Saturday, January 31, 2009

Steele for salvage

Michael Steele is the newly minted chairman of the Republican National Committee. The former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland is being hailed far and wide, by right- and left-leaners alike, but I don't see Steele -- or the GOP -- succeeding any time soon.

The party's intractable base simply won't allow it.

Here's a bit of what the RNC's first black chairman said in his acceptance speech:
"To our friends, to those who support us, to those who believe in the ideals, those conservative ideals that make us the strong, proud party that we are. To Americans who believe in the future of this country, to those who stand in difference with us, it's time for something completely different, and we're gonna bring it to them.

"We're gonna bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community and we're gonna say to friend and foe alike: 'We want you to be a part of this, we want you to work with us, and for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over."
Now take Steele's ambitious, principled inclusion and inject it into the heartbeat of today's Republican Party -- old, white and Southern, exclusive and evangelical, nostalgically conservative and obsessed with raising Ronald Reagan from the dead.

It's hard for me to imagine a peaceful union between the base's backward-looking "return to conservative principles" and Steele's vision of "something completely different."

Steele definitely understands what he's up against:
"We have an image problem. We've been mis-defined as a party that doesn't care, a party that's been insensitive, a party that's unconcerned about minorities, a party that's unconcerned about the lives and expectations and dreams of average Americans."
He also knows where much of that "image problem" comes from:
"Rush (Limbaugh) will say what Rush has to say. We will do what we have to do as a party to make sure that our message... (is) very clear and unambiguous."
The party's Marginal Misery Tour will continue as long its leadership allows the klaxons of talk radio to define it. Until Republicans get a firm grip on political reality, recognizing that today's "average Americans" aren't just white Christians in Tupelo, Tulsa and Tallahassee, the Grand Old Party will be relegated to gadfly status.

Michael Steele is the right guy for this political salvage operation. I just don't believe that his party will let him do his job.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Squatters' rights

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from northwest Ohio, appeared yesterday on "Lou Dobbs Tonight." I knew of her steadfast opposition to taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts, but this was the first I'd heard of her latest run at our nation's home-foreclosure crisis.

Rather than quote the CNN transcript, here's what Kaptur said on the House floor on January 15th. (Emphasis is mine.) It's lengthy but well worth the read.

"Madam Speaker, I am glad I was here on the floor to respond to the prior Member who felt compelled to say that he thought the Wall Street bailout was working. I would like to know what evidence he has to prove that, since we have no forensic accounting of what the Wall Street banks that got all this money did with the money.

"I went before our Rules Committee and I proposed a very simple amendment. My amendment was that before we give one more dime of the people's money, we require the Treasury to do a forensic accounting of every bit of money that was sent up there to Wall Street. And I was denied my amendment.

"There is no Member of this Congress that can say with accuracy, including the gentleman who just spoke, that he knows where the money is, because, you know what? They haven't told us. All you know is what you have read in the newspapers, and how can we extend more money from the American people when we don't even know what happened to the money that went out the door?

"So you can say whatever you want and create a fiction, but the fact is that foreclosures are going up across this country. That bill that was passed last year was supposed to help people hang onto their homes. In Ohio, foreclosures have gotten worse every month.

"What I am telling people right now is, stay in your homes. If the American people, anybody out there is being foreclosed, don't leave, because I will tell you what. If you had a smart lawyer like those banks up there on Wall Street can get, they would take you into court and they couldn't find the mortgage. They couldn't find the mortgage.

"So why should any American citizen be kicked out of their homes in this cold weather? In Ohio it is going to be 10 or 20 below zero. Don't leave your home. Because you know what? When those companies say they have your mortgage, unless you have a lawyer that can put his or her finger on that mortgage, you don't have that mortgage, and you are going to find they can't find the paper up there on Wall Street.

"So I say to the American people, you be squatters in your own homes. Don't you leave. In Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Illinois and all these other places our people are being treated like chattel, and this Congress is stymied. We have the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and our committees are muzzled. Power is given to one chairman or one person.

"We are all equal here. We have a right to be heard. The concerns of our constituents have a right to be registered in the committees of this House, not choked down as what is happening here today. It is just a tragedy. And if we don't fix the economic cure, it is going to get worse, and the cure is to go after the home foreclosure crisis.

"Who does that? Treasury? No. That is absolutely the wrong place. We need the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission empowered to do the real estate workouts on books across this country. Those are the normal institutions that are used. And then you have got HUD there now with FHA that can take these mortgages once they are refinanced.

"But that is not what is happening across our country. There is no help for the homeowner. That whole section they talked about today, Help for Homeowners over at HUD, nobody has even benefited. We said last year they wouldn't, and that is exactly what has happened.

"So I say to the American people, stay in your homes. You have earned them. And don't you get out until you get a really good lawyer who can find your mortgage up there on Wall Street. Because, you know what? They won't be able to find it, and therefore they can't prove you should be evicted."

I know what you're thinking, and you're right. Like the dog in the riddle -- "because he can" -- hordes of opportunistic homeowners who made unprincipled, ill-advised or sloppy decisions will game the system, jumping onto Kaptur's bandwagon as a way of shirking their financial responsibility.

Come-lately conservatives may see Kaptur's suggestion that taxpaying homeowners should benefit as yet another step down the slippery slope of socialism. For a moment, I'm going to allow for that popular neo-con argument -- you know, the one that says that the opposite of socialism is capitalism.

Those who lean on this simple-minded distinction contend that our national economy rises and falls with free enterprise -- profit and loss, success and failure -- and that much, at least, is true. Pulling on one end of the capitalist rope is supply (providers of goods and services) and, on the other end, demand (consumers).

Taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts favor the supply side, exclusively. What's more, because the TARP demands absolutely no accountability from corporations benefiting from legislated largesse, our government effectively has greased the demand end of the rope.

Kaptur, in addition to doing exactly what she was elected to do, reminds us that it's time for The People to yank back on the rope -- hard.

If, as Kaptur correctly observes, our elected representatives refuse to reflect the will of their constituents, then We, The People, must assert our power -- ten months from now at the polls, certainly, but also immediately within the economic system. I
f Congress won't insist on accountability from bailed-out corporations, then We, The People will.

This isn't about expecting our government (or anyone else) to save us -- quite the opposite. And it's not some sort of populist retaliation against fat cats with seven-figure bonuses, lavish offices and private jets. Fundamentally, it's about seizing our own rightful, capitalistic entitlement.

As citizen-taxpayers, we've been both neglecting our responsibilities and forfeiting our essential role in the workings of our economy. Corporations survive and thrive only if we buy their goods and services -- and if we don't, they fail. While each of us is accountable for the obligations we assume, we also have every right to demand that the supply side lives up to its obligations.

Just as we can stop electing representatives who don't reflect our will, so we can withhold our business from corporations that are poor stewards of our tax (or commercial) dollars. As we're expected to know and abide by the terms of agreements we make, so we can require that businesses do the same.

Capitalism, see, cuts both ways. We're not at the effect of corporate America -- we hold ultimate power over it.

Kaptur's exhortation that homeowners facing foreclosure demand that their banks "produce the note" is an assertion of that power. Her impassioned pleas for common decency, accountability and taxpayer benefit are in the best tradition of this representative republic. She's fired the first shots in what could become a citizen-taxpayer rebellion against forces that have turned our economic power structure on its head.

If some undeserving, irresponsible citizens enjoy the spoils, well, so be it. That's a small price to pay for The People's triumph, a victory that's long overdue.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


"What is it with schools closing? Who are the sissies making these decisions?" (John Schwab of McGuffey Lane, speaking this morning to "Wags & Elliott" of QFM96, on Columbus-area schools being closed again today)

"My children's school was canceled today. Because of, what? Some ice? As my children pointed out, in Chicago, school is never canceled. In fact, my 7-year-old pointed out that you'd go outside for recess. You wouldn't even stay indoors." (Pres. Barack Obama, commenting yesterday on school closings in Washington, DC)

"What the President and the music man said." (KintlaLake)

"Some residents would like to see Pataskala (Ohio) do more to address icy roads, especially in light of recent storms. ... With the new (budget) cuts, the city does not intend to salt, grit and plow subdivisions unless the Licking County Sheriff's Office declares a Level 2 Snow Emergency." (The Newark Advocate, January 10, 2009)

"(Pickerington, Ohio) street crews would plow neighborhood streets only when there was more than 3 inches of snow. And crews wouldn't go out on evenings and weekends unless it was an emergency." (The Columbus Dispatch, November 11, 2009)

"(Columbus) Mayor Michael B. Coleman said up to 1,300 city employees, including himself and other nonunion managers, will face five-day 'temporary layoffs' in the coming months -- unpaid days off that will save an estimated $1.65 million. Together with a pay freeze approved by Columbus firefighters, a decision announced yesterday to lay off 27 police recruits and two other newly added cuts, city government will eliminate half of a $13 million gap that still exists in its proposed 2009 budget. ... He said he plans to shut down the Office of Education... (and he) wouldn't rule out more police layoffs or spending cuts in the Department of Public Safety..." (The Columbus Dispatch, today, January 29, 2009)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slick as ice, shines like silver

I'm looking out through an ice-covered window at one of our red pines. About 30 feet tall, most days its limbs reach out and upward, waving softly in the slightest breeze. This morning, however, those branches have folded like a cheap umbrella, weighed down with a half-inch of ice.

Snow fell on Sunday, on Monday afternoon and again Tuesday morning, followed by another round late yesterday. Freezing rain encased our world overnight, continuing well past dawn today.

Now it's snowing again, big flakes, really coming down.

Our lawn tractor, its repaired tire holding air and its new starter whirring when called upon, has been getting regular exercise. Looks like I'll be back plowing later today, too, but not 'til after this batch of snow is through. We, like Chuck Berry, have no particular place to go.

Here in our rural-suburban county we're under a "Level 2 Snow Emergency" (all but necessary travel discouraged), while a handful of the surrounding counties are at Level 3 (emergency vehicles only). The schools -- and I mean all schools, even Ohio State's main campus -- are closed, so the spawns are still in bed. (Well, duh.) My wife is home, too, having decided to shut her office for the day. Shopping malls, state offices and many companies have closed, cancelled shifts or delayed opening.

It's one nasty dose of wintry weather, sure, but I'm loving it. More than ever, I'm cherishing every single moment in this wonderful place, because our days in this house are short, if not yet precisely numbered.

The reasons why, perhaps foreshadowed in earlier posts, will be a story told another day. Right now, I embrace a present joy rather than mourn a future loss.

The foundation for our home was set within these log walls, the seeds of a family's promise sown in this rich soil. Our days here have shone like silver, and many more will come to us -- they'll just come to us somewhere else. We know that we'll create brilliant moments in other places, because home travels with us.

This day, like each remaining day here or elsewhere, deserves to be savored, celebrated. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm headed outside.

I'll try not to fall on my ass.

* * *
Update, 4pm: About the time that I finished plowing the driveway, my wife got this news flash from our school district's "alert" system:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009. All schools will be closed due to inclement weather.
That message didn't show up in her inbox until nearly nine hours after classes are scheduled to begin -- and almost two hours after school ordinarily lets out.

I, of course, got the same alert shortly after 10pm last night. Just amazing.

Coffee on the porch

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

omg, txt msgs fubar

The local school district recently launched a system that broadcasts text-message alerts (closings, delays and critical incidents) to our cell phones. Great idea.

Anyone -- parents, students, local residents -- can sign up for the alerts via the district's website, so my wife and I, along with both of our spawns, subscribed.

It would seem to be a simple, useful program, but it's not going well. Take, for instance, the four text messages I received this snowy morning.

  • 8:18am: All schools are on a two-hour delay.

  • 10:11am: A bomb threat has been made at the high school. All students are safe. Police are on the scene.

  • 10:37am: All students have been evacuated to the Fieldhouse or Gymnasium. Students cannot be released until Fire Dept and Police search is co

  • 10:58am: The police and fire departs have cleared the building. The students are returning to their classes and will proceed with th
To start with, the genius who's sending these needs to learn how to type for text messaging's character limit -- using &, @, PD, FD, gym, bldg, etc. would be fine. Articles and pronouns are luxuries. Complete sentences take a back seat to complete information.

Prompt delivery seems to be a problem, too. I learned of this morning's two-hour delay on a TV station's website, but I didn't get the school district's text message until over an hour after classes are scheduled to begin (normally 7:10am, pushed back today to 9:10am). Not helpful.

At least I got all four messages -- our older spawn received the one about the delayed opening, but none of the others showed up. I haven't yet talked to our younger spawn to find out how he fared.

And my wife? She didn't get any of the alerts. She learned of the lockdown by way of a "breaking news" text message from a local TV station.

It's not the first time that one or another (or all) of us hasn't received these alerts, despite having subscribed and re-subscribed.

Technology can be our friend, but the truth is that relying on technology isn't a good idea. An addiction to gadgetry only encourages laziness, dependence and irresponsibility. Still, an alert system, whether it's high-tech or stone-age, has to work.

This one doesn't.

Memo to the district offices: Either fix the thing or pull the plug.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Twist & shout

My college roommate taught me almost everything I know about installing electrical accessories on cars, from sound systems to two-way radios to auxiliary lights. One of his lessons was that a CB radio isn't a "plug'n'play" proposition -- each combination of radio, antenna and vehicle is different, electrically and physically.

The quality of the antenna, and especially where it's mounted on the vehicle, can have a huge effect on something called signal-to-wave ratio (SWR) and, as a consequence, performance. If a particular setup has a high SWR (3.0-to-1 or greater) when transmitting, it can limit the radio's range, interfere with the vehicle's other electronics or even damage the transceiver. Despite that, most CB users (and some installers) don't bother to check SWR before keying the mic and yakking away.

I learned long ago how to use an SWR meter, a simple and inexpensive device connected temporarily between radio and antenna, to measure a system's SWR when transmitting on various channels. With those measurements in-hand, the setup then can be "tuned" by adjusting the effective length of the antenna.

The FireStik II antenna mounted on my TrailBlazer makes adjustments easy -- turn the knurled tip clockwise to make the antenna longer, counterclockwise to shorten it. A rubber cap slips over the tip to hold the setting.

This morning it took just ten minutes to put my new system in nearly perfect tune. Before adjustments, the SWR meter showed:
  • Channel 1: 3.5-to-1 (transmitting 67% of the radio's power)
  • Channel 40: 1.5-to-1 (97%)
  • Channel 19: 2.5-to-1 (80%)
Because the SWR on channel 1 was higher than the reading on channel 40, the antenna needed to be lengthened. A few left-hand twists later, the numbers were just what I was looking for:

  • Channel 1: 1.5-to-1 (97%)
  • Channel 40: 1.5-to-1 (97%)
  • Channel 19: 1.1-to-1 (99%)
It's impossible to get ideal (1-to-1) SWR throughout the band -- 40 different frequencies, 40 different signal-to-wave characteristics -- so my goal always has been to match channels 1 and 40 and come as close as possible to 1-to-1 on channel 19.

After disconnecting the SWR meter, I placed a cell-phone call to my wife and asked her to tune our desktop scanner to CB channel 19. Under-less-than-optimal environmental conditions -- hills, trees, a run of high-tension lines and heavy snowfall -- transmission range was more than two miles on channel 19.

That'll do just fine.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Now we're (almost) talkin'

Crawling around under the dashboard of my TrailBlazer today, I tried to recall how long it'd been since I'd installed audio gear in a car.

A long, long time, I decided. Twenty-five years, maybe more.

In a ride-a-bicycle sort of way, my mechanical and electrical skills returned quickly enough, but installing that CB radio I got for Christmas made two things painfully obvious.

First, my aging frame doesn't bend around corners as readily as it used to, especially after four hours in a 40° garage. And second, most of what I saw under the dashboard I didn't recognize -- all those handy grounds, mounting spots and firewall pass-throughs I remember from cars of the '70s and '80s were gone.

The radio is the Cobra 75 WX ST, an all-in-handset model with scan, two-channel monitoring and NOAA weather. The Cobra's connector box mounts out of sight, and the handset can be unplugged easily and stowed to avoid tempting thieves. The antenna, a three-foot FireStik with a tunable tip, is mated to an adjustable FireStik hood-channel mount on the driver's side.

Setting the antenna mount in place was simple, but I hit a wall -- the firewall -- when I looked for a way to feed the antenna cable into the passenger compartment. Frustrated, and not wanting to drill a hole in the firewall, I ended up poking a pointy probe through a large boot and (with my wife's help) bringing the coax in next to the brake-pedal pivot.

The radio's hot lead went out into the engine bay through the same boot (I used the coax as a snake) and gets its juice from the power panel's positive post. I found a good ground indoors, borrowing a threaded stud on the throttle-pedal bracket.

I managed to hide the connector box up under the center of the dash, securing it with zip-ties to a bundle of wires behind the console. The handset hangs from a clip to the left of the HVAC controls.

In the end, the work wasn't difficult at all. At times it was downright maddening, but I'll chalk that up to unfamiliarity and rusty skills. Anyway, the result was a clean install, if I do say so myself.

But does it work?

Yes and no -- or not yet, anyway. Fifteen methodical minutes with a multi-tester gave me continuity in all the right places, and a quick click of the radio's volume control proved that it's got power.

I won't do a comm check until after I tune the antenna to the radio. Since it was past dusk by the time I finished today, I'll head over to a nearby school parking lot in the morning, hook up the SWR meter and do some fiddling.

I'm cautiously optimistic -- we'll have to see how it goes. Like I said, it's been a while.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Two-vote swing?

When New York Gov. David Paterson today named Kirsten Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, he may have done Second Amendment advocates a double favor.

Rep. Gillibrand -- she's represented her state's 20th District in the U.S. House since 2006 and just won reelection -- is a blue-dog Democrat with a 100% rating from the National Rifle Association. She'll replace a senator whose gun-grabbing views match those of the president she now serves as Secretary of State.

The result of today's move may be a two-vote swing in the Senate on Second Amendment issues. With Democrats in control of Congress, and considering the Obama-Biden agenda, Senator Gillibrand couldn't have arrived at a better time.

Perhaps the most satisfying endorsements of Gillibrand's appointment have come in the form of objections from two notoriously strident anti-Second Amendment politicians: Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who represents New York's 4th District (and who lobbied hard for the Senate seat awarded to Gillibrand instead), and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"I don't think someone with a 100% NRA rating should be the next senator from New York," McCarthy said. "I told the governor my feelings. I said I am strongly against (Gillibrand) and I gave him my reasons for it. Believe me, this is a personal issue for me."

Bloomberg, in a statement expressing his tepid support of the appointment, also made clear his "strong disagreement with one area of (Gillibrand's) record as a member of Congress: illegal guns."

Predictably, the Brady Campaign's Paul Helmke is "disappointed" by the appointment.

Who will succeed Gillibrand in the House? Even though she won with 62% of the vote last November, New York's 20th is heavily Republican. It's said to be unlikely that Democrats will hold on to the seat, so her departure from the other body probably won't hurt the RKBA cause.

"My mother is a great hunter," Gillibrand has said. "She usually shoots our Thanksgiving turkey." Any comparisons to the painfully insubstantial Sarah Palin, however, end there. Gillibrand is an accomplished attorney, having clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, represented Philip Morris and worked as a HUD lawyer.

As a congresswoman from New York, by the way, she voted against the TARP corporate-bailout legislation -- twice.

Gillibrand never has run statewide, so it remains to be seen how she'll fare in the special election she must face in 2010. Although neither her continued presence nor her vote is assured, I believe that RKBAers can feel good about what happened in New York (of all places) today.


The moment captured in that photograph -- Chief Justice John Roberts administering the oath of office to Pres. Barack Obama for a second time -- has led to a chuckle or two (and a bit of eye-rolling).

On Inauguration Day, Chief Justice Roberts famously flubbed the oath. Since the Constitution prescribes that the term of the outgoing President ends at noon on the 20th of January, the President-elect assumed the nation's highest office at that stroke anyway.

So as a matter of constitutional law -- thanks to the 20th Amendment, which was ratified in 1933 -- the oath of office is ceremonially inspiring but legally moot.

Conspiracy junkies seldom are deterred by facts, however, and the caterwauling commenced with the Chief Justice's first stumble. Here are but three examples of how some of our fellow citizens "think":

"Obama's inauguration day was rendered legally void by the failure to recite the constitutionally decreed oath of office. Obama's refusal to recite the oath was thinly and incompetently masked by a staged flub by the judge administering the oath. As a result, Obama failed yet ANOTHER constitutional requirement for the office of the Presidency."

"The oath was NOT spoken EXACTLY as written in the Constitution, the inauguration is invalid and hence Obama is NOT the real president!"

"I have to say I'm not sure Barack Obama really is the President of the United States because the oath of office is set in the Constitution and I wasn't at all convinced that even after he tried to amend it that John Roberts ever got it out straight and that Barack Obama ever said the prescribed words. I suspect that everybody is going to forgive him and allow him to take over as president, but I'm not sure he actually said what's in the Constitution, there."

If you're sure that this kind of ignorance is confined to the blogosphere and free-for-all forums, by the way, guess again -- that last quote belongs to perennially challenged Chris Wallace of right-tilting FOX News.

"Forgive him and allow him to take over as president" -- really? Well, Chris, as long as it's ok with you...

White House Counsel Greg Craig advised that it'd be a good idea to take the oath again, "out of an abundance of caution." And so the president did, on Wednesday evening, thus the photo.

But the howling didn't end there. Typical:

"He may have said the right words the second time, but did you notice that he didn't swear on a Bible? This abomination may be your president, but he isn't mine."
I guess these people got bored with the whole fringe-on-the-flag thing. Or maybe they grew tired of talking about all those scary coins that China is warehousing. In any case, so it goes.

You can't fix stupid.

In addition to a still photo of Oath: Take Two, there's an audio recording -- no video. The re-do was arranged in a relative hurry, and administration officials pulled in only a handful of print reporters and a White House photographer.

Seems reasonable to me, considering, but the television networks went indignantly ballistic. This is what CNN's Ed Henry had to
say about the perceived snub:

"(Pres. Obama) began the day pushing for more transparency in government, only to end it by keeping TV cameras out when Chief Justice John Roberts re-administered the oath of the presidency."

"So the whole point of the ceremony -- getting the word out there that the president was in fact inaugurated -- was undermined by the fact that now there's no videotape to prove he was sworn in.

"Not to mention that it may run counter to the main message the president was trying to deliver Wednesday with his executive order pushing for more openness in government."

(Translation: Anything not recorded on video didn't really happen.)

Looks to me like someone needs to learn the difference between transparency and unrestricted access. Not disclosing the second oath would've broken the promise of transparency; choosing not to stage a grand, made-for-TV event did not.

Get over yourselves, please, and move the hell on.

* * *
One example of Obama-Biden's transparency is the Agenda section of the White House website. That's both good news and bad.

Buried in "Urban Policy" under "Crime and Law Enforcement" are ominous anti-Second Amendment promises:

Address Gun Violence in Cities: Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.
I saw this same language on the campaign and transition websites. I wasn't ok with it then, and I'm not ok with it now -- any of it.

First, the Tiahrt Amendment must remain in place. Releasing the information serves no useful purpose, and law-abiding gun owners know that very few guns are used in the commission of crimes. Most important, the confidentiality of gun-ownership information has been eroded too far already -- no more.

Second, as we've seen in Obama-Biden's support of the District of Columbia's onerous regulations, "commonsense measures" effectively would prohibit the practical defensive use of firearms -- no thanks.

The "gun show loophole" is a myth -- no loophole exists.

As for "making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent," gun owners will resist any measure that seeks to return us to the dark days of the Clinton (nee Biden) Gun Ban -- no way.

Americans have cause to be optimistic, generally, about some of the "change" that the new administration will bring. Law-abiding gun owners, unfortunately, have good reason to be pessimistic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A wee bit of a Rush

I can't say that I'm fond of the title of Al Franken's 1999 book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot -- not because I'm a fan of Limbaugh's politics, but because flamethrowing, regardless of ideology, is the real idiocy.

Besides, in my opinion, Big Fat Idiot misses the mark. With apologies to soon-to-be-Sen. Franken, I suggest that a more fitting title might've been, Rush Limbaugh is a Sad Little Man.

Case-in-point, this was Limbaugh's on-air reaction to a magazine's recent request that he submit a 400-word perspective on his "hope for the Obama presidency":
"Okay, I'll send you a response, but I don't need 400 words, I need four: 'I hope he fails.' ... I would be honored if the (media) headlined me all day long: 'Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.'"
Really, who can blame Limbaugh for exploiting the new administration to salvage his shriveling brand? From Pepsi® to Audi®, IKEA® to State Farm®, advertisers are wrapping their products in a hope-and-change message, so why not allow for an anti-hope campaign if it'll help sell Right Wingnut® Soap?

I do allow for it -- free speech is our constitutional right. It's just not the point.

Limbaugh, like many of the voices wailing from the intellectual desert of talk radio, mistakes contrarian for independent and confuses ideology with patriotism. Every broadcast is a double-dose of Damitol, injected directly into the weak brains of loyal listeners who can't tell bouillabaisse from barnyard waste.

The new occupant of the Oval Office is clear and present evidence that The People have refused Limbaugh's medication. In the process, a sad little man and his sad little band have been sentenced to the margins of American politics. Their own extremism banished them to Fringeville where, fittingly, they get to keep company with similarly exiled left-wing extremists.

For a refreshing contrast, here's how National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg -- a self-described conservative -- reacted to Tuesday's inauguration:

"I am proud of and excited by the fact that we have inaugurated the first black president of the United States. He wasn't my first choice, but he is nonetheless my president.

"Conservatives who try too hard to belittle the importance of this milestone are mistaken on several fronts. First, this is simply a wonderful -- and wonderfully American -- story. Any political movement that is joyless about what this represents risks succumbing to bitter political crankery."

"If Obama lives up to the dreams of his supporters in writing a post-racial chapter for America, he will have at once done more for America than any Democratic president in generations. But he also will have cut the knot holding much of the left together. As an American and as a conservative, I certainly hope that’s the case. He made a good start of it just by getting elected."

Limbaugh, naturally, whines that conservative "sellouts" like Goldberg have "sacrificed the whole concept of victory." Goldberg pays thoughtful, respectful tribute to a "milestone," while Limbaugh rants about "all these victims," deriding those of us who celebrate opportunity and diversity as "the race industry."

Had a satisfactorily conservative candidate won on November 4th, Limbaugh surely would've hailed it as a mandate. Now, quoting the equally mind-numbing Ann Coulter, this sad little man dismisses the result as "the tyranny of the majority."

We can't (and shouldn't) silence Limbaugh, his ilk and his disciples, but we should see them for what they are -- prisoners of ideology. They've decided that the right, as God gives them to see the right, can be accomplished only through the perpetuation of their own tired, failed dogma.

No ideology can stake that claim. Our highest ideal is independence. The only dogma worth perpetuating is the The Constitution of the United States of America. The "concept of victory" we pursue is our collective American victory.

Barack Obama no longer is a candidate -- he's my president. As an American, I'm invested in his success. As an independent citizen, I have a duty to advocate policies that I support and criticize those that I oppose. As one who values critical thought, mindless ideology plays no role in my choices.

And speaking with the independent voice of that citizen-patriot who still uses the brain he was born with, it's clear to me -- indeed, it's beyond credible dispute -- that Rush Limbaugh is a Sad Little Man.


Yes, this thing is real. Yes, it's for sale. And no, I won't.

When I think about it -- and I'm gonna stop doing that soon -- "Chia Bush" has a much better ring to it than "Chia Obama."
But who'd buy it?

Chia Obama will sell like crazy, which can mean only one thing -- the apocalypse is drawing nigh.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Trickle this

A couple of months ago, Jim Bianco of Bianco Research did a great job of shedding historical light on our government's addiction to taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts. Consider this hit parade of government spending:

  • Marshall Plan: $12.7 billion ($115 billion in today's dollars)
  • Louisiana Purchase: $15 million ($217 billion)
  • Race to the Moon: $36.4 billion ($237 billion)
  • S&L crisis: $153 billion ($256 billion)
  • Korean War: $54 billion ($454 billion)
  • The New Deal: $32 billion ($500 billion)
  • Invasion of Iraq: $551 billion ($597 billion)
  • Vietnam War: $111 billion ($698 billion)
  • NASA: $416.7 billion ($851 billion)
The sum, in today's dollars, is $3.92 trillion -- and the cost of the current round of corporate bailouts (so far) is nearly $5 trillion. The only single federal expenditure that comes close is World War II, which originally cost $288 billion, or $3.6 trillion today.

That's actually the good news, because eventually the cost of these corporate bailouts is expected to exceed $7.5 trillion, perhaps going as high as $10 trillion.

Ten trillion dollars. Let's be clear about what that means:

The bailout of mismanaged and failed corporations will cost the American taxpayer more than the combined tab for the Louisiana Purchase, The New Deal, the Marshall Plan, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the savings-and-loan crisis and the entire historical budget of NASA.

The misbegotten TARP and its bastard cousins represent both the highest expression and the ultimate indictment of "trickle-down economics" -- I mean, who's feeling a trickle these days? Investors? Small businesses? How about homeowners? Workers? Taxpayers?

Advertised as desperately needed hi-test for an economy that's running on empty, corporate bailouts have become the prankster's sugar in our national tank. Consumers and small businesses -- citizens, taxpayers -- are the engine that drives our economy, and that engine has been fouled, willfully and without our consent.

The injury inflicted by siphoning trillions out of our wallets is compounded by the insult of returning no account and no benefit -- none -- to the citizen-taxpayers who write the checks.

I'm not naive about the macro-dynamics of our economy, nor do I advocate true socialism, but the status quo is horrifyingly upside-down and backwards. Yes, citizenship carries the obligation to pay for the rewards we reap. We also have every right to demand the benefits we pay for, along with real accountability.


While we were having our family discussion last night, the television on my desk was tuned to coverage of the Inaugural Parade. All of us knew that at some point we'd stop talking to watch.

That moment came when TBDBITL -- "The Best Damn Band in the Land," a.k.a. The Ohio State University Marching Band -- emerged from the darkness on Pennsylvania Avenue and approached the reviewing stand.

For our new President -- who, as a candidate, was known to pander to OSU fans by leading the "O-H!" cheer during his rallies in central Ohio -- the world's largest all-brass-and-percussion band played "Beautiful Ohio" and "Across the Field," performing with verve and characteristic precision.

The sight, the sound, the occasion -- the whole thing gave me chills.

The Great State of Ohio couldn't have been represented any better yesterday than it was by "The Pride of the Buckeyes." Here in the KintlaLake household, these four Buckeyes sure were proud.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'The price & the promise'

Taking the full measure of this rich, historic day is daunting. Trying to convey its import to children presents an even bigger challenge.

We're fortunate that our spawns are in their teens and were engaged (or at least aware) throughout the campaign. This evening, my wife and I sat down with them to discuss what all took place today.

We talked about the civil-rights struggle that makes Barack Obama's inauguration so significant. We shared our optimism that this President shares our generational frame-of-reference. We talked about how cool it is that he "gets" contemporary culture and embraces technology.

We discussed the security "bubble" in which the Obamas now must live and why they wore body armor on Inauguration Day. And we pointed out that patriotism doesn't always have to sound like country music and look like a NASCAR infield -- sometimes, it sounds like a Kenyan folk song and looks like the colorful mass of humanity that gathered today on the National Mall.

Then we encouraged our spawns to keep one particular memory of this day, a specific passage from Pres. Obama's inaugural address.

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge..."
I looked up and noticed that both spawns were listening intently. I continued.

"...firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

"This is the price and the promise of citizenship."

The promise of athletic ability can't be realized without paying the price of practice and conditioning; intelligence, without study and application, is squandered; and so it is with our precious citizenship. They got it.

The promise is before us as well as within us. The price that We, The People are willing to pay -- service and sacrifice, blood and treasure, shedding dogma in favor of pragmatism that paves to road to better days -- will be not just the product of our representative republic but the personal choice of each independent citizen.

Our peaceful transfer of power is complete. Tonight a free people celebrates the envy of the world. Tomorrow we go back to work.

* * *
I take this moment to honor the service of George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States. Whether or not I agree with his politics and policies, I can't deny that he handled the transition with class. For that, he has my respect. Godspeed, Mr. Bush.


"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy." (Abraham Lincoln, 1858)

Monday, January 19, 2009

'Like a mighty stream'

Back in February, Michelle Obama kicked up some serious campaign-trail dust when she said,
"For the first time in my adult life I'm proud of my country...."
Although she expressed herself inartfully, I knew right away what she was feeling -- it's exactly how I'll feel tomorrow at noon, when Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office to become the 44th President of the United States.

I've never been prouder to be an American.

It took far too long for us to get to this day, but here we are. As a nation of, by and for The People, here we are.

In 1963, I was in first grade, a white kid in an all-white school in an all-white district in rural Ohio. I can still hear the echoes of racist ignorance that ran through that time and place.

That was the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and told us of his vision:
"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
When Dr. King was assassinated five years later, I heard about it on my small transistor radio. I ran downstairs to break the news to my parents, saddened by the senseless tragedy. They were surprisingly unmoved, save their well-founded concern that the shooting might spark rioting.

Segregation, discrimination and good-old-boy humor never did sit well with me, even when I was an impressionable kid. I had every opportunity to be blinded by bigotry, but it didn't happen. I don't know why, but it didn't.

As I grew older, I kept my own counsel and found my own way. I learned that ignorance, like righteousness, isn't the province of one or another race. I walked through life and the world seeking the content of character -- both others' and my own.

Admittedly, my perspective on the last 52 years can't compare to that of black Americans who felt the lash of racist hatred. I won't presume to know what it's like to be denied a job, barred from a voting booth or lodged in a fleabag motel while the white players on my team slept at The Ritz -- never mind enduring beatings (and worse) simply for trying to exercise the same unalienable rights enjoyed by white Americans.

As I'm not a black American, then, I can't fully embrace the emotional significance of January 20th, 2009. But as an independent American -- one who's watched institutional racism driven into full retreat, if not unconditional surrender, and lived to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, a black man, as my nation's President -- I can say this:

I've never been prouder to be an American.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jingle scoop

Life doesn't follow a formula or a script. It's not a serial. Life has more in common with a dream sequence than with a storybook -- less 24, more Twin Peaks.

Likewise thought.

Moment to moment, our thoughts can stray unexpectedly, tripping over revelation or pitching headlong into canyons of memory. When we're wise, in quiet times we choose to follow these threads wherever they lead, surfing waves of contemplation, emotion, genius.

Reading this morning what I posted yesterday, I stopped on a phrase:

"...brought it here from Oregon in 40 hours..."
Suddenly, a fragment floated out of memory and into conscious thought -- a line from a 1960s advertising jingle, of all things, complete with soundtrack:
"...get that juice up to Lawson's in 40 hours..."
Say, what?

Lawson's stores and the familiar milk-bottle signs were icons of my Heartland youth. Founded not far from where I grew up in northeastern Ohio, Lawson's was among the first chains of what we've come to call "convenience stores" and featured its own brand of dairy products, juices and other staples. The jingle was part of a television commercial promoting Lawson's orange juice and the (perhaps mythical) "Big-O" tanker trucks that hauled it directly from Florida to Ohio for bottling.

Now, one man sleeps while the other man drives
On the non-stop Lawson run;
And the cold, cold juice
In the tank-truck caboose
Stays as fresh as the Florida sun.

Roll on, Big-O!
Get that juice up to Lawson's in 40 hours.

Black-and-white TV, by the way. Glass bottles.

The reminiscence I've described is so inconsequential as to be trivial. It's but a fleck of childhood memory, the recalling of a once-thriving enterprise that a series of acquisitions ground into dust. I find it ironic that 8,500 Lawson's signs now beckon shoppers throughout Japan, but that the symbol has vanished from our own national landscape.

The memory remains.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More snow, please

Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn't.

Today, it did.

Topping KintlaLake's good-fortune list was the early arrival of the replacement starter for our tractor. To my surprise, Priority Mail brought it here from Oregon in 40 hours -- which, in addition to being welcome, makes me wonder again why it took the USPS six days to deliver an air filter from Cincinnati.

Turning the shiny new piece over in my hands, I rotated the pinion and watched it climb toward the end of the armature shaft, exactly as it should. Since I'm not a mechanic and don't work on such things regularly, that personal "bench test" was the first real clue that my amateur diagnosis was on the mark (and that I'd spent my sixty-seven bucks wisely).

Handling ice-cold steel with ungloved hands didn't make my day, but the wrenchwork itself was as easy as could be: disconnect the battery, remove two hex nuts to drop the starter motor from its mount, and then remove another nut to free the power cable.

I set the old part aside, with the intention of rebuilding the gear assembly later. After reversing the process to install the new starter and giving the battery a healthy charge, I crossed my fingers and turned the key.


The ability to turn nine simple fasteners in both directions doesn't warrant chest-thumping, certainly. No, what has me smiling at the moment is a victory of thought -- troubleshooting an unfamiliar system, processing facts logically and arriving at a correct solution.

The experience reminded me that success often springs from the admission, "I don't know." The path to knowledge always begins with an acknowledgement of ignorance -- in fact, knowledge depends on ignorance.

So our humble tractor is back among the living. Now if only Nature would bring me some snow to plow -- just a little, maybe a couple of inches, would be fine.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chilly, dogs

This morning the thermometer reads -12°F. Wind chill is expected to approach -40°F.

Maybe folks in Glendive and Floodwood are accustomed to numbers like those. We're not.

Our spawns have a previously scheduled day off from school, but virtually every other district in the area is closed because of the cold. (Don't get me started.) The only out-of-doors task requiring me to "brave" the weather today will be refueling my Rentable before turning it in -- as expected, replacing my TrailBlazer's windshield didn't get done until late yesterday.

Beyond my doorstep, across the dormant fields and to the woods beyond, the scene is white and serene. Never mind the bitter cold -- that half-foot of powdery snow that fell Wednesday night has given us Nature's perfect winter postcard.

It also gave me a helluva workout yesterday morning.

As I prepared to plow the driveway before my wife left for work, I looked to see if the tire I'd repaired was holding air -- check. When I turned the tractor's ignition key, however, the starter let out with a screeching noise and the engine refused to crank or fire.

Curious as I was to find out why, diagnosis and repair would have to wait. I grabbed a snow shovel off the wall and tackled the job the old-fashioned way.

It took me a little over an hour to clear our 220-foot-long driveway. I'm grateful that this particular snowfall was of the light, dry variety, but really, I'm getting too old for this shit.

And where were the spawns while I was huffing and puffing? Nestled snug in their beds -- snow day, school canceled, sleep past noon. Natch.

With Mrs. KintlaLake on the road and my shovel back on its nail, I came back to the tractor. I pulled four bolts, lifted the blower housing off the engine, fixed my gaze on the point where the starter pinion engages the flywheel and turned the key.

The starter's armature shaft spun like crazy but the pinion didn't turn, and the inertial mechanism designed to mesh the small gear with the flywheel appeared to be on permanent vacation. The dogs were barking at each other, but they didn't seem to be interested in mating.

Exchanging several e-mails with the tractor's manufacturer confirmed what I suspected -- the starter drive had given up the ghost. With a special gear-pulling gizmo, I could replace just the drive assembly. Since I don't have the tool, I decided to go with a new starter.

While I would've preferred to buy the part over an honest-to-god counter close to home, I won't pay 45% more for the privilege. And having the work done locally, by the way, would've meant waiting up to a month (and writing an even bigger check, of course). No thanks.

So the starter is on its way (via USPS Priority Mail, dammit) from a supplier in Oregon, racing snow that's predicted to fall on our driveway Saturday night. Once the part gets here, installing it should be straightforward.

We'll see. If the work doesn't go smoothly -- or if the part doesn't arrive in time -- I may be in for another workout.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fool me twice...

Eric Holder, nominated by President-elect Barack Obama for Attorney General, is answering questions today from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mr. Holder has a lot of explaining to do, notably about his role in Pres. Clinton's eleventh-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Those of us who cherish our individual right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed by the Constitution and affirmed last June by the Supreme Court in its landmark Heller decision, have our own concerns about the nominee.

This morning, committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy questioned Mr. Holder about his views on the Second Amendment -- specifically, whether he believes that it confers an individual (not a collective) right. Here's the part of his response that was picked up immediately by the media:
"The Supreme Court has spoken. That is now the law of the land."
Don't be fooled.

I watched the confirmation hearing, and I can tell you what preceded Mr. Holder's perfunctory nod to Heller -- the assertion that he, among many others, had submitted amicus briefs to the high court in staunch opposition to any decision that would affirm an individual right. Today's statement was a clear and unambiguous expression of resistance to "the law of the land," making the prospect of Mr. Holder's confirmation anything but encouraging.

Like his boss-elect, Mr. Holder has a broad interpretation of the Supreme Court's allowance for "reasonable restrictions." His hollow recognition of Heller will unfold to transform the Second Amendment into just another rule that's meant to be broken, a Constitutional right that's there simply for his Department of Justice to trample.

To be clear: With Eric Holder ensconced as our nation's chief law-enforcement officer, carrying the anti-Second Amendment imprimatur of Obama-Biden, our individual right to keep and bear arms will be under attack as never before.

If we're to have a chance at winning the fight, we must embrace both the "eternal vigilance" of Thomas Jefferson and the "Μολὼν λάβε" of Leonidas -- no rest, no quarter, no retreat.

And no excuses.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Rentable

I'm driving a 2009 Chevy Impala today.

One of the few nits I've picked with my used TrailBlazer is its windshield, which is covered with what looks like a layer of hard-water spots. Unlike mineral deposits, however, they refuse to yield to chemicals or mild abrasives. After much wrangling, my dealer and I convinced GM to cover the damaged glass under warranty, considering that it should've been caught during the 117-point GM "Certified" Used Vehicle inspection.

The replacement windshield, which has to be a genuine OEM part in order to be covered, finally came in yesterday. My dealer will do the work today and keep my truck overnight in a heated garage. I'll pick it up tomorrow.

Thus the Impala, my loaner for one snowy day.

I find nothing immediately appealing about the Impala, never mind endearing -- the car just screams, "I'm ordinary." It's not quite as blasé as the late-model Ford Five Hundred or Mercury Montego, which the Los Angeles Times called a "lamentable rentable," and about which the reviewer wondered aloud, "Where is the nurse call button?"

No, the Impala isn't that boring. It's damned close, though.

I think I'm especially miffed that GM slapped "Impala" on such a forgettable car. Time was when the name was synonymous with big, fast sedans and convertibles, the kind of car you'd bug your dad to buy just so you could borrow it when you were old enough to drive. An Impala used to have soul.

Not anymore. Regrettably, the current Impala is pretty typical Detroit fare. And yes, it's occurred to me that the same could be said of my plain-vanilla TrailBlazer. Fair enough.

Ok, so the Impala doesn't turn me on -- but is it capable?

I doubt I'll get the chance to find out. It's in the teens here today and we're expecting five inches of snow, so as long as it's got good grip and the heater works, it's capable enough.

So far, so good. I just can't wait to turn it in.

* * *
Update, 3pm: My dealer just called -- GM, for the second time, shipped the wrong windshield. The correct glass reportedly is coming overnight from another dealer two states away, and the plan is to put me back into my truck by the end of the day tomorrow.

I'm not holding my breath. I'm not going to bad-mouth the Impala any more, either, since our blind date has been extended.