm proud to be an American. Although I often find the actions of our government misguided and shameful, I'm never ashamed to be an American. I'm a patriot. I honor our military veterans, revel in the singing of our national anthem and weep unashamedly at the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

I exercise thoughtful, independent judgment. I chafe against political parties, sweeping ideologies and other pigeonholes. I'm neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal nor conservative. Donning an artificial label simply because I favor a particular position or candidate is akin to claiming to be a canoe because I went for a swim in the river.

It's a beginning.

Thirty years ago, this Midwestern soul found its home at the edge of the Montana wilderness.

In a remote corner of Glacier National Park, at the northern terminus of the North Fork Road, I discovered Kintla Lake. During the brilliant summer of 1978, this cold, clear jewel both soothed and inspired. It became the jumping-off point for a long and solitary trek into the mountains. And it's become the touchstone for virtually every conscious thought I've had since.

It's fitting, then, that Kintla Lake marks the beginning of this blog. What follows will be the seasoned result of a journey that began three decades ago.