Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To affinity -- and beyond?

I'm torn.

Part of me wants to wait until after the vice-presidential debate to say anything else about Gov. Sarah Palin. Cloistered at Sen. John McCain’s ranch in Arizona, she's currently immersed in what’s being called "debate boot camp." She may acquit herself well on Thursday -- better, one would hope, than she's done in three regrettable press interviews.

The rest of me, the part that thinks, realizes that while boot-camp immersion can give her answers, it can't fix the real problem: Sarah Palin doesn’t understand the questions.

Never mind her résumé -- she's undeniably political. It's become equally obvious, however, that she's given virtually no thought to policy, certainly not at the national and international levels.

Critical deliberation hands down a clear verdict: Sarah Palin is out of her league. So why is she still there?

For the explanation, and with great embarrassment, I defer to what Central Ohioans -- my neighbors -- reportedly have said about Gov. Palin over the last few days. These are verbatim:

"She's so fresh. She has a lot of kids and so do I. I was a schoolteacher, a working mom, so I know she can do it."

"I've been there. If you can run the PTA, you can run the country."

"She's real. Everyone can identify with her. She has five kids. I have six."

"She is a go-getter. She is adorable. She is conservative. She is family oriented. She is pro-life. She is her own woman. She makes me feel proud."

"She came from a middle-class family. She did it with conviction and grit. God's in charge. I'm voting for God first."

And my personal favorite:
"When she said she could skin a moose, that did it for me."
It's called affinity, and it wins elections. Problem is, affinity is a feeling and requires no thought. Affinity for race, gender, family, hometown, religion or lifestyle can cause us to stop thinking about whether or not the candidate actually is qualified to hold the office.

That’s what’s happening here. Only recently have leading conservatives come to their senses and started calling for Gov. Palin to withdraw from the ticket, but it’s probably too late for that.

The thought of Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from leading the free world scares the hell out of me. Perhaps the only fright that rivals that prospect would be knowing that the man in charge showed the absence of judgment to put her -- and us -- in that position.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blocked shot

So much for the bully pulpit, eh?

The Bush administration's massive corporate-bailout proposal, tweaked cosmetically by Congressional power brokers, was defeated 228-205 this afternoon in the U.S. House of Representatives -- and Wall Street responded with a record-setting selloff.

The Dow plunged 777.68, its biggest-ever one-day point loss. At 10,365, the index is more than 27% off its all-time high last October.

If we need another perspective on what happened in the wake of the House vote, we can consider that more than a trillion dollars of capital evaporated during a single trading day.

In rejecting the $700 billion bailout, the House actually did the right thing for our country's future, although our representatives accomplished the feat more through systemic dysfunction than collective wisdom. Typically, the finger-pointing is well underway.

For his part, Sen. John McCain just issued a hyper-partisan gem in which he blamed Sen. Barack Obama for injecting partisanship into the failed negotiations, then immediately followed with, "Now is not the time to fix blame."

And so it goes. You can't make this stuff up.

Congress eventually will pass a version of the Bush-Paulson bailout, and it'll achieve the same result -- which is to say, it'll have no effect.

Credit markets already are frozen. Big firms with household names will continue to drop like wormy apples, likewise much smaller businesses, and unemployment will soar instead of merely rising. Our economy is about to slip inevitably below the surface of a depression.

Washington and Wall Street keep calling this a "crisis." Out here on Main Street, we've been telling the truth about that for months.

Advancement

I love to learn -- in fact, I live to learn. As I said last Tuesday,
"I'm an enthusiastic student, not an expert. I'm hot on the trail of mastery, still with more questions than answers and much more to learn than to share."
Since my chosen profession is communications, however, I do know a thing or two about training methods. There are some universal concepts that apply regardless of the skill or subject being taught -- math or piano, motorcycle safety or personal defense.

At its simplest, learning is a journey that begins at ignorance, passes through knowledge and proficiency, and pursues mastery. We can, of course, define that journey by tracing the path itself -- and because most students want the answer and want it now, the world is full of lazy instructors and, as a result, robotic graduates who can’t find their butt with both hands.

In my experience, both as a student and as a teacher, I've had more success by defining the elements surrounding the path to mastery. Among others:
  • Hardware & software
  • Social culture & human nature
  • Physiology & psychology
  • Intellect, interest & aptitude
  • Barriers & advantages
For the instructor, it means screening students thoroughly and then adapting the curriculum to accommodate (within reason and safety) the class that results. For the student, it's about self-awareness -- being honest about one's own goals and skills, and being open to the learning process. As Robert Pirsig said in Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,
"The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself."
In the realm of personal-defense training, I've found at least one instructor who shares my approach to education. I've never trained personally with Rob Pincus, but my wife and I have been exposed to his teaching through the “Combat Focus Shooting” DVDs. While watching a video is no substitute for a live-fire training course, we've incorporated Combat Focus techniques into a method that works for us.

Over the last year or so, I've read many of Rob's posts in various Internet forums, and we've exchanged a number of e-mails and private messages. The following, as much as anything else I've read, sums up his approach:
"Instead of an old model that presumed we can teach people to do complex and unnatural mechanical things under stress, Combat Focus takes the position that we can teach people to shoot very well and very efficiently by working with the things that occur naturally."
Coincidentally or not, Combat Focus mirrors the way we drill our teenage spawns on our family emergency plan: Natural, Consistent, Efficient.

Recently I read something that Rob wrote as a "guest blogger" on
Breach Bang Clear. Entitled "Respectful Irreverence," it opens with this assertion:
"When any person, idea, technique, school, piece of gear, team or tactic is put on a pedestal, we risk stopping progress."
The word "progress" reveals Rob’s goal for his students as well as his preoccupation with becoming a better instructor by advancing the art of defense. He goes on to outline four principles of learning:
  • Success breeds complacency: "History is full of examples of 'best ways' that were bested through innovation, experimentation and critical thinking."
  • Avoid absolutes: "If someone says 'always' or 'never,' it is your responsibility to find the exception."
  • Ask (& answer) the "Why?" questions: "Dogma has no place in this arena."
  • Context dictates curriculum: "Spouting content blindly without regard for the realities of the student is simply lecturing, not teaching."
The way I read it, Rob is charting the road to mastery by defining its biggest roadblocks: ego and sacred cows. The two are as common as they are inseparable.

In training for dynamic, life-and-limb disciplines like high-performance driving or defensive tactics, there's always a lot of grumbling about "that guy" -- the student who "doesn't belong." Sometimes it's the fault of the student, sometimes the instructor is to blame, and often both are true.

Each and every one of us is "that guy" -- always. Failing to approach learning with that attitude is an illusion called ego.

Everyone has something to learn. Everyone has something to teach. Every experience, every discipline carries lessons. There's value in maintaining openness to those lessons, both for student and teacher.


The ego-illusion also breeds "sacred cows" or what Rob Pincus calls "absolutes." Nothing blocks learning as completely as the presumptive acceptance of a single, immutable answer to the exclusion of all others. It mistakes arrogance for excellence, freezing progress.

When a student comes to class clinging to his absolutes, he leaves no wiser than he arrived. When an instructor traps students in his dogma, he's failed them before class begins. Each is obligated, respecting the integrity of the learning environment, to challenge the other.

Learning not only requires progress -- true learning is progress. To advance the art, whatever the art, we need to set aside carefully tended "truths" and rise above ego. Ultimately, that's how we learn.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Godspeed

Debatable value

After fits and starts choreographed by Sen. John McCain, last night's on-again, off-again presidential debate went on. No thanks to the candidates, I managed to stay awake through the whole thing.

There were no gaffes. Both Sen. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama held their ground -- which is to say, they stuck to positions and messages they've staked out over the last 18 months.

In the end, we didn't learn anything of substance. Yawn.

Foreign policy, advertised as the focus of this debate, naturally took a back seat to economic issues for the first segment. Neither candidate would commit to supporting or opposing the bailout currently being wrangled on Capitol Hill -- which was smart, considering that there's no consensus proposal.

When moderator Jim Lehrer's questions turned specifically to international affairs, Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama basically took turns lobbing chestnuts at each other -- neither broke new ground. We could've scripted the whole thing beforehand.

Sen. McCain, who showed no ill effects of three days of "shuttle diplomacy," was expected to demonstrate his advantage over Sen. Obama on foreign-policy matters and leave this debate with a decisive win, but I don't think he got it done. His approach was to cast his opponent as naive ("Sen. Obama doesn't seem to understand..."), drop the names of foreign leaders and spin yarns from a generation's service in Congress -- a thin strategy, and it showed.

Because Sen. Obama can't match Sen. McCain's tenure, recall and Rolodex, he did what he could -- articulate his grasp of the issues, convey confidence and refuse to let allegations go unchallenged. For the most part, he pulled it off, perhaps battling Sen. McCain to a draw.


The fact that Sen. McCain didn't emerge with a clear victory from a debate on foreign policy, his strong suit, should unsettle Republicans.

Both candidates were prone to mis-characterizing their opponent's record and positions, and that's to be expected in the political arena. Over the course of the campaign, however, Sen. McCain has been especially predisposed to disinformation and outright false information, even after his claims have been debunked. It's this disturbing intellectual bankruptcy that drove me from my reluctant support of McCain-Palin and into the ranks of the undecided. Sen. McCain's performance in last night's debate did nothing to restore the honor of his campaign.

A few final observations.


Jim Lehrer remains one of my favorite newsmen, and he did his best to get the candidates to address each other (rather than the moderator or the cameras). As I recall, that happened only once, when Sen. Obama's pointed challenge briefly triggered Sen. McCain's famous and very un-presidential temper. Otherwise, Mr. Lehrer let the candidates unwind themselves without interfering -- which is exactly what a moderator should do.

During the 90-minute debate I flipped among the networks. The CNN 'cast featured one of those real-time voter-reaction graphs, and at first I found the colorful scrolling lines annoying, kind of a political "laugh track." After I learned to ignore the partisans and focus on independents' reactions, I must say that they didn't bode well for Sen. McCain.

One of these guys will be the next President of the United States -- either way, that's a scary proposition. The more conservative of the two may have a better resume, but I trust neither his judgment nor his temperament, and the conduct of his campaign calls into question his integrity. The Democratic alternative may be better suited to hold the office, but I can count on him to take many of our country's policies in a dangerous direction.

In short, I don't trust Sen. McCain to do the right thing, and I'm absolutely confident that Sen. Obama will do the wrong thing. This first debate didn't change my view.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quotes of the Day

"I think they've done her great disservice by sort of locking her down for 30 days. You sort of have got to work your way into this game. And when you tell someone you can't see a reporter for 30 days and then all of a sudden, you're going to start with the biggest, the anchors, you know, it creates a lack of confidence. ... This was a very confident woman, the first presentation she made. She walked in(to) the biggest crowd she ever had when (Sen. John McCain) announced her. The second was the convention. She had great confidence. She's lost her confidence." (Republican strategist Ed Rollins, on Gov. Sarah Palin, to CNN's Anderson Cooper)



"Pretty bad -- I thought Al Davis made the choice, that's how bad it was. I don't know. I don't know if she's -- she's done three interviews and she's running for vice president of the United States? Jason Lee's done more interviews promoting, you know, 'My Name is Earl' than she has to run for -- I did more interviews today than she has to run for vice president of the United States. And every time they let her talk for more than four minutes, you actually start feeling sorry for her. It's kind of like Kim Kardashian on 'Dancing With the Stars.' All that ass and can't shake it. So sad." (Comedian Chris Rock, on Gov. Sarah Palin, to CNN's Larry King)

Quizz show

As we drifted off to sleep last night, our national landscape was changing.

The feds seized Washington Mutual, marking the largest bank failure in U.S. history, and JPMorgan Chase agreed to buy WaMu's assets. In our nation's capital, bailout talks were imploding, thanks to a group of House Republicans who dug-in against a fragile consensus.

But never mind those trivial tremors -- the real seismic activity was happening in Corvallis, Oregon.

Weary of sitting the financial crisis, I'd clicked over to ESPN to watch top-ranked Southern Cal assert its dominance over twice-beaten and unranked Oregon State. Because USC whipped my Buckeyes two weeks ago, I expected to pull for the Trojans -- theoretically, anyway, Ohio State's stock rises with the success of the teams it plays.

Apparently, no one told the Beavers that they were outmatched, and suddenly I found myself rooting for the underdog.

From the opening kickoff, and on both sides of the ball, Oregon State completely manhandled USC. Freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers -- all 5'6"and 180 pounds of him -- shredded the confused Trojans for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Older brother James Rogers, himself just 5'7" and 182, caught six passes and scored twice.

I turned off the game at halftime with Oregon State up 21-0 -- if the athletically superior Trojans managed to engineer a second-half comeback, I wanted to remember those first 30 minutes.

Final score: Oregon State 27, USC 21. Party on, Beavers.

In a game determined by attitude and matchups, the underdog Beavers had the advantage in both. Their performance reminded me of the 2002 Buckeyes' unexpected national-title win over Miami, captured in Coach Jim Tressel's pre-game answer to a sideline reporter: "We can't wait to play!"

The Trojans' BCS championship hopes may or may not have vaporized on the field in Corvallis, but it's certain that pollsters will name a new #1 team come Sunday. Buckeyed optimists will see last night's upset as a glimmer of hope that Ohio State is back in the picture.

Whatever. My memory of this game will be the sight of tiny Jacquizz Rogers walking back to the Oregon State huddle after running for a first down, woofing at a USC defender at least 75 pounds heavier and a foot taller.

Now that's attitude -- the best kind, because Quizz and his teammates backed it up.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Incredible leadership

President George W. Bush addressed the nation last night. The purpose of the speech was to drive home the urgency of the financial crisis and, presumably, to rally the American people around that urgency and the corporate-bailout solution he's proposed.

I'd like to meet someone who was inspired by our President, any American who's now sitting on a fire that wasn't lit long ago.


In fact, let's have a show of hands...anyone?

We weren't just watching a "lame duck" last night. Standing alone before the governed, he was The Great and Powerful Oz, the picture of a man whose charade has been exposed.


Over seven years, Pres. Bush willfully squandered his credibility -- and thus his ability to lead -- on a series of propaganda campaigns and flash-bang diversions. The man who shouted into a bullhorn atop the rubble at Ground Zero is gone, replaced by a frightened shadow, a tired fellow who looks like he's suddenly discovered the value of candor and wants desperately to be believed.

Because I'm a citizen and a patriot, all of this saddens me -- but just as candor is overdue, we have no time for sadness.

The "revelation" that our economy is in dire straits isn't news to ordinary Americans. That Congress will pass some form of bailout, over their constituents' objections, is a fait accompli. And it's equally certain that whatever is enacted will be legislative morphine, momentarily dulling our national pain but leaving our injuries untreated.

So in this time of crisis, there's a leadership vacuum in the Oval Office and in the halls of Congress. Lifting our eyes to November, we look for the cavalry, hoping to glimpse a leader on the horizon.

We see two riders, one bringing fresh ideas and an aptitude for leadership, in return for a bag of entitlements and a promise to socialize far more than capitalism -- a bargain that free and independent citizens would be loathe to strike. The other rider brings the comfort of experience, but as he draws closer it becomes clear that he's sitting backward in the saddle, offering the same propagandism as the man he seeks to replace -- witness yesterday's campaign-suspension stunt, not to mention his choice of a running mate.

There are other riders, of course, but we've chosen to ignore them. We've staked our future to either Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama.

Our error lies not in our choice of one or the other, but in our reliance on that choice.


There is no cavalry. We, the People, must save our nation.

This government has failed us, our children and our Constitution. November won't bring the "change" we need.


We, the governed, must withdraw our consent.

The alternative, it seems to me, is to resign ourselves to a long and inevitable decline.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Through artists' eyes

"I may not know art," as the saying goes, "but I know what I like."

The KintlaLake home never will be mistaken for a fine-art gallery. When my wife and I blended our households a few years ago, however, the work of a few bona fide artists did make the cut.

While visiting friends in Vermont in 1999, I was given a personally signed Cynthia Price lithograph as a birthday present. The artist herself, whom I'd never met, was there to share in the impromptu celebration, which included a champagne hayride (only in Vermont) and other surprises.

These days, Cynthia's work hangs just off our kitchen, where it daily rekindles warm memories of cool rides through the New England countryside.

Michael Lichter has combined his love of motorcycling with his immense artistic talent -- so not only do I admire his photography, I'm also insanely jealous of the man. I had the privilege of working with him on an exhibition of his work several years ago, we became friends, and we still connect occasionally at motorcycle shows.

A large print of "After the Storm," arguably Michael's signature image, adorns a wall in our living room, and it remains one of the most evocative and inspiring photographs I've ever seen.

Each summer, the city of Columbus hosts a giant outdoor arts-and-crafts show, and it was there that I met Massachusetts-based artist
Bruce Peeso. Having moved back to my native Ohio a year before, I found that Bruce's work captured perfectly the joy I felt in being home again.

Many of Bruce's paintings reflect what I'd call a "pillbox perspective," and I recall telling him so at the show that day. He smiled and told me that he preferred what a woman once said about the unusual format: "It looks like you're trapped inside a Coke machine, and you paint while looking out through the coin slot."

After much debate -- all of it between my head and my heart -- I ended up taking home one of Bruce's originals, and dear as it was, I've never regretted the decision. Each time I gaze through the artist's eyes across that rural landscape, it reminds me why I'm glad to be here in the heartland, my home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Unspoken, understood

It's no secret that I value my right to keep and bear arms, and several readers have asked why I haven't written more specifically about the firearms I own, my experience and my recommendations.

It’s a reasonable question. During the CNN/YouTube Republican
debate, then-candidate Fred Thompson was asked about his guns.
"I own a couple of guns, but I'm not going to tell you what they are or where they are."
That pretty much sums up my attitude.

Yes, in certain forums and to like-minded individuals I've been known to disclose a few things -- but my disclosure is never complete, nor is it ever completely candid. In the current climate, to do otherwise would be imprudent.

Besides, my ego doesn't demand it.

When it comes to armed defense, like most subjects, I'm an enthusiastic student, not an expert. I'm hot on the trail of mastery, still with more questions than answers and much more to learn than to share. And while some might find my observations interesting, it's unlikely that I'll post them here -- not out of the question, but unlikely.

Someday I might say something nostalgic about a couple of old Depression-era Winchesters.


The rest, I think, will remain unspoken.

More than a bailout

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson et al will testify today before the Senate Banking Committee, in an attempt to ramrod the unprecedented bank-bailout proposal through Congress. As Sec. Paulson said to ABC News on Sunday:
"We need this to be clean and to be quick, and we need to get it in place."
We're focusing most of our attention on the numbers, rightly so -- asking American taxpayers to take a $700 billion gamble (and that's both conservative and kind) should meet with fierce opposition.

I fear, however, that we may be overlooking greater dangers. Take, for example, this provision from Section 8 -- no kidding -- of Sec. Paulson's draft proposal:
"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
Disturbing as it is, there's more where that came from. I tend to agree with what Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd said in his opening statement today:
"After reading this proposal, I can only conclude that it is not just our economy that is at risk, Mr. Secretary, but our Constitution as well."
So what we have here is more than an ill-conceived proposal to postpone (not prevent) the inevitable collapse of our broken economy -- it's a blatantly unconstitutional attempt to grab power from The People and our representatives.

We cannot allow that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

No problem? No problem.

Don't try to fill 'er up in Nashville right now.

Last Friday morning, unconfirmed reports of a gasoline shortage started circulating. No one knows how the rumors got started, but local media picked up the gossip and long lines began forming at stations throughout middle Tennessee.

By evening rush hour, less than 10% of Nashville-area retailers had gas left to sell -- in an eight-hour span when most folks were at work, a city of 600,000 essentially ran itself out of gas.

Residents limped through last weekend by car-pooling or staying home. Gas stations aren't expecting deliveries until today or tomorrow.

Nashville wasn't struck by a natural disaster. Before the rumors took hold, there was no critical shortage of fuel. Like much of the Southeast and Midwest, thanks to hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the city was dealing with reduced supplies, but the situation was manageable.

Then came the rumors, and panic-buying overtook the city. At that point, all bets were off.

Nashvillians have no one but themselves to blame, of course, but the rest of us shouldn't feel too smug -- an irrational "run" like this can happen anywhere, any time and with any commodity.

After the remnants of Ike blew through central Ohio a week ago, a low-grade version of the Nashville panic unfolded right here, as stores quickly sold out of typical disaster-related items. Still, my family and I didn't have to pay high prices or wait in line -- because our approach, to coin a phrase, is "cache-and-carry (on)."

Think about it -- anyone with a garage or a utility shed probably has a safe place to cache at least 20 gallons of gasoline. We add a couple of ounces of Sta-bil to each five-gallon can and rotate our stock through the lawn tractor, refilling containers as they're emptied.

Spending four bucks on a shrink-wrapped flat of bottled water every trip to the grocery quickly adds up to an emergency stockpile; the same principle can be applied to accumulating stores of non-perishable food. Tossing each day's pocket change into a jar, then rolling the coins and stashing them away, answers the question, "What do I do if nobody's taking credit cards and all the ATMs are down?"

It ain't rocket science.

When we hear "preparedness," we usually think of getting ready for natural disasters like hurricanes or ice storms, or a man-made calamity like a chemical spill or even a terrorist attack. But as the Nashville scenario demonstrates, unprepared and panic-prone Americans are quite capable of creating their own crises.

The same rules apply. Prepare -- now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Extremes

This being a home-game Saturday, my wife and I made our regular pilgrimage to the Hineygate Party, renewing our membership in the Bud-for-breakfast club.

Hineygate is what it is -- raw, loud and raucous. People our age, suitably lubricated and bedecked in scarlet and gray, dance like teenagers. Moms fit their kids with earplugs to protect them from the speakers' blast and cover their eyes to shield them from things they'll understand when they're older.


It's partisan partying at its very best, and we love it.

But today, maybe because last night was a late one, or maybe because we'd seen this show so many times before, we just got bored. So we poured out the last of our beer, hopped in the car and drove 45 miles east -- far, far from Hineygate, to the
Thornville Backwoods Fest.

As we idled along in the line waiting to enter the festival grounds, cornfields rose up on both sides of the road, wrapping us in a heartland quilt of green and gold.

I rolled down the car window and listened. Aside from the chirping of crickets and the soft throb of engines, it was quiet. And compared to the gameday din we'd left behind, it was downright silent.

We had no real clue about the size of the event until we rolled into a grassy field packed with thousands of cars, trucks and RVs -- not at all what we'd been expecting. After a dusty uphill hike from the parking area, we entered the Backwoods gates.

Hundreds of vendors were camped along wide, straw-strewn paths that snaked through the woods. Mostly, their offerings were a bit too cliché-country for my liking, but there were enough primitive artisans to hold my interest.

We strolled past the kitsch, preferring to linger over the more soulful wares of blacksmiths, cabinetmakers and weavers.
The Spoonmaker was there. A woman from the North Woods of Michigan displayed various items carved from deer antlers, and we bought a few of her intriguing trinkets.

Kettle chips crackled in big iron cauldrons. The aromas of fried green tomatoes and caramel apples beckoned. We saw our favorite baker, whose small shop is just up the street from our house, selling loaves of fresh bread. Scattered throughout the festival were musicians, alone and in groups, serenading us with plain voices and simple acoustic instruments.

Two hours later, refreshed by the experience, Mrs. KintlaLake and I made our way to the car. We wound through rolling farmland, past combines whirring in wheat fields, and back home -- a comfortable place, nestled perfectly between today's extremes.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday night lights

Our small-but-sprawling community is big enough to support two high schools. Strange as it seems, they’d never faced each other in football -- until tonight.

The inaugural game of this cross-town rivalry was a special neutral-field affair, played at the major-league soccer stadium up in the big city -- a great venue, for sure, but despite thousands of enthusiastic parents, students and fans, the crowd managed to fill only 20% of the seats.

Next time, those creaky old wooden bleachers will do just fine. Better suited to high-school football, I think.

So did our team win? Well, that depends.

If we're talking about the high school on our side of town, the one just a half-mile up the road from the KintlaLake house, then yes -- and in a rout, 38-7.

Thanks to the miracle of open enrollment, however, the KintlaLake spawns attend school across town -- so the truth is that we got our clocks thoroughly cleaned by our bigger, faster and stronger neighbors. We didn't even score until late in the fourth quarter. Sheesh.

Our marching band was better, though, dammit.

Maybe that's not a bad idea

"Anyone engaging in illegal financial transactions will be caught and persecuted." (from today's statement on the economy by George W. Bush -- President of the United States, Leader of the Free World, & Malaprop Generator-in-Chief)

Ohio gun owners win again

The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled yesterday that state law giving Ohioans the right to carry concealed weapons overrules a city's ability to deny that right and otherwise regulate firearms. The narrow 4-3 decision also is expected to invalidate restrictions on so-called "assault weapons" by cities like Columbus and Cleveland.

Central to the case was a 2004 state law that overruled local bans and ordinances requiring registration, waiting periods, and trigger locks. A measure reinforcing that statewide policy was passed in 2006 and then vetoed by Republican then-Gov. Bob Taft, but the legislature voted to override the veto.

Yesterday's victory, spearheaded by Ohioans for Concealed Carry, comes on the heels of the enactment of Ohio S.B. 184 -- which brought "Castle Doctrine" and other benefits to law-abiding Ohio gun owners -- and the landmark Heller decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Those of us who cherish our individual right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed by both the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution, would seem to be living in the best of times. And while it's true that we've made significant progress in reclaiming our constitutional rights, we remain under siege by those who exemplify the words of Benjamin Franklin:
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
We have our liberty -- for now -- but we must never forget its price: eternal vigilance.

Pledge drive

Our federal government is about to announce what amounts to another bailout, this time a program to help banks get rid of hard-to-unload mortgage assets.

Between the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury, here's what's been pledged so far:
  • $29 billion toward the purchase of Bear Stearns.
  • $85 billion to postpone the collapse of AIG.
  • $150 billion to backstop banks.
  • $200 billion to prop-up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
  • $300 billion to the FHA.
  • $25 billion to the auto industry.
That comes to nearly $800 billion. Now, to this dizzying number, add the cost of a new government agency taking on Wall Street's bad debts -- another $1 trillion.

When it comes to Wall Street, federal fiscal policy is all carrot and no stick. Even the FHA infusion benefits mortgage companies more than it does homeowners. As long as that's the plan, the death penalty for failure, or even malfeasance, is off the table.

Today, gleeful markets will soar. You and I will pay for their party tomorrow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The death of irony

"Frankly I don't like him. I feel like he is an elitist." (Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, on Sen. Barack Obama, to CNN in July. Lady de Rothschild, a DNC member and former supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, announced recently that she's now backing Sen. John McCain. A communications mega-mogul, Lady de Rothschild has a reported net worth of $40 million; her husband, Sir Evelyn Robert Adrian de Rothschild of the British banking Rothschilds, has a reported family empire of $1.5 trillion.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No confidence

Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average responded to the Federal Reserve's $85 billion bailout of AIG by shedding over 449 points, settling at 10,609 -- its lowest close in nearly three years.

Since a one-day snapshot doesn't tell the whole story, consider that the Dow saw its all-time high of 14,164 less than one year ago. Since then, the American economy has been hemorrhaging capital, the market losing more than 25% of its value between last October 9th and today.

"Stay in the market, you'll get all your money back and more!" cry the experts. "Don't just do something -- stand there!"

I'm no investment guru, but in the face of an unprecedented economic meltdown and corrupt U.S. fiscal policy, that may no longer be good advice.

'Too big to fail'

We, the American taxpayers and our children, now own a really big insurance company.

Last night, the Federal Reserve announced that it'll lend $85 billion of our money to bail out American International Group, in return for an 80% stake in the company.

So much for our free-market economy.

The principle at work here is that some companies simply are "too big to fail." AIG's tentacles reach too far and too deep, we're told, and too many individual and institutional investors would be hurt by the failure. And we’re warned, of course, that the total implosion of AIG would "roil the markets" across the globe.

That some companies succeed and some fail is fundamental to a free-market economy. The insurance business is all about managing risk -- and AIG, the world's largest insurer, failed to manage its own risk.

That's why AIG's stock price (and thus its market capitalization) is down 92% just this year, and why the major credit-rating agencies downgraded the company. It's also why even Wall Street's biggest players couldn't put together $75 billion to rescue AIG.

No one truly believes that $85 billion will save AIG, or that taxpayers will ever see a dime of that money. Considering the interest rate of 11.31%, a company that can't meet its business obligations isn't going to be able to pay a loan shark.

The bailout merely postpones the inevitable -- not just for AIG, but for our entire dysfunctional economy.

For the record, I don't subscribe to the naive suggestion that the federal government should devote its trillions to saving individual investors and homeowners from certain bankruptcy instead of rescuing big Wall Street firms. Rather, I submit that it's in our best long-term interest to once again make failure an integral part of our economic system.

The short-term pain would be deep, excruciating and, by any measure, devastating. It'd take years to recover and rebuild. But as long as we keep rewarding incompetence, our economy sits on a weakening foundation. Whether it crumbles slowly or collapses catastrophically, the outcome is the same.

Let it fail.

Quotes of the Day

"She's really chill." (Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain, on Gov. Sarah Palin)

"I was hoping on Sunday when we got back to watch the film the power would be out, but it wasn't..." (Ohio State Football Coach Jim Tressel, on his team's 35-3 loss to #1 USC)

"He did this...you're looking at the miracle John McCain helped create." (Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top economic advisor for the McCain-Palin campaign, holding up his BlackBerry)

"This was obviously a boneheaded joke by a staffer." (Matt McDonald, senior advisor to McCain-Palin, on Mr. Holtz-Eakin crediting Sen. McCain with creating the BlackBerry)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It gets no better

Watch & learn

Across the state of Ohio, damage from Sunday's visit by "Ike Lite" is widespread. More than a million homes and businesses remain without power, many schools are closed for a second straight day and six deaths have been attributed to the windstorm.

On the bright side, recovery isn't being hampered by floodwaters, rain or sweltering heat -- the last two days have been clear and calm, with temps ranging from the mid-50s to the low 70s. For power-company and debris-removal crews, it's like cleaning up after a big ice storm, without having to battle snow and freezing cold.

So no, Ohioans aren't suffering like Texans are. But to be fair, some of my fellow Buckeyes truly are hurting -- homes made uninhabitable, serious injuries sustained, small businesses interrupted or destroyed.

Those dealing with real adversity deserve help from neighbors and relief organizations. Watching local news this morning, however, I was struck by the words of a woman who looked to be in her 30s, interviewed last night at a Red Cross emergency shelter:
"I didn't want to be in the dark any more."
Less than 24 hours after the winds subsided, she succumbed to the unbearable torment of living without artificial light. Unfortunately, she's typical of spoiled, unprepared Americans.

That shelter, set up at the state fairgrounds, can accommodate up to 20,000 people. I can't help wondering how many of this lady's fellow "refugees" reflect her helplessness and attitude of entitlement.

By 9am yesterday, stores here in metro Columbus were sold out of flashlights, batteries, candles, bottled water, generators and chain saws. Many gas stations lucky enough to have power have run dry because their scheduled deliveries have been delayed. The local ice-making company sold 400,000 bags and had to close to make more.

Panic may be embarrassing, but at least it's instructive.

The first lesson, of course, is to notice that we're surrounded by parasites and vow never to join the ill-prepared majority.

Second, we need to differentiate between an inconvenience and a hardship. Darkness isn't a tragedy and ice isn't a necessity -- and burning gallon after gallon of scarce, four-dollar gas to find a store selling ice is just plain ignorant.

Next, since it's reasonable to presume that even the hardest-hit areas will be back to normal within a week, we should resist the temptation to run out and get what we should've had before things went south. We'll only face long lines, short supplies and premium prices, and we'll be draining our gas tanks. Dumb.

Better that we suck it up, use what we have and deal with a little temporary discomfort.

While we're making do and doing without, we should take full advantage of the situation -- I mean, this is a summertime power outage, not TEOTWAWKI in January. It's a good time to note the items we're missing -- a 12-volt "car charger" for the cell phone, an extra tank of gas for the grill, a one-burner propane camp stove, a battery-powered lantern for the dining-room table, a hand saw, a big blue tarp, etc.

And then there are those Homer-esque "Doh!" moments -- like reaching for the garage-door button and realizing that we have to lift it manually. How's this rope thing work? Better practice doing this before the next outage. Damn, it's heavy. Maybe I should lube the springs and cables.

Finally, for those of us with kids, we should use the experience as an opportunity to teach patience, self-reliance and simple, practical skills. In the end, the most important lessons we learn may be the ones we pass along to our children.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bits & notes

The spawns and I put our backs into our morning and made short work of the downed pear tree. The front lawn is clear again and our modest woodpile is a bit taller.

If not for a cheap, cantankerous and seldom-used chain saw, the work would've gone much faster.

Note to self: This is stupid. Either fix the damned thing, or bite the bullet and get a real one.

* * *

Last I checked, the price of crude oil has dropped over four dollars a barrel today, falling below $97 for the first time since early this year.

Nationally, the price of gas is headed in the opposite direction, today up to $3.84 a gallon for regular -- considerably lower than July's all-time high of $4.35, but up from $3.76 a month ago and $2.79 a year ago.

Around here, most stations are charging right at $4.00.

Note to self: Travel lighter, and ride the motorcycle more often.

* * *

After the feds declined to repeat the mistakes they've made in bailing out Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, investment bank Lehman Brothers has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Also this morning, Bank of America announced that it plans to buy Merrill Lynch, the nation's largest investment house, for the fire-sale price of $50 billion.


Right now, for what it's worth these days, the Dow is down 295 points. (Edit: The index closed the day down 504, the biggest point loss since 2001.)

We can stop using words like "tumultuous" and "rocky" to describe the state of our economy. This is a crisis, and well outside our experience.

I suspect it's just begun.

Note to self: Conserve and prepare.


* * *

Here's a text message my wife received this morning from a dear friend in Houston:
No power. Have water. Low on ice. God sent us some a/c. I'm grateful!
Note to self: Count your blessings.

Charmed

(Considering the damage suffered and the hardships now being endured by residents of Texas and Louisiana, I know that what I'm about to describe is the proverbial hangnail.)

Here in the KintlaLake household, we must be living right -- electric power returned overnight.

To put our good fortune into perspective, American Electric Power reports that 71% of our neighbors are still doing without, and the utility is sticking with its projection that some customers may not be restored for a week. Crews that had been dispatched to help residents of Texas and Louisiana recover from Hurricane Ike are being recalled to Ohio.

The large housing development behind us remains dark and, save the sound of a chain saw and a few generators, quiet. During her 17-mile commute, my wife told of navigating an obstacle course of dead traffic lights and downed trees, including one in front of her office, which remains without power.

Our spawns, by the way, are still in bed -- their schools, like virtually all districts in the area, are closed today.

Relatively speaking, our humble hilltop home weathered the windstorm well. Along with the fallen pear I mentioned yesterday, we lost the top of a yellow poplar tree and our lawn is littered with leaves and small branches. Some of the more willowy plants in our garden took quite a beating. Just one shingle was ripped from our roof and a few others were damaged. Four hours of unrelenting wind also managed to push our garden shed off its blocks.

That's it -- charmed, indeed.

When our power winked out yesterday afternoon, we didn't know, of course, how long the minor inconvenience would last. It ended up being a simple flashlights-and-candles affair, with a battery-operated radio keeping us apprised of the situation around us. It was easy to remember not to open the freezer, somewhat more difficult remembering not to flush the toilets (as our younger spawn discovered). We used less than a gallon of our of water stores, mostly for washing.

Easy.

However brief, it was a useful exercise. Now the cleanup begins.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Darkness & smoke

As night comes, the strong wind brings a strong odor.

I know that smell. It's a structure fire.

From our home's highest vantage point, we see no telltale glow against the sky. In this wind, the fire could be miles away.

According to the news on a local AM radio station, power is out in 500,000 homes due to the windstorm, and it could be a week before all are restored.

Mrs. KintlaLake and the spawns just left for my in-laws' shower across town. Like us, they're without electricity, but they have city water.

I think I'll spend the time thinking about how easy I've got it compared to the folks in Texas.

(posted via mobile phone)

Spoke too soon


Sitting near an open window in our upstairs office, my wife and I were enjoying the "breeze" when we heard a sharp crack. "There it goes!" she said.

We looked up in time to see one of our pear tree's large trunks fall past the window and into our front yard. It just missed the front porch.

Tomorrow's project. Next year's firewood.

The wind's still blowing, harder than before.


(posted via mobile phone)

Blowing by


The remnants of Ike, with 45mph winds gusting to 75mph, are passing through the neighborhood right now. I'm posting this from my mobile phone -- power and 'net are out for the time being.

I just came inside after picking up some downed branches. We haven't yet lost any trees, but our neighbor's pear split in two.

Especially entertaining: a sheet of plywood, from a nearby school under construction, pinwheeling through the air.

The sound of transformers popping is a bit unnerving, but the feel of the wind is glorious.

(posted via mobile phone)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pulling for pretenders

The Ohio State University Buckeyes are my football team. Always will be.

The team that showed up in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tonight, however, didn't belong on the same field with the Trojans of the University of Southern California.


USC 35, OSU 3.

Ranked #5? Someone check the math.

Props to Coach Pete Carroll and his team, along with anyone who's been saying that the Big Ten is overrated. They're right -- and that's sad to say, but after this game, it's not difficult to say.

After getting their asses handed to them by the clearly superior Men of Troy, maybe next week Ohio State can find a way to be competitive with the Boys of Troy (University).


Go Bucks...please...?

Mrs. KintlaLake's WVU Mountaineers won't play 'til Thursday, but being a Rich Rodriguez-hater, at least she got something out of today -- Michigan's loss to Notre Dame -- which is just more evidence that the Big Ten is playing pretend, not football.

Recipe: Bittersweet dinosaur juice

Step 1
Buy groceries at Kroger, for a family of four, throughout August. Earn lots of Kroger Fuel Points for September.

Step 2
Drive past BP station selling regular gas for $3.999/gallon. Cross the street to Kroger selling regular for $3.799/gallon. Buy 18 gallons.

Step 3
Pay for gas, use Kroger Fuel Points, pay $3.299/gallon.

Step 4
Kick self in the ass for being happy to pay $3.299/gallon.

Step 5
Go grocery shopping at Kroger, earn points for October.

Step 6
Leave grocery 45 minutes later, notice that Kroger has raised its price to $3.999/gallon.

Shedding more light

Ike came ashore just after 2am CDT as a strong Category 2 hurricane. Even as it moves inland, the storm is expected to maintain hurricane strength through early afternoon.

Damage wreaked by wind and water will be significant. It'll be weeks before we know just how bad it is.

Yesterday's
post referred to Ike's potential impact on the oil-and-gas industry, using numbers cited in media reports. Since then, I've done some digging for more specifics.

I like specifics. Pictures are even better, because they help me wrap my pedestrian brain around dry statistics and featureless factoids.

Every time a big storm percolates in the Gulf of Mexico, we hear about the danger it poses to oil platforms -- but how many platforms are out there? And where are they?

Nearly 4,000 platforms, as it turns out, stand (or float) right in the path of hurricanes like Ike.

We're all familiar with the "Strategic Petroleum Reserve," the emergency fuel supplies maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy. Ok, so it's a political football -- but beyond that, where and how is the oil stored?

The SPR is housed in artificial caverns carved from salt domes, as deep as 3,000 feet underground. This graphic shows the four SPR storage locations, along with related refineries and pipelines.

The reasons for building these facilities in this area are as obvious as they are sound, but again, this vital complex sits squarely in the path of Rita, Katrina, Ike and the like.

Knowing all this, then, human nature begs the next question: What's the worst that could happen?

In an attempt to answer that,
energy-investment gurus put their heads together with severe-weather experts and plotted the path of "The Ultimate Storm."

No, we're not looking at Ike -- notice that in the worst case, the storm doesn't make landfall until it slams into the Texas coast. Without dry land to sap its energy, such a system would continue to strengthen into a devastating Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

So while we don't yet know the toll taken by Hurricane Ike, it could've been worse -- much worse.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ike & the like


Most Americans can't imagine what it's like to stare down the barrel of Hurricane Ike, now taking aim on the Texas Gulf Coast.

I know I can't.

Sure, I lived in southern New England when Gloria -- the most-hyped storm in history -- came ashore as a weak Category 2 hurricane just 20 miles south of my home in 1985. I remember walls shaking, trees falling, lights winking and the eerie calm of the eye passing overhead.

Compared to Ike, Gloria was a nursery rhyme.

Forecasters say that Ike will arrive on Galveston Island early tomorrow morning as a Category 3 hurricane. By the time it reaches the Houston metropolitan area, 40 miles inland, it may still pack a Category 2 wallop. Coastal communities are expecting a 20-foot storm surge, and some areas already are under water. Ike's cloud shield, edge-to-edge, measures a staggering 900 miles.

As I watch a different weather system drop rain outside my window, a thousand miles from Galveston, Ike is just another news story -- except that it'll interrupt 25% of America's oil-refining capacity, 20% of domestic oil production and 15% of our natural-gas production, not to mention the temporary shutdown (at least) of numerous big chemical plants.

So while I keep the people of Galveston and Houston in my thoughts, I'll be equally mindful of the storm's impact on our punch-drunk economy. We seem capable of absorbing these painful blows, provided they're thrown one at a time, but what'll we do if they start coming in flurries?

* * *

I should've bought gas last week.

I don't drive much these days, and I've let my tank (and my fuel cache) drift toward empty while watching prices fall. In just the last 24 hours, they've jumped by 20 cents a gallon around here.

Lazy, optimistic, and not terribly smart.

* * *


On Wednesday, Sen. Joe Biden said -- out loud and publicly -- that Sen. Hillary Clinton "might have been a better pick" for Sen. Barack Obama's running mate.

And yesterday, when asked by ABC's Charlie Gibson if she agrees with the "Bush Doctrine" -- the well-known policy of striking preemptively before being attacked -- Gov. Sarah Palin did her best impression of a moose in the headlights.

You just can't make this stuff up.

* * *

As I
said on Wednesday, I've joined the ranks of the undecided, stepping back from my decision to vote for McCain-Palin. Reaction from readers, friends and family has been strong, to say the least, and overwhelmingly negative.

For the most part, I've been told that not voting for McCain-Palin would be "stupid" -- that's what we say, of course, about people who disagree with us. Democrats say it about Republicans. Conservatives say it about liberals. We have bookstores full of titles like Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, and If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans.

No wonder our country is stuck in reverse.

The 2008 presidential election will be my ninth, so I'm not exactly naive about the dynamics of a close race. I know that if I don't vote for McCain-Palin, I could be handing the equivalent of two votes to Obama-Biden -- especially significant in the so-called "battleground state" of Ohio, thanks to the Electoral College.

The McCain-Palin campaign's intellectual bankruptcy finally drove me to question the wisdom of casting a "defensive vote" against Obama-Biden, especially in light of my clear disagreement with the GOP ticket on issues like abortion rights, the U.S. occupation of Iraq and fiscal policy. I realized that I'd become part of an opposition flock of red sheep, and I'm not sure that's the best way for me to exercise my sacred privilege on November 4th.

If I do decide to vote for a minor-party candidate, I'd be leaving the flock in pursuit of a far greater good, as I perceive it, acknowledging that an Obama presidency isn't the most sinister threat to my country's future.

In terms of sentiment, I'd be standing with a majority of Americans who believe that the two dominant parties have broken more than they've fixed. In terms of action, however, I'd be decidedly in the minority, and frankly, that's a scary place to be. But as natural-gas wildcatter John Masters said,
"You have to recognize that every 'out-front' maneuver is going to be lonely. But if you feel entirely comfortable, then you're not far enough ahead to do any good. That warm sense of everything going well is usually the body temperature at the center of the herd. Only if you're far enough ahead to be at risk do you have a chance for large rewards."
(It occurs to me that political poseurs McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden might want to consult Mr. Masters before invoking buzzwords like "maverick" or "change.")

We need fundamental and revolutionary change, not the cosmetic, dime-store variety proposed by the two big campaigns. It won't happen in a single election, but it has to start somewhere.

It might as well start with me.

* * *

Less than 36 hours from now, my #5 Ohio State Buckeyes will play the top-ranked USC Trojans in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

OSU running back "Beanie" Wells, arguably the team's best player, is still nursing an injured foot and has been listed as "doubtful" for the game. USC presents enough of a challenge with Wells in the lineup, and if he's on the sidelines...

I'm going to end this post here -- it's damned near impossible to type with all my fingers crossed.