Monday, June 30, 2008

Kicking & screaming

The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that an American citizen's Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed by the Second Amendment, is individual and not strictly collective.

Great -- that means that a resident of the District of Columbia, at the very least, can scoot down to a gun shop and buy a handgun, right?


Here, according to The Washington Post, is the text of a memo to DC residents, issued last Thursday by Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier:

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court today struck down part of the District of Columbia's handgun ban. I wanted to drop you a note to let you know the immediate impact of this decision.

The Supreme Court's ruling is limited and leaves intact various other laws that apply to private residents who would purchase handguns or other firearms for home possession. It is important that everyone know that:

First, all firearms must be registered with the Metropolitan Police Department's Firearms Registration Section before they may be lawfully possessed.

Second, automatic and semiautomatic handguns generally remain illegal and may not be registered.

Third, the Supreme Court's ruling is limited to handguns in the home and does not entitle anyone to carry firearms outside his or her own home.

Lastly, although the Court struck the safe storage provision on the ground that it was too broadly written, in my opinion firearms in the home should be kept either unloaded and disassembled or locked.

I will comply with the Court's reading of the Second Amendment in its letter and spirit. At the same time, I will continue to vigorously enforce the District's other gun-related laws. I will also continue to find additional ways to protect the District's residents against the scourge of gun violence.

We can be forgiven, I think, for getting a measure of satisfaction from watching Chief Lanier heave on a short stick for a change. And sure, it may be only a matter of time before the notoriously provincial chief and Mayor Adrian Fenty fully grasp their "new normal" -- but no one should've expected DC government to surrender quietly after Heller came down.

The resistance we're seeing from DC will be played out, to a greater or lesser degree, virtually every time we challenge an infringement of our Second Amendment rights -- case in point, the Illinois village of Oak Park. Here's what Village Manager Tom Barwin said about the high court's ruling:
"It's just completely befuddling that our Supreme Court would be in alliance with the gangbangers."
Another Chicago suburb has one of the nation's oldest gun bans, and Mayor Richard Krier's statement is somewhat more realistic:
"The Supreme Court has issued a ruling concerning the Second Amendment. The Village of Morton Grove is in the process of reviewing this decision to determine how it applies to the Village’s ordinance. The Village has every intention of complying with this decision. The Village’s Corporation Counsel will review this U.S. Supreme Court decision and the Village will comply with its direction."
Morton Grove Village Manager Joe Wade, speaking to NPR, is downright encouraging:
"We're going to propose an ordinance that would eliminate the possession-of-handgun ban within the village."
And so it will go from here.

It's important to acknowledge that Heller is foundational, not (by itself) constructive. Last week's landmark affirmation of our individual right to keep and bear arms forms a crucial basis for battles we've wanted to fight for decades -- but it doesn't declare total victory immediately or automatically.

So now it's "game on." Let's be about the business of winning.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Calibrating our filters

In discussing our futile attempts to build islands, I suggested that they're the result of a foolish pursuit of purity. If we acknowledge that creating purity involves removing pollutants, particulates and the like, what is it we're trying to get rid of?

That's easy: bullshit.

The illusion of purity presumes that we can create bullshit-free zones -- a new club, political party, church, community, Internet forum or whatever -- which is, of course, impossible.

We might think we're creating purity, but what we're really doing is trading one form of bullshit for another. Republican bullshit for libertarian, public for private, Catholic for Protestant. Your bullshit for mine.

This morning I revisited On Bullshit, the popular 2005 essay by Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University. I offer here the essay's last three paragraphs.
"Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person's obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled -- whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others -- to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country's affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person's opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.

"The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These 'antirealist' doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of
correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.

"But it is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things,and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial -- notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit."

In an age in which we're inundated by information, opinion and ideology, On Bullshit should be required reading. Obviously, Prof. Frankfurt's words can help us calibrate the filters we use to process what we take in -- and perhaps temper our delusions about the islands we try to create.

Most important, we'll see that his perspective is invaluable in recognizing our own bullshit.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Meet the hamsters

Bugging, Part II included a list of natural and man-made hazards that could affect our home. I characterized flooding to be of "moderate risk in the surrounding area; negligible risk to my home."

Last night into this morning, Nature dumped five inches of rain on us, so we got to find out just how accurate FEMA's flood maps are.

Pretty damned accurate, as it turns out, with the exception of one rural road that saw some unexpected flash flooding, probably due to runoff from a large housing development built after the maps were created.

Our home stayed high and dry, but the road in front of us was a different story. A half-mile south, four feet of water made it impassable; the situation a quarter-mile north was no better. The only possible passable outlet was through the housing development to our west.

I volunteered to scout a dry commuting route for my wife while she readied herself for work. While I was out, I paused in several places to photograph the floodwaters. One after another, passing drivers stopped to ask me the same question:

"How do I get out of here?"

I didn't mind being helpful -- that's what neighbors do. No, what struck me was these folks' apparent cluelessness about the basic layout and topography of the very neighborhood in which they live.

Some were merely befuddled, while others bordered on panic -- one practically begged me to get into my car and lead her to safety. These people were just commuting to work, for cryin' out loud, and I found myself wondering how they'd fare if they were actually required to evacuate.

Perish the thought.

Such naiveté shouldn't surprise us, really. Most Americans live like hamsters, spinning on the Habitrail of our daily rituals, perilously ignorant of what exists outside our neat little cages. As long as we get food, water and fresh bedding, we just keep spinning.

Until something upsets our rituals, that is -- even something as absurdly simple as high water that blocks our familiar route to work.

Tonight brings both good and bad news. The good news is that the floodwaters have receded and all of the local roads are passable.

The bad news? It's raining again -- hard.

Here we go again...

An individual right, affirmed

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia's oppressive ban on handguns violates individual citizens' right to keep and bear arms, a right guaranteed by Amendment II of the Constitution for the United States of America.

For millions of law-abiding gun owners, these are the words we've been waiting to hear:

"In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense."

"...the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home. Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct." (Justice Scalia, writing for the majority)

Such an affirmation is unprecedented -- this is the first time that the high court has addressed "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" as an individual right.

It's important to note that the Court left room for "reasonable restrictions" (so-called):

"Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." (Justice Scalia, writing for the majority)

Some gun owners will look at that aspect of the opinion, along with the narrow 5-4 majority and other factors, and characterize the ruling as something short of a win.


There's the old story about a lifeguard who braved crashing waves to rescue a small boy floundering in the surf. When he brought the child, safe and sound, back to his mother's loving arms, she sneered, "He had a hat."

I refuse to look at Heller like the mom looked at the lifeguard.

Viewed in the bright light of realism, we've claimed a significant victory -- what we could win today, we won. Practically speaking, the Court's decision compels the anti-gun crowd to cede valuable leverage to those of us who cherish our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

So today, we celebrate.

Tomorrow, we go back to work, because those who seek to rob us of our Second Amendment rights won't be taking the day off -- we can be absolutely sure of that.

District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290) (pdf)
Fulcrum: DC v. Heller

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Musical odyssey

Loving you is sweet salvation
Baby, there's no measure to your worth
Now it's your love that makes me
So I'll follow where it takes me
Even to the edge of the earth
I first heard those words, wrapped in Little Big Town's lush harmonies, last night. Both the lyrics and the music surrounding them echo a path I've traveled over the last 35 years.

My personal music library spans the spectrum, from E. Power Biggs to AC/DC, but my tastes tend toward the acoustic. I know that makes me something of a dinosaur. So be it.

When I started playing guitar in my late teens, I wore out the grooves of many a John Denver album. Later, the music of the late Dan Fogelberg served as life's soundtrack. Likewise Jackson Browne and Bruce Hornsby.

Along the way I've discovered Gove Scrivenor, Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Richard Thompson, Shawn Mullins, Dwight Yoakam, Jerry Douglas, Leo Kottke and dozens of other brilliant musicians.

Music is best experienced in three dimensions and with all five senses -- and I don't mean taking in an arena concert from the nosebleed seats. I've had the good fortune to be in the immediate presence of McGuffey Lane, Jon Pousette-Dart, Livingston Taylor, Stony Creek Band and more.

That presence, especially in small venues, has created moments that glisten in my memory.

An easy conversation with Liv Taylor before a performance, discussing the risks of his playing banjo publicly before truly learning how. Chatting up members of Danger Brothers between Hineygate sets. Being summoned to the mic by Déjà Blue's Andie Pearson to belt-out my best basso profundo on "Mustang Sally."

Standing onstage beside Chan Goodnow of Stony Creek Band, feeling him pour his irrepressible talent into his mandolin. Taking a quiet moment to thank Dick Smith, McGuffey Lane's original drummer, for his gifts to all of us.

Recalling Dick Smith brings me to my particular musical touchstone -- not a song, not an artist, but a place called Zachariah's Red-Eye Saloon.

Zach's opened in the mid-1970s in an old warehouse on High Street across from the Ohio State campus, quickly becoming the "mother church" of central Ohio's music scene. The club attracted its share of big-name touring acts, but its heartbeat was local artists. McGuffey Lane was the unofficial "house band."

Then a sophomore at OSU, I'd often forgo my studies in favor of music at Zach's. I'd grab a table in front of the stage, nursing the same beer all night long while trying to steal guitar licks.

The time, the age, the music -- together, pure magic.

Less than two years later, I moved away from Columbus. Eventually, Zach's closed its doors and the stage went silent. It'd be almost 25 years before central Ohio would again become my home.

Not only did I find McGuffey Lane still making great music, I also learned that the band hosts an annual Zachariah's Red-Eye Reunion. At the close of the 2002 reunion, my first, a seasoned John Schwab and McGuffey Lane performed the debut of "Runnin' Wild and Free":
Those High Street days are still special to me
When Zachariah's was the place to be
For people like you and people like me
But I'm not one to live in the past
I learned long ago most things never last
And after all these years I'm runnin' wild and free...
Every bend in my musical path has been steered by the energy that flowed through me during those evenings at Zach's. And each time a piece of music touches me, it traces back to those sparkling days.

Even now, it's pure magic.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Home: Company that never leaves

Most visitors expect to be entertained by their hosts.

Our company entertains us.

Last Friday morning, I'd just finished watering the garden when a flutter of movement in the nearby pines caught my attention. Instinctively, my eyes tracked a pair of immature brown-headed cowbirds as they flew quickly past me and toward the side of the house.

Suddenly, I heard -- and felt -- the thump of much larger wings. A red-tailed hawk descended from a sycamore, scarcely ten feet from where I stood, and snatched one of the cowbirds out of the air. The hawk landed, pinning its prey to the ground, looked directly at me for an instant, then flew off across the soybean fields, the cowbird protesting all the way.

It was magnificent.

Four feeders help attract our winged company. We're visited by the typical house wrens, chickadees, goldfinches and the like, as well as cardinals, blue jays and flickers, even hummingbirds.

Showtime is after dinner, when my wife and I retire to the front porch. Along with the action at the feeders -- all within feet of our perch on the porch -- we also enjoy watching the life that teems in the fields and woodlands beyond.

Hawks and turkey vultures circle silently overhead. A fox springs and pounces across a field. Whitetail deer emerge at the edge of the woods and disappear again. Raccoons and groundhogs waddle here and there, seemingly where they like. Somewhere distant, a coyote howls.

Among the dozen or so resident cottontails is one we've taken to calling "Crip" -- short for "cripple," owing to a mangled hind leg that sticks out at a right angle to his body. Crip is no charity case -- he's adapted, becoming one of the oldest and most agile rabbits we've seen around. He must be almost two years old now. Crip is a survivor.

Nature isn't obligated to observe property lines and such, so sometimes "wild" becomes "annoyingly close." Twice we've had to evict a bat from our house, and we'd prefer that the groundhogs stop burrowing next to our foundation walls.

All the same, we never object to the rich web of life that drapes over and around us.

Home: Bounty in waiting

When we took up residence here two years ago, the place was, in a word, overgrown. We spent that first summer wielding an arsenal of bladed tools, preoccupied with pruning and digging, hacking and slashing, building a brush pile the size of a suburban garage.

Then last spring, we resurrected a small garden plot in a corner of our back yard. We tilled the soil with simple hand tools and spiked it with rich homemade compost, some of it a by-product of the previous year's labor.

Perhaps because we didn't have grand expectations for such a modest garden -- less than a hundred square feet of shallow topsoil over hard clay -- we were thrilled with the yield.

So we've planted again.

Working the soil was easier this year, thanks to an electric mini-tiller that my wife won in a sales contest. We added more organic material and built four raised beds. Into the tilled earth went an assortment of herb, tomato, pepper and cucumber plants, all from a local family-owned nursery, plus seeds for radishes, lettuce and peas.

Two weeks in, all of the seeds are up and every plant is thriving. And so we wait for this little patch of ground to give up, bit by bit, its bounty.

No store-bought candy compares to shelling and eating sweet peas, right from the vine. Fresh rosemary and parsley will grace a skillet of potatoes, basil and oregano will perfect a bowl of pasta, and chiles and cilantro will go into a pot of slow-cooked chili. Vine-ripened plum tomatoes and a medley of herbs, married by olive oil and a splash of vinegar, will come to rest on Provolone cheese and grilled Italian bread. By autumn, we'll open the first cured jar of refrigerator pickles made with homegrown cucumbers and dill.

While our garden isn't capable of feeding our family, it complements nicely the produce available from farmers' markets. It also hones skills and senses necessary for sustenance farming. And it reminds us of the difference between grabbing food from a bin and drawing it carefully from the earth.

These days, that reminder may be the best bounty of all.

Home: Raspberry meditation

In the soft morning light, I lean into a tangle of raspberry canes, in search of dark red fruit that will add a note of tartness to my breakfast.

The exercise is part meditation, part competition, and I choose morning for both reasons. I find relaxed deliberation and thoughtful choice a therapeutic way to begin my day -- and I beat the birds to berries that have ripened during the cool overnight hours.

We've surmised that one of our home's previous occupants planted the canes intentionally, along with several rose bushes. Years later now, the six-by-eight patch has grown completely wild. We have no wish to tame it.

Satisfied that I've harvested everything I can, I return to the house to wash the fruit and refresh my coffee. I leave behind hundreds of berries to ripen, awaiting future mornings' meditation.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Home: The lay of the land

Home is a sturdy house on a small patch of hilltop land, situated between two old villages typical of Middle America.

Less than two miles to the north, strip malls rise up and stretch to the Interstate five miles away. To the south, modest suburban homes gradually give way to farmland, bisected by another highway three miles distant.

Our western exposure abuts a residential mega-development, mercifully buffered by a large berm and an array of evergreens, honeysuckles and ornamental olives in our back yard. Across the street to the east is a vacant farmhouse and a group of decrepit outbuildings, surrounded by small, odd-shaped fields currently planted in soybeans. Beyond the fields, two hundred yards from our front door, is the tree line of a wood.

Our humble plot is by no means wooded, but the previous owners saw fit to dot it with red pine, blue spruce, yellow poplar, silver maple, early apple and sycamore. While the subsoil is hard clay, it yields reluctantly to vegetable and herb gardening. Water comes not from a remote reservoir, but from a well nestled among several pines.

All of this puts us in a place best described as rural suburbia -- not quite country living, but neither is it life in a pre-fab box on a postage stamp.

It's home.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Commerce, close to home

We've been urged to "Buy American!" for decades now. Our collective dedication to that principle waxes and wanes with the strength of the domestic economy, of course, but most of us still claim to be mindful -- if not always loyal.

And that's fine.

Truth is, it does the U.S. economy more long-term harm than short-term good when we buy inferior, overpriced or unnecessary goods simply because they're made here. Likewise, refusing to buy any product made in a particular country -- for some reason, China comes to mind -- strikes me as both misguided and futile.

As an independent citizen-patriot, sure, "Made in USA" matters to me. These days, however, I'm devoting my commercial attention even closer to home.

There may come a time when my closest neighbors and I will have to rely on each other completely for goods and services. As much as possible, then, I patronize local businesses, ideally independent shops in my township and town. My next preference is a 25-mile radius, followed by a 100-mile range and my state's borders.

Farmers' markets for baked goods, cheeses and produce that haven't crossed a county line, much less an ocean. The old barber shop in the center of the village, not the Mousse Mill in the strip mall. Breakfast at a diner owned by the grandson of the woman who opened it fifty years ago.

If a something needs fixing, I prefer a cramped hardware store to a cavernous home-improvement warehouse. There's a big-chain sporting-goods superstore five miles up the road and an independent gun shop 15 miles away, and if I need ammunition for a trip to the range, I'll choose the latter.

And so on.

Living this philosophy of personal commerce is an exercise in imperfection, and it does require forethought. I'm not inclined to drop the proverbial soap, though -- local shops still have to compete for my business, although generally I'll pay as much as 10% more to stay close to home. Lacking reasonable local options, I do buy some products via the Web.

In the context of global competitiveness, yes, it makes sense to buy American-made products. But when we draw our business even closer -- back home, where it belongs -- we strengthen our nation at its roots.

That's where we, the people, live.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sticker stock

I'm not big on plastering stickers all over my car, turning it into some sort of rolling billboard. I'm more than capable of speaking for myself.

There is, however, one sticker on the rear window of my daily driver:


According to Plutarch, "Μολὼν λαβέ" -- or, "Come and take them!" -- was the response of Spartan King Leonidas to Xerxes of Persia at Thermopylae. Xerxes, whose forces greatly outnumbered the Spartans, had offered to spare the lives of Leonidas and his warriors if they laid down their weapons and surrendered.

In military history, "Μολὼν λαβέ" is equivalent to U.S. General Anthony McAuliffe's reply -- "Nuts!" -- to a German commander's invitation to surrender at Bastogne during World War II. And in the face of repeated attacks on American citizens' Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, "Μολὼν λαβέ" has become a latter-day "sign of the fish" (ἰχθύς) among defenders of the Second Amendment.

The significance of the sticker on my car is no secret in our home -- the subject of Second Amendment rights often comes up around the family dinner table -- but I was a bit surprised when our older spawn asked my permission to put an identical sticker on his own car.

I was instantly proud of his desire to express support for our right to keep and bear arms, but it didn't take me long to envision that sticker prompting school authorities to consider him a threat to safety and security -- constitutionally guaranteed free speech is one thing, post-Columbine reality another, and Μολὼν λαβέ could be perceived as a dare, a taunt, a prelude to school violence.

So, with that explanation, I said "no" to our spawn's request. Predictably, he didn't understand my logic, but he accepted my decision and left the room disappointed.

Not wanting to squash completely our spawn's apparent enthusiasm for the principle, I spoke with my wife about proposing an alternative to the Μολὼν λαβέ sticker. She liked the idea, and we summoned him back into the room.

We told him that if he wanted to put a National Rifle Association sticker on his car, he'd have our complete and unequivocal support -- but since only NRA members can rightfully display such an emblem, he'd first have to become a member (dues paid with his own money, of course). His choice.

He joined the NRA online before his head hit the pillow that night.

Now he's doing more than just making a shallow (if sincere) statement with adhesive-backed vinyl -- he's invested, literally, in the defense of our Second Amendment rights. His investment also creates incentives and opportunities for education, giving him a better chance of becoming an informed advocate.

And the world has one less poseur.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cold, cold water

In an earlier series of posts, I wrote about my family's approach to "bugging" -- by no means gospel, not even a primer, simply a humble and personal description of what we do.

Preparedness accounts for security, survival and defense "when the worst happens." Some call that SHTF, others TEOTWAWKI -- whatever the label, the scenario or the scale, "the worst" involves clear and present threats to our survival.

Preparedness is neither a game nor an obsession -- it's a mindset. It's an attitude that allows us to live our everyday lives, yet be ready to confront and dispatch threats when they present themselves.

On the last page of the June issue of S.W.A.T. magazine is a column by Louis Awerbuck, one of the nation's top instructors in gunhandling, marksmanship and tactics. Entitled "Welcome to the Jungle," it delivers a blunt and sobering perspective on surviving a "doomsday scenario."

The column concludes:

"No, you don't have to be Mad Max, Rambo, or paranoid. But it would be nice, for example, for those of you who have families, if you could make your way back home to protect your spouse and ankle-biters when that never-going-to-happen disaster hits. The first of the loot-shoot-scoot brigade will deploy immediately after a disaster, looking for an easy mark. Those who have nothing to lose will be ready to take, and the sooner they start, the more they can take.

"Traffic will be snarled within 15 minutes and there will be no emergency response units available to solve your little problems -- so you'll have to do it all by your lonesome -- and on foot. And even if you find a desirable route, perhaps you've forgotten about that gun thingummybob I mentioned earlier. One teensy-weensy bullet through your head and I now own your Hummer and everything in it -- including your address. You know -- that place where your widow and kids are waiting. Sorry about that, but survival of the fittest and all that good stuff, don't you know.

"Remember the Los Angeles riots, post-Katrina New Orleans, or New York during the infamous eight-hour Con-Ed blackout? The shooters and looters were at work within the first hour.

"Now decide if you want to be the chef or the entree, because the Hell Restaurant is open for business, and only the man with the carving knife and the full belly is walking out alive."

As raw as Mr. Awerbuck's words may be, don't recoil from them and, whatever you do, don't dismiss them. Let them sink in.

Our society, in the midst of a crisis, operates exactly as he describes. Arguments to the contrary are pure fantasy.

Is he giving us a do-or-die choice? Absolutely -- the stark picture he paints is as accurate as it is disturbing.

It's a bucket of ice water in our faces, leaving us with but one responsible course of action.

Prepare now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How I spent the first day of my kid's summer vacation

Early yesterday afternoon, the house was quiet. Mrs. KintlaLake was at work, and our spawns had just left to visit their grandparents across town. I was working in my home office.

Then the phone rang, and the circus came to town.

On the other end of the line was one of my wife's co-workers, telling me that Mrs. KintlaLake had just left work and was headed to the metro pediatric hospital. Something about our younger spawn, a bicycle, a wheelie and an ambulance.

Grabbing my wallet and keys, I dashed downstairs toward the garage and called my wife for more details. Best she knew, the spawn's hormone-charged BMX wheelie went past vertical and he hit the pavement hard. He was complaining of back pain. Grandparents, neighbors and our older spawn were keeping him immobile, right where he landed, until the squad arrived.

During my drive to the hospital, my wife called me four times -- not about the child's condition (which she didn't yet know), but twice to tell me about the tricky exit off the highway (she got her left and right mixed up anyway) and twice about valet parking at the ER (she paid for me in advance). When I arrived, I tossed my keys to the valet, ran through the ambulance entrance and into the trauma suite.

Seeing someone strapped to a back board is sobering, never mind a scared kid, more so when the scared kid's life is in my care. We got good news quickly, though, when the ER doctor confirmed that our spawn had movement, strength and sensation in all extremities and judged that the spinal cord likely wasn't involved.

He removed the tape, cervical restraint and straps and pulled out the back board. We all started breathing again.

That wasn't the end of it, of course. X-rays were ordered. Two hours later, we got word that the radiologist wanted a precautionary CT scan. We waited some more.

When I say "we," I'm talking about the patient, the patient's brother, the patient's parents and the patient's maternal grandparents. That's six people in an ER exam room, growing to seven or eight when hospital staff came calling. It reminded me of my own days as an orderly, when an entire Amish family would take up residence with their kin on our ward.

When we got bored with the exam room's tiny TV, we amused ourselves by playing with surgical gloves, which gave way to games with the touchless faucet and towel dispenser.

After a couple of hours of that, about the time we were discussing what we could build out of tongue depressors, a neurosurgery resident came to tell us that the young Wheelie King had, in fact, suffered a L-1 compression fracture. Ouch.

He was released to our care, with orders to be fitted with a corset brace to be worn for the next month or so. If there's any numbness in the extremities (etc.) during that time, it's back to the ER immediately. No sports.

Football tryouts or not, that brace virtually guarantees that he'll get all the girls anyway.

So all six of us walked out of the hospital to our four (count 'em) cars for the trip home. I was the first to approach the parking lot's automatic gate -- which refused to open automatically. Four drivers put four cars into reverse and backed into four parking spaces, and I volunteered to walk back to the hospital to ask the security guard to open the gate manually.

About that time, our older spawn happened to mention that his car was overheating -- it had dumped its coolant onto the ground while we were tending to Wheelie King.

Then the gate went up.

Not knowing how long that'd last, six people piled back into four cars and our little caravan -- including the overheating sedan -- made its escape.

Getting from the hospital to the highway meant navigating neighborhoods in which we'd prefer to spend as little time as possible, but we still needed to find someplace selling coolant for our overheater. That we did, in the form of a corner gas station and mini-mart.

For some reason, like women using a public restroom, we all had to do this together. Four cars, six people.

I ducked into the mini-mart, grabbed a gallon of pre-mix, paid for it, came out and filled the sedan's empty reservoir. Satisfied, I slammed the hood and the caravan was ready to get underway once again.

Sort of.

As we were about to leave, the grandparents were blocked in by a pair of motorcycles and a car. Apparently the motorcyclists had a difference of opinion with the driver, and they proceeded to argue their points over the roof of the grandparents' car. (Incidentally, there was a city police cruiser at the gas pumps, but the officers already had two detainees of their own. No help there.) Somehow, the grandparents managed to inch their way out from under the argument, and the caravan was homeward bound.

For me, the last leg of this odyssey was easy -- I'd volunteered to pick up fast food for the family at a local drive-through. Unlike the rest of the day, this went smoothly and quickly.

Back at home, I dropped the bags on the kitchen counter and flopped into a chair while my wife parceled out the food onto paper plates.

After a minute or so, she spoke. "Honey?"


"They forgot your cheeseburgers."

We called the older spawn. He picked up my cheeseburgers on his way home from filling his overheating car with four-dollar gas.

And that's what happened yesterday. Today our Wheelie King is resting on the couch, hurting but fine, text-messaging his way to romance and recovery.

(I would've posted this sooner, but a storm knocked out our power for two hours this morning.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Where do we stand?

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Democratic Party nominee Al Gore made no bones about where he stood on our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Both his rhetoric and his record threatened to gut the Second Amendment and disarm law-abiding Americans.

Gun owners needed a rallying cry, and we got it from the late Charlton Heston. Speaking to the National Rifle Association on May 20, 2000, he said this:

"For the next six months, Al Gore is going to smear you as the enemy. He will slander you as gun-toting, knuckle-dragging, bloodthirsty maniacs who stand in the way of a safer America.

"Will you remain silent? I will not remain silent. If we are going to stop this, then it is vital to every law-abiding gun owner in America to register to vote and show up at the polls on election day.

"As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those words again for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: 'From my cold, dead hands!'"

Fortunately, at least on this issue, Mr. Gore was denied the Presidency. And while 1994's Clinton Gun Ban was allowed to sunset ten years later, where do law-abiding gun owners stand today?

Given a choice between the major parties' presumptive nominees, it seems that Sen. Barack Obama represents the greater threat -- but Sen. John McCain is preferable only by default.

Sen. McCain has said that he doesn't own a gun. He hasn't shown himself to be a staunch advocate for Second Amendment rights. And his much-ballyhooed record of "reaching across the aisle" often puts him in league with gun-grabbing legislators.

It may be tempting to favor the Republican candidate, but color me skeptical -- very skeptical.

There are other dynamics to consider. A U.S. President's ability to impose his agenda requires both strong leadership and a sympathetic Congress. In that light, neither candidate is encouraging.

Sen. McCain exerts leadership almost exclusively through collaboration with dissenting interests. Much of Congress already is receptive to some form of gun control. Dangerous compromises would be all but certain.

I predict that Sen. Obama, on the other hand, would lead from the front. As President and de facto leader of his party, he could constitute the final element of a perfect gun-control storm. Against a Pres. Obama and like-minded allies like Sen. Biden (the real engineer of the Clinton Gun Ban), Mr. Gore, Rep. McCarthy, Ms. Brady, the Clintons and assorted Kennedys, our Second Amendment rights could crumble.

With that as a political backdrop, we stand exactly where we stood when Charlton Heston exhorted us eight years ago -- impatient patriots, committed to defending our Constitutional rights, not deferential but defiant.

Μολὼν λαβέ.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On independence

Above all other qualities, I value independence.

As much as human frailty allows, an independent person is self-sufficient. An emotionally independent person may be social but serves himself first and, as a result, is better equipped to serve others. An intellectually independent person craves knowledge from without, but he keeps his own counsel within.

Independence is a manifestation of personal responsibility.

In today's hyper-political climate, however, "independent" has been prostituted beyond recognition. Disillusioned with the two dominant parties, indignant citizens brandish their opposition by declaring themselves "Independents." And the cheapest trick of all is turned by the likes of Lou Dobbs, who urges his viewers to register as independents.

"Registered independent" is as nonsensical as "practicing agnostic."

I'll stipulate to the tendencies of human nature, ill-conceived acts of rebellion and the principles that sustain our political system. But allegiance to a party, affiliation with a movement, or characterizing oneself as "conservative" or "liberal," is antithetical to independence.

It's like volunteering to be simple-minded.

Fundamental to independence is critical thinking. Independent critical thought -- which isn't the same thing as being contrarian -- isn't difficult, but it does demand intent.

With clear intent, we must let go of the party lever along with our desire to be in like-minded company. We need to absorb information without feeling compelled to adopt or reject it. And we must measure everything we absorb -- not against beliefs or values, but against personal experience.

Experience can be neither duplicated nor shared. It's the core of our uniqueness and, therefore, the very wellspring of independence.

Each of us, then, confronts a choice. We can squander our gifts on some mass ideology or political movement -- or we can think critically, act from experience, and express our true independence.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Queen of Denial

I've been ruminating all day on what to say about Sen. Hillary Clinton's narcissistic performance last night. I'm not at a loss for words -- there's just so much to work with.

Perhaps it's best if I leave it to CNN's Jack Cafferty.

"Anyone who thought Hillary Clinton would admit defeat and graciously make her exit to begin healing the party wasn’t paying attention last night.

"Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, not by a delegate or two. The superdelegates poured into his camp all day and all night and made a bold statement. 'He’s our guy.' But when the sun came up this morning, she is still there.

"If Obama wants a hint what it will be like if she is the vice president, last night should give him a pretty good idea. Refusing to concede, she chose instead to try to steal the spotlight from him on one of the most historic nights in our history. Barely acknowledging his accomplishment, she went on in her speech at Baruch College like nothing had changed. It was pathetic.

"Earlier in the day, she let it be known she is interested in the Vice Presidential nomination. Like it’s her option. This puts enormous pressure on him to agree or risk further angering her dwindling supporters. Not that some of them could get any angrier.

"Barack Obama at this moment has a much bigger problem with Hillary Clinton than he does with John McCain. You would think her advisers and supporters would start to be embarrassed by her behavior at some point.

"At a time when our country should be celebrating a quantum leap forward in healing our racial divisions, Hillary Clinton is ruining the party -- a spoiled child who refuses to go when told, 'It’s bedtime.'"

The words "pathetic" and "spoiled child" ring loud and true -- and as far as I'm concerned, that goes double for her wailing, hand-wringing supporters.

'Castle Doctrine' comes to Ohio

In an earlier post, I discussed a law commonly referred to as "Castle Doctrine." Thanks to tireless grassroots activism and a favorable political climate, this fundamental right to armed self-defense soon will be law in Ohio.

S.B.184 has cleared its last legislative hurdle. Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign it in the coming weeks. And while the law won't go into effect for three months, here's what Castle Doctrine will mean for all law-abiding citizens of Ohio:
  • If someone breaks into a person's occupied home or temporary habitation, or if someone breaks into a person's occupied car, that person has an initial presumption to act in self-defense.
  • Victims of crime will be immune from civil actions from their attackers (and their attackers' families) for actions that harm or kill an attacker.

Specific to law-abiding gun owners:

  • A citizen won't need to have a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) to carry a concealed handgun lawfully in their own home.
  • An "unloaded firearm" will be defined as one with no ammunition in the firearm or in magazines or speedloaders, regardless of where else ammunition is stored.
  • The law will allow CHL holders to pick-up and drop-off students in school safety zones.
  • Lawful concealed carry will be permitted in state-owned shelters, restrooms and parking garages, and lawful concealed carry in privately owned parking garages will no longer be a crime.
  • Landlords will no longer be allowed to prohibit their tenants from owning or carrying firearms.
  • CHL holders will be permitted to carry a firearm in an unlocked glove compartment or center console.
(For more information, visit the Buckeye Firearms Association.)

Remember, Castle Doctrine isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card in Ohio, nor does Castle Doctrine apply in every state. It's also important to note that the law almost never permits armed defense of property -- only life. Each of us must know the law and make our choices accordingly. And if we do choose to make armed defense part of protecting self and family, professional training is a must.

That said, however, all Ohioans should celebrate the legalization of armed self-defense. It's about time.