Sunday, November 30, 2008

Embrace the doubt

The last eight days have been college-football heaven. From nail-biters to blowouts, whether or not I had a dog in the fight, I've reveled in every single minute.

It's more than pageantry and tradition, rabid alums and bitter rivals. My love of the game rests solidly on the fact that every game matters.

Wins and losses. Suit up, line up, show us what you've got -- and next week, show us again.

Every game matters.

Enter the BCS, that lame expression of the human quest for certainty. Launched in 1998 to address the ritual hand-wringing surrounding the national championship, it's rarely worked as intended -- and it'll fail miserably again this season.

For evidence, look no further than the Texas-Oklahoma-Texas Tech mess in the Big 12. So is it time to trash a clearly dysfunctional system and replace it with some sort of playoff scheme?

Absolutely not.

I'm all for disbanding the BCS -- and I say that even though it gave my Buckeyes the chance to upset consensus favorite Miami in the 2003 championship game -- but I also accept that no playoff scheme will eliminate controversy. What's more, I'm here to suggest that doubt is good for the sport.

Football is a game played by humans, coached and officiated by humans, judged and attended by humans -- and wherever we humans go, controversy follows. Trying to reduce the result to scientific certainty is a fool's errand.

In the world of sport, big-time college football is uncertainty's last stand. We cheer, we care, we hang by the scoreboard because every game is either a stepping-stone or a potential knockout punch.

Win now, because tomorrow may never come. Week by uncertain week, the excitement builds.

When a 41-point underdog upsets the top-ranked team in October, it matters. When a feisty I-AA squad pulls off an impossible August win in The Big House, it matters. When a bunch of Ducks unexpectedly sticks a thorn into the Beavers' post-season plans, it matters.

From my seat in the bleachers, I maintain that uncertainty is absolutely essential to the passion of college football. Imprisoning joy in a formulaic cage may be human nature, but it's beyond me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Saving presidents

It's the day after Thanksgiving, a.k.a. "Black Friday," the biggest shopping day of the year. Malls are jammed with people spending money they don't have on bargains that don't exist.

Been there, done that, not gonna do it again.

Some say that deflation will yield irresistible deals, but that's just hype -- our collective buying power has been shrinking right along with prices. Truth is, for most commodities and must-have holiday items, real prices haven't shrunk much at all.

I see no point in joining a stampede of retail sheep, so I'm staying put, doing some laundry, updating my family's emergency plan, tinkering on the motorcycles and watching college football. In fact, the WVU-Pitt "Backyard Brawl" just kicked off -- let's go Mountaineers.

Mostly, I'm going to avoid the crowds, keep my wallet in my pocket and enjoy this brilliant November day.

Saving precedents
My early-morning reading included today's column by George Will, in which he discusses the views of conservative Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson.

Judge Wilkinson posits that the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision and its recent Heller v. DC ruling on the Second Amendment both are examples of judicial activism. One is more palatable than the other to conservatives, but each, according to this jurist, thrusts a politically subjective court into a legislative morass of its own making.

Mr. Will skillfully highlights the apparent contradiction and the resulting division among conservatives. His commentary is typically sound, but I want to expand on a few important points.

Today's conservatives mistake ideology for principle. Conservatism is an ideology, liberty is a principle, and the Constitution codifies the latter -- not the former -- in fundamental law. Making the distinction depends on something called intellectual honesty.

Mr. Will, whose thoughtful conservatism shames the mindless klaxons of talk radio, has that quality. So did former Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater:

"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Neo-conservatives, as they swing their ideological hammer at activist judges -- or even at William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright -- ought to admit that activism and "extremism," judicial or otherwise, are perfectly acceptable in pursuit of their agenda.
That'd be the honest thing to do, anyway.

I may not be a constitutional lawyer, but as a citizen I don’t subscribe to Judge Wilkinson’s premise. To me, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear and unambiguous:

"A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Article I of the Ohio Constitution (1851), by the way, is likewise straightforward:

"The people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security; but standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and shall not be kept up; and the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power."
What Mr. Will calls "a thicket of fine-tuning policy in interminable litigation" is the natural result of the court upholding a constitutional right that's been diluted, even decimated, by legislatures at all levels of government -- in other words, it goes with the judicial territory.

Further, Judge Wilkinson's correlation of Roe, which created a right, with Heller, which restored a right, falls apart in the face of a constitutionally guaranteed liberty -- the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms.

Principle knows the difference. Ideology does not.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A partial list


Freedom.

Independence.

My loving family.

Digital photography.

The Spoonmaker’s work.

Graeter’s Pralines & Cream.

A clear conscience and a clear title.

Brave Americans who defend our liberty.

Power-company workers who pull double shifts.

An old pair of blue jeans and a trusty pocketknife.

Snow that always melts and traditions that never will.

Beanie Wells in scarlet-and-gray and Sarah Palin in Alaska.

The Ohio Constitution, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Dogs with short memories and friends who never forget.

Two jars of homemade pickles still in the fridge.

Four-stroke engines and four-wheel drive.

Black coffee, dark beer and red wine.

A gallon of regular gas for $1.56.

Two days, two championships.

Small towns and big hearts.

MUTE, UNDO & DELETE.

Fresh chile peppers.

Castle Doctrine.

Motorcycles.

Freedom.

Thanksgiving's best

"Oh my God, they're turkeys! ... Oh, they're plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!" (Les Nessman, from "Turkeys Away")

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." (Arthur Carlson)


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai

Tonight in India, teams of heavily armed terrorists carried out an estimated ten coordinated commando-style attacks. Early accounts have 87 dead and more than 250 injured. The attackers are said to have targeted Americans and Brits, and reportedly they're still holding hostages.

It's only a matter of time before such events again visit our complacent shores.

Peeking under the TARP

Remember when Congress passed that outrageous corporate-bailout bill? It's being called the "Troubled Asset Relief Program," or TARP, the greatest act of socialized capitalism in American history.

Well, if the mere mention of "$700 billion" spikes your blood pressure, you might want to stop reading here.

The folks over at Bloomberg, like many of us, noticed that each day seems to bring news of yet another corporation benefiting from our government's ad hoc largesse, so reporters Mark Pittman and Bob Ivry decided to add up the numbers. Here's what they came up with: $7.76 trillion.

That's not a misprint. It is, in fact, more than ten times what Congress approved, an amount equivalent to 50% of everything that the U.S. produces in a year. It's also more than 25 times what it would take to pay off every red cent of individual Americans' bad mortgages and consumer debt.

Most important, it's nearly eight trillion dollars of our money, yours and mine. And this scatter-shot "fix" won't fix a damned thing.

Our elected representatives defied the will of The People in approving the original TARP, and now the Treasury and the Fed are defying an oblivious Congress as they throw billions upon borrowed billions at companies deemed "too big to fail."

It's time for this nation's biggest corporation to rise up and assert its own defiance. As citizens and voters, consumers and debtors, policyholders and shareholders, we have the power to redirect benefits paid for by The People, to The People.

Our inept government can no longer be allowed to be confident in our consent. Barons and bastions of corporate greed must be made to groan under a burden that we apply.

We, The People, can change the rules of American commerce and governance -- to be more accurate, we have the power to restore the rules. In doing so, we can reclaim our economy and our nation.

We must choose, we must act and we must persevere -- no blinking.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Run of luck

Shortly after McDonald's launched its dorky Monopoly promotion in September, I found myself holding a few game pieces. Half-hearted but hopeful, I decided to play the online version of the game.

I never expected to collect $100,000 -- and I didn't, by the way -- but when my marker landed on "Free Parking" earlier this month, I was told that I'd just won a $50 Shell gift card.

Fifty bucks' worth of gas? Cool. I printed the redemption form and mailed it the next day. I'll see my plastic prize sometime in January, and I'm hoping that gas prices stay where they are 'til then. Lower would be ok, too.

As I
reported a few days ago, last Saturday my family trekked to the OSU area for the festivities surrounding The Game. My wife and I each took a turn on a wheel-of-chance, part of a Ford-Sirius "Tailgate Tour" setup we passed on our way to Hineygate.

All I got was a lousy t-shirt. Mrs. KintlaLake had a much better spin, however, winning ten $5 BP gift cards -- another $50 toward precious petrol.

Do I sense a trend?

Thumbing through yesterday's mail, I pulled out a holiday promotion from Dodge. Judging the colorful piece to be junk, I almost fed it to the shredder -- I'm not in the market for a new vehicle, and I
traded my Dodge (etc.) on that used SUV that I picked up a month ago -- but something told me to open the flyer.

I was amused to learn that I'm "pre-approved by Chrysler Financial for at least $45,000" in financing toward a new Dodge. (When pigs fly.) Reading further, I found instructions for claiming a $50 Visa gift card, no strings attached -- all I had to do was walk into a Dodge showroom and have the dealer validate my certificate.

I waffled about whether or not to cash-in the offer, even though within the next hour I'd be driving right by the dealership where I'd bought my departed Dodge four years ago. I know these people, and I know how much they're struggling to stay in business right now. I hated to make such a selfish strafing run -- it just didn't feel right.


To make a long story short, I got over it. To ease my guilty conscience, I chatted with a couple of the guys for ten minutes or so, catching up on families, life and business.

"We're all starving here," a middle-aged salesman said, gesturing around the showroom, "but it's the same everywhere. I've never seen anything like it."

The sales manager validated my certificate without complaint. I drove off into the rainy night, filing my claim for the gift card online when I got home. It should arrive in my mailbox before the end of the year.

Yeah, I'll probably spend it on gas.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sports medicine

You'll please excuse central-Ohio sports fans if we harbor an inferiority complex. We've earned it.

I'm not talking about the bumbling Browns and Bengals, the Indians or the Reds. In recent years, none of those teams has come close to winning our hearts, much less breaking them -- and besides, those Cleveland and Cincinnati franchises are too far away, really, to feel like home teams.

No, this is about a handful of oh-so-promising squads, nearly all of them clad in scarlet and gray, that have toyed with our optimism over the last two years.


The undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes football team entered the 2007 BCS National Championship game as a prohibitive favorite -- and was drubbed by Florida.

A few months later, OSU's men's basketball team made it to the NCAA Championship final and, like their gridiron brethren, lost to Florida.

The Ohio State men's soccer team took a run at the 2007 NCAA title, but lost to Wake Forest in the championship game.

Our hometown AFL franchise, the Columbus Destroyers, shocked the indoor-football world by reaching the 2007 Arena Bowl -- and surprised no one by losing to the San Jose SaberCats.

The football Buckeyes, again ranked #1 after the 2007 regular season, had a second-straight shot at a BCS championship, only to be denied vindication in the 2008 title game by LSU.

In the 2008 NCAA wrestling tournament, Ohio State finished second to champion Iowa.

A year after losing in the NCAA final, the OSU men's basketball team did win a championship -- the second-tier, sister-kissing 2008 NIT.

Is it any wonder that our battle cry is "We're #2"?

Then yesterday, the Columbus Crew delivered us a title. At this moment, it doesn't matter that Ohio State football still reigns supreme in this city, that the Clippers have been here longer or that the Blue Jackets have more fans.

A Columbus team is bringing home a national-championship trophy.

For millions of sports fans, even those of us who don't care much about soccer, that MLS Cup is soothing salve. Although our celebration won't compare to what followed the Buckeyes' 2003 BCS National Championship win, right now we're busily digging through our closets for something black-and-gold to wear -- and then, by god, we're gonna party.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Champs!

I'm not a big soccer fan, but I am a homer.

This afternoon, the Columbus Crew beat the New York Red Bulls 3-1 to win the Major League Soccer Cup. It's the first MLS title in the Crew's 13-year history and the first pro-sports championship for the city in a decade -- by far the biggest ever.

So let's review: Yesterday the football Buckeyes beat arch-rival Michigan, and a day later the futbol Crew -- "America's Hardest-Working Team" -- won the Super Bowl of U.S. soccer. In this sports-crazed city, I won't be drawn into a debate about which matters more in the grand scheme of things.

All I know is that our team won again today, and that's enough to make this homer proud as hell.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

(The) Gameday

A few minutes before five o'clock this morning, I squinted at the thermometer.

Twelve degrees.

I suppose if you live long enough and spend enough time outdoors in cold weather, sooner or later you'll figure out how to dress yourself. I wasn't worried so much about my own comfort -- I was more concerned about our spawns, but hey, this is how they'll learn what I've learned. Besides, by the time we left the house, the mercury had climbed to a balmy eighteen degrees.

We started our gameday earlier than usual because today was OSU-Michigan, The Game, and we knew that all of the parking lots would be full if we arrived at our customary time -- and we were right. But instead of ending up in a field next to the Olentangy River as I'd expected, we were directed into a paved lot smack-dab in the middle of "tailgate central."

The party scene itself was outrageous, not unlike many other college-football environs. The sight of tens of thousands of groggy grownups grilling and swilling at sunrise on a bitterly cold morning, though, made me laugh out loud.

We sat in the warm truck for a while, eventually emerging for the half-mile walk to the Holiday Inn for Hineygate. Along the way we passed dozens of vendors hawking the typical array of OSU souvenirs, hot food and the like. The biggest gameday of the year attracted a lot of corporate booths, too, most of them handing out freebies of one sort or another.

I don't drink rum, I don't drive a Ford, none of my vehicles burns ethanol, my satellite radio doesn't get Sirius and I prefer ESPN Game Day to FOX College Sports...but did somebody say "free"? Here's what a family of four can get just for showing up:
  • Six t-shirts;
  • Two shoulder bags;
  • Two bottle-opener key rings;
  • Two rubber wristbands;
  • A deck of cards;
  • A miniature football;
  • Three doses of a quick-energy potion;
  • Two coozies;
  • Two mousepads;
  • A package of solid-fuel charcoal substitute;
  • A scarlet-and-gray "rally towel";
  • A reversible "Go Bucks/Beat Michigan" placard;
  • Three red foam-rubber "We're #1" mitts;
  • A red foam-rubber pirate hat; and
  • $50 in gas-station gift cards.
Yes, that's quite a haul, and no, I don't have a good explanation. For what it's worth, we passed up more giveaways than we grabbed -- no lanyards, no caps, no flashing pendants and absolutely no thunder sticks (perish the thought). I hiked back to the truck and stowed our booty rather than lugging it around.

I've written about the craziness of the Hineygate party in earlier posts, but nothing compares to a Michigan Hineygate. The crowd is bigger and rowdier, the band puts on a better show and, probably most important, everyone shivering in that hotel parking lot knows that it's the last time we'll gather 'til next season.

The Danger Brothers were in rare form today, surprising us by bringing several guest players onstage -- two members of an old local rock'n'roll band, a portly guitar wizard, and a soulful audience member to belt out a Motown standard.

(Incidentally, I would've taken more photos of the festivities, but my camera's aging rechargeables kept freezing.)

Three hours after they struck their first chord, the band broke for The Game -- and since we didn't have tickets, we broke for the truck, choosing to follow the action on radio and, once we got home, on TV.

Wherever he is, Woody is smiling. This was his kind of day and his kind of game -- cold and dominated by a suffocating Ohio State defense. It was a thing of beauty.

I believe my fondest memory will be of senior quarterback and team captain Todd Boeckman coming in late and firing a touchdown strike to receiver Brian Hartline. Last year Boeckman led the Buckeyes to the national-championship game, but after three games this season he was benched in favor of freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor. By all accounts, the demoted Boeckman's leadership never wavered. That's one rare young man, and I'm glad that he got another moment, however brief, in the spotlight.


He left the field today to a standing ovation. Perfect.

My Morgantown missus wanted much more blood from F-Rod and the Wolverines -- for at least one jilted Mountaineer, a 42-7 smackdown wasn't quite humiliating enough. Still, I think she'll take it, and so will Buckeye Nation.


It was the largest winning margin for Ohio State over Michigan in 40 years and the third-biggest ever. The Buckeyes now have an unprecedented five-game win streak in the rivalry, and Tressel runs his mark in The Game to 7-1. And this class of talented seniors -- even the fifth-year seniors -- is undefeated against "that team up north." What's not to love?

Just 363 days 'til The Game 2009.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Observation post

With our older spawn's car out of commission, I've been pressed into service as a part-time school-bus driver. First thing every morning, Mrs. KintlaLake drops off one spawn on her way to work and the other hitches a ride with a classmate. At 11am, I fetch our older spawn at tech school, drive him home for a quick lunch, and then shuttle him over to the high school by noon. Around 2pm, I retrieve first one and then the other, and we head back home.

This parental duty, which I'm glad to do, adds up to 60 miles a day. I'm also glad that the price of gas is staying low.

The drive-time offers certain benefits, like catching the spawns' moods immediately after a day of learning and socializing. I'm using my truck's satellite radio, tuned to "Bluegrass Junction," as a conversation-starter -- facing that kind of music, they start talking just to get me to turn down the volume.

For variety, and when time's not a concern, I've been taking different routes to the schools. I don't venture too far afield, but I rather enjoy zigging and zagging my way through our rural-suburbia and gliding across the expanses of farmland between here and there.

There's pleasure in noticing.

In more residential areas, I see that most of my neighbors, unlike me, have finished their fall chores -- leaves are picked up and lawn furniture is stowed 'til spring. Sadly, there are lots of for-sale signs. Empty houses, too. Not good.

As houses give way to farms, what I observe is more to my liking. I find solace in watching deer step through icy fields, as if practicing their footing for harsher days to come. I get a few moments' entertainment from a pair of mad chickadees, puffed up against the cold November wind, circling and perching, circling and perching just to stay warm.

Long views are longer this time of year. Now-leafless trees expose clearings hidden during warmer months, and I spy old houses, barns and outbuildings I hadn't noticed only a few weeks ago. This great, rich landscape seems to have grown larger while my back was turned.

In a field next to the road, a black-and-white barn cat stalks its prey.

This afternoon, the spawns and I detoured past a house that burned last night. It's just a mile down the road from us, so we'd heard the sirens as we drifted off to sleep. A big blue tarp has been draped over the charred wood where a roof used to be. It looks to be short of a total loss -- good news for a fortunate family.

Just before we pulled into our driveway, our older spawn announced an observation of his own -- the battle flag of the Confederacy flies from a tall pole in front of a nearby house. Free speech notwithstanding, in this time and place that's disconcerting.

There may indeed be pleasure in noticing, but not everything I see is wholly pleasant. Now I have some "research" to do.

Tradition's Eve

"Because I couldn't go for three." (former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, after the Buckeyes' 50-14 win over Michigan in 1968, on why he went for a two-point conversion with a 36-point lead and 1:23 to play)

"Men, this is war. I don't give a damn about the national championship or the Big Ten championship, but if we win this game today and, afterward, if the Good Lord says, 'Woody, it's your time,' I'll say, 'Lord, I'm ready.'" (Woody Hayes, from his locker-room speech before OSU's 21-14 win over Michigan in 1975)

"I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field." (Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, speaking at halftime of an OSU-Michigan basketball game on January 18, 2001 -- the day he was hired -- in what's become known simply as "The Promise." Tressel's record against the Wolverines is 6-1.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Broken

Hey, that bailout thing's working out well, isn't it?

I'm not so naive as to think that the promise of $700 billion would've fixed anything by now -- I mean, it's been less than two months since Congress picked our pockets. What I might've expected, however, would be a hint that Wall Street, at least, has more confidence in Sec. Paulson's misbegotten plan than The People do.

It doesn't -- and why would anyone be optimistic when there's been no accounting and no oversight? Investors, both individual and institutional, are yanking their money out of the markets despite devastating losses.

Crippled GM, begging for a bailout that hasn't come, closed today at $2.88, off more than 90% from its 12-month high. Citigroup, which got bailout money and promptly spent most of it on acquisitions, ended the day at $4.71, nearly 87% lower than its own one-year high. The pattern repeats throughout corporate America.

And then there's the Dow, which shed more than 400 points again today to close at 7,552 -- if you're keeping score at home, that's a wholesale hemorrhaging of 48% of those companies' market capital in just over 13 months. Worse, and probably more significant, the S&P 500 has sunk to its lowest level since 1997.

It's grotesque. There's nothing that you or I can do to mask (or escape) the ugliness, and I'm absolutely sure that the worst is yet to come.

But why should you believe what this blogger says? I don't have a degree in economics or a seven-figure portfolio. Then again, I don't have a political agenda, either. I simply have the brains I was born with and the eyes to see what's happening around me -- not just in the markets, but in my own community.

We need to stop being blind and stupid to economic reality. Last week a business owner assured me that his small enterprise was doing just fine -- and, of course, that all this doom-and-gloom stuff was overblown. He was unaware, somehow, that the county in which he does business has one of the highest unemployment rates in Ohio, and that his Pollyanna chickens soon will be coming home to roost.

It's not how I'm doing or how you're doing -- it's how we're doing. Big picture, dammit.

Optimism about the ability of Obama-Biden and a Democratic Congress to "fix" the economy (read, "pass more bailouts") is just plain silly. We know that our economy is fundamentally broken. We also know that the incoming administration will throw entitlements and taxpayers' money at the problem -- which itself is a broken strategy, because it only pawns off the burden onto our children.

Face it, the Recession Express left the station months ago, and the whistle we hear in the distance is the Depression Local. All aboard.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to drive down to my favorite gas station and pay $1.71 a gallon for whatever it takes to fill my truck. Hell, maybe I'll get a wild hair and scoot across town, where the going rate is $1.58.

Look, when most of what I see is ugly and broken, I'll take my simple pleasures wherever I can find them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stunt, man

The CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler have spent the last two days on Capitol Hill. Yesterday they were grilled by a Senate committee, today members of the House took potshots.

At one point during today's hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman of California staged a classic, made-for-TV stunt when he asked the CEOs to "raise their hand if they flew here commercial. Let the record show, no hands went up."

"Second," he continued, "I'm going to ask you to raise your hand if you are planning to sell your jet in place now and fly back commercial. Let the record show, no hands went up."

In the current climate, such grandstanding makes for good copy and even better headlines, but let's be clear: What Rep. Sherman did was nothing less than opportunism playing to ignorance.

If you've worked at the top level of a large, high-profile American corporation, you know that the chief executive is a target. The physical safety of those whose names appear on the corporate proxy is paramount, and the intensity of security preparations isn't widely known.

In my professional life, I've had the experience of working elbow-to-elbow with CEOs and company presidents who live every day with the risk that accompanies their positions. I've flown with them aboard corporate aircraft and coordinated with their security details on countless public appearances. I've watched their personal vehicles being swept for incendiaries, and I've hunkered down with them while threats were defused.

Rep. Sherman (or anyone else) insisting that these three CEOs travel via commercial airlines is absurd. As frivolous as a private jet might sound, security trumps PR -- every time.

We don't need some showboating congressman to convince us that we can't trust these companies with our money, do we? There are plenty of other reasons, good and sound reasons, to oppose the bailout of the "big three" automakers -- and I do oppose asking American taxpayers to spend billions just to postpone a mismanaged industry's inevitable collapse.

In the best interest of our children and the future of our nation, we need to prepare for the pain that comes with doing the right thing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Continuum

Despite the central role that organized religion played in my upbringing, and even though I earned a sheepskin proclaiming that I have a bachelor's degree in religion, I walked away from that phase of my life nearly three decades ago. I prefer to live a present life in a present world.

If I still own a Bible, it's packed away in an attic box. I still do, however, devote time to my personal "old testament" (Walden, by Henry David Thoreau) and my "new testament" (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig). I'm particularly fond of the latter, finding new wisdom and insights at each reading.

Pirsig spends much of the book grappling with quality -- pretty heady stuff, especially in light of his personal struggles. His intellectual wrestling can present a challenge, but the persistent reader will be rewarded with intriguing discussion and enlightening conclusions. One of my favorite passages:

"The sun of quality...does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not just passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it!"
What I get from Pirsig (besides chills) is as much about continuity as it is about quality. All those things that we perceive as separate and distinct -- actions and beliefs, rational thoughts and irrational emotions -- are one, a continuum that's both intensely personal and undeniably universal.

In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote of Almustafa's return to the village of his birth, and of the villagers seeking his wisdom on a variety of subjects -- love, commerce, law, freedom, good and evil, pleasure and other temporal concerns. Near the end of the book, the chapter "On Religion" begins:

"And an old priest said, 'Speak to us of Religion.'

"And he said: 'Have I spoken this day of aught else?'"

The priest, like many of us, had relegated his faith to its own sacred compartment. Almustafa reminded him that all those separate matters the villagers had been inquiring about, taken together, were, in fact, their religion.

Pirsig echoes this truth in discussing the ritual of motorcycle maintenance:

"The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be 'out there' and the person that appears to be 'in here' are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together."
Woven into that gem are two phrases -- "working on" and "grow toward" -- that bridge any perceived gap between the intellectual and the practical. It's more than the knowing; it's the living. Here's part of what precedes the passage above:
"It’s the way you live that predisposes you to avoid the traps and see the right facts. The...fixing of a motorcycle isn't separate from the rest of your existence. If you’re a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren't working on your machine, what trap avoidances, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together."
The continuum, then, is a given. Living in harmony with it is, practically speaking, a matter of intent -- it's the working and growing Pirsig is talking about, and that's where discipline comes into play.

A lack of self-discipline can manifest itself as a compartmentalized existence, the illusion that one's life can be separated into parcels. Think about the professional athlete who takes care of his body and trains obsessively, and yet recreates in a world of substance abuse and crime. Or the politician who's known for advocating "family values," but ultimately is discovered to have been living a secret, seemingly contradictory life. Or the model soldier who's dedicated to perfecting his tactical skills, but who runs his mouth with considerably less discipline than he applies to his warrior mindset.

Self-discipline isn't automatic, of course, and it's not a steady state -- it's learned and re-learned, lost and regained, maintained and reinforced with every experience. The principle, which can be tough enough for adults to grasp, is especially difficult to impart to children, those ever-changing creatures who still are accumulating experiences and defining their own personal continuum. Even our best efforts won't prevent them from living their lives like they're clicking a TV tuner, and that's that.

Still, there comes an age at which we need to stop making excuses for our kids and start cultivating an attitude of self-discipline. That's what's happening at the KintlaLake household these days -- and (at my peril) I'm going to use our older spawn as an example.

On opening the door to this 17-year-old's room, one's first impression is that of a rummage sale after considerable rummaging. I have no idea how he (or anyone else) can tell clean clothes from dirty -- everything is on the floor, every garment is wadded into a ball. Dirty dishes and half-eaten snacks have been known to linger in the room for weeks, giving rise to disturbing life forms that I, for one, don't recognize.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that this spawn had earned himself a speeding ticket. Recently he added a rear-end collision to his brief résumé -- he wasn't hurt, but his crunched car, though not a total loss, is out-of-commission until it's been repaired.

The car now sits in our barn, just as it has for the last eight days. Our spawn has spent the weekend and his after-school hours removing dozens of bent pieces and broken parts -- thus creating a pile of bent pieces and broken parts next to a car that still needs fixing. There's been activity, but there's not been much progress.

What's missing isn't skill -- it's self-discipline.

Step one, it seems to me, would be to recognize that without a car he's lost his mobility and can't hold a paying job, followed by deciding that the goal is to do what's necessary to fix the car. Assess the situation, define the task, execute the task, drive away.

The wrecked car itself is neither the problem, really, nor is it the point -- with apologies to Pirsig, the real car he's working on is a car called himself.

The most valuable lesson our spawn can learn from this experience is that he can benefit from adopting an attitude of self-discipline -- from the way he keeps his room to the quality of his schoolwork to the choices he makes in his social life. Ideally, he'll see that the absence of that attitude is directly related to why, over a week later, he's still no closer to having a road-worthy car.

I'm not saying that he has to clean up his room before he fixes his car -- if you ask me, he should start with the project in the barn. As Pirsig asserts:
"...if you’re a sloppy thinker six days a week and you really try to be sharp on the seventh, then maybe the next six days aren't going to be quite as sloppy as the preceding six."
It's a process. When we dispense with our artificial compartments and embrace the continuum, it can be quite an enjoyable process.

I hope that's so for our spawn.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dusting

The weather has teased us for weeks. One day we'd be strolling around in shirtsleeves, the next we'd be breaking out the fleece.

This morning, we officially tipped over into winter.

I finished my second cup of coffee, pulled on a jacket and hiked out through the soft light to a recently harvested soybean field. Last night's wet snow clumped on the stubble and clung to rooftops and leafless trees. As I kicked across the field, light snow continued to fall.

No doubt about it -- the seasons have changed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

'When Chic Harley Got Away'

"The years of football playing reach back a long, long way,
And the heroes are a hundred who have worn the red and gray;
You can name the brilliant players from the year the game began,
You can rave how this one punted and praise how that one ran;
You can say that someone's plunging was the best you ever saw,
You can claim the boys now playing stage a game without a flaw --
But admit there was no splendor in all the bright array
Like the glory of the going when Chic Harley got away."
(from the poem by James Thurber)

"If you never saw him run with a football, we can't describe it to you. It wasn't like Red Grange or Tom Harmon or anybody else. It was kind of a cross between music and cannon fire, and it brought your heart up under your ears." (Bob Hooey, longtime sports editor of the Ohio State Journal, describing Chic Harley, Ohio State football player from 1916-1919 and the school's first All-American, an honor he won three times)

'It's the most wonderful time of the year'

Mid-November here in Buckeye Nation and the air has a sharp bite to it. Snow flurries dance against the gray-white sky. Before we even think about making plans for the Thanksgiving holiday, however, another celebration demands our attention.

It's the first day of Beat Michigan Week.

With yesterday's win over Illinois, 11 of 12 games are in the books. OSU fans who bought the pre-season hype and believed the Sports Illustrated cover consider 2008 a disappointing year.

None of that matters -- this is Ohio State-Michigan. This is The Game.

While the Buckeyes enter The Game 9-2 and ranked #10, the Wolverines will drag themselves into The 'Shoe next Saturday with a 3-8 record -- in over a century of playing football, the University of Michigan has never lost as many games in a season. Under new head coach Rich Rodriguez, Michigan won't be playing in a bowl game for the first time in over three decades.

None of that matters. This is Ohio State-Michigan. This is The Game.

For those of us who have loved and lived The Game since childhood, every edition of OSU-Michigan is memorable. We understand why it's considered the greatest rivalry in all of sports -- but distinction matters less than tradition.

From Columbus to Ann Arbor, and in countless communities in between, these are the high holy days of our gridiron religion. We tolerate the rest of the season -- in fact, we suffer the rest of the year -- only because each passing day brings us closer to November's most sacred liturgy.

Non-believers will suggest that worshipping a college football game is a relatively trivial pursuit, even misguided, that perhaps Ohioans and Michiganders have more important things to think about. After all, hundreds of thousands of us are out of work and the unemployment line grows longer by the day. Our cities are slashing budgets, venerable companies are closing their doors and our shared auto industry is circling the bowl. Two faraway wars are claiming our sons and daughters.

Here in the Heartland, the tougher the times, the more cherished our traditions. The tighter you squeeze us, the louder we'll cheer for the Scarlet and Gray, the Maize and Blue.

Sure, these are hard days. But for one week, for four hours on a cold November afternoon, none of that matters. This is Ohio State-Michigan. This is The Game.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hear, hear!

"I don’t really agree...that this is...worthy of really exploring because I don’t buy the idea that guilt-by-association should be any part of our politics.

"And the interesting thing is, as much as this was created as an issue in the campaign, it appears that for most people...it had no traction. It had no meaning. So the assumption that if two people share a cup of coffee or take a bus downtown together or have a thousand other types of associations, that that somehow means they share politics, outlook, policy, or responsibility for one another’s actions."

"So this idea that we need to know more like there’s some dark, hidden secret -- some secret link -- is just a myth. And it’s a myth thrown up by people who wanted to kind of exploit the politics of fear. And I think it’s a great credit to the American people that those politics were rejected.

"The idea that we should continue to be frightened and worried and, you know, barricaded is falling down, and it should." (William Ayers, former member of Weather Underground, speaking about attempts to associate him with President-elect Barack Obama, in an interview today on ABC's "Good Morning America")

Gas prices: An aerial view

I've found the information published on GasBuddy.com an interesting and occasionally helpful survey of gas prices across North America. It's not always up-to-the-moment or down-to-the-penny, but that's to be expected with a user-supported site.

One of the site's features is a
Gas Temperature Map, a color-coded snapshot of prices by county and, when zoomed in, by town. Green is good, yellow less so, and red areas are paying through the nose, relatively speaking.

We Buckeyes are feeling lucky, rightly so, albeit not as fortunate as Missourians and Sooners. Illuminating the map, GasBuddy.com's tables bear that out -- the Ohio average for a gallon of regular is $1.870, Oklahoma is a penny cheaper at $1.859 and Missouri boasts the nation's best price at $1.844. Among major metro areas, Columbus currently sits in fourth place at $1.813, behind Des Moines ($1.793), Tulsa ($1.773) and Kansas City ($1.749).

I see that in Mrs. KintlaLake's hometown, prices are considerably higher -- generally around $2.39 -- but a glance at the map suggests the reason why. Wherever there's a marked difference in "temperature" at a state border, there's a plausible explanation: taxes. It looks like West Virginia levies much higher gas taxes than neighboring Ohio.

Notably, and with a nod to the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Chicago is paying $2.299, Wilmington $2.062, Phoenix $2.286 and Anchorage (drum roll for the highest price in the nation) $2.965.

I'll close this post with a comment about the Obama-Biden administration (and its allies in Congress) proposing an increase in the national gas tax -- according to some reports, by at least a dollar a gallon. (Right now it's 18.4 cents a gallon.) Their goal is to discourage demand by keeping gas prices artificially high, reduce the appeal of gas-guzzlers, and pander to enviro-weenies.

My first reaction is that consumers shouldn't be slapped with a tax that increases the price of a non-discretionary commodity by as much as 40%, especially in this economy. It may be oversimplifying to attribute today's lower prices to supply-and-demand alone, but the fact is that Americans hit a price barrier when we started paying four bucks for gas -- demand decreased, supplies grew and prices dropped naturally.

Screw the tax increase. The marketplace works. Our government should butt the hell out and let it keep working.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Enjoying the moment

I'm finding it hard to drive past gas stations these days.

It was just two months ago that the remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through Ohio, after which prices around here spiked at $4.06 for a gallon of regular gas. Back then, and for many months before, filling the tank was painful.

Now, with a global economic crisis and the price of crude oil at a 20-month low, it's like having a sale on every corner. When my wife and I were out running errands tonight, for instance, I couldn't resist the urge to swerve into a BP selling regular for $1.86.

It took only five gallons to top-off the tank, but at less than half what I paid in September, for cryin' out loud, I just couldn't pass it up. (It was 54% less, to be precise, than the post-Ike peak.)

And $1.86 isn't lowest price in our metro area, either -- stations on the other side of town are reported to be selling regular for $1.71.

These prices won't last, of course. I just hope they stick around 'til the mail brings that $50 gas card I won playing McDonald's Monopoly.

Simplicity, complicated

When I wrote about replacing two vehicles with one a few weeks ago, it was a burden lifted. As much as I miss the cars I traded, I don't miss the payments -- not one bit. Besides, that three-year-old mid-size SUV I acquired is working out well for my family and me.

Anyone who's traded a vehicle that still carries a loan balance knows how this sort of thing works. Soon after I hand over the car, the dealer sends a check for balance to the finance company, and the finance company signs the title over to the dealer to transfer ownership. For my transaction, the routine had to be executed twice.

It happens all the time, and it's simple -- when everyone holds up their end of the bargain, that is.

I did my part, and my dealer had the proper payoff figures. Problem is, nearly three weeks later the dealer still hadn't sent the checks -- and the finance companies' quotes were valid for only ten days.

I caught a gust of ill wind last weekend when one of the finance companies called me, demanding that I pay up immediately (like I was going to do that at 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning). See, it didn't faze the lien holder that I'd traded the car and no longer had it in my possession. I'm still on the hook 'til the terms of the finance contract are satisfied.

First thing Monday morning, I phoned the salesman at my dealer and let him have it -- calmly, but with both barrels.

Over the next three days, I got 15 more calls from that finance company, most of which, thanks to the miracle of caller ID, I was able to ignore. Now, despite the fact that my dealer paid its tab yesterday (finally), my phone keeps ringing, each call more insistent and more threatening than the last.

The harassment isn't getting me down, really, because I know it'll end eventually. It's likely that my credit score will get dinged, though -- certainly not my fault, definitely my problem.

None of this had to happen, of course, but I suppose it's a reflection of the times in which we live. Generally speaking, customer service and professional competence seem to be on permanent vacation. The whole transaction wouldn't have been necessary had I not been caught in a personal financial squeeze, and the dealer no doubt is dealing with its own squeeze. Maybe the finance company has escalated its collection tactics because money's a lot harder to collect these days.

(The dealer, by the way, sells GM products and the finance company is owned by Chrysler. Both automakers are pleading for government bailouts -- go figure, eh?)

I'm not going to fret about matters beyond my control. Other than a solemn vow to never again do business with Chrysler Financial, I'm moving on with my life, my finances and my new (to me) truck -- which, like I said, is looking more and more like a great choice. It’s been a long time since I’ve run 4WD in the winter, and I can't wait for the first snowfall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Make it stop

The Sarah Palin Denial Tour got underway last Tuesday night, when she arrived at the sparsely attended election-night event toting her own concession speech. Talk about a diva.

Typical of Sen. John McCain's ill-qualified pick, she demonstrated once again that she can't breathe the air at that level. Fortunately, Sen. McCain's staff, in a rare fit of common sense, ordered The Alaska Millstone to be seen and not heard.

Once aboard the plane back to Anchorage, however, Gov. Palin unleashed herself on us and hasn't stopped since. Unfettered by professional counsel, America's most famous urchin has been free to speak her, um, mind. Right now she's in Miami, splitting time between a Republican governors' conference and a gross, self-centered media tour.

I have no idea what she's contributing to the former, but in what I've seen of the latter, this is the same clucking, clueless candidate who laid a clutch of eggs in Katie Couric's lap. When she's not speaking in non sequitur, she's bouncing between expressing lip-service support of the President-elect and inexplicably resurrecting his "associations" to Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.

Memo to the Governor: The campaign is over. You lost the election. Either show some class, or go away.

Gov. Palin's public twitching ceased to be shocking months ago -- now I'm actually embarrassed for her, along with her party and her country. If she doesn't have the decency to leave the national stage voluntarily, some GOP enforcer needs to drag her back behind the curtain. Remember, people: Country First.

She'll have plenty of time between now and 2012 to get ready for her next run. And shocking as it may be to regular readers of this blog, I enthusiastically support her candidacy -- I sincerely believe she can show us that she's fit for office.

In fact, I've even designed her campaign's first bumper stickers. I mean, it's never too early to get the ball rolling.


Footnote: During the campaign, Gov. Palin's Secret Service code name was "Denali" -- an appropriate nod to The Last Frontier and, coincidentally or not, an anagram for "denial."

Radio echo

In the days before cable TV and video gluttony, my family's black-and-white Zenith offered three choices: NBC, ABC, and CBS, all via affiliates broadcasting out of Cleveland. Most days, our rooftop antenna delivered decent reception, but sometimes I'd have to squint through "ant races" to see the grainy image.

For all the love of Lucy, cartoons and football on weekend afternoons, there truly wasn't much on TV back then.

Ah, but we had radio -- I'm talking about AM radio. I'd usually dial up an Akron station or, if I got lucky (and weather permitting), I could find a strong Cleveland signal. I'd hide a small AM receiver under my pillow, listening to pop music every night 'til the Ray-O-Vacs gave out. (That probably explains why I can sing along with every top-ten tune from 1966 to 1970.)

Among my most vivid radio memories is baseball -- Cleveland Indians baseball. My family would tune-in those tinny broadcasts in the living room, in the kitchen, in the car. Whenever we traveled an hour south to visit family, there was my grandfather, sitting in his favorite chair, listening to the Tribe on his old Magnavox set.

I don't remember any one particular game, really, just a few names like Rocky Colavito and Sam McDowell. But to this day, I can close my eyes and hear the call: "It's a high fly ball, deep down the left-field line..."

Playing inside my head is the voice of Herb Score, who called Indians games from the mid-'60s through the '97 World Series. Herb died yesterday at 75, but he'll always be the quintessential Voice of the Indians.

There must be miles upon miles of tape preserving the incomparable work of Herb Score. More precious recordings of his voice, however, are woven into childhood memories of summer afternoons by a crackling radio -- and those echoes will outlast any magnetic tape.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Prudence or panic?

Ask anyone who owns a gun shop -- business is booming.

Confirming what retailers are saying, the FBI reports logging 108,000 more background checks last month than in October 2007 -- a 15% increase -- and since January those checks are up 8% compared to the first ten months of last year. But the most telling snapshot is the last seven days -- background checks are up 49% over the same period a year ago.

Demand eclipses that seen before Y2K, after 9/11 and in the wake of Katrina. The reason for the run is obvious: Obama-Biden.

It's a fait accompli that the new administration will attack citizens' Second Amendment rights. We know it'll try to make the expired Clinton (nee Biden) Assault Weapons Ban permanent and prohibit the lawful carrying of concealed weapons. We can predict that Obama-Biden will seek to impose 500% higher taxes on firearms, ammunition and parts. It also wants to allow state and local governments to make their own gun-control laws, even if those laws violate the U.S. Constitution.

Whether it's cost-prohibition or outright prohibition, dark days are coming for Americans who cherish our constitutional right to keep and bear arms, thus the commercial feeding frenzy.

Clearly, we're seeing yet another panic-buying phenomenon -- but are we seeing a reasonable reaction? That depends.

Because Obama-Biden poses a very real threat, it's only prudent for citizens to have acquired their firearms-of-choice (etc.) before the administration turns them into unobtanium. So for procrastinators, the unarmed and the under-prepared, there may be little choice but to become part of the present cluster.

For those of us who saw this coming and are adequately prepared, however, it doesn't make much sense to join the panic. Even if we're not ideally ready, with far more pressing economic issues on center stage we can be relatively sure that Obama-Biden won't launch its gun-control agenda right away. Provided the new president can keep an anxious Congress in check, we likely won't see new law in the first 100 days, probably not before the 2010 State of the Union address.

We may have time to wait until demand and retail price-gouging (according to anecdotal reports) have subsided. A window may open after retail prices have ebbed and before wholesale prices increase -- that, it seems to me, would be a better time to buy.

Depending on the item, the source and the price, now still might be a good time for the savvy gun owner to acquire replacement parts and (presumably) soon-to-be-banned items like high-capacity magazines and certain types of ammunition. It's never a bad time to build defensive skills -- having the proper training is a must. And there's never been a better time to support organizations that defend our Second Amendment rights, as I do the National Rifle Association and the Buckeye Firearms Association.

The well-heeled among us will do whatever they like, of course, and those with an "armory mentality" will do whatever they can, with their eyes fixed firmly on TEOTWAWKI.

All of us, though, must recognize that the danger to law-abiding gun owners is clear and present. What we do to prepare ourselves in the face of this imminent threat is up to each citizen.

Service & sacrifice