Sunday, May 31, 2009

May thirty-first

Yesterday the Obamas jetted off to Broadway to take in a show, and this morning their critics are in full cry.

My wife and I, over our morning coffee, talked about why our new first family's R&R always seems to kick up such a fuss. Even though I know it's due largely to a loyal opposition that's fresh out of substance, I suggested that it also might be because we're coming off a president that basically hunkered in his bunkers for eight years.

On further reflection, however, and after hearing Mrs. KintlaLake observe that George W. Bush was no less cloistered than his predecessors, it occurred to me that it's been more than 40 years since an American President spent this much time, official or otherwise, in public.

The Kennedy assassination changed everything. Memories of American life before that November day in Dallas are outside the experience of most people, including my wife.

I remember.

Personally, I'm okay with Pres. Obama's high profile -- he's doing what a leader should do. Spending a few (or a few hundred thousand) taxpayer dollars on transportation and security to whisk the first couple to New York City for a date every now and then is bound to provoke criticism, but it doesn't bother me one bit.

Our government is the servant of The People. It can't truly serve unless it's visible and, in my view, it serves best when it walks among The People -- even when it must be accompanied by a security detail.

So goes the nation
Nine years ago, General Motors common stock was worth almost $95. It closed on Friday at seventy-five cents a share.

At one time the world's largest industrial corporation, GM could boast more than 600,000 workers in 1979 and now employs just 74,000. Dozens of its plants are silent and dark. Billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars have been thrown at GM, and the company has pumped much of that money into its overseas operations.

From "What if GM Did Go Bankrupt?" in Business Week:
"...investors are clearly starting to ponder the unthinkable. The price of GM's credit-default swaps, which are insurance in case the carmaker can't pay back its loans, have soared in the past month. They now cost a premium of 12 percentage points of the value of the debt that they insure, four times what they cost in January. Few people believe that Washington would help bail out GM, as it did with Chrysler [in 1979]. Investors, suppliers, and employees, meanwhile, are starting to imagine how a GM bankruptcy would unfold and taking steps to defend themselves if it should happen. Some suppliers, for example, are trying to get shorter payment terms from GM in exchange for lower prices."
That article, by the way, was published in December of 2005.

Tomorrow, at long last, reality will bite -- hard. An already disemboweled company is about to become leaner. The auto industry's supply chain will shrivel, and the fate of GM's 500,000-plus retirees is about to serve as an inescapable precursor of what can (and likely will) happen to Social Security and Medicare.

None of us has ever seen anything like this.

I'm an occasional reader of Jim Rawles's SurvivalBlog. I don't adopt everything I read there, certainly, but there's no denying that it's among the most comprehensive repositories of citizen-survival information and opinions. It's worth a visit.

A recent guest article, "Creating a Crisis Decision Matrix," caught my attention. Basically, it takes a more structured, empirical approach to assessing one's personal preparedness, specifically what I called "The Lay of the Land" in a post last March.

This matrix is a useful tool. I recommend it.

By any other name
In and around our now-fallow garden plot, a handful of wild rose bushes are heavy with pink and crimson blooms. Yesterday afternoon my wife brought me a bouquet of the faintly fragrant flowers, gathered in a water glass she hadn't yet packed.

A few minutes later, she brought me a second bouquet, and then another. The third vase, which she placed lovingly on my desk, held a half-dozen tight pink buds.

When I stepped into my office early this morning and turned on the light, I saw that the buds had opened overnight -- in the dark.

On difficult days -- and these days surely are -- I'll make a point of remembering that.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Images: Burst mode

In Monday's photo of the honor guard's 21-gun salute, sharp eyes may have spotted the spent shell being ejected from the first gunner's Mossberg 500 (enlarged in the left-hand photo, below).

I had my camera set to shoot continuously during the three volleys, and I'm always interested in what gets captured during those split seconds -- momentary puffs of smoke, fleeting facial expressions and so on. In a few frames from this series, I happened to catch the fourth gunner having a bit of an issue (right).

I'm no scattergun guru, but on platforms I'm more familiar with I'd call that kind of FTE a "stovepipe." No harm done, considering this was ceremonial fire. Still, I'm sure it made one fellow a tad cranky.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sharps: Ear to the ground

(Life in the KintlaLake household is, let's say, somewhat disrupted this morning, and it has nothing to do with the physical disarray brought on by our upcoming move. Yesterday a member of our family screwed the proverbial pooch, in a big way, and today we're all dealing with the damage done. We'll get it handled, one way or another. In the meantime, if only to give my mind a more pleasant place to be for a while, I'm going to retreat into a familiar subject.)

Bark River Knife & Tool and RAT Cutlery are two of my favorite knifemakers, and I've made no secret that I'm a fan of their products. They're very different companies, each with its own approach to edged tools, but they have at least one thing in common.

They listen.

Both host interactive communities on the Web -- you'll find RAT on
BladeForums and Bark River on KnifeForums, to name just two of several. The companies' principals aren't shy about getting into the mix, either, giving owners and potential customers a chance to chat directly with Jeff Randall and Mike Perrin about RATs, or with Mike Stewart about Barkies.

Okay, so it gets a little cultish from time to time, but great products often inspire loyalty bordering on fanaticism. And that's just fine, because the important thing here is that the people who make the knives are engaged personally with the people who use the knives.

Their presence goes well beyond tips and service, by the way -- both Bark River and RAT actively solicit suggestions for future products.

Notably, a few weeks ago RAT Cutlery launched "Design a RAT Knife." Users are encouraged to submit sketches and photos of their ideas, and BladeForums members will get to vote on the best designs. RAT expects to introduce the winner, which will become part of its ESEE series, at next year's SHOT show. Pretty damned cool.

On Tuesday, Stewart started a KnifeForums thread entitled "S&R Series 2009," in which he urges members to evaluate Bark River's popular Search & Rescue range. "Is there some other direction we should be looking on these?" he asked, and the community has fired back with dozens of ideas for 'tweeners, hybrids and completely new products. It's quite the creative group.

As relatively small American companies known for turning out high-quality products, RAT Cutlery and Bark River Knife & Tool deserve my support because, in my opinion, they represent our best chances for economic recovery and the foundation of future prosperity. That they pay attention to the seeds of commerce -- their customers -- both validates my support and, I hope, ensures their success.

Earlier posts
Sharps: RAT Cutlery RC-4P MB
Sharps: Heartland blades
Sharps, Part II: On the belt

Bark River Knife & Tool
RAT Cutlery Co. (BRK&T) (RAT)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thirty-two words

Since the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, there's been a lot of hubbub about something she said in a 2001 speech:
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
I'll grant that if a "white male" (like me) had made an equivalent statement, he'd be tarred as a raving bigot. That's not the point here, of course, but it's the way our society works -- the politics of pouncing, if you will -- which provides an explanation, if not an excuse, for what Rush Limbaugh said on Tuesday:
"So here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist. And the libs, of course, say that minorities cannot be racists because they don't have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one...."
The moment I heard that, I was tempted to dismiss it as typical talk-radio garbage -- but what if it's true? I mean, sometimes the truth is buried at the bottom of a dumpster.

The intellectually honest thing to do, I decided, was to seek context for the 32 words that moved Limbaugh and his apostles to label the judge "a racist." So last night I read Sotomayor's entire speech, all 3,929 words of it.

Here's what I discovered, beginning with the passage that's raised all the ruckus.

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

"However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Others simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

"I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate."

Sotomayor's candor is refreshing and, in my opinion, altogether proper and anything but racist. Her apparent thoughtfulness humanizes the bench, which reportedly is what Pres. Obama was looking for in his first nominee.

I didn't need this case-in-point to know that if talk radio suddenly became intellectually honest, it would cease to exist. Broadcast buffoonery would disappear if more Americans applied critical thought to what they see and hear, and Rush the Entertainer would be spinning scratchy vinyl records in Tupelo (sponsored by the local apothecary, no doubt).

While I don't have time to dissect all of Sotomayor's speeches and decisions, I can say unequivocally that the flap over those 32 words is nothing but a canard manufactured by hopeless conservatives.

I have plenty of other reasons to be concerned about this nominee, but racism -- or "reverse" racism, whatever the hell that is -- sure isn't one of them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Just wondering...

What if Sonia Sotomayor is forced to withdraw her acceptance of Pres. Obama's nomination when FOX News uncovers that she employs an undocumented redneck as a pool boy at her home?


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Split decision: Sonia Sotomayor

Pres. Barack Obama's nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter is sound, historic and doesn't deserve the kind of reflexive opposition we're seeing from desperately opportunistic conservatives.

Both Sotomayor and Souter are respected jurists, both left-leaning moderates (or damned liberals, depending). It'd be naive (and mistaken) to say with certainty that each would rule the same way on a given case, but it's reasonable to predict that Sotomayor, if she's confirmed, won't do much to change the left-right balance of the Supreme Court.

Now let's get a few more things straight. First, despite right-wing fear mongering, no, she's not likely to become a dreaded "activist judge." And while Republicans are reminding us that "elections have consequences," they might want to consider that Sonia Sotomayor is exactly the kind of nominee we would've seen from John McCain.

Second, a jurist incorporating background and personal experiences into their interpretation of the law isn't a cardinal sin -- on the contrary, I believe it's both absolutely essential and incontrovertibly human. If that weren't so, we'd see a whole lot more 9-0 decisions.

Third, there's no such thing as the most qualified choice. It's a patently foolish assertion. Anyone who contends otherwise has either an ideological blind spot or a job in politics.

And finally, although the Supreme Court isn't a representative branch of government, I prefer a government that looks like The People it serves. In that light, here's what CNN's Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine, said after Pres. Obama made his announcement this morning:

"That was the face of the new America. You know, there have been 111 Supreme Court justices -- 107 of them have been white men. There have been 44 presidents -- 43 of them have been white men.

"But here you have our first African-American president, the first, potentially, Hispanic woman on the Supreme Court. This is not how America used to look, and America's changing."

A disturbingly large number of Americans -- most of them white, male, conservative or with a mailing address south of the Mason-Dixon line (or all of the above) -- have a problem with "the new America." I don't.

The Senate probably will confirm Sotomayor, so the appointment is what it is -- one left-of-center justice replacing another, albeit this time a woman who adds a much-needed splash of brown to the high court. If I have a concern, naturally it's on the subject of Second Amendment rights.

It's a rare day when I agree with Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State and unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor. Blackwell may be one of those desperately opportunistic conservatives, but he's right when he says,
"President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a declaration of war against America’s gun owners and the Second Amendment to our Constitution."
Last June, in D.C. v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia's oppressive ban on handguns violated individual citizens' right to keep and bear arms. Just over seven months later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Maloney v. Cuomo that the Second Amendment doesn't apply to the states -- and, by extension, it doesn't apply to cities or counties, either.

Writing for the Appeals Court and citing an 1886 Supreme Court ruling, Sotomayor said that "the Second Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose” and that Heller "does not invalidate this longstanding principle."

It'll surprise many Second Amendment advocates to learn that Sotomayor is correct, at least in terms of "settled law." It has to do with the Fourteenth Amendment and something called incorporation doctrine, which the Court didn't address in Heller simply because it wasn't part of the case. Blackwell again:
"That means if Chicago, or even the state of Illinois or New York, wants to ban you from owning any guns at all, even in your own house, that’s okay with her. According to Judge Sotomayor, if your state or city bans all guns the way Washington, D.C. did, that’s okay under the Constitution."
I'm not a lawyer, a judge or a constitutional scholar, but as a citizen I say that this "settled law" reflects neither the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution. Fortunately, the NRA (et al) continues to press the fight for incorporation, notching a big win last month when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for all law-abiding Americans.

Sonia Sotomayor will get her seat on the high court, deservedly so. Her very presence, however, along with the status quo, should serve as reminders that gun owners have much work to do and difficult days ahead.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A village honors the fallen


If you are able,
save them a place
inside of you
and save one backward glance
when you are leaving
for the places they can no longer go.

Be not ashamed to say
you loved them
though you may
or may not have always.

Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own.

And in that time
when men decide and feel safe
to call the war insane
take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes
you left behind.

(written 1 January 1970 by Maj. Michael D. O'Donnell, U.S. Army; MIA 24 March 1970, Dak To, Vietnam; listed KIA 7 February 1978)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chuck E. Fleas (an epilogue)

In yesterday's post, I forgot to mention that on the way back from Old Man's Cave we stopped by a big roadside flea market. Many items caught my eye, but only one caught my fancy.

It's a retired military truck, a 6x6 with a multi-fuel diesel engine. The owner, who restores these beasts as a sideline, fills up with waste oil. He's asking $3,000.

I don't need it, I can't afford it and, in a few weeks or so, I'll have no place to park it. None of that kept me from envisioning myself rumbling around my in-laws' manicured neighborhood behind the wheel...camo comes to the cul-de-sac...

My kingdom for a horse.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chuck E. Trees

We've been working hard lately, all four of us, so this morning we decided to treat ourselves to a day in the woods -- sort of.

Sort of a day, because we didn't leave the house 'til noon. (Please don't ask me why.) And sort of the woods, because a trip to Old Man's Cave on Memorial Day weekend is more like an assault on an amusement park than a walk in the wilderness, what with hundreds of untethered, unruly young'uns about.

Old Man's Cave is nestled in Hocking Hills State Park, near the town of Logan, Ohio. It's truly a spectacular natural feature -- a deep, mossy gorge with several waterfalls and, of course, dozens of recess caves. Walking trails, enhanced by old stone walls and arch bridges, criss-cross the gorge, several times disappearing into dark passages in the rock before emerging again into the damp air.

The place is popular, and it shows. The vegetation has been worn away 20 feet to either side of marked trails, leaving wide, muddy thoroughfares trodden bare by the thoughtless. Countless shortcuts testify to human laziness, and maintenance appears to be a casualty of the State of Ohio's ever-tightening belt.

Beyond the blight, however, the gorge remains a jewel. During my time there today, I did my best to ignore the out-of-control out-of-schoolers and tried to imagine what it must've been like when Old Man Rowe lived in a deep den near the Middle Falls.

To my delight, I found a few places where I could gaze across a pool at a waterfall, or up through the trees at the sky and almost feel like I was alone in the woods. Instead of trying to absorb the grandeur of the place all at once, I got close to small things, closer to the earth.

There was a brief moment when all I heard was the soft rush of water.

I'll go back to Old Man's Cave again one of these days, perhaps soon, but next time it'll be when the crowds are somewhere else. A football Saturday sounds good.

A rainy football Saturday sounds even better.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Self-described independents (36%) now outnumber both Democrats (35%) and Republicans (23%), according to a study released yesterday by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The GOP continues to hemorrhage allegiance in every way imaginable and, adding insult to partisan injury, accounting for independent "leaners" widens the gap from 35%-23% to 53%-36%.

I recommend downloading a pdf of the full report here. Its 165 pages are chock-full of fascinating snapshots, trends and analysis -- no one does this kind of stuff better than Pew.

Pres. Barack Obama gave a fine speech on national security yesterday, but he should've stopped short of characterizing the very existence of Gitmo as a recruiting tool for terrorists -- that, in my opinion, was one bridge too far. Dick Cheney followed with a predictably cranky rebuttal -- best summed up as, "I'm right and you suck" -- which served only to make this President look even more like the right guy for the job.

Draining the Guantanamo Bay swamp, whether it happens sooner or later, ultimately will mean bringing current Gitmo detainees onto U.S. soil, into U.S. supermax prisons. No argument I've heard opposing the transfer (collusion, escape, etc.) passes the laugh test, much less the smell test. We're simply seeing the latest example of NIMBY -- "not in my back yard" -- and nothing more.

Even as I support all necessary and lawful efforts to fight terrorism -- and I do -- I also must acknowledge that there will be prisoners and there likely will be trials. My patriotism instructs me to accept a citizen's share of the risk of defending my country, and if that means incarcerating suspected terrorists in my back yard, then so be it. If we need to build more or more secure prisons to hold them (which would cost money, by the way), then let's get on with it.

On September 11, 2001, we learned that we no longer live on an island, and yet many Americans continue to act as if the fight against terrorism can be kept conveniently beyond our borders and out of our sight. That attitude, exemplified by NIMBY, is naive and, in my view, something less than patriotic.

The Nissan Cube might just be the ugliest car I've ever seen, replacing the Pontiac Aztec at the top (or bottom) of my personal list. In case you haven't seen the itsy-bitsy Cube, it looks like a Scion xB (which is pretty fugly itself) that was left out in the sun and started to melt. It's wretched.

If these things catch on, I'm packing up the wife and spawns and we're moving to Montana -- the Apocalypse is coming.

General Motors is expected to be shepherded into bankruptcy next week. Although the Obama administration is trying to tamp-down the rumors, some reports say that under the plan GM would get another $30 billion from the government (from taxpayers, that is). It's important to grasp two truths: 1) in or out of bankruptcy, GM no longer is a viable commercial enterprise; and 2) a GM bankruptcy would deal a brutal, disastrous blow to our economy.

There's no silver lining here, no reason for optimism, informed or otherwise. We can stop kidding ourselves -- this will be bad.

Sharps is a recurring theme here on KintlaLake Blog, so it shouldn't surprise regular readers that the only item on my Father's Day wish list is a knife -- a plain-edge
Benchmade 551 Griptilian, either in orange or OD. Griptilian folders are solid, American-made knives, widely regarded as some of the best values out there.

I'm on my best behavior, my fingers firmly crossed.

Speaking of Griptilians, the one I'd really like to get my hands on is a 552, otherwise known as the RSK Mk1. It's the result of a collaboration with Doug Ritter of Equipped To Survive, a classic example of making a good design even better. And even though it's a good bit more expensive than a 551 ($118 street vs. $65), the Mk1 is still surprisingly affordable.

Visitors to our national parks soon will be allowed to carry concealed weapons, given a valid state concealed-carry permit. Ordinarily, Mrs. KintlaLake and I loathe eleventh-hour amendments to unrelated legislation -- Congress approved the concealed-carry provision this week as part of a bill reforming the credit-card industry -- but in this case we'll gladly make an exception.

For everyone who supports the Second Amendment and believes in individual citizens' right to personal defense, this is a satisfying win.

My community's Memorial Day parade will take place at 9am on Monday morning. I'll be there, rain or shine, and I suggest that everyone reading this blog do the same in their communities.

Remembering our nation's fallen warriors is what this holiday is all about. As a free People, we should consider it our solemn obligation to honor those who sacrificed their lives for Liberty.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Doin' the shuffle

If you have kids, you've seen the pose -- head bowed, shoulders slack, full attention focused on an object cradled with both hands, totally oblivious to surroundings.

I've come to call this behavior "text shuffling."

The KintlaLake spawns are certifiable text-messaging addicts. After waging a long and lonely battle to manage their dependency, about all I accomplished was to ban texting at the dinner table.

Other than that, virtually any time we summon or try to speak to them, we're interrupting a texting session. It's strange and more than a little disappointing. I continue to crack wise and poke fun at them over it, but resistance is futile. I've abandoned the fight.

I embrace the technology myself, and I've found text messaging a most handy way to send and receive bite-size bits of information quickly and easily. On average, I suppose I send 20 or so a month.

(For the record, I text in complete words and sentences, with proper punctuation. Most of the time, anyway.)

The instant that a convenience becomes a fixation, however, it's a problem. This obsessive immersion in technology -- whether it's text messaging, e-mail, GPS, video games or "social networking" sites -- comes with a price.

Social aptitude suffers and the ability to communicate atrophies. (I'm talking about the face-to-face kind, not the disembodied electronic variety.) Basic skills can't be applied because they never were learned. And most disturbing, I think, is the isolation, the walling-off of the physical world -- especially for impressionable young people, that can be crippling.

Embracing technology may be essential to functioning effectively in today's society, but being present is essential to survival. Sadly, we're raising a bumper crop of kids who are largely absent.

They don't operate in the great span of this world, sentencing themselves instead to a very small, self-absorbed space. They miss moment after rich moment, somehow managing to overlook the simplest and most necessary things.

Bearing witness to a generation's entropy has its lighter moments.

"I wish there was a way to text without typing," our older spawn said last week. "Y'know, so you could hit someone by just talking."

"Something like voice-texting?" I asked.

"Yeah, like that."

"The technology already exists," I said. "It's called a phone call."

That was way, way too easy.

As I watched the 17-year-old text-shuffle silently out of the room, something about his posture and sloth-like movement struck me as familiar...the bowed head, the singular focus, the sacramental devotion to the object cradled in his hands...I wondered...

At some point, the whole celibacy thing might become an issue for him, but hey, at least he's got a transferable skill.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Michael Steele, titular head of the Republican National Committee, gave his sinking party a pep talk yesterday. After invoking the names of Edmund Burke and William F. Buckley, this was Steele's big finish:
"In the best spirit of President Reagan, it's time to saddle up and ride."
The exhortation was delivered to a half-empty room, with all the passion of a podiatrist talking a nervous patient through bunion surgery.

Today, having put Steele's perfunctory appearance behind it, the GOP got down to serious business -- like this resolution:
"We the members of the Republican National Committee call on the Democratic Party to be truthful and honest with the American people by acknowledging that they have evolved from a party of tax and spend to a party of tax and nationalize and, therefore, should agree to rename themselves the 'Democrat Socialist Party.'"
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is today's Republican Party.

While the chairman tries to wake the echoes of figures that today's electorate neither know nor care about, the party's power brokers have been reduced to playing nanner-nanner-nanner games.

This isn't just an example of why I shun political parties -- it's institutional cluelessness. If you're a registered Republican, you have every right to be embarrassed. You should be.

If you're not, wait 'til you're sober and try again.

An enemy of The People: Carolyn McCarthy

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, the Democrat who represents New York's 4th District, wants our guns. She always has, and it doesn't much matter to her how she gets them.

McCarthy is well-known for her obsessive, grief-fueled pursuit of gun-grabbing measures. A week ago, and for the third time since 2005, she introduced The No Fly, No Buy Act (H.R. 2401), which would combine the TSA’s no-fly list with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that determines a citizen's eligibility to buy a firearm. Her rationale?
"If someone is denied the chance to board an airplane because of suspected ties to terrorists, then they should also be denied the opportunity to purchase a gun. This is a common sense gun bill that will prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands."
I'll take those in order: no, they shouldn't; and no, it won't. Liberty won't stand for it, and neither will we.

There are about a million names on the TSA's no-fly list, that federal fecal roster that's growing by an estimated 20,000 records a month. The database is notoriously unreliable, laughably so, cataloguing the names of legislators, governors, journalists and even infants.

It's manifest whimsy, both political and bureaucratic. The majority of Americans don't even trust the list to "prevent" real terrorists from boarding commercial aircraft, and there are far too many law-abiding citizens on that list to justify merging it with the NICS.

This criminally foolish legislation, this latest McCarthyism, bears no resemblance whatsoever to "common sense." McCarthy is wielding a ideological bludgeon and she knows it -- she simply doesn't care, as long as she can take another small step toward completely disarming the American public.

As existing gun laws go unenforced, McCarthy and her anti-liberty cronies will keep proposing new laws that seek to trample the Second Amendment. Even if No Fly, No Buy again dies in committee, as it should, our constitutional right to keep and bear arms will remain under attack -- that much is clear.

The People's charge, then, is equally clear: vigilance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cordage: Busy hands

Association rules

This morning's news brought me a real head-shaker.
I read about Marlene and Richard Gano, who live in a condo on the west side of Canton, Ohio, near where I grew up. In the window of their modest home hangs a Blue Star Flag, honoring the military service of their son, MSgt. Richard Gano Jr.

MSgt. Gano, like his father before him, serves his country in the U.S. Army. He's a career soldier, now 55 years old. He was injured during a tour in Iraq and currently is stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The Service Flag -- bearing a blue star denoting a family member on active duty, or a gold star representing a family member who died during military service -- actually originated right here in Ohio. It was designed in 1917 by U.S. Army Capt. Robert Queisser, Fifth Ohio Infantry, and the banner's popularity spread beyond the Cleveland area throughout the state and eventually nationwide.

A few weeks ago, REM Commercial Association Management, the outfit that manages the Central Commons Condominiums, sent the Ganos a letter informing them that displaying a Blue Star Flag violates the condo association's rules. Along with an order to remove the offending flag immediately was a threat that the couple would be fined $50.00 for each day that they failed to comply.

Marlene and Richard Gano, bless their fiercely independent hearts, refused to take down the Blue Star Flag they'd been flying since 2006. And thanks to overwhelming public backlash against REM's action, yesterday the management company reversed its decision, saying that it'll allow the Ganos to continue to fly their flag.

Allow? How bloody freakin' magnanimous of REM to allow a family to honor a son, a soldier, a man who's fighting for its freedom to make silly-ass rules.

It should never have come to that, of course. A disturbing question remains on the table -- what the hell is going on here?

I've lived in two different condos and I know all about association rules. I understand the reasons behind the rules (most of them, anyway), but I still hate them, each and every one.

Because condo dwellers, like I was until a few years ago, know what they're getting into when they sign on the dotted line, generally I don't begrudge an association its private-property rights -- unless it infringes on a resident's reasonable display of patriotic pride.
The United States of America is a nation at war -- and even if we weren't, honor and patriotism trump association rules.

Memorial Day, when we commemorate formally the men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion in military service to their country, is less than a week away. I suggest that on Monday morning -- every morning -- independent citizen-patriots, wherever we live, should honor our nation by flying its flag.

As long as I breathe, whether my home is a house, a condo, an apartment or a refrigerator box, no one -- no man, no government and certainly no damnable corporation -- will stand between me and liberty.

To hell with your association rules.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Legacy in pink

I paid tribute to local news anchor Heather Pick last November, on the day that she lost her decade-long battle with breast cancer. The last time most of us saw her was shortly before she died, visibly weary but typically bubbly, appearing on our TV screens wearing a garishly bright pink wig.

Heather was active in her support of cancer-research causes and had been a regular participant in the Komen Columbus Race for the Cure. When this year's race took place last weekend, Heather's spirit was very much in evidence -- here's a photo taken in front of Columbus City Hall just before Saturday's race got underway:

Of the record-breaking 45,000-plus who showed up for this year's Komen Columbus Race for the Cure, more than 7,000 wore pink wigs, just like Heather's. Women, men and children, survivors and supporters, even local celebrities like Jack Hanna and Archie Griffin proudly carried on the legacy of one brave and selfless woman.

They called themselves "Heather's Team."

Ok, so maybe this story of a local TV personality and the thousands she inspired doesn't do anything for you, or maybe breast cancer isn't your cause. It could be that you recoil from what you see as an over-hyped "herd mentality," or maybe you just don't like crowds, even knowing that this particular crowd raised $2 million in a single day.

Whatever your objections, try to silence them for a moment and remember that good springs not from big charities or government agencies but from people.

People like Heather Pick, who had the courage to do much more than simply make her private pain public. People like those pink-wigged runners and walkers, people committed to making a difference. People who notice, people who choose and, most important, people who act.

Doing good doesn't recognize politics or religion, race or class. In fact, good requires that we subordinate our differences, asking only for our participation. Seeing a need and responding. Placing values above beliefs, others above self.

People, participating -- that's how good gets done.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

'Raise her Gold & Blue'

This afternoon we watched the University of Notre Dame distinguish itself as an institution of higher learning, not purely an enclave of indoctrination. Especially as reflected in the introductory address delivered by Father John Jenkins, the university expressed its values with credibility and reason.

Second, we saw Operation Rescue (and everyone else pushing a stroller doused with stage blood) cement its place at the anti-liberty extreme, right along with PETA, Earth First! and Aryan Nations. A free society allows for such speech, of course, up to and including the cartoonish extremes, but it also gives us an opportunity to witness the stark contrast between beliefs and believability.

Which way are you lookin'?
Is it hard to see?
Do you say what's wrong for him
Is not wrong for me?
You walk the streets of righteousness
But you refuse to understand.

Say you love the baby,
Then you crucify the man.
You say you love the baby,
And then you crucify the man.

And third, the President's presence as well as his speech -- which almost was anti-climactic in the wake of the buildup -- served as the latest example of our good fortune in having elected this man who values intellect, embraces differences and engages honestly.

Toward the end of the speech, the elderly gentleman with whom I'd been watching it observed,
"I dunno 'bout you, but I see a lot of similarities between him and Hitler."
I swear I'm not making that up -- those are his words, verbatim.

I didn't respond. I walked away.

The old man is a prisoner of his ideology, shackled by the sort of mindless rhetoric served up by right-wing talk radio. He and his like have spent years trying to inspire fear in others, and now they find themselves poisoned by their own potion.

Thus intoxicated, now he's incapable of seeing his world any other way. To invoke a different metaphor, when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Today was a bad day for ideologues and a good day for men and women of reason. My policy differences with Pres. Obama aside -- and in the cause of critical thought, I do have the independence to put them aside -- it was a very good day for me, too.

Lyrics from "Which way are you goin'?" (1975) by Jim Croce.

Folklore & forecasts

It's a wonderfully brisk morning, temps in the low 40s, unusually chilly for mid-May in central Ohio. Last night I heard one of the local TV stations promoting its [cue music] Storm Team with a bit of folklore:
"Thunder in February, frost in May."
I hadn't heard that one before. Allegedly it's a common Appalachian belief, and we did have a round of thundersnow a few months ago.

Sure enough, a light frost is predicted for tonight. Who knew?

The [cue music] Storm Team, apparently.

It won't rock my world, one way or the other, since for the first time in three years I won't be planting. Ordinarily I'd rely on the time-tested plant-after-Mother's-Day maxim, but our household move means that our small garden plot is untilled, untended.

I'm hoping to harvest a few of the perennial herbs before we're out of here, maybe even some raspberries. The wild canes won't start bearing fruit for another month or so, however, and we have much to do between now and then.

By the end of the day yesterday, I'd all but finished packing the contents of the barn and the garage, leaving only daily-living items and a pile of stuff we'll sell at our garage sale next month. The house is another story, but still, we've made good progress.

Today is bright, clear and cool. Time for me to get back to work.

Friday, May 15, 2009

'Exhibit A'

It's a sterile, black-and-white document, 40 pages in length. Released yesterday and headed "Exhibit A," it bears the names of nearly 800 American businesses which, as of next month, no longer will be Chrysler dealers.

On the list are four dealerships in this area, two in my hometown and another from which I bought three vehicles when I lived in New England. The small Dodge dealer where I last did business, 15 miles south of here, was spared.

More bad news came this morning when GM slashed 1,100 of its own franchises. Combined with the euthanasia of Pontiac and the hoped-for divestitures of Hummer, Saturn and Saab, GM's network will contract from 6,200 dealerships to 3,600 or so. Toyota, Honda and other automakers are eyeing cutbacks as well.

It has to happen and we saw it coming, but nothing softens the gut-punch to communities where dealers will be shuttered.

Beyond all of the soon to-be-unemployed mechanics, salespersons and the like -- an estimated 40,000 from those Chrysler dealers alone -- ripples will swell into waves. We tend to forget how many tire shops, car washes, hot-rod clubs and tee-ball leagues depend on even the dumpiest little dealerships. It'll be many years, I think, before we see the full sweep of the damage done.

As I said, this painful pullback, like so many others, was inevitable. It's maddening, but I'm not sure that being angry about it helps. We should be clear, at least, about what it represents.

If we mark progress by the markets' irrelevant gyrations or experts' optimistic predictions, then our national economic crisis is nearing its end. If we go to the eviscerated American middle class, we find out that nothing could be more divorced from their reality.

Perhaps the best thing we can do right now is to renew our commitment to channeling our energy -- and our commerce -- into our communities. Like buying a used car and having it serviced locally. Getting together with neighbors and supporting a pee-wee football team that just lost its business sponsor.

Driving past the golden arches and grabbing a burger at a family-owned diner or dairy-ette. Buying produce from farmers' markets and roadside stands.

Buy American? Sure, but let's get a grip, People -- if we're going to pull out of this, we have to pull much closer to Home.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nancy & The Big Shovel

Humans' greatest weakness is the need to be understood. Related to that failing is the compulsion to explain everything.

Ask any cop or, for that matter, ask any parent -- the more a person tries to explain, the deeper the hole they dig.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appeared before the Capitol Hill press corps today with a prepared statement, explaining (again, for the umpteenth time) what, when, and how she knew about harsh interrogation tactics used on suspected terrorists -- waterboarding, alleged torture and all that nasty stuff.

After reading her statement, she should've turned her exposed tail and left the room. But being human -- and having a massive ego, even for a powerful politician -- she didn't.

She couldn't. She had to explain.

So she took questions. Here are a few gems from her answers:

"The point is that I wasn't briefed. I was told -- informed that someone else had been briefed about it."

"I wasn't informed. I was informed that a briefing had taken place."

"I was not briefed. I was only informed that they were briefed, but I did not get the briefing."

"I have not been briefed as to what they were briefed on.... I was just briefed that they were informed..."

This is the citizen who stands just two heartbeats from the American presidency. And this is the kind of nonsense we get when we keep re-electing the same ideological faces to the same political places.

All together now: It's the government we deserve.

Non-Pelosi quote of the week
"...[Carrie Prejean's] awkward attempt to now transition from the woman with the implants to a virtuous moral crusader lacks all credibility. A veneer of pseudo-Christian hypocrisy will not camouflage Ms. Prejean’s vapid breast obsession, no matter how tightly she wraps herself with it." (from "Carrie Prejean and Her Breast Obsession" by Sheldon Filger)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jumpin' Jack Flash

At this moment, my family and I are keeping an ear to the scanner, waiting to hear if we'll have to evacuate.
It's a gas! Gas! Gas!
The rain-drenched air outside carries the strong odor of natural gas and there's a loud roar coming from an open valve a half-mile to the north, not far from where a big gas-transmission line crosses our road. Mrs. KintlaLake and our younger spawn drove through the area an hour ago and reported that the fumes made their eyes burn. According to them, the sound was absolutely deafening.

All this because there's a broken main about four miles northeast.

Judging by the chatter on the scanner, there's a difference of opinion between the gas company's fixit people and the state EPA's hazmat people. The former says there's no need for residents to bug out, while the latter advises that the escaping gas, which is being held down by the heavy rain, could be a health hazard.

The police listened to both sides, eventually deciding to clear only the public library and a couple of school buildings and leave it at that.
But it's alright now, in fact, it's a gas!
The possibility of evacuating isn't something that happens around here every day, at least not since we've made our home in this house. Anyway, we already knew how close we live to the transmission line and valve, which probably is more than can be said of the blissfully ignorant suburban hamsters that surround us.

What we got here is...

Sitting at my in-laws' kitchen table last Sunday, I thumbed through the addresses on my Palm Centro. My wife's father, who hadn't crabbed about anything in about 15 minutes, tried to buttonhole me.
"So what are you going to do if you have to communicate and your phones don't work?"
Before I get into what followed that question, it's worth noting here that my father-in-law had "misplaced" his own cell phone six days earlier and hadn't yet replaced it. (He still hasn't.) Tempted as I am to chalk that up to his trademark procrastination, I think he's trying to assert his independence from technology -- which is fine, except that it's become a sort of object lesson imposed on the rest of us.


Patiently and rationally, I described my family's plan for the scenario he'd posed. If satellite communications were down and electric power was out, first we'd try our hard-wired home telephones. If those backups didn't work, we'd fall back to one of two different RF (radio) systems. And if our family was separated with no direct way to communicate, we'd rendezvous at designated checkpoints.

"Hmph," was his only reaction -- neither approval nor disapproval, simply a sign that he had no rebuttal to offer. Mrs. KintlaLake, sensing an opportunity, reached over and tapped my leg. It was her way of saying, "Fine, now please just let it drop."

I didn't do that, of course.

Over on American Bushman Blog, our hero recently kicked off a series about ten items which, in his experience, are "exceptional or essential for wilderness living/survival (or both)." I told my father-in-law that the blogger had put
the axe at the top of the list, and then I asked him what he considered the most essential item.

He paused for a moment before responding. "Adequate clothing."

I'm with American Bushman on this one. Even though I would've picked a knife first, he makes quite the compelling case for an axe. But seriously -- clothing first?

Under the table, my wife was tapping my leg again, more insistently this time. I wasn't done, however -- I wanted to give the old man a chance to redeem himself.

Choosing my words carefully, I asked, "Suppose the shit hits the fan right now and you're thrust into a survival situation. You can have only one firearm -- what would it be?"

He didn't hesitate. "My carbine," he said. "No question about it."

The gun he was referring to is a semi-automatic clone of a venerable European military rifle, chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO round. He's had it for several years but it's never been fired and, as far as I know, he has no supply of ammunition.

Never mind that the rifle, by itself, is a real bitch to carry -- the thing weighs nearly nine pounds, minus magazine and optic -- and that even a much younger man would grumble under a typical .30-caliber loadout. To each his own, but better him than me.

I took a deep breath and suggested, with respect, that perhaps there might be alternatives to a beast with a Belgian accent -- like a decent AR-15 or M4gery chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO. ("Decent" is discussed intelligently here, here and here.) Carbines in this smaller caliber are more manageable (typically around seven pounds) with a correspondingly lighter ammo loadout.

Finally, I offered my personal choice -- a Ruger 10/22 rifle with three 25-round magazines and a few hundred rounds of .22 Stinger ammunition. I pointed out that it's a versatile, capable package built around a reliable, relatively simple five-pound gun and America's most common round.


That ended the conversation, and not a moment too soon. Had it continued much longer, I suspect that my wife would've stopped tapping me and started punching.

Cockeyed Constitution

Carrie Prejean, the (still) reigning Miss California, yesterday demonstrated a strange understanding of the First Amendment:
"[My grandfather] did speak about the freedoms he fought for, and [he] taught me to never back down and never let anyone take those freedoms away from you. On April 19, on that stage, I exercised my freedom of speech, and I was punished for doing so. This should not happen in America. It undermines the constitutional rights for which my grandfather fought for."
The near-Miss USA isn't alone in promoting a half-baked view of the Bill of Rights. Take what Sarah Palin, the poster child for hopelessly inarticulate ideologues, said last October:
"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."
In other words -- and considering the sources here, we need other words -- criticism violates the First Amendment. Way out there on the twisted fringe where Prejean, Palin and their inbred kin reside, free speech is truly free only if it's protected from challenges.

Next thing we know, they'll be telling us that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual citizen's right not to be shot at.

It's not surprising, really, to find bimbos (of both genders) playing in the big political sandbox. It's downright frightening, however, to see just how many Americans are sympathetic to the whining of these two in particular.

Not a majority by any means, but enough to be disconcerting to those of us who use the brains we were born with.

I respect and will defend the right of the former Miss La Jolla and the former Mayor of Wasilla to express their views in the public square. And I will, to be sure, continue to disparage intellectually shallow, ethically bankrupt or just plain idiotic speech with the vigor of an independent citizen-patriot, as is my right.

That, Ms. Prejean, absolutely is what should "happen in America." You insult your grandfather’s service by suggesting otherwise.

See, free speech goes both ways. Fortunately, I'm not alone, either.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cordage: Back at it

Weaving paracord is good therapy. It soothes mind and soul in the same way as, say, playing golf -- either it eliminates the need for prescription medication, or it's an express trip to the pharmacy.

I don't play golf.

It's been a year or so since I first took up the paracord pastime in earnest. I braided the practical stuff into lanyards and fobs, tethers and bracelets, Incorporating clips, rings and, of course, the requisite skull beads. If I do say so myself, some of the results were pretty damned cool.

After several months, however, the creative tide ebbed and my interest waned. I found myself making useless baubles, mostly from scraps. Boxing up the remaining supplies, I stowed them in my office closet and moved on.

A length of paracord is an essential part of any survival kit or bug-out bag. A couple of 100-foot hanks live in our family emergency stores and we keep a bundle in each vehicle. A homemade bracelet is an easy way to carry 20 feet of paracord on my walks in the woods.

Its utility is endless -- I just got tired of working with it. Then yesterday, I put paracord together with another essential, a firesteel, and started weaving again.

I'm not the first to capture a firesteel within a cross-braid. Given my penchant for preparedness, though, fashioning two must-have survival items into a handy fob seemed like a great idea. A half-hour later it was finished -- one full-size firesteel (sans handle) surrounded by about ten feet of intact (not gutted) paracord, with a small split-ring on one end.

For a first attempt, it's not half bad. The next one will be better.

The Shakers, known for their simple furniture, take a great approach to design and craft:
"Do not make a thing unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, do not hesitate to make it beautiful."
The humble object I created yesterday fulfills necessary and useful quite well, I think. I'll keep working on the beautiful part.

Evidence of absence?

Remember Boy's Life? It's still around, the official white-bread publication of the Boy Scouts of America, same as it ever was.

As I recall from my own Scouting days, the last page of each monthly issue was devoted entirely to humor -- specifically, the corniest jokes imaginable. Now one of those old Boy's Life jokes comes to mind every time I hear former Vice President Dick Cheney (et al) talk about the absence of terrorist attacks since 9-11 as proof positive that the Bush administration's black-bag policies worked.

The joke went something like this:

"I'm wearing elephant repellent," said a boy to his mother.

"Don't be silly," Mom replied, rolling her eyes. "There are no elephants around here."

"See?" the boy said with pride. "It works!"

It takes a real elephant -- or a real sheep -- to buy Cheney's brand of unfiltered, self-serving bullshit.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A case of consumption

An old New England aphorism has been rattling around in my head:
"Use it up, wear it out;
"Make it do or do without."
That led to my thinking about a couple of my grandfather's favorite expressions:

"There's nothing so satisfying as leaving a store empty-handed."

"If a ball of string costs seven cents, two for a dime isn't much of a bargain if you need only one ball of string."

Frugality, or simply the ability to differentiate between wants and needs, comes to most of us either later in life or out of necessity. Common wisdom tends to make more sense as the years pass. My grandfather, a dairy farmer raising a family during The Great Depression, had no choice.

For me, it's a little of both.

Like most kids, I was a dedicated to thoughtless consumption. Our teenage spawns are the same way, totally focused on turning every waking moment to their personal material advantage and getting their hands on The Next Big Thing. It drives me nuts.

I understand that it's the nature of dependent children to be selfish. It still drives me nuts.

At some point -- and honestly, I can't tell you exactly when -- I began deriving less satisfaction from consumption and more pleasure from making material things last. A quest for shiny new things receded and a more thoughtful approach to utility emerged.

It wasn't that I stopped buying stuff, as George Carlin put it -- I just felt the need to buy less stuff, less often. I kept the stuff I had, and if my stuff broke I did my best to fix it instead of replacing it. When I did buy stuff, often I bought used stuff.

I finished leftovers rather than giving in to momentary cravings. If there was a tool I'd likely need only occasionally, I'd borrow. Wanting for a bolt or a bracket, dipping into a bucket of salvaged parts took the place of a trip to Home Depot. I developed an arguably strange sense of pride in wearing a 20-year-old sweater.

Foolishly, I thought I had the whole consumption thing licked -- and then my financial situation went south, revealing that I wasn't nearly as frugal as I thought I was. Suddenly aware that I still had far more stuff than I possibly could need, I saw many other ways to make do and do without.

Building on previous efforts, then, my personal economy continues to evolve. It's not a matter of living like a Quaker or a Scrooge -- it's about being responsible and accountable instead of caving to the wish for material gratification.

Today I live well within my means. Even though I got here relatively late and out of necessity, I think my grandfather would like that.