Friday, November 27, 2009
Contrast that with my voting experience. My first election was 1988. I voted for Bush 41, but never was a huge fan... it was more a vote against Dukakis. In 1992 and 1996 we got Clinton, whose distinction of being only the second president ever impeached will almost certainly keep him off of the currency. And of course, the alternative choices (Bush again, and Bob Dole) were of the hold-your-nose-when-you-vote variety. Then 8 years of Bush 43, who has never prompted an order for dynamite for any additions to Mt. Rushmore. The only good thing I can say about those two wins is that Gore and Kerry were just as bad as Dole had been. And then, most recently, Obama vs. Dole again. (Whoops. I meant McCain. It's so hard to keep track of which foul-tempered war hero is which.) I have gray whiskers, and I have never had the opportunity to vote for a candidate I really, really liked. I was just a little too young to pull the lever for Reagan. But in my 40 years on the planet, he would have been the only candidate I could have taken great pride in supporting (I also was around for Nixon, Ford, and Carter... now that's an all-star team).
I don't know why the last 20 years haven't produced a Reagan, or a Truman. But I do know that watching politics these days reminds me of Casey Stengel's famous baseball quote: "Can't anybody around here play this game anymore?"
It turns out that he was 100% right. On race day, I felt exactly like I have for every other race I've run in the past 27 years. Despite all my talk about lower expectations, running "just for fun," and all that, as soon as I pinned on a race number and laced up my racing flats, I might as well have been 17 years old again according to the butterflies in my stomach. And even though I told anybody who would listen that I really didn't expect much, and that anything under 23 minutes was an acceptable time, inside I was praying, "just let it be 21:59."
The race-day conditions were as perfect as they come. 55 degrees and overcast is what you hope for if you're a world-class guy seeking to set a record, and that's what we got. Additionally, the course is flat and fast, and the only challenge comes during a portion of the 2nd mile if there's a stiff headwind. This year was calm. My pace goals were simple--try not to be stupid in the first mile, run just under 7 minutes, and then try to hang on for dear life and average around 7's for the next two. I hit the first mile in 6:39. Although I felt like I had tried to hold back, the time scared me. I was sure I'd pay the price for that exuberance the rest of the way. I told myself, "stay steady," but mentally I reset my goals for a pair of 7:10's at best. But the second mile split said 6:53. Suddenly it was within my grasp to break 22:00 if I could just buckle down and run a 7:20 last mile. At the beginning of the third mile, a friend who runs consistently in the 21's came up from behind me. Two thoughts came to mind. First, I could tuck in with him and almost certainly meet my goal. But then another idea popped up: I haven't beaten this guy in years, and I've been ahead of him for two-thirds of the race. If I can turn it up just a notch, maybe I can pull away from him. I did, and managed to run the third mile in about 6:50. The last 200 meters is where I used to catch a lot of people, mostly because I would have too much gas left in the tank from poor pacing and because I had sprinter speed back then. Yesterday, not so much. I rolled up just a few souls in my feeble "kick," but only because I had just run one of the most evenly-paced races of my life (6:48 a mile, 21:05 total).
The numbers guy in me spent the rest of the day hoping for the results to be posted online so I could fiddle with them. I plugged my time into every online calculator imaginable. Turns out that my age-adjusted time would have been 20:10, less than a minute worse than I ran on the same course 9 years ago. I wound up placing 197th out of over 4000 finishers, and 18th in my age group (out of 188 men aged 40-44). I was also about 48th out of all the men aged 40+. None of those are great--it's the low end of what might be called "local class." Just like a decade ago, I'm right below the guys who can plausibly be called "pretty good." Indeed, the same folks I used to run with back in the 25-29 age group are still right ahead of me, by roughly the same margins. But that's fine. What's exciting is that I thought I had fallen out of that pack altogether, and it turns out that I've more or less jumped back in right where I left off.
I don't know if this means I'll get serious and try to move up in that pack, but it does validate what I've been doing for the past 7 months. The biggest difference between this "comeback" and many previous ones has been consistency. I haven't done any "workouts," I haven't even really had a training plan. But what I have done is get out the door regularly and just run (usually at a pretty easy pace). What has made that possible is having a regular "appointment" with consistent training partners. And with every run, the habit of consistency becomes stronger.
Anyway, I'm very, very pleased. This step will hopefully help me to stay motivated throughout the winter, when traditionally my training has dropped off. We'll see.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Then today I finished up my lessons on the 1970s, which today included a whirlwind tour of the pop culture of the decade. I hit disco, movies (Jaws, Rocky, The Godfather, and Star Wars), Fonzie, MASH, and Archie Bunker. The part on All In the Family clicked in with my earlier thinking on Palin.
For those who are not old enough to have seen the show, All in the Family was one of the most cutting-edge, socially-conscious TV shows ever made. But something unexpected happened. Producer Norman Lear intended for the main character, Archie Bunker, to be an object of scorn and derision. For Lear and his social circle, nothing could be funnier than pointing and laughing at an ignorant, blue-collar, intolerant, sexist, bigoted, out-of-touch conservative from Queens. But Archie became the hero of the program. I remember watching reruns of the show with my grandfather in the late 70s and early 80s. He loved Archie. And why shouldn't he have? My grandfather was born in 1922, lived through the Great Depression and WWII ("the big one," Archie called it). Like Archie, he could see that some (not all) of the "gains" of the 60s and 70s were just foolishness. And Granddaddy never did have much time for foolishness. As it turned out, many Americans didn't see Archie as the bad guy--he was something of a spokesman for the "silent majority." (Let's not forget that over 60% of voters and 49 states chose Nixon over McGovern in 1972, even though ALL the "smart people" voted for McGovern).
That brings me back to Palin. Let me begin by saying I don't think she ought to be president. I don't think she has the requisite preparation, and an attractive personal narrative and ability to excite a crowd are no substitute for that. (Sadly, about 53% of voters apparently felt otherwise in November.) But what I do like about her is that she has all the right enemies. Not just the snobs of the left, but also the snobs of the right (I'm thinking David Brooks, for starters). She drives them absolutely batty, and that makes me happy. She also has the effect of shining a bright light on the amazing double standards at work in our modern media culture. When the Associated Press assigned 11 reporters to "fact-check" her ghostwritten autobiography--more than they could spare to analyze the multi-trillion dollar health care bill in the senate --well, that says a little something. I get tired of people who think they are smarter than me defining what is the "conventional wisdom." They say Palin is dumb because she didn't go to an elite school. They also say Bush was dumb, despite the fact that he went to Yale and Harvard. But then they say that the very fact that Obama went to Columbia and Harvard is proof-positive that he's a genius. Maybe that's even correct, but it is not so just because they say so, nor is it logically consistent.
Anyway, back to Archie. I think there is a "silent majority" today, too. And maybe we/they are not sophisticated enough to know when we're being mocked, or maybe we think it's the mockers who are out of touch. We recognize that Sarah Palin and Archie Bunker are far more genuinely American than Norman Lear and David Brooks and Jon Stewart put together.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
That led me to think of all the things I have done as a runner. It was about 27 years ago that I went out to my school's track with my dad carrying an old-fashioned stopwatch with a sweep-second hand and ran my first mile. I ran 7:26, but at the time didn't know if that was a good or a bad time. But I decided I would go out for the track team that spring, if only because there was no ball involved that I could fail to catch. They put me with the distance kids because I wasn't fast enough to be a sprinter, and I began plugging away trying to run a sub-6-minute mile. The next fall (my sophomore year), I joined the cross-country team, mainly because that's what all the track guys I looked up to did. I wasn't very good, but I got to run with some guys who were. That spring, I ran sub-6 and barely scored, but my team produced 7 state champions and an all-American, and we won the state title as a team.
My junior year I was 8th man on the cross-country team. 7 make the varsity. I was the alternate at the state meet. That spring, a combination of miles, a growth spurt, and the graduation of all those champions allowed me to contribute to the track team for the first time, and even to run the weak leg of the mile relay. I earned my first varsity letter. My senior year, I was a co-captain of the cross-country team and ran consistently in the top 7, including 5th (the last scoring spot) at state. I was the 82nd kid in the meet. In track I ran the anchor leg of the relay and set a school record in the 100 meter dash (largely due to being one of the first to run the event after the conversion to metric distances). I was a conference runner-up (twice) and ran in the lower-state championship meet. I never qualified for state in track.
In college there was never a time I considered myself to have stopped being a runner, but I didn't run consistently. I took 2nd place in the 100 two years in a row at the University of SC intramural track meet. Once a year, near my birthday, I would bench press my weight and run a mile in under 6 minutes, just to be sure I still could.
Sometime in the early 1990s I began training again. I was actually out on a run (a great hill workout) when my wife took the pregnancy test that told us we were becoming parents. The day my oldest son was born, I had to knock on my training partner's door early in the morning to get my watch, which I had left in his apartment. I had to clear splits from the previous day's run to time contractions. When I interviewed for my first teaching job, I told them I could coach track, and somehow they gave me the job. I didn't even know how to score the high jump. I just knew I liked to run.
While learning to coach, I kept running. I ran the USMC marathon in 1986. I ran a half-dozen half-marathons. I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run several times, which is one of the top ten 10k races in the USA. Once I even made the very first column of results in the tiny print of the local paper (top 600 out of about 30,000 finishers, but still over 2 miles behind the Kenyans who got the prize money). I raced dozens of local 5ks, winning a couple of small ones when the field was weak and picking up a few age-group awards. My favorite was a 6th-place award in a run called the "handicap run" which started runners in reverse order of their personal best. The lady who beat me for 5th was 80 years young and had started over 20 minutes earlier. Another 50 meters and I could have gotten her! Perhaps my favorite moment was running 5 seconds faster than my previous PR (personal record), set at the state cross-country meet in 1986, when I was 31 years old. .
The past few years I have run less and less, and slower and slower. The coaching has gone well (a couple of team state championships and about 18 individuals and relay teams, plus a re-writing of my school's record books, including re-setting the record I once held). But I've only raced twice since turning 35. Only one month of the past 11 years has gone by with zero runs (that was the month I drove 7000 miles in an RV across the USA), but I've certainly not been consistent, nor could you call what I'm doing "training." But the last 6 months have been great, and I'm flirting with running our local Thanksgiving race as my first attempt as a "masters" (age 40+) runner.
I don't know for sure what my running future holds. I'm pretty sure none of the miles will be sub-6. But I do know that it's a blessing to still be a runner.
I was pleased to see Christie win in NJ and McDonnell win in Virginia. They are the ones I would have voted for. But if anybody had to lose, I hate that it was Conservative Party upstart Hoffman in the New York congessional special election. Not because of any national implications or broad ideological point, but because he was (is) a regular guy, a pretty nerdy accountant, who sought to become a citizen-legislator. He almost pulled it off, too. If I could get just one constitutional amendment passed, it would likely be term limits. Nobody, from either party, needs to be a professional politician for life.
Along those same lines, the big spin, especially from the White House, is that yesterday's big wins by Republicans were emphatically NOT a referendum on Obama or his policies, but rather a symptom of broad anti-incumbent feelings. OK, I'll buy that, to a point (although if Corzine had won, I'm sure the White House would want some credit). But here's a news flash: most of the incumbents these days ARE Democrats. It's almost always easier to be the party promising "change" than the one doing the governing. Reality is a stubborn thing.
Also, what about the conventional wisdom that the election of Obama signaled the end of the Republican party, the death knell of the Reagan Revolution, etc.? How quickly we forget. I recall back when George W. Bush became the only president since FDR to have his party gain congressional seats in an off-year election (2002) and then beat Kerry in 2004 that we gave the same sort of premature eulogies for the Democrats, and folks like Karl Rove were trumpeting the soon-to-be permanent GOP majority. People really ought to read some history (or just take my class).
Now there will be lots of ink (pixels) spilled over what yesterday means for the future of Health Care Reform--particularly over whether supporting the 1993 version is what cost Democrats control of the House in 1994, or whether getting that one passed would have saved them. But at the end of the day, what will make the difference is not what the pundits (whether professionals or amateurs like me) think, or what's good for the country, or even what's good for the parties. It will come down to what the 535 senators and congressmen each individually think is in their own best interest when it comes to keeping their cushy, powerful, prestigious jobs in DC (and in the case of those whose jobs are safe, what will enlarge their own influence). And that stinks. Bah! Term limits! Impeach everybody! A pox on all their houses!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
- Wake up to the alarm at 6 AM, still feeling like crap, about 40 hours into a 60-hour week.
- Skip breakfast, make it up by drinking black coffee until noon. Get good and dehydrated.
- Work through lunch.
- After a long and frustrating day, grudgingly set out for practice with team at 4 PM, in 85+ degree weather and high humidity.
- Covered in sweat in the first mile. Check the watch at mile 1, nearly 9 minutes. Realize this run is shot already. Fight the urge to give it up and limp home.
- At 1.5 miles, turn around. 3 will be a minimally-acceptable day for the log.
- Take some small satisfaction that I didn't bail out entirely or walk today.
How to have a good run:
- Wake up at 8:30, no alarm, fully rested.
- Have a good breakfast, and leisurely read the news for an hour.
- Leave the house at 10 AM, 65 degrees, no humidity.
- No sweat, no worries. Check the watch at mile 1. An effortless 8:15.
- At the end of a 3-mile loop (still at effortless 8:15's), decide to do one more on account of the weather. Tack on at the end to round out 50 minutes. Logging 6 qualifies as a "long" run these days.
- Feel great the rest of the day, including the satisfaction of the run plus the vague heavy-leg feeling that almost guarantees a great night's sleep.
Today was day #2. I wish every day could be like this!
Friday, October 16, 2009
What is interesting to me is that a fight is going on for the very soul of the Episcopal Church (the American branch of the worldwide Anglican communion), and the Diocese of SC, their Bishop, and my friend are at the forefront of it. The newspapers will tell you that the dispute is about the consecration of an openly gay man as a Bishop a few years ago. That is not true. The real issue is whether or not the (national) Episcopal Church does or does not believe in the historical creed of Orthodox Christianity, including not just issues of sexuality, but also the inerrancy of scripture and the belief that Jesus is the only path to eternal life. As my priest buddy says, "the gays don't bother me nearly as much as the Unitarian Universalists" (although, just for clarity's sake, he is also rock-solid in his stand on Biblical sexuality, too.) The Bishop and my friend, as well as our current school chaplains, and most of the serious SC Episcopalians I know, are the heroes in this fight, bravely standing up to their national church, a hostile media, and a permissive culture that sees them as every bit the Bible-thumping fundamentalist as I am.
Of course, there are major theological differences between us. If I thought what the Anglicans were doing was the closest thing to the will of God for His church, I would be one. But at the same time, I can tell the good guys from the bad guys. I believe in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. So do my Episcopal friends, and we define that faith and that baptism very differently. But I'm adding them to my prayer list on the basis of the "one Lord." Perhaps, in the fullness of time, God has even allowed the current schisms within Christendom for the purpose of pushing His divided disciples into common cause. Either way, I know what side I'm on.
Just as an aside--I sometimes wonder what it feels like to not be a Christian. Sometimes we allow ourselves to think (wrongly, I believe) that our only two options are an abundant life in Christ (John 10:10 is one of my pet verses), or an empty, meaningless life. How many sermons have we heard where some poor soul was rescued by God from the brink of addiction or suicide? But many people I know live quite pleasant lives without faith, or with faith in something different than orthodox Christianity. How would my struggles of this week have been different without the fellowship and prayers of my friend? Would I have still gotten some sleep and felt better? Would encouragement from a secular friend have been equally helpful? I just don't know. For me, trying to imagine a life without God is like trying to envision a square circle. All I can say is, I think that those who don't have a Christ-centered life don't know what they are missing. I can imagine living in some poor 3rd-world village and being perfectly satisfied, but only because I was unaware of such cool things as air conditioning and cell phones. Indeed, all of us in the human race are in that same boat--we cannot conceive of what was lost in the Garden of Eden, and have to be as happy as we can with poor imitations.
Friday, October 9, 2009
First of all, I don't want to criticize Obama. It's not like he asked for this. If there's any embarassment to be felt, it should be by the Nobel committee. And secondly, I always pull for Americans to win, whether wars, sporting events, or the World Series of Poker. To whine about this just because it's Obama strikes me as being a lot like cheering when Chicago didn't get the Olympics. If Bush had won the Nobel for his work fighting AIDS in Africa, I would have been offended had the left complained (which I'm sure they would have).
That said, this still falls into my category of "things about the modern world I hate." The other two sitting US Presidents to win this award brokered big peace treaties that stopped hot wars (Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, Woodrow Wilson in 1919). Other Nobel laureates I respect include Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Lech Walesa, just to name a few. But in recent years we've seen the "Peace" prize go to Yasser Arafat, the anti-land-mine lady (who apparently has no clue how South Korea's existence depends upon land mines in the DMZ), Jimmy Carter (who deserved a lifetime achievement award, but, like Obama, was rewarded for being hostile to Bush), and most recently Al Gore. I feel the same way about the Nobel Peace Prize that I do about the Grammys ever since Michael Jackson won more than the Beatles, or the Oscars in the last 10 or so years (come on--American Beauty vs. Gone With The Wind. Please.) While I'm at it, I also think the NBA hasn't been worth a darn since at least 1992, and even comic books aren't as good as they used to be.
So it's not about Obama. It's about us. In a world where every child gets a trophy, every rec league soccer game ends in a tie, PE classes ban dodgeball because it picks on the weak, an Boise State can be a contender for the NCAA National Championship, this is not surprising at all. Congratulations to President Obama for winning his award. Too bad the award lost its meaning long ago.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The 1970s also were the time of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter (which explains the play on words). Recently I got into a "conversation" on Facebook that I thought "blog-worthy" about the historical similarities between Carter and Obama. This is a tricky discussion, though, because Jimmy Carter is widely regarded as a failure. A 2005 survey of historians ranked him as the 34th-best president of the 43 we had experienced at that time. This is made worse by the fact that William Henry Harrison and James Garfield were nor ranked, and that he was two spots below Nixon. Of presidents in the 20th century, only Harding came in lower. So comparing our current president to Carter comes off as a cheap shot. Let me ask you to suspend the value judgements of either one, and just look at some similarities.
For starters, both were elected as the "antidote" to an unpopular Republican who wasn't even on the ticket. In 1976, with the wounds of Watergate still aching, Carter saying "I will never lie to you" was seen as the opposite of the hated Nixon. Jerry Ford, a decent fellow by all accounts, had no connection to Watergate. But Nixon had so damaged the GOP brand that "change" was the watchword of the day. Indeed, the desire to repudiate Washington in general was so strong that Carter's status as an "outsider" was seen not as inexperience, but freshness. Compare this to the 2000 election, and sub in the hated George W. Bush for Nixon, with John McCain playing the role of sacrificial lamb.
Secondly, both men came to office during a bad economy which was not of their own making. the 1970s had been experiencing stagflation and a gas crunch since back when Carter was Governor of Georgia. And it may even be true that no one could have possibly done anything about the conditions that made 1979 so bad. Likewise, Obama has the misfortune of presiding over the highest unemployment since, well, the 1970s. He didn't make it, but he'll get judged for how he handles it.
Third, in terms of leadership style, both were widely hailed as smart--Carter as a nuclear officer in the US Navy, Obama as editor of the Harvard Law Review. But both were relative novices at the game of DC politics, and struggled to get their own party (which controlled both houses of congress) to follow their leadership. Carter tried numerous economic "fixes." But the biggest knock on him was that he didn't have what it took (whether political savvy or intestinal fortitude) to make a plan, stick with it, and ride it out. Hopefully Obama gets better at that.
In terms of foreign policy, both cared deeply for the image of the USA as the "good guys" on the world stage. For Carter, this was a repudiation of Nixon's realpolitik and an embrace of human rights as a guiding principle. For Obama, it's pushing the "reset button" following 8 years of Bush's "cowboy diplomacy." Both have garnered praise for their good intentions. In Carter's case, it is said that he ignored Machiavelli's dictum regarding being loved vs. feared. Those who criticize Obama wonder the same thing aloud. Indeed, it is the same Iranian theocrats who have been a thorn in the side of both men. Both also have seen Afghanistan as a problem (albeit a very different problem).
I'm running long, but I could go on with other examples. That's enough for right now. Carter was ejected from office in a landslide in 1980, ushering in the "Reagan Revolution" and a 12-year (or more, depending upon how you see Clinton's "New Democrat" days) period of conservative ascendancy. I know many conservatives hope for a repeat--that Obama will either overreach or underachieve, and wind up discrediting liberalism for another generation.
In the long run, that might be a desired outcome (I am, after all, conservative). But I do not wish a rerun of the 1970s on my country, whether we're talking economic crisis, foreign policy weakness, polyester, or disco. If I were advising President Obama (and for some reason, he has not yet come to me for advice), I might let him know about the Costanza Principle. One more pop-culture reference: in Seinfeld, George Costanza realizes that he is a loser, and adopts a new life strategy. Whatever is his first instinct, he does the opposite, with great effects. Similarly, if Obama finds himself doing what seems Carter-esque, he needs to run, not walk, in the opposite direction. Otherwise, he runs the risk of being seen as a good fellow who makes an excellent ex-president.
- The One Year Bible. (Only New Testament and Psalms this year.)
- Tyndale's Commentary on Ephesians (that's what I'm teaching to my adult Sunday School class.)
- The latest issues of Running Times, American Track and Field, and Coaching Management magazines (and the best part is, I get all of these at work).
- The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228. (This is a favorite I re-read every year or so. It's a day-by-day account of the BUDS training of navy SEALs back in the late 1990s. It's inspiring, encouraging, and challenging.)
- The 7 Faith Tribes, by George Barna. (This is a really interesting book about the demographics of faith in the USA. I'll almost certainly be blogging some ideas provoked by it.)
- A book called Coach which was on the dollar rack at Barnes & Noble. It's a series of anecdotes about the impact of coaches on players' lives. I've only barely looked at it.
- Modern Times, by Paul Johnson. This is the one I'm excited about. It's one of those books I've meant to read for a while, but never got around to it. Yesterday the thought crossed my mind, and I ran to the school library and checked it out before I could put it off again.
- Hour By Hour, a small book of prayers derived from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, with a personal liturgy to use for morning, noon, evening, and nighttime prayers for each day of the week. I've had it for months and still not prayed all the way through it in a week, but it's been helpful in strengthening my prayer life.
Anyway, besides the clock and my glasses, that's what needs to be dusted around these days. I probably read a lot more pixels than pages right now, but I'm going to make an effort to push away from the keyboard and spend some time with Modern Times for a while.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Hey, Leonard--here's a news flash: those guys are running OPINION shows, not news reporting. Yes, FOX is a conservative channel. And their editorial views feature many more conservatives than liberals. I'll even spot you that the token liberal commentators on FOX are not the very best and brightest; whether Juan Williams from NPR, or back in the days where Alan Colmes shared airtime with Hannity, they rarely measure up the Charles Krauthammers of the world (in fairness, few pundits do). But that's true of every channel. MSNBC is at least as rabidly left as FOX is right. But what continues to gall me is that the so-called "mainstream" media, that gets to present themselves as the objective heirs of Walter Cronkite, also lean left.
Case in point: yesterday, CNN, one of the "objective" networks, ran a story doing a "fact-check" of the first-ever anti-Obama skit on Saturday Night Live. I couldn't believe it! Since 1975, SNL has done comedy. They have skewered every president since Gerald Ford. After 200 days, they FINALLY decided it was safe to poke just a little fun at Obama, and CNN has to point out that they are using hyperbole. Does anybody remember CNN doing a piece on how Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin wasn't a documentary? Did they ever step up to defend George W. Bush from criticism by SNL in the last 8 years? Of course not! So if you wonder why FOX news is the most-watched news network in the USA, here's your answer.
Don't get me wrong. FOX should not be the only news channel anybody watches, any more than National Review or The New Republic should be the only news magazine anyone reads. But the folks who run the New York Times, Newsweek, and CNN seem to think that if you only tune into them, you'll have all the news you need. Bull-hockey! The NYT editorial page leans every bit as far to the left as FOX's editorial panels do to the right. And their token "conservative," David Brooks not only has the mother of all man-crushes on Obama, his version of conservatism is about as robust as Pee Wee Herman. If that sort of editorial position calls into question the biases of FOX, why does it not do the same for "All the News That's Fit to Print?"
One last disclaimer. This is not intended so much to be a defense of FOX as an indictment of the so-called "mainstream" media. And I won't even drink the conspiracy theory kool-aid and claim that folks like CNN do it on purpose. A poll a while back showed that over 80% of journalists self-identify as liberals. (That's OK, the numbers are just as bad for history teachers.) I don't doubt that they try to play it straight, at least most of the time. But a liberal trying to be fair is still not the same as a conservative. The reverse is also true--as a conservative US history teacher, I work very hard to show both sides of the issues, and to be fair to those with whom I disagree. But it's a lot easier for me to teach the successes of the Reagan administration than to sing the praises of LBJ. In some cases, I may even go overboard in the opposite direction in an attempt to mitigate by biases. But obviously, I think my positions (on politics, economics, religion, philosophy, and SEC football) are the correct ones--if I didn't, I'd change them! Journalists are human, too (except for Olbermann).
Monday, October 5, 2009
All that said, however, I think the Obama effort and the ensuing reaction do illustrate a few noteworthy points. First, Obama going was a political/PR mistake. Many pundits said when he left that "the fix must be in," Chicago-style, if the President and First Lady were going to fire up a million-dollar trip on Air Force One and go to Copenhagen. Obviously, they were wrong. But a pro would have/should have known the potential downside. Better to stay home and lose than risk political capital that way. And if we had won, he could have still taken credit. An alternative view is that the decision was not so much amateurish as narcissicistic. Perhaps Obama really believed that his dulcet tones would sway world opinion. Neither scenario is pretty. Equally ugly was the CNN reporter's incredulity at the announcement--as if it was utterly unbelievable that the IOC had dared to snub Obama, the USA, and the Windy City!
But most interesting to me is how popular opinion has reacted. In the grand scheme of things, this episode is nothing compared to trillion-dollar healthcare bills, major strategic changes in Afghanistan strategy, or rising unemployment. Yet this one is what gets people fired up. The next week, Saturday Night Live ran its first skit that was genuinely critical of Obama. The guy was elected almost a YEAR AGO! Perhaps it's because the American people understand sports a lot better than they do economics. But for whatever reason, somehow the Olympics going to Rio illustrates Obama's weaknesses better than anything so far.
On a more personal note, I was thinking that if the games DID come to Chicago, I might try to get a faculty grant to go and see some of the track and field events. After all, it is semi-connected to my job description. I fear that Rio would be a harder sell.
In some ways, getting out of the habit of blogging has been a lot like getting out of shape (something I have lots of experience with). You can miss a few runs, even take off a week or two "on purpose." But at some point, critical mass is reached, and you know that the process of getting back what you've lost is going to take far more effort than it would have taken to just keep up the old habit. And then the task becomes more and more daunting, even dreadful. But, just like I have so many times in the physical world, I'm lacing 'em up and attempting just a short one around the block. If anybody is still out there, perhaps leave me a comment. It will take encouragement to get over the hump.
Friday, July 31, 2009
On a completely different topic, I wrote back at new year's that I was conflicted over trying to keep up my personal disciplines, both physical and spiritual. In both cases, I was loath to commit to a hard-and-fast goal after failing to achieve my stated goals for the previous year. Well, things are looking up. With the exception of one week when I was sidelined by illness, I've been really consistent with my running for 13 solid weeks. Tomorrow I plan to run for an hour for the first time in over a year (this from a guy who struggled to complete 3 miles just a few months ago). The trick (for me) is having a plan. I'm committed to running on a fixed schedule with my team, and I have a terrific training partner who will berate me mercilessly if I try to wuss out. Similarly, I am finally back on track with my daily scripture reading. My attempt to "wing it" didn't work out--some days I would read a bunch, but then I might go several days without opening my Bible. Once again, me personality demands a system. A few weeks ago I went back to my "One Year Bible" with a daily reading assignment. I am skipping the Old Testament this year. I bounced around the Gospels for the first half of the year. But since getting back on a schedule, I have gotten caught up so that I will finish all the Epistles and Psalms by year's end. I feel much, much better about that than the previous disorganized and scattershot approach.
Last of all, summer is almost over. I love summer. But after next week (when I'll be on a 19th anniversary cruise with Mrs. Sal), I'll be ready to go back. I'm ready to teach, to coach, and to get back in the rhythym of the school year. I often think I'll work until I cannot physically do so anymore--so long as I have summer to re-charge (and travel), I cannot imagine not getting just a little bit bored with retirement after a few months. That said, I'm going to really enjoy these last couple of weeks of summer. Basic economics--law of supply and demand. As the supply of paid days to read and relax dwindles, their value soars.
Sorry to be "gone" so long. I'll try to post again soon.
Friday, June 26, 2009
It dawned on me today why my van is such a piece of crap. When I turned 16, my parents bought me my first car. This was mainly so I could drive my sister and myself to school, as my Dad's office was way across town. That car was a 1973 Buick Century, puke-green in color. It had a 350 cubic inch engine (this is before they started calling 'em 5.7 liters), a vinyl top, an AM radio, and got just under 10 miles per gallon... highway (luckily, gas was bout 80 cents then). It didn't even have shoulder seat belts. The trunk could have transported at least three dead bodies, in addition to the full-size spare tire. My Dad paid $1500 for it.
Fast forward to today, and do the math. In 1985, that car, which was indisputably a clunker fit only for a teenage boy who was destined to wreck it (and I did), was 12 years old. My minivan is currently 14 years old. Moreover, if you use the Rule of 72, you figure that if inflation has run 3% since 1985, the value of the dollar has been cut in half (72 divided by 3 yields 24 years time for prices to double). So when I was 16, driving a junker, I had a car 2 years newer and worth probably $1000 more in today's dollars than I do now. THAT explains it!
As much as I like to complain about my car, I wouldn't have it any other way. If somebody were to give me a brand new Ferrari outright, it still would have to drive 4.5 miles in traffic to and from school each day and sit all that time in an unpaved parking lot. My property taxes on the minivan are $43 a year. My insurance bill is tiny. Obviously, there's no payment. And because I don't make those regular "normal" car expenses, we are free to take summers off, to travel a little, to give, and to save, and to otherwise not be "normal" in other ways. It's like Dave Ramsey says: "If you'll live like no one else, later you can LIVE like no one else." That's a helpful thing to remember when I'm fuming over the repair bills. And when this one dies, it'll be right back to another clunker.
My first pair of Asics 2000-series shoes were the 2010's. I have followed with a new pair pretty much every 500 miles (for me, a little less than once a year, on average). I have loved them all, except for the 2030 model, which they radically redesigned, and which led to a severe case of plantar fasciitis. But Asics went back to the 2020 last with the 2040s, and they have made only minor changes ever since. I think I've worn every incarnation except the 2050. I somehow came in mid-season and wore the 2040 twice. Today I went in to replace my 2130s.
Let me digress and tell you about my running shoe store, The Extra Mile. It's a tiny hole in the wall in downtown Charleston, owned by two local runners, Mike and Patt Loggins. I've bought pretty much all my Asics there. My team has given me a gift certificate to the same store at the end of every season. When I walk in, it's like being Norm in the old series, Cheers. The owners call me by name, and know my brand and my size. They ask about my team and my running. I respond by asking about their triathalons. They give me a 10% discount for being such a loyal customer (and for sending hundreds of high school athletes their way over the past 15 years). I pay with my gift certificate, and usually also pick up a pair of running socks (I also only buy the exact same socks every time). It's like kabuki theater. No surprises, just how I like it.
Well, today I was flirting with the idea of doing something different. As a runner, I've had more comebacks than Madonna. About 8 weeks ago I got off my butt and got serious about my running again, and things are just starting to round into shape. My first day back it was a struggle to run 3 miles in 25 minutes. Now I'm to the point where a steady 40-minute run is a "recovery" day. This week I even did a set of half-mile repeats up a steep bridge, getting faster every rep (if it were not for a great training partner, I would have bonked on the last one). I'm determined that THIS comeback will last longer and be more consistent than some of the others, so I thought I might make a shoe change to commemorate the new, "masters level" (age 40+) Larry. But I got to the store and Mike and Patt were not there. They had some stranger running the place. No, "Hi, Coach." No, "How's your team?" No, "Same old Asics nine-and-a-halfs?" Just a blank stare and "May I help you?" Well, I chickened out.
So the new guy (who it turns out is a pretty new local coach) vanishes into the back and returns to report that they don't have my size in stock. So I'm stuck. After trying on a few different brands, I settled on the New Balance 769s. Like it or not, this conservative is getting change! Tomorrow, I'll wear them for a regular Saturday bridge run (no repeats this time, just steady over and back). The old 2130s will take their place in the rotation of grass-cutting and weed-eating shoes. (And when we work together in the yard, my oldest son will be wearing the retired 2120s, and his little brother the 2110s.)
Now don't get excited--this is not the start of a trend. I'm keeping the same haircut and the same barber. I'm still refusing to listen to any music written in the past 20 years unless it's by somebody I know. I'm not watching TV, seeing any movies nominated for Oscars, or otherwise embracing entropy. And I'm not trading in the minivan for a sports car... yet. I was blessed enough to get my trophy wife on the first try. So I suppose this is my midlife crisis. I'll report later if the shoes make any difference on the run.
First, a quick word on Farrah. I was just a bit young to have the famous poster. And I never much watched Charlie's Angels. I certainly didn't ever tune in to the various Lifetime network chick-flicks where she played various kinds of abused women. But I do remember the hair. Very, very nice hair.
As for Michael Jackson, I know it's easy to riff on what a weirdo he turned into. 1990s MJ was a freak-show, and nobody wants to admit to actually ever thinking he was cool. But if you are 40-ish, and you can remember rushing home from school to catch the MTV debut of the Thriller video, you have to admit that deep down, you liked Michael. I was never on the bandwagon, and actually felt like he was a little overrated--kinda like an NBA star who plays in a time when the league is weak. I was perturbed that the Thriller album won more Grammys than the Beatles, and also that it sucked up all the awards for 1983, beating out my favorite album of all time, Billy Joel's An Innocent Man. But even for a non-fan, it was obvious that his music was something special. I find it interesting that all the retrospective shows today are repeating the same four videos over and over: Thriller, Billy Jean, Beat It, and Bad. A few are showing brief clips of little Michael spinning around during the Jackson Five days, but otherwise it's 1984, all the time.
What happened after that--the cosmetic surgery, the Neverland Ranch and all the various pedophilia allegations, the baby-dangling, the marriage to Lisa-Marie Presley... those are footnotes. I don't doubt that over the coming weeks we'll learn that his heart attack was related to an overdose, whether intentional or accidental (much like Elvis, who only made it to 42). And then we'll have some obligatory homages at the various music awards shows, and then there will just be songs played on classic rock stations. The art, of course, will live on. But the artist will, except for a few die-hards who will update the wikipedia page, be forgotten.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Anyway, here are a few observations: First, if you go to the guarded swimming area in the county park, people are uglier. This is a function of demographics--people with small children use the park, and they are not only older (and in the case of women, post-pregnancy), but also likely have less time for themselves to spend in the gym. If you're a 20-something hardbody, you're probably up at one of the unguarded surf spots. Interestingly, as your kids get older, you may actually get better looking (like Ann, who has dropped 25-30 lbs and gotten in great shape). But there's a brief window there before the other ravages of middle age sneak in, and you merely look "pretty good for a 40-year-old."
I also notice that men, in general, look better (or less bad) than women. Part of this is fashion--guys pretty much wear board shorts. If there were some old, fat guys in speedos to pair up with the women who really shouldn't be in string bikinis, that might even out. But what I notice (and I'm speaking as a guy here, so I could be wrong), is that there are very few guys who look like fitness models, but there are also not that many that make you want to avert your eyes. There's a lot of space between those two extremes of guys who look "average," with maybe some love handles or a lack of muscle tone. But "average" for a guy doesn't look that bad.
Women, on the other hand, have a very few supermodel-types (although they apparently don't come to Folly Beach), a few more who look "not bad" to "pretty good," and a large group of ladies who really ought to wear less-revealing suits. Seems like the average woman is less attractive than the average man... or at least further down the scale of what our society tells us is attractive. No wonder so many women have body issues.
I'll go a step further. Within the very small stratum of genuinely good-looking, fit women, there are only a couple of divisions: there is (1) my wife, (2) girls too young to drink, (3) girls with tattoos. Pretty much, if you see a lady who looks decent in a bathing suit who is over 21 and does not have body art, introduce yourself, because that's Ann. I think pretty much everybody under 35 these days has some sort of tattoo. I'm rather glad I'm too old for that. Several of my family members have them, and many of the ones I see look alright (and obviously, I wouldn't be seeing most of them except at the beach). But it's not my favorite style.
Anyway, that works out well for me, because when I look up from my book, I see only one girl that really interests me. Fortunately, she's not so superficial--I figure I fall into that pretty large category of forgettable males on the beach (in the sub-category of scrawny guys with crew cuts). But one thing is for sure--my local beach is not exactly Baywatch territory.
Monday, June 15, 2009
USC track coach Curtis Frye may be the best coach in SC that you've never heard of. The Lady Gamecock track team owns the ONLY national title in school history, and track is one of the few programs in Columbia that ever cracks the top 10. Moreover, Frye is considered one of the best hurdle coaches in the entire United States (most impartial observers place him at #1, having coached Allen Johnson and Terrence Trammell to Olympic medals, plus numerous collegians to great success--almost 2/3 of USC's points at NCAAs came from hurdlers).
Just like in football, though, the Gamecocks' biggest drawback on the track is the amazing strength of the SEC. There are just too many big fish in our pond. The SEC had 4 of the top 10 teams (Florida 2nd, LSU 5th, USC 6th, and Arkansas 9th), plus UGA at #11. So the best USC team in school history, and the 6th-best team in the nation, couldn't even win a conference title.
Monday, June 1, 2009
I have a few related thoughts about AA, largely based on my own personal experiences. I attended, and teach at, an elite, expensive, private prep school. Both as a student and as a teacher I have seen AA at work, both by my school, and by colleges in evaluating our students. But I also spent my first 5 years of teaching at an inner-city magnet school, with a student body that was 85% minority and 65%+ on the free lunch program. Into that mix of anecdotes I stir my study of history, as something of a specialist on 20th-century America. And the outcome is a conflicted mess. For a better treatment of how messy the racial spoils system has become, here's an article by one of my favorite thinkers, Victor Davis Hanson.
Let me begin with my first observation: I think there IS definitely a place for a properly-constructed form of AA as a means of leveling the playing field where there is (or has been) genuine disparity. It bothers me not a bit that last year my cousin (who teaches at one of the poorest inner-city schools in our town) had a minority student from a poor family who got a full ride to Georgetown, even though my former (white) student with very similar qualifications didn't even get in (she's at Davidson, so she came out OK). "My" kid's family gave her every advantage--money, opportunity for foreign travel, private school, an Ivy-league pedigree. The other fellow had to overcome numerous hurdles to get where he is. If I'm on Georgetown's admission board, I would favor him, too.
But secondly, and most importantly, I don't think that RACE should be the deciding factor in AA. It ought to be a more holistic system that evaluates individuals, not groups. I see this all the time at my prep school. We have some wonderful minority students who get into some great schools, and even get scholarships, because of the "diversity" they bring to campus. But some (not all) of these kids are of the same economic and social class as my Davidson kid I mentioned above. A couple of examples come to mind--there was a young lady I coached several years ago whose parents were West Indian immigrants, both professionals (lawyers, I think). She was a great student, who wound up choosing Columbia over Yale. It bugs me that Columbia was able to check a box for "diversity" by picking her, when other kids of modest means didn't get in. Even President Obama falls into this category--his dad was a Harvard-educated immigant, not the son of a sharecropper. He was raised by his white, middle-class grandparents, went to private schools, and then winds up occupying a "diversity" slot at elite universities. I'd rather that slot go to an inner-city kid (black or white, or whatever). Or a hillbilly kid. Or the son of an Asian immigrant.
But there's another wrinkle, too. That one is generational. President Obama is 8 years older than me. Judge Sotomayor is 14 years older than me. I'm not sure how much older than me Justice Thomas or General Powell are (20?). But I'm 40, and I entered elementary school in 1975. In 1975, All in the Family was cutting-edge TV. Doctor King had been dead less than 10 years. Even a child of dark-skinned immigrants (like Obama, or Powell) really would have had hurdles to overcome that I wouldn't. And certainly a southern black kid whose family history included slavery, sharecropping, etc. would have walked a very different path than me. His parents may have actually endured the hoses in Brimingham or the beatings at Selma, or at least been denied service at the front door of a resturant. I don't think it's necessarily fair to criticize people over about my age for being the beneficiaries of AA... in our childhood (and even in our young adulthood, if we're old enough), there were legitimate vestiges of discrimination that needed to be combated.
But fast-forward to the present, and that brings me to a third point. Times have changed. Nothing is a better indicator of that than the election of Barack Obama. As recently as 20 years ago, some would have said such a thing was impossible. Interracial dating and marriage is no bid deal now. I have a friend my age whose interracial marriage almost splintered his extended family 20+ years ago (on both sides). Now, Hannah Montana can have Corbin Bleu as a boyfriend on the Disney Channel, and no one bats an eye. (And that's a very good thing!) President Obama has two daughters roughly the same age as mine. Even if he had never been president, or even a senator, I think it's fair to say that if our girls were competing for the same slot in a university, you couldn't plausibly claim that my child had the advantage. Indeed, the reverse is more likely true.
Finally, there's an issue of culture and behavior which is related to class and economics that I'm not sure what to do with. Pretty much all of my friends who happen to be minorities are just like me in terms of class, culture, and family values. They are married, educated, have jobs, take their kids to little league and dance lessons, save for retirement, refinance their vinyl-siding homes when rates fall. Their kids and mine could be treated the exact same from this day forward, and no one would even blink. But my cousin's students often come from communities in which not a single person is married, nor plans to be. Part of me says that those kids need a hand up to escape their circumstances. Then the hard-hearted part of me replies, "why should we, as a society, reward bad decisions?" It's just as unfair to the middle-class black guy who puts his kid in a good school (whether by paying private tuition or buying a house in a good district) and helps with homework for 12 years to have his child leapfrogged at admission time as it would be for me.
So where does that leave me? If I could design my own AA program, I would say that for anyone under the age of say, 35 (just to be safe), race-based preferences are a thing of the past. Instead, we should follow Dr. King's advice, and judge people by the "content of their character." That judging can take into account legitimate social disadvantages based on class or economics, and should. Any takers for this new system?
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Case in point--shooting. NOBODY CAN SHOOT THE STUPID BALL ANYMORE! I pulled up nba.com and looked up shooting percentage leaders to see if my perception was true or if I'm just turning into a grump old man. If you scan down the list, the first guy you come to who shoots half-decent and is not a bench warmer or role player is Dwight Howard, at 54%. Shortly behind him is Yao Ming, at 52%. Are you kidding me? These are not guys who are jacking up threes. They are centers! Kevin McHale shot 60% from the floor (and 80% from the line) in consecutive years. Charles Barkley made over 58% of his shots from 2-point range (and he took LOTS of jumpers). The '87 Lakers (who I hate with a passion, but you've gotta admire the skills) shot better than Yao as a team.
Same thing with assists. I remember complaining 25 years ago how the east coast refs were much tighter with assists than they were in the west. Seems like Bird or Isaiah could never get the credit that Magic or Stockton could for a nice pass. But now? Even those west coast "showtime" refs would be embarassed at the way they count them. If you compare stats from then and now, it's almost like trying to look at pre-steroid baseball cards.
Ditto the three-point shot. The three-pointer came into the NBA with Magic and Bird in 1980. Bird was the first player to ever make one in the all-star game. It was about '87 when college adopted the line. When I graduated high school, there was still no 3-pointer, and if you jacked up a 20-footer, it had better go in, or your butt was headed to the bench for a while. The long ball may have added to scoring totals and made for better comebacks, but it sure hasn't made the game any prettier. Does anybody over the age of 35 remember that time when Michael Jordan came down the court, waved off the other 4 guys on his team, and launched a 24-foot bomb? No? That's because it never happened. The one who does that is Kobe Bryant. MJ passed the ball, came off of screens, and took good shots. Today's superstars jack up treys with no conscience. Nowadays, all they do is pass into a big man on the block (who barely makes half of his shots), and then he kicks it out for a three. They repeat this until the shot clock winds down. BO-RING. When the three-pointer was new, it was rarely used. Larry Bird, who won three consecutive 3-point shootouts, made only 0.7 threes a game. Compare that to Lebron James, who has already made more threes than Bird did in his entire career.
And let's talk about Lebron. There's no doubt that he is the best player on the planet right now. And he's good--an athletic wunderkind. How does he stack up to the greats of yesteryear? Well, let's compare him to Larry Bird, who played the same position. Lebron does score about 3 points more per game (almost entirely due to the fact that he takes more shots, including the above-mentioned 3-pointers). Bird averaged more rebounds. They are almost equal in assists, but assists are a lot easier to come by these days. Bird shoots significantly better from every range: two-point, three-point, and foul shots. But most importantly, Lebron is in his 7th year in the league. He just won his first MVP, and, if (and it's looking like a BIG if) he can get past Orlando and then the Lakers, he has a chance to win his first title. By Bird's 7th year, he had three MVP awards and three championships. Lebron is a big fish in a very small, brackish pond. Compare Kobe to Jordan. ROFL. Compare Dwight Howard to Kareem. Or to Ewing. Or to Akeem. Even to a pre-geritol Shaq. ROFLMAO.
So, I'm waiting to see who wins the NBA (No Basics Association) title this year. But it's not the same. Not by far.
There is already talk among some conservatives that she ought to be vigorously opposed, for a variety of reasons. One is that Obama made a big deal out of "empathy" as being key to his pick, which sticks in the craw of those of us who still feel like justice should be blind. Others cite her relatively high reversal rate on the appellate bench as evidence of a willingness to attempt to legislate from the bench, and further point to the fact that she was caught on tape once saying that "courts are where policy is made." Others are quick to jump on an article written in the liberal New Republic a while back in which Jeffrey Rosen hinted that she was not an intellectual heavyweight of the caliber of a Scalia or Roberts.
None of these are the real reason why Republicans want to oppose her, though. The real reason is that they are sick and tired of the double-standard that allowed Robert Bork to get crucified back in '87, Clarence Thomas' character to be assassinated under Bush 41, and most recently, for large numbers of Democrats to vote not to confirm the obviously-well-qualified Roberts and Alito (indeed, then-Senator Obama was anti-Alito to the point of considering a filibuster). They ask, and not unreasonably, "if these are the new rules, aren't they the same for both sides?" Why should the right always be bound by the Marquess of Queensbury Rules while the left fights like an episode of MMA on Spike TV late-night?
Well, I feel that pain. I really do. And there would be a certain satisfaction factor to dishing out what we've been taking. But there's game theory at work here. This fight is unwinnable, both in terms of the votes and also on the politics. Fighting Sotomayor with the "Alito Standard" would be spun by the media as anti-woman and anti-Hispanic. Better to keep the powder dry and point back to the bipartisan, smooth, cordial treatment given her when the timing is better, or a pick really does have a chance to change the balance of the court.
All that said, I am deeply conflicted over the divide between good, even "Christian" behavior towards ideological foes and good politics. My heart wants to extend far more courtesy to our current president than George W. Bush ever got. I want to take the high road, whether on judicial confirmations, culture issues, or whatever. I don't want to stoop to the level of playing dirty. But my gut says what someone (maybe Bear Bryant) once said about SEC football: "if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'." One need only look at the assaults on Carrie Prejean, Sarah Palin, Joe the Pumber, or even Justices Roberts and Alito (not to even mention George W. Bush), to realize that there's plenty of dirty pool going on. I'm not sure that it's in the best interest of the nation for the right to roll over and die rather than sully our hands.
Last night (Memorial Day) I had the opportunity to watch the great 1941 movie Sergeant York, with Gary Cooper. Alvin York was a devout Christian (a member of the Church of Christ) from Tennessee. He pleaded not to be drafted into WWI because he did not want to kill. He was turned down because his church had no written creed that forbade war. But when he found his men penned in by machine gun fire in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he decided that the only way to save hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives, was for him to do that which he abhorred, and take lives himself. York was one of those Tennessee sharpshooters who could handle a rifle from the time he could walk. He picked off 20 or more men before 132 Germans surrendered. York won the Congressional Medal of Honor and is one of the USA's greatest heroes. Don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting that politics is the equivalent of physical war, and I'm not advocating a slide to the lowest common denominator. I'm also not saying that the end justifies the means. But we have to ask ourselves, in many cases, what are the consequences of our actions, and also of our inaction. In the case of this nomination, there is minimal up-side potential to resistance, and serious down-side. But that may not always be the case.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The best thing about a new season is a fresh start. This summer represents a time like that. Lately, I haven't been making a plan, checking items off of my to-do list, or managing my goals. I've just been muddling through, hanging on for dear life. But as of this past week, "the hay's in the barn." That's a line stolen from Mark Wetmore, one of the best coaches in America, and it's what he tells his team when the work is all done and all that remains is to see the results. This next week I have to give exams, grade them, and do report cards. So I can't truly say that the work is all done. But the teaching is over. The exams are written, copied, and ready to hand out. The desk is cleared off, and the in-box is empty. The uniforms from this past season are stowed where they belong. The pressure is off.
That means a new set of challenges, but a different rhythym of life for the next 12 weeks. I've already begun my own summer mileage build-up, running with the team (just slower and shorter). I'm re-reading my favorite book on time management and goal-setting, Time Power, and tomorrow I'll spend some time updating my DayTimer. There will be projects--LOTS of projects--that will get much-deserved attention. I've got a list of books to read (hopefully some of them on a beach or by a pool). We'll spend family time together, from a vacation week in Florida to time doing yard work. And then this summer season will come to its natural end, and I'll be energized and ready to tackle yet another fall. It's going to be an exciting fall--my middle child will be in my class, our cross-country team should start the season ranked #1 in our league, and our football team begins a new era under a new coach, with lots of excitement. But all of that is off in the future. I'm excited about this season now. And that's as it should be.
Friday, May 15, 2009
This article by Charles Murray analyzes the rate of births to unwed mothers among white women of the previous generation (just to take the distracting factor of race out of the equation). What Murray found (then, when things were not as bad as now!) was that among educated and affluent women, having a husband precedes having a baby. But among the poor, and increasingly among working-class and even middle-class women, that model is terribly broken. Back when I started blogging, my first few posts were about poverty and its causes. One of the things I said back then that remains true today is that finishing high school, putting off marriage until after the teen years, and not reproducing while unmarried are the three-prong recipe for avoiding a life below the poverty line. It seems like a vicious cycle--a collapse of the basic family unit leads to more poverty, which in turn further undermines families.
Murray was also the author of a controversial book a few years ago called The Bell Curve. He took a lot of heat for his analysis of nature and nurture in intelligence (full disclosure--I haven't read it, just a few articles pro and con). One of the things he said that was very un-PC was that smart people tend to hang out with smart people, and therefore marry and have kids with them, creating little smart people. And that less-smart people do the same, in reverse (and they do it in greater numbers). If you accept that thesis, what you've got is my kids growing up in a home with pretty much 1950s family values, and they'll likely go to college and marry someone similar, before they have babies, and they'll keep on occupying a middle or upper rung on the ladder of social success. But more and more folks lower down the ladder don't have a father, don't know anybody with a father, and will have kids who also don't have concept of the role of a father. The social consequences of fatherlessness are severe, and pretty soon the whole ladder is structurally unsound.
Those of us (and I'm pointing at myself here) who call ourselves pro-family should not be ONLY anti-gay-marriage. We need to also be aware of the dangers of divorce and fatherlessness, and do what we can, if not to reverse the course of our decline, at least to slow it down.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
However, I do wish that someone (anyone?) was hollering "stop!" a little louder at the direction I perceive our country to be going right now (and not just since the last election, either). I have written before that England is no longer the England she used to be. I would further say that most if not all of western Europe is far removed from the "western Christendom" that I believe gave us the greatest civilization in world history. And I worry that America is following that same path.
I rarely link to an article when I blog (under the assumption that nobody would read it anyway). But I'm making an exception. This item is a commencement speech given by Mark Steyn that may be one of the best answers to the question of why I am a conservative. It's not that long--I highly recommend it.
Monday, May 11, 2009
The critics of the current system like to act like the biggest problem with our current system is the 47 million currently "without health care." I prefer the word "uninsured," as pretty much anybody can get care at free clinics and emergency rooms across the country. My own father was one of those 47 million a few years ago between the time he started receiving social security disability in excess of the limit for Medicaid, and before he had been in the system long enough to get Medicare. During that time, he spent 100+ days in Intensive Care and received emergency care worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He's never paid a dime of it. And that 47 million number is badly inflated, too. Some are illegal immigrants. Some are people who actually qualify for anti-poverty programs like Medicaid and SCHIP but don't sign up (and if they do go to a hospital, they get signed up then). Some are between jobs. And a significant number are people who make enough money that they could afford a health insurance policy if they chose to sacrifice some other portion of their lifestyle (but they know they can do the same thing my Dad did if there is an emergency, and they'd rather have the money). I have read estimates that say that once all these folks are taken out of the inflated count, there are more like 10-15 million uninsured currently slipping through the cracks. If that was your only problem, you could devise a program within the current system that would fix their situation without a massive overhaul.
The biggest problem with the current system (at least as I see it), is that the costs of health insurance are just too darned high. For my family, my employer spends almost $400 a month apiece for my wife and me to have individual policies. I pay an additional $400 to cover my kids. That means that just my portion is more than a decent car payment, and the total (if I had to cover it all myself) is more than my mortgage. And in the event that we do have a claim, I still can shell out thousands in copays and deductibles. (This is an improvement, by the way--before Ann got a job with benefits, I had close to $700 a month going out in premiums--over $8000 a year if I was lucky enough to stay healthy) Moreover, every December we have a staff meeting to find out that our coverage is going down and our premiums are going up... a lot faster than our salaries. No wonder many healthy single people choose to keep the money and take their chances.
Therefore, I would welcome any change that holds down prices, and I don't even mind a mandate that everybody is required to enroll. Were it up to me, I'd have a payroll tax like we do for Social Security, so nobody gets off entirely free of charge. We could even work it in a similar way to the Social Security tax, with employers paying half of the tax. Middle-class folks like me would likely see our premiums stay similar. Employers may even see their costs drop somewhat (which should free them up to pay me more in actual salary, which I can use to pay premiums). The poor would pay little or nothing, and the rich would pay more--but nobody would have the option of sticking me with their bill and buying a new car while I drive a '95 minivan with no heat.
If that would do the trick, I'd be fine. However, I do have some worries. The old line is true--whoever pays the piper gets to call the tune. Right now the big insurers pay the piper. And they stink. They will try almost anything to avoid paying the bills. When and if the federal government becomes the payer, it will become some cubicle-dweller in DC's jobs to hold down costs. And the way you hold down costs is by saying "no." If you look at the bureaucratic nightmare that Medicare is for doctors and hospitals now, just imagine how it will be when those jokers run everything. My biggest worry is what single-payer systems look like in England and Canada, where care is rationed. There are plenty of Canadians who avoid the long waits of their national system by coming to the USA and paying cash. Once we are single-payer, where are Americans supposed to go if the system is unresponsive? New Zealand? I also worry about the quality of care going down. There are already doctors who are getting out of the medical field because the money and prestige are going down and the hassle is going up. I don't see more government involvement doing anything to slow down that trend.
My biggest worry, though, is about the American people. I support a national health insurance program. And I am willing to pay a fair price for it, even if that price is the same as what I pay now (I'm assuming that I'm not quite "rich" enough to be subsidizing those who pay less at any rate greater than I'm paying to carry freeloaders now). But way too many of my fellow citizens have been thinking for a long time that somebody is going to give them "free health care." We already live in a country where almost half of workers pay no income tax. Once we open the door to goverment-provided insurance, it's easy for people to demand more and more service for less and less (or at least steady) payments. This ignores the very real economic fact of costs. Somebody has to pay for all of this, and politicians don't like math problems like that. As Maggie Thatcher famously said, "the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of somebody else's money." You could tax every dime of every millionaire's salary in the country at a 100% rate and couldn't raise enough revenue to support the rest of us. So make it fair. But bring it on.
First of all, RELAX. Read a history book sometime, for starters. US Politics is cyclical. There have been many, many times when a party (both of them) has been pronounced dead and buried. I think I recall an article or two about the collapse of the Democrats after Bush beat Kerry in '04. And then they come back... almost every time. Look at the drubbing the Republicans took starting in '74 with Watergate. They couldn't win a race for dog-catcher. And the rise of Jimmy Carter was the next big thing. Just one election later, the Reagan Revolution (more on St. Ron later). And it works both ways. After 12 years of Reagan and Bush 41, even Bill Clinton said, "the era of big government is over." Compare that pronouncement with today's budget and see if his prediction held true. It is liberalism's turn, and when their turn is up, the cycles will continue as they have before.
Secondly, the beating Republicans have taken of late are not so bad. Let's be clear--after 2+ solid years of an unpopular war, while led by one of the least-popular presidents in modern history, in the midst of the worst economic meltdown in a generation, and while running a candidate who was Bob Dole minus the charm, against one of the most charismatic campaigners of all time, assisted by a fawning media and a chance for centuries-old racial redemption, the Republicans lost the last election by 53-46%. That's not quite as bad as Bush's dad beat Dukakis. It's nothing like the hurt LBJ put on Goldwater, or that FDR put on Hoover. Shucks, in my class we don't even breathe the word "landslide" until you're well over 56%. And even if you DO win a landslide, that doesn't mean it will last--Hoover, Harding, and Nixon all won big ones, and fell from grace quicker than they rose. Shucks, by some counts, McCain was even or slightly ahead until the economy fell off the cliff!
Third, how can anybody say with a straight face that the GOP's problem lately has been that they have been TOO CONSERVATIVE? To say that Bush and the current Republicans in congress spent (and borrowed) like drunken sailors is an insult to navies full of them. They picked the absolutely least conservative figure in their primary field to run against Obama. Specter may have said that the party's march to the right was the cause of his defection, but PLEASE. The guy's a hack, who switched TO the Republicans back in '66 to win an election, and switched back now for the same reason. And the party he bolted spent tons of money in his last election to defend him against a more-conservative challenger. Consider the source.
So, what to do? Start with the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. Don't freak out and make wholesale changes, throwing babies out with bath water. Secondly, don't think that becoming "Democrat-lite" helps anything. If the argument is over which statist party will spend the most and trade the most cradle-to-grave cocooning for your freedoms, the GOP cannot win that bidding war. Remember poor, desperate, failed, Barry Goldwater: he said "a choice, not an echo," and "in your heart, you know he's right." Well, 61% of American's did NOT know he was right in 1964. But 16 years later, those same principles swept Reagan into office. If the ideas are right, the country will realize it in due time. If they are not right, no amount of game theory will make them so.
Finally, a word about Reagan. Conservatives and Republicans (who are often not the same people) like to say that we need a "new Reagan." That is true, to a point--we need an articulate, charismatic, optimistic spokesman for our ideals. As the old adage goes, you can't beat somethin' with nothin', and in the age of Obama, image is as important as it has ever been. But we need to be careful not to think that emulating Reagan's policies is the answer. The Cold War is over (thank God!). Tax rates are no longer at 70%. Inflation is non-existent (for now, at least). There are different issues now, and the "next Reagan" needs to be able to deal with them--immigration, health care, entitlement reform, terrorism. You can apply Reaganesque principles to these issues, but the trick is to apply them in 21st-century ways.
I know, I have not even begun to articulate what conservative principles are (or should be). Maybe I will later. Or I may write about health care. But right now I'm going to go make a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Today, though, it all came together. My team peaked at just the right time, setting 23 personal-best marks. They also greatly exceeded expectations. That's one thing about a track meet--they seed you based on your previous times, so you know going in if you are the best, or third-best, or thirteenth-best, in your event. Based on our seedings, my boys should have scored 17 points and my girls 29. The boys wound up with 26 and the girls 47! This wound up being a 6th place finish for both (which is about what we expected). But when everybody does their very best job ever, it's easy to be happy.
Best of all, we had a couple of genuine WINS on the day. A sophomore girl who had never triple jumped further than 32'8" in her life uncorked a 34'2" effort on her last attempt and won gold. And my girls' 4x100 relay team, led by a senior captain who has been on this same relay since 7th grade, not only came from behind to win a state title, they also broke a school record from 8 years ago that I had thought was going to stand forever. Relays are my favorite events--when you win, 4 kids get to share the medals. And they require discipline, teamwork, and trust. Being part of their celebration today made me happy I decided against law school almost 20 years ago!