Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Palin, Palin, Palin!

Sarah Palin drives me crazy. I don't know if I have ever been more conflicted over a political figure in my lifetime. I'd like to just lay out a few threads here and see if anybody else is on board with me.

On the one hand, I liked her when she first came on the scene as McCain's running mate. She added youth and energy to the ticket, gave old and lily-white McCain a little boost in the diversity arena (which, of course, made precious little difference in '08), and was the only non-senator of the bunch (the bunch meaning Obama, McCain, Biden, and even Clinton). I also liked the fact that her pro-life credentials, as evidenced by carrying Trig to term, were far less suspect than many pro-lifers.

It didn't bother me that she was savaged so badly by the media--I'm old enough to remember pretty much every republican in my lifetime being called either stupid (Reagan, Ford, Quayle, GWB) or evil (Nixon, Cheney). Even George Bush 41 got called a wimp, despite being the youngest fighter pilot shot down in the Pacific theater of WWII. This is an old one, and it stinks. Adlai Stevenson was the "egghead" candidate in 1952 and 56, even though he didn't hardly read, and Ike was the befuddled old grandpa-type, despite being the guy who planned D-Day and former president of Columbia University.

That said, just because I thought she was good for the #2 job (particularly considering the alternative) doesn't mean that she's my first choice to be leader of the free world. I think President Obama is a great object lesson in what you get when you ignore experience and significant accomplishments in order to vote for a candidate who makes you feel good for either rhetorical or demographic reasons.

But that's where it gets difficult. It seems like if you say what I just wrote, that puts you on the side of the people (both liberals and "elite" conservatives) who act like she's stupid. And I emphatically do not want to find myself on that side. Indeed, the thing I find the most attractive about Palin is the fact that she drives certain people so nuts. If "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," then she and I ought to be quite friendly. She antagonizes the group of "elitists" who rub me the most wrong.

Don't get me wrong. I teach elites. By some measures of elitism, I am one of the elites (National Merit Scholar, fancy private school, honors in college, graduate degree, career in academia). But the older I get, the less I value the opinions of people who have very high opinions of their own intellect (except in very specific areas in which they are experts--I'm not sure if it was Will Rogers or Mark Twain who said, "We're all ignorant, just on different subjects.") That doesn't mean that I value ignorance, nor that I am anti-intellectual. I'm anti-snobbery. Maybe pro-humility.

So, anyway, I've described myself ever since the election as not pro-Palin, but "anti-anti-Palin." However, it seems to me that defenses of her keep coming back to a circular logic. Pain supporters keep coming back to the fact that Biden is demonstrably dumb, and/or that she is at least as smart and/or qualified as Obama. Then the conversation invariably turns to how smart he is (or isn't) and how dumb she is (or isn't), and what constitutes "smart," and his missing college transcripts, and how common sense trumps book sense (or doesn't), or how neither Reagan nor Truman were geniuses while Carter and Nixon and Hoover were all brilliant.... AAARGH!

It seems to me that this is exactly the wrong direction to take. It is possible that she is absolutely as qualified as Obama to be president, because neither one of them is qualified! The same can be said of quite a few attractive candidates. I have a man-crush on Chris Christie in New Jersey. I'm developing quite a liking for Marco Rubio in Florida. They will both be great candidates for higher office... someday. But not two years from now. And I don't want my urge to defend Palin from what I feel are unfair attacks to lead all the way to having two unqualified presidents in a row.

All that said, on the matter of "can she win," the answer is tricky. I think if she runs, she has a better than 50-50 chance of being the nominee. In the same way we got McCain last time... unless a single "un-Palin" emerges early, she could wind up being the winner with a plurality based on the energy of her supporters. And when (if) she runs against Obama, if the economy still stinks, the whole "she can't be any worse than what we've got" equation is a possibility. However, I think whoever is the eventual GOP nominee benefits most if the 2012 election is a referendum on 4 years of Obama. If Palin is the nominee, she'll distract from that message.

One counter-argument is that it doesn't matter--whoever is the GOP nominee will get killed in the media, called stupid, evil, theocratic, heartless, etc. Possibly true. But my personal hope is that she won't run and will jockey to be a kingmaker. However, if she does wind up the nominee, of course I'll vote for her. Crud, I voted for BOB DOLE.

I'm Trying!

Facebook is killing my blog. I have plenty of blog-worthy thoughts rattling around in my head, but it is so much quicker to post a status update on FB than to compose an essay. However, I am often self-censoring on facebook, because I have a very diverse group of friends. I know I personally don't like it when people post inflammatory or controversial stuff. Sometimes I'll comment on one of those threads and I always wind up regretting it. So I don't want to be one of those folks who makes others feel similarly uncomfortable. But here... well, if you clicked over to CoachSal, then you asked for it! Anyway, I'm woking on a little something. It'll be up soon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Those People"

One last thought, for a while. This is a thought that bled over from facebook. A "friend" from there posted a link to an article by Paul Krugman in the New York Times that I thought was terribly unfair. I won't go over the whole thing, but the part that stuck in my craw was that Krugman characterized anyone who was opposed to letting the 2001 Bush tax cuts expire as someone who would rather the poor starve than the top 2% of evil rich plutocrats lose their precious tax cuts. I pointed out that most of us (yes, us) who want the cuts to stay do so because we actually think that taxes going up during a deep recession is economically very bad. Arguments can be made on both sides as to whether that economic assumption is true or not, but to have a Nobel-prize-winning economist so baldly misstate the motives of those who disagree with him seemed to me the very definition of partisan hackery.

But here's where it got interesting. There were over 700 comments on the NYT article, and in the first 3 pages (after which I gave up), about 90% of them amounted to readers cheering Krugman for speaking the plain, obvious truth. And my comment on my friend's status was greeted with similar sentiments. It took a great deal of explaining for many folks (probably not near all) who saw the thread to conclude that I was neither stupid nor evil. Meanwhile, I was bummed that so many people on the "other side" could be so "blind."

This is repeated all over--read the comments on Hot Air or other conservative blogs and you'll get the reverse. We all think we're right (well, of course we do--if we thought we were wrong, we'd change our minds). And we surround ourselves with folks who agree with us. It reminds me of the story of Pauline Kael, a NYT columnist who reacted to the 1972 election results with, "How can Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him!" (Nixon had won 49 states and a huge popular-vote landslide.)

The older and more mellow I get, the more I'm willing to at least consider the possibility that I might be wrong. (Well, I consider the possibility, and then reject it...) This isn't just true of politics, it's true of church stuff, and finance stuff, and professional stuff. One of my ongoing resolutions is to try to at least extend a presumption of good faith to those who disagree with me.

I'm Really Glad Obama Won

What? But Larry, you're supposed to be my token arch-conservative friend! Why?

Glad you asked. First of all, contrary to popular opinion, I really don't dislike President Obama that much. I disagree with a great many of his policies (which is to be expected, since he's liberal and I'm conservative). But he's not a slimeball like Clinton (whose policies, btw, were more to my liking). And I have tired of the "I hate the president" game that we've been playing in this country since the Clinton years. One of my first reasons for being glad Obama won is that he kept us from going Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have liked Hillary's policies any better, and that would have only prolonged that particular drama. She also would likely have been a somewhat better player at the political game, which in the end means that his victory possibly hastens the next cycle when "my side" is ascendant.

Secondly, I'm really glad we elected our first black president. Truth be told, I almost voted for him just for that reason. He was going to win anyway, and it would have been nice to be a part of that great moment in US history. Yes, I would rather our first black president have been a conservative. I'd vote for Thomas Sowell in a heartbeat. (I was an enthusiastic supporter of a Colin Powell candidacy in 1996.) But as a kid born less than a year after Martin Luther King's assassination, who has personal experience of the lessening of racism in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and now, I'm happy about this.

Third, I'm happy because now there gets to be a genuine debate over small-government conservatism (whether you call it libertarianism, or Tea Party-ism, or whatever). If John McCain had been elected, there would not be Tea Parties. When George W. Bush was president, I hated the fact that he spent money like a drunken sailor. I have told a generation of students that he was not a fiscal conservative. But I held my nose and supported him, right up until the end, because he at least gave us Justices Roberts and Alito, and because he didn't throw in the towel on the War on Terror. And despite his (numerous) shortcomings, I have never wished that we had John Kerry as a wartime president. The same thing would have been true of a President McCain. I would have tied myself in knots trying to be happy with half a loaf--and so would most of the right. His fiscal policies would not be much different than Obama's, except maybe in scale. Finally, the frustrated small-government folks have emerged. This is good for the country in the long run.

Along the same lines, a President McCain's foreign policy would likely be near-identical to Obama's (especially in Iraq and Afghanistan). But McCain would be the target of a 24-7 drumbeat of negativity for it. We'd still be hearing daily body counts on CNN, folks would be lamenting the fact that Gitmo is still open from the rooftops, and probably Cindy Sheehan would have her own talk show. But with Obama in office, (most of) the left has taken joint-ownership of this difficult situation. Obviously, with him in office, Guantanamo is a harder issue than it once looked like. The troop withdrawal from Iraq begun under Bush continues at the exact same pace, but it gets applause rather than jeers. And it is possible for the same people who opposed both the Iraq surge and General Petreaus to now embrace both him, and a similar surge in Afghanistan. That's also good for the country.

Finally, a little perspective. There have been many comparisons of our current national doldrums with the "malaise" of the 1970s under Jimmy Carter. The end result of that was Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush, all of whom (yes, including Clinton) embraced center-right governance of one sort or another. There are many, many adults who have never actually held a job during a serious recession before. The vast majority of people under about 45 have no experience with unchecked liberal governance. I am confident enough in the strength of my positions to believe that good ideas will win out in the end. I feel strongly that in the near future, the electorate will begin making choices I like a lot better. And of course, I also believe that THAT is good for the country.

Long Time No Blog

Yeah, I know. I've written a good bit on friends' facebook pages, but very little blogging. I'm going to try to do better. I've actually got a couple of thoughts I'd like to try out on whoever is still reading.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Texas Curriculum Wars

As a "social studies" teacher (I abhor that phrase--I teach HISTORY), I suppose it would be a good idea for me to weigh in on the business in Texas involving the US History curriculum. For those who haven't been following the story, the Texas state school board is about two-to-one Republican over Democrat, and they have voted to change the standards that set curriculum for public schools. This is especially important because the sheer size of Texas' student body means that major textbook publishers tend to tailor their basic texts to Texas standards, so their decisions can bleed over into other states' curricula. The big"outrage" is that the board is trying to fill young students' heads with partisan conservative propaganda, or so all the mainstream media says.

A couple of general thoughts first: History textbooks are generally awful.* Even the best of them. They tell a story a mile wide and an inch deep, and are usually horribly written. Secondly, almost all history textbooks and history standards are written by history professors. And history professors are, pretty uniformly, liberal. There may not be an evil conspiracy to fill kids' heads with progressive claptrap, but there is an awful lot of groupthink, whether intentional or not. This means that, in general, any positive mention of the conservative point of view is going to run counter to the "consensus" of professional historians. Imagine if 80-90% of history profs were members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Even though their cause may have long been lost, it would still be hard to get a fair hearing for even an honest appraisal of the proposition that maybe the Union was right. Finally, the mainstream media is at least as liberal as the history professorate. So when they tell the story of this grevious evil being perpetrated by historical heretics, they are not exactly being objective observers and reporters of fact.

That brings me to these standards. Here's a link to a blog I read in which a relatively moderate Wisconsin law professor (she voted for Obama) takes the media to task for mis-stating the so-called conservative bias in the new standards (her post also links back to the actual text of the standards, which the media has not provided). The funny thing to me is that all of these horrible, outrageous offenses against sound scholarship look almost exactly like what I teach in my US history class! I call it teaching kids both sides of the story, and teaching them HOW to think instead of WHAT to think. And it runs both ways. I teach my kids that Joe McCarthy's tactics were terrible, and also that Alger Hiss really was a spy. Those two propositions are not contradictory! I also teach them that both the people who excuse McCarthyism because of their own anti-communism and those who excuse Hiss because of their anti-McCarthyism are guilty of the same error, and that this guilt, in both cases, is founded in the best of intentions. I tell them why conservatives love Reagan, and why liberals don't. And I tell them the reverse about FDR. I give the very best defenses I can for both Nixon and Carter (and believe me, that's hard to do). I tell them how both Keynsianism and Supply-Side economics work in theory, and that neither model is perfect in practice. And over and over and over again I tell them that smart, educated, patriotic people can look at the same objective facts and draw different political and philosophical conclusions. Isn't that what we want for our kids?

Despite all the sound and fury, in the end this isn't going to matter much. Most of the controversy involves the teaching of modern ideas (like the importance of Barry Goldwater to the conservative movement). The vast majority of 11th grade US History classes are going to run out of steam somewhere in the late 1950s, with everything after that jammed into a single wrap-up lesson before the final exam (which will likely be 100 multiple-choice questions on a bubble-test machine base almost entirely off of the bold-print terms from the terrible textbook). I have a full year to teach just 1865 to the present, and I still have to cut corners everywhere to get it all done.

*NOTE--There are several egregious examples of "standard" textbooks which drive me nuts. The American Pageant is used by almost every kid in AP US History in the country. In my opinion, every smart kid who gets force-fed Pageant for a year ought to be inncoulated by giving them a copy of Paul Johnson's A History of the American People for graduation. What I would really love is to see kids read Bill Bennett's America: The Last Best Hope. That will never happen, because as a Reaganite (Secretary of Education under Reagan, back from the days when "A Nation At Risk" came out and pointed out that our public schools already stank almost 30 years ago), he is seen as a "conservative" historian. Which is laughable--if kids read Bennett, they'll be taught that FDR was a great president, that Dr. King was a hero, and that the United States was actually on the right side of history in the Revolution, the Civil War, and WWII. If believing that makes you a bad historian, well, I'm guilty.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hypocrisy, Taking the Cash, and Confirmation Hearings

A story from a long time ago: the first year I taught full-time for real pay (not being a TA in grad school, etc.) was also the year my oldest son was born. My family bought our first house and our first minivan. We were as flush with cash as we have ever been, before or since (even though we make more than double what we did back then, kids are expensive). Since school starts in late August, I pretty much only got paid for 4 months in the 1994 calendar year. When tax time came, we came in below the poverty line, and qualified for the earned income child credit (and it was a decent-sized check, about $2000). Now, I'm conservative. I don't much care for the credit in principle. I really hate welfare fraud. And I cashed the check without hesitation. We didn't lie or cheat in any way, and if those were the rules, I sure as heck wasn't going to turn down the money.

Not long after, we had a statewide referendum on the lottery. I voted against it. I hate the lottery--it's a voluntary tax on those folks who can't do math, and takes money from the poor and uneducated to give to middle-class families so they can send their kids to colleges they would have attended anyway (where they, too, will become too educated to play the lottery). But in a couple of years, when my oldest goes off to college, I'll gladly take the lottery-funded scholarships.

Let's apply that to the upcoming confirmation hearings for soon-to-be Justice Kagan. Should republicans vote to confirm her? I'd love to say yes. I honestly believe that when a properly-elected president nominates a qualified person to the court, the senate ought to confirm. Scalia and Ginburg both got over 95 votes for confirmation. However, those are not the rules anymore. Bork got borked. Thomas got "a high-tech lynching." Then-senator Obama voted to filibuster Alito, and against confirming Chief Justice Roberts (both of whom are, in objective and non-ideological terms, many times more qualified than Kagan). If both sides would go back to the Scalia standard, I'd be all in favor of it. But there is nothing heroic about sticking to the Marquess of Queensbury Rules if your opponent is employing mixed martial arts.

What do you think? Am I a hypocrite, or a realist?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Woodrow Wilson and Kobe Bryant

Apparently, Glenn Beck (who I don't watch) has a serious dislike of Woodrow Wilson, possibly informed by Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, which I have written about before. There are little pockets of discussion of Wilson all over the internet. (What? You haven't read them? You mean not everybody reads early 20th-century political theory for fun? Here's one from this week, just as a taste.)

It just so happens that I just finished teaching about Wilson this week. And I'm not a big fan, either. There are lots of reasons--Wilson was a racist, I think his vaunted "idealism" was rooted in a terribly naive worldview which at least partially contributed to the causes of WWII, and his espionage and sedition acts of 1918 (among other things) were, in my opinion, an example of one of the times when we as Americans did not live up to our stated principles. I could go on and on about these and other evils, real and imagined, but that's not the point.

The real reason I don't like Wilson is that I think he's overrated. If he were a bad guy and everyone agreed about it, I'd be fine with that. Or if my opinion of him were lower than most people's, but no one sang his praises, he wouldn't cross my radar screen. But what gets me is that many, many historians rank him among the best presidents. There was a great poll done by the Wall Street Journal in 2005 that ranked all the presidents from G.W. to G.W. (Washington to Bush). The thing I like about this particular poll is that they tried to balance liberals vs. conservatives, so in theory the ideology should balance out (unlike, say, the famous rankings done by the Schlessingers, which could be translated as "liberals good, conservatives bad"). I actually use that poll in my history class. But even on it, Wilson gets the #11 ranking of all time. (As an aside, you can't look at the ranking of George W. Bush with any confidence, as the poll was taken in 2005, immediately after his reelection and before the slide he took starting in 2006.)

Anyway, I understand why he gets the "near-great" designation. He was the first Democrat to win consecutive terms since Andrew Jackson. He is the guy who brought "progressivism" to the Democrats (where it would develop into modern liberalism). And you always get bonus points for winning a war, in his case WWI. Moreover, I never try to judge a president by whether or not I agree with his agenda (or else you get the Schlessinger problem). Even a liberal can respect Reagan's success, and even a conservative can respect FDR's. (And incidentally, I'm perfectly fine with FDR outranking Reagan--the 1930s depression was worse than the 1970s malaise, WWII was worse than the Cold War, and 4 landslides trump 2.) But I just happen to think that those criteria for which Wilson gets so much credit are mis-used. He only won his first term in 1912 because of the Taft vs. Teddy Roosevelt split. In neither of his two electoral college victories did he win over half of the popular vote (incidentally, the same was true of Bill Clinton, but that's just interesting trivia). And I firmly believe that although Wilson "won" the great war, he lost the peace. Moreover, I would say that it was his own ego that prevented the US ratification of thee Treaty of Versailles, and set the stage for WWII.

Anyway, historians can argue about that, and they do. But what amuses me is that I feel the exact same way about Kobe Bryant. I'm not a Kobe fan. Yes, he scores a ton of points, and yes, he has won several championships. But the main reason I don't like Kobe is because too many folks swoon and call him the best player of all time. I'm sorry--he's not the best player in today's league (that would be Lebron), he's not the best player ever at his position (that would be Michael Jordan), he wasn't the best player on his own team for four of his championships (that would be Shaq), and he's certainly not the best player in his franchise's history (behind Magic, Kareem, Shaq, possibly Jerry West, and that's not even counting the time Wilt Chamberlain was there). It just bugs the heck out of me that people walk around not knowing that, the same way they know that 2+2=4.

Oh, well. I guess that's why I blog.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Diversity on the Court

A couple of funnies vis-a-vis "diversity" on the Supreme Court (noted all over the internet, not just by me). First of all, assuming (I do) that Elena Kagan will be confirmed, that will mean that every single justice spent time at either Harvard or Yale law (Ginsburg actually graduated from Columbia, but attended Harvard first). The three most recent appointees (Kagan, Sotomayor, and Alito) all did their undergrad at Princeton. This will be the first time ever that three women have served on the Supreme Court at the same time, but all three of them are Ivy-League liberals from New York City (as is Scalia, except, of course, for the liberal part). And the court will have 6 Roman Catholics and 3 Jews, with zero protestants. Add in the fact that President Obama, of Harvard, defeated Senator Clinton, of Yale, for the right to replace President Bush, of Yale undergrad and Harvard Business, who lost the popular vote to Senator Gore, of Harvard... I sure am glad our country values diversity!

Not that I have anything against the Ivies. Indeed, my school produces its share of Ivy-leaguers, of whom we are justifiably proud. Just to rattle off a few, two of my favorite student-athletes are graduating this month, one from Harvard, the other from Yale. Just yesterday, a former favorite accosted me in the halls on campus--he just finished his freshman year at Yale. And in this year's graduating class, we have a Harvard, an MIT (who is a Presidential Scholar), and my cross-country team captain turned down Dartmouth and Columbia in favor of the full-ride scholarship at Duke.

But let's also be honest--all of these Ivy kids (and in that group I am counting the judges and politicians) fit a certain type. One does not go to that sort of school without fitting the profile. Yes, they are demonstrably smart (although a perfect SAT does not necessarily outrank one in the 96th percentile, and a perfect GPA does not necessarily put one head-and-shoulders above the nearly-perfect). They all interview well. They all have loads of extracurricular activities, properly spread around all the major categories (every single member of the group of my own students I just rattled off has some combination of athletics, fine arts, student government, and community or school service on their resume, usually in near-ludicrous proportions). But most important, they are absolute masters at playing the game.

There's nothing wrong with playing the game, beating the system, figuring out where the proper gears and levers are. It's a major life skill. But it's not farming. On a farm, there's no cramming. On a farm, making the right connections won't get you anywhere. But in an academic setting (and later, in a legal/judicial/political setting), you're dealing with a man-made system, with rules and loopholes, with social norms and expectations. A system like that is built to be manipulated by the exceptionally bright and highly motivated. As I read the various narratives about soon-to-be-Justice Kagan, I am intrigued by the plain vanilla quality of her career. It seems that she may, once at most, as an undergraduate, have expressed a somewhat controversial opinion on paper. The horror! But she has pretty much not made a single misstep that would cause her to stumble on any rung of the ladder of success. It's almost as if she has been preparing for a smooth confirmation hearing since high school. If you know these kids, that's not surprising.

But here's the thing--these kids are the best and brightest, the hard workers, and all that. But they wind up being the movers and shakers, not just in politics, but in finance, in academics, and so forth. They wind up being the ones who write the rules--rules which reward Ivy-type kids. I find it interesting that the last US president we had who didn't get an "elite" education was Ronald Reagan (of Eureka College in Tampico, Illinois). Incidentally, he's also the last president that I can remember who picked an "interesting" nominee for the court. (Although his picks still had the "elite" cred--O'Connor was 3rd in her class at Stanford; Rehnquist was first. And Scalia is an Ivy guy). You know what I'd love to see? A Supreme Court judge who was top of his or her class at the University of South Carolina School of Law. You want a judge with symapthy for the underdog? Pick a Gamecock.

Monday, May 10, 2010

SCOTUS Thoughts

So, today President Obama made official what anyone with a web browser has known since last week: that Elena Kagan will be his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. The narrative has already been pre-written--Kagan is the "safe" pick, and will be easily confirmed, mainly because she got 60+ votes for confirmation as Solicitor General, and because she has gotten some flak from the extreme left for not being a full-blown pinko, as they would have liked. The only small bit of controversy came when someone wrote a week ago that she would be the first openly-gay justice (which was meant to be a compliment), only to be immediately smacked down.

The media double standard never ceases to amaze me. Had George W. Bush nominated a long-time crony with no judicial experience, he would have been crucified. (Wait--he DID. And his nominee, Harriet Meiers, was eviscerated as much from the right as the left. No chance of that this time!) Still, Kagan is a smart pick. Her negligible paper trail (a couple of academic papers, and a few book reviews) will be very hard to use against her, and there is no chance that her lack of scholarship will lead to her "growing" more conservative in office in the same way that previous "stealth" candidates have grown more liberal.

I think some folks are breathlessly hoping that social conservatives like me will get all frothy over her lesbianism. Whether she is formally "out" or barely-closeted, everybody in DC knows she's gay. If you're over the age of about 20, you probably know folks like this. You know, they know you know, but it's just not a topic of conversation. For my money, that's a whole lot better than the people who can't go five minutes without dwelling on it. Once upon a time, the argument was that closeted homosexuals presented a blackmail risk. But now, the phrase of the day is "NTTAWWT." You can't blackmail someone in a culture without shame.

It is true that Kagan's sexuality could impact her jurisprudence on the issue of "gay marriage." Indeed, her only confirmation hurdle will be rooted in her joining a challenge of the Solomon Amendment (which barred colleges which will not allow US military recruiters from receiving federal funds), based primarily on her opposition to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule. (Just as a footnote: the Supreme Court struck down that case 8-0; even the most liberal judges found it frivolous.) But even that doesn't bother me. Let's face it--ever since election day 2008, every SCOTUS nominee for the next 4 years was 100% guaranteed to be pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage, and in all respects the polar opposite of a Constitutional originalist. Elections have consequences. For conservatives, all we can do is hope that Antonin Scalia eats his Wheaties.

The only "good news" in this scenario, from my point of view, is that Kagan will replace John Paul Stevens. She could be a barefoot hippie in a Che Guevera shirt and still not be any more of a left-wing judge than him. Yes, we're trading a 90-year-old liberal judge for a 50-year-old liberal judge. But at the end of the day, the balance of the court remains the same (which is to say, you work your way through the entire federal court system just to hope you catch Anthony Kennedy on one of his better days).

So, sorry to disappoint if you expected me to get upset. Cronyism? Yeah. Lightweight? Yep. Cynical pandering to left-wing "diversity" group? Check. Antagonistic to my world-view? Uh-huh. But also exactly what I expected. To reference a couple of posts ago--when you expect Big Lots quality, it's hard to be disappointed.

Monday, April 5, 2010


A while back, Glenn Beck spoke at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Committee), and gave an impassioned speech that included a blistering indictment of "progressivism." (Note: I didn't watch the speech, I caught about 2 minutes of it while channel-surfing and then read various pundits pontificating about it the next day.) Beck said that the biggest threat to the modern USA is this "progressivism," and pointed out that in our last election, we had the choice between a liberal Democrat who embraces "progressivism" and a Republican whose political idol is Teddy Roosevelt, himself the father of the progressive movement. In the minute or so of the speech which I saw, Beck said (and it's been a while, so I'm sure I'm garbling the quote) that you have one party sticking a fork in your eye, and the other party telling you they'll be better because they are only going to stick a toothpick in your eye. Nice analogy.

Well, the progressive movement has been getting a lot of ink lately, and I wanted to wade in, both with some history and some opinion. Last year, Jonah Goldberg wrote a terrific book that went to #1 on the NYT best-seller list called Liberal Fascism. He took a lot of heat for the book, primarily from those who didn't read it or objected to either the title or the cover art (which features a smiley-face with a Hitler mustache). But he correctly points out that (a) our stereotype that communism is left-wing and fascism is right-wing is based on a falsehood; (b) Mussolini was beloved by the American left throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, when he began to behave badly by invading Ethiopia and eventually ally with the Axis; and (c) that the "war socialism" of "progressive" president Woodrow Wilson during WWII was intellectually in the same vein as Italian Fascism (everything from the espionage and sedition acts to the Palmer raids to the use of propganda to the War Industries Board and food rationing).

Now, please note--Goldberg takes great pains to point out that this does NOT mean that liberals, then or now, were Nazis. But I agree with him that the root impulses behind small-f fascism (divorced from Hitlerism), the idea that Mussolini "made the trains run on time," and that this benefit was worth some small dimunition of freedom in exchange, is at the heart of what we call "progressivism." Indeed, one of my personal favorite figures of the era, the humorist Will Rogers, was quoted back in the early 1920s (long before Mussolini became a "bad guy") as saying that this dictatorship business ain't so bad, so long as you get the right dictator. I know that sounds just horrible these days, but it's also exactly what Plato said in The Republic about 2500 years earlier.

So, back to "progressivism." At the turn of the century, there were zillions of areas of American public life screaming out for "reform." Labor issues like the 8-hour day. The "temperance" issue. Political reforms such as the overgrown "spoils system" which had begun with Andy Jackson and had even led to the assassination of President Garfield. Woman suffrage. Anti-lynching laws. What to do about the new phenomenon of "big business," including such monopolies as Standard Oil, US Steel, and the railroads. Tariff reform, and the desire to replace tariff revenue with an income tax. There was not a single "movement" calling out for all of these things at once, but there were numerous reformers willing to make common cause to accomplish their own agendas. That is the world in which Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901. And what TR said (correctly, I think), is that the USA by the turn of the 20th century had grown beyond Thomas Jefferson's wildest imagination--that we were too big, too rich, and too interconnected to remain as decentralized and laissez-faire as we had been for the previous 100 years. The best example of this that springs to mind is the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, which TR famously supported after reading "muckraker" Upton Sinclair's expose of the meat-packing industry, The Jungle. Back in the days of Jefferson, no one had to worry if their sausage was really sausage. It was bought from a local butcher. The buyer likely knew the butcher personally. He possibly knew the pig personally. But by 1906, it was a good idea to have an inspector certify that certain standards were met. (By the way--even though I'm pretty conservative, I do very much like knowing that my USDA-certified ground round is actual COW.)

Anyway, TR is the one who let the genie out of the bottle. He used the previously-toothless Sherman Antitrust Act to "bust" trusts. He established the primacy of the US government over even the biggest of big businesses (JP Morgan's Northern Securities Corporation). And, over time, he and his successors co-opted many of the populist reform movements into a big tent called "progressivism." But it was Woodrow Wilson who took it to the next level.

The trick is, Wilson did not just breeze into office and impose a smiley-face fascism-lite on the USA. He did so in the face of World War I. Now, I'm no fan of Wilson (for a variety of reasons, including his racism and the feeling that his ego and stubbornness squandered the victory of WWI and set the stage for WWII... but I'm in the minority of historians). But we need to recognize that one of the key conflicts in all of US history is trying to find the proper balance between liberty and security. We may think that our generation's struggling with the ethics of Gitmo and enhanced interogation is something new, but it's not. During the Civil War, Lincoln (arguably our greatest president) suspended civil rights. During WWI, Wilson threw political opponents in jail (Eugene Debs actually ran for president from prison). During WWII, Franklin Roosevelt interned thousands of Japanese-Americans. And after 9/11, congress passed the Patriot Act by overwhelming margins. Pretty much every time we feel threatened, whether in the face of actual war or "the moral equivalent of war" (like the Great Depression), we the people make the same choice that Italians did with Mussolini--we say, "if you'll protect us and make the trains run on time, we'll gladly dilute our liberties... just a little bit." And then, when the threat passes, we calm down, step back, and write histories about how America did not live up to her best principles.

That brings us to today and the current "crisis." Whether it was Wilson (our first and only PhD president) and his "dollar a year men," or FDR and his "brain trust" or JFK and his "best and brightest," we keep on falling into the same trap that Will Rogers did. If only we could get enough brilliant experts on the job, they could run our lives for us better than we can for ourselves. The Ivy Leagues are full of brilliant, earnest, good-hearted young people who are just SURE that they could manage this nation far better--for our own good--than simple rubes who shop at Wal-Mart. They write books like What's the Matter With Kansas, which suggests that if only ignorant Kansans knew their own self-interest better, they would be more liberal politically. And of course, our current president fits in that same academic vein--Columbia undergrad, Harvard law, instructor in a top-tier law school. So once again, we're seeing the same refrain--let us (the smart folks) run things, from GM to Health Insurance, and we'll take better care of you than you would take care of yourselves.

So, Beck has a point--the "progressive" impulse is at the heart of our diminishing freedoms. But the answer is emphatically NOT to go back to the days of rat-poop in the sausage. What we need to recognize is the trade-offs, and the laws of unintended consequences. Many very popular "progressive" ideas didn't work out as planned (prohibition comes to mind, as does the income tax, and the "war on poverty"). Not every change is "progress."

Evil Intentions

A little political musing, anyone? I read entirely too many online news articles/editorials/blogs. Where I used to "read the paper," now I sit with a laptop and surf--sometimes for hours on end. I really need to scale back (and I intend to). But after I read a story, sometimes the most illuminating part of the read is the "comments" section. And this brings me to a pet peeve of mine.

If you read the comments on almost any story, article, or op-ed with even a hint of the political, you'll almost immediately get a string of ad hominem attacks that impugn the motives of the other side. To take two extremes, you have the folks who insist that our entire post-9/11 security apparatus was either rooted in Dick Cheney's desire to make Haliburton stockholders rich or George W. Bush's perverse desire to torture perfect strangers. And on the other hand, you have those who look at our current economic situation under President Obama and say that our current deficits, entitlements, etc. are out of whack on purpose because Obama/Reid/Pelosi want to bankrupt the country and usher in an age of neo-socialism.

How about we back off from that just a bit? Is it that hard to imagine that good people can reasonably disagree on principles without ulterior motives? That doesn't mean I have to agree with them--I can (and do) think that many modern liberal principles are naive and economically unsound. But I accept that some wonderful, very intelligent people hold them. I much prefer the economic theories of Hayek or Milton Friedman to John Maynard Keynes. But that doesn't mean that every Keynesian is a knave or a fool--indeed, there are plenty of Keynesians much smarter than me.

And if I can say that about my liberal friends, shouldn't I get the same benefit of the doubt in return? When a facebook friend posts an article about evil, heartless conservative shills for the insurance industry who want grandma to die for the sake of profits, I think, "do you really believe that about ME?" I just think the math doesn't work. You know me! You've known me for years! Do you think I am one of "them," or that "they" are evil, while I am simply deluded? Because I don't want to think that about you.

It's a Big Lots World

I had an epiphany Saturday. I don't shop, period. That's one of the biggest benefits of being married 20 years. I occasionally go out and BUY something, but never shop. On Saturday, though, I was feeling a bit disconnected from the lovely Mrs. Sal--we had been "together" for several days, but moving around in our own little bubbles. So, in the interest of togetherness, I decided to accompany her on a trek to get Easter candy for kids who are far too big to get visits from the Easter bunny.

Well, we wound up in Big Lots. Big Lots is amazing. But not in a good way. It makes Wal-Mart look like an elite institution. Sure enough, they had candy, and they had it cheap--mission accomplished. But we had to get through the checkout line. Hooray! Another adventure!

Let's just say that the young lady checking out satisfied Big Lots customers was quite likely not the valedictorian of her class. I stood and watched, totally amazed, as she had apparent difficulty with opening plastic shopping bags. The line piled up, the helpless, hapless, clueless clerk fumbled on, and we eventually made it out safely.

But here's the amazing thing--I wasn't upset. Normally, my tolerance level for incompetence is lower than Carlsbad Caverns. But here, in Big Lots, I simply recognized that this is as good as it gets. If I had wanted excellent customer service, efficiently-moving checkout lines, or basic levels of hygiene, there is a Publix right across the parking lot. But we chose Big Lots, so there were no illusions. And then it hit me--this is the model for a much, much happier life.

All too often, I walk around upset at ignorance, incompetence, and sloth. It infuriates me that the kid at the drive-thru at my local McDonald's cannot seem to push the button that looks like a stinking cheeseburger correctly. I am amazed that a US Congressman seems to think that the island of Guam may tip over, or that 435 of them cannot do checkbook algebra. But I need to remind myself--it's a Big Lots world. Half of all people are below median intelligence (sorry, that's just math). What I need to do is lower my expectations and be pleasantly surprised when I get even Wal-Mart levels of service.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Crystal Ball, 2012

Is it too early to pick the 2012 election results? Let me preface my prediction with a warning: I'm a guy who has NEVER voted for the eventual nominee in the primaries. So my analysis is worth about what you're paying for it.

That said, the GOP nominee in 2012 will be.... drum roll... MITT ROMNEY! Not necessarily because he's best, but because he's next. Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. Go back as far as the eye can see... you would have to be eligible for social security to have voted for a GOP candidate who wasn't the obvious "next in line" (Goldwater, 1964). After that, it's former VP Nixon, his VP Ford, Reagan (runner-up to Ford), his VP Bush, long-time bridesmaid and Ford's running mate Dole, Bush's son Bush 43, and McCain, who was runner-up to Bush in 2000. By this logic, nobody but Romney has a chance!

Additionally, my guess at this point is that Palin doesn't run, but the chance that she might breaks up the "anybody but Romney" vote a little. I also think that unless we see miraculous economic recovery, Romney's rep as the savior of the 2002 winter Olympics and his experience as a real businessperson will look very attractive. And at the end of the day, I think more folks will embrace demonstrated academic prowess (albeit not Ivy League--he was valedictorian of BYU) over folksiness (even facile folksiness) of the sort you might see in Huckabee.

Of course, Obama will run again. The question is, can he win? That hinges on two variables. The first is whether he will pivot like Clinton toward the center. I don't see that happening, but I could be wrong. The other is whether he catches the big break of economic recovery. It doesn't even need to be his fault, but if things turn around and he can take credit for it, well, he wins. I think you can count on a very positive media environment for him; he won't have to swim upstream against NYT stories on "jobless recovery" or anything like that. But if his best answer is only "it could be even worse," well, ask Carter, Hoover, or even Van Buren how that worked out. And that's the zillion-dollar question.

I'll bet he at least makes it close. I'm just too bullish on the American people and economy to believe that we'll continue to languish in this kind of trough for two more years. We'll see!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coupon Queen

Everybody who knows me knows I think my wife is pretty awesome. She's beautiful, she's smart, she's talented, and she has a strange attraction to nerdy guys. But she's also very frugal, which is especially cool when you're trying to feed a family of five on two teachers' salaries. Lately she has become a coupon maniac. And that's a compliment. She spends a couple of hours each week planning out her purchases for groceries based on sales and coupons. There is a website called southern savers that helps her with the legwork. By this combination of brains and discipline, she has cut our monthly grocery bill by more than half!

Here's the math of it: So far this year (7 weeks), we have bought groceries with a sticker price of $1497. That's over $200 a week! (Which, in all honesty, isn't too crazy for 5 people including two teenage boys. If we drink any more milk, we'd be better off buying a cow... or a herd.) Let's break that down further. It comes out to over $900 a month, which is more than double the rent on our first two apartments, more than the mortgage on our first house, and right in the ballpark for everything but the taxes and insurance on our current house. It's two new car payments. It's 4 times the payment on our "better" car. It's more every month than my car is worth! And for all that money, every day, those boys are hungry AGAIN!

But Ann has gotten those $1497 worth of groceries for only $624. Her planning and couponing has saved us $873, or 58% off of our grocery bill. For every dollar she spends, she has saved $1.40. In other words, at this rate we'll save over $500 per month, and over $6000 on the year. (And this doesn't even count what she saves by buying never-worn brand-name clothes at thrift stores, etc.)

It really isn't a big deal about the money (although numbers are a nice way of keeping score in any game). It's about stewardship, and freedom. Making these wise decisions gives us the freedom to do jobs we love, to take summers off, to travel, to save, and especially, to give. I feel like Proverbs 21:20 is all about Ann's great stewardship. Oh, yeah. Another passage comes to mind, too.

The Law of Averages

OK. I'll do one quick one. Everybody who follows my blog knows that I am obsessive about my running log. The first 15 years of my running life, including my entire high school career and through my first (and only, so far) marathon, were not logged. But I have the last 12 years painstakingly detailed. Not only have I got a spiral-bound log with every run described, but also a big excel spreadsheet with every monthly total laid out, and broken down into all the statistical gobbledygook that makes my inner nerd smile. (Who am I kidding? My inner nerd is on the outside, too!)

Well, February is the worst month of the year, on average. It's the first full month of track season, when my coaching conflicts with my own running. It's the coldest month of the year. And I have a very, very hard time breaking that rhythym. This year, I'm semi-happy to report that I am having an "above-average" February, following a slightly above-average January. But it's still not a great running month unless seen through the lens of my usual bad winters.

The good news is, if I continue on at "average" or slightly better all year, the end product will result in me continuing my annual 500+ miles (it took 6 before midnight on New Year's eve to get 6000 in the books for the last 12 years, so there's not any wiggle room). The bad news is that I don't want to be "good" for February. I want to be good by an objective standard of excellence. Running well for February is like being tall for a midget.

Still, I'll take encouragement where I can find it. At least I'm a little ahead and not behind. If I can just keep plugging away, the weather will keep improving, and spring (and summer) will be a lot easier. So if you ask, "how's your running?" The answer is, "pretty good, all things considered."

What's On My Mind

Lots of topics bouncing off of each other in my brain these days, but no time to write. Here's a quick list of things I want to get to, in no particular order. The list is really just so I don't forget the topics before I get time to blog.
  • "progressivism" as wrongly defined by Glenn Beck
  • ranking the presidents
  • "category error," most recently demonstrated by the guy who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas
  • sex in the movies
  • the Prodigal Son
  • the law of averages (about running)
  • predicting the 2012 presidential race
  • anti-anti-anti-elitism

I'm sure there were more when I sat down to type this. That's how quick these brain-droppings fly away. If any of those look interesting, keep watching this space!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wise Words

I was reading a blog/news/opinion piece last week and managed to somehow get sucked into the 200+ comments on the thread. I forget what the original topic was, or even what the website was, but one of the commenters made the following statement: "We can't keep on taxing ourselves like libertarians and demanding benefits like socialists." That stuck with me, particularly in light of some reading I've been doing lately for class on the Eisenhower adminsitration. Many politically astute people know that Reaganomics involved a big tax cut (down to 28% at its lowest point) down from the 70% top rate under JFK. Others will tell you that Reagan's cut was itself patterned after JFK's own big cut, which came down from the 90% top rate under Ike. I know that for those of us under retirement age it seems crazy, but back in our parents' childhood the Republican party was the party of green eyeshades and balanced budgets. Ike jacked taxes sky-high and also cut the military's conventional forces (while investing heavily in nuclear deterrence, which provided far more "bang for the buck"--in more ways than one). Not that Ike loved the taxes, but he felt like the 1950s economy, which was growing like gangbusters, could handle it. Both Truman and Eisenhower paid off part of the national debt, which had necessarily run up during WWII (the last president to completely pay off the debt was Andy Jackson).

Of course, that didn't last. The big-spending of the Great Society under LBJ opened the door to non-emergency deficit spending, and of course, we've all heard the horror stories of the exploding deficits during the era of Reaganomics. I will defend the Reagan deficits, at least to a point. The Reagan tax cuts were, I firmly believe, instrumental in pulling us out of the recession of the late 1970s and fueling the economic boom that persisted until just lately. Moreover, if you could have told me in 1983 when Wargames was looking a lot like a work of nonfiction (or a couple of years later, when The Day After showed by hometown of Charleston getting nuked) that the deficits we were running would finance the end of the Cold War, I would have said, "where do I sign?" And when Clinton (with a good bit of help from the '94 GOP congress) was able to run a surplus on the strength of the "peace dividend" and the internet boom, I thought that the time had come to go ahead and pay down that debt.

Of course, that was not to be. First was the dot-com bust, followed by 9/11, followed by more and more and more spending (and yes, I'm pointing the accusing finger right at old G.W. Bush and his Medicare Part D, et al.) And somehow along the way, we as a country forgot that somebody has to pay for all this. Then came our current administration, who managed to vilify Bush for 400-billion dollar deficits while at the same time proposing deficits in the trillions for as far as the eye can see, not counting whatever it might cost for a big health care entitlement.

Anyway, back to those wise words. I wish we could somehow set the clock back and both tax ourselves like libertarians and also spend like libertarians. That would be fine with me (within limits--my brand of conservatism would conserve much of the New Deal). But if that's not going to happen, I'd also be OK with actually taxing people what it costs to pay the bills. Note that I didn't say some people. You could tax every dime over $250k a year in this country at 100% and still not generate enough revenue to break even. And I'm not a fan of 40%+ (and rising) of the country having zero federal income tax burden. I'll even go so far as to say that my own family is under-taxed. We make nearly double the national average income, yet we pay hardly any federal income taxes after 5 standard exemptions, all our itemized deductions, and multiple credits. Don't get me wrong--I don't want to pay more. But I also don't think it's cool that somebody else pays the freight of citizenship for my upper-middle-class lifestyle.

What if--just imagine it--we were to just do the math and determine that social security can't get by on only 15.3% payroll tax (which it can't). Let's say 20% would do the trick (I have no idea if that's even close). So charge that. Ditto medicare. Yes, people would absolutely howl. And then we could have the necessary discussion about whether we're willing to pay that much or cut benefits, raise retirement age, means-test, or whatever other solution presents itself. But whistling past the graveyard, pretending that the bill is never going to come due, is just crazy.

Once again, my personal preference is low tax, low spending. But option number two would be that we all pay for the benefits we enjoy. Want to live like socialists, fine. Pay the bills. I'll bet that wouldn't happen--we would discover that a majority of voters would vote for freedom and corresponding personal responsibility. What we've got now is the worst of all possible worlds.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

There has been some buzz of late that the Obama administration may repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibits openly-gay service in the US military. I have just a few thoughts on the topic.

First, DADT was itself a loosening of previous restrictions. Bill Clinton had wanted to get rid of the previous policy, which not only didn't allow gays to serve, but also asked up front about their orientation. Those who tried to serve while remaining closeted could then be drummed out of the service if they were "outed." And his hamfisted attempt at a gay-friendly effort, when combined with his overreach on Hillarycare, an "assault-weapons" ban, a never-materializing middle class tax cut, and other missteps served to undermine his image as a not-so-liberal bubba and resulted in the 1994 takeover of congress by the GOP (followed, of course, by his succesful "triangulation" and recovery on a more centrist model in his 2nd term).

Secondly, the key issue--then and now--is what is best for the military. When you enlist, you check certain "rights" at the door of boot camp. I don't give two hoots in heck about social engineering in the military. I want the army, navy, air force, and marines to be the best in the world at killing people and breaking things while serving the foreign policy goals of the USA. Period. Full stop. Whether it's gays serving openly, women in combat, or whatever, the big question simply cannot be what we think is nice. Bombs and tanks and guns are, by definition, NOT NICE. Get over it.

That said, in the past 20 years or so, American society as a whole, and the military as a part of it, have seen changes in the acceptance of gays (we'll leave aside any discussion about whether that is a sign of progress or decline), as well as an expanded role of women in combat. I read a statistic (don't remember where, so no link) that said only 51% of servicemen now say they are against gays serving, compared to more like two-thirds back when DADT was new. And it is also true that other countries have gone farther down this path, without catastrophic results.

My own take (which admittedly, comes from the biases of a 40-something hetero dude) is that the biggest issues involve fraternization and unit cohesion. People do stupid things when they are in a romantic relationship. If my wife and I served in combat together, my #1 goal, even superseding that of our mission, would be to protect her first. Whether it's straight men and women serving together or gay men and/or lesbians, the possibility of personal relationships undermining group cohesion is there. (I've heard some attack this line of thinking by saying, "are you suggesting that gays have less self-control than straights?" Answer: that's a strawman argument, as I don't want women on submarines, either, and also, yes, I'm perfectly willing to say that gay men, on average, show less self-control than hetero couples--not because they are gay, but because they are MEN, without a woman to slow them down.) I'm not super-worried about discrimination and prejudice. The military handled that with race in 1948, and can again.

What I would do, were it up to me, is find out first of all what the military thinks. If making the change will hurt enlistment numbers, how much? Is there a trade-off in terms of efficiency? What is the cost vs. the benefit? Let's be Hippocratic: first, do no harm. Assuming they say it's a go, then I would let gays serve in the exact same way that women do now. Fly a plane? No problem. Serve as an Arabic translator for military intelligence? Fine. Submarines, SEALS, or infantry? Nope. Not because you're not tough or macho enough. (Shucks, I had a female assistant coach once who was an ACC record holder in the discus... she would have made a MUCH better soldier than I would.) But because it's not worth the potential drawbacks.

Sometimes change is progress. Sometimes it is not. A battlefield is no place to be tinkering with progressive social goals.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I May Vote Democrat!

Okay... got your attention yet? There is a rumor floating around that retired SC Circuit Court Judge Victor Rawl may challenge Jim DeMint for his US Senate seat. I actually like DeMint. I also probably would disagree on almost every issue with Judge Rawl. However, he's been a friend of mine for 30 years. His son was my best friend from age 11 through high school, and was best man in my wedding. Moreover, one of the best students I ever taught has developed into a future democrat policy-maker, and may wind up working on the campaign if it materializes. They say blood is thicker than water. My ties to those two may not be blood, but they are thick. So if it happens, I'll probably vote heart over head.

Of course, I doubt very seriously that a lowcountry democrat, even a really good one, could win a statewide race in SC against DeMint, whose approval rating statewide is 63%. But if, at the end of the day, it comes down to a one-vote margin, it wouldn't be too bad to have an old friend in the Senate.

A Blast From the Past

The title of this post refers to me blogging (seems like a while), as well as a link I found today. The article is from "Car Lust," but it is called "Car Disgust." It features my first car, the 1973 Buick Century. I had the ugly green one with the half-vinyl top and green paisley bench seats. Unlike the one in the article, though, I had a 350 V8 (which got about 9 miles per gallon... highway. Fortunately, gas was only about 80 cents a gallon).

I keep meaning to blog more. I'm just having a hard time finding the motivation. I've got plenty of blog-worthy thoughts, on numerous topics. Perhaps if anybody is still out there reading, drop me a comment and let me know you're there. Maybe even mention topical areas you've liked before. I feel silly just rambling on and on when I'm not sure anybody is listening, or even interested.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Long Run

This past weekend, I got a chance to do something really, really cool. I served as "crew" for my brother-in-law as he ran a 12-hour ultramarathon. I've written elsewhere how close we are, and how much he inspires me. We have shared interests and been "friendly competitors" for almost 25 years now. His story leading up to this run is amazing in itself. The funny thing about MY involvement is that I almost didn't go. I made numerous excuses as to why I didn't think I should go along--most of them involving my distaste at spending 24 hours awake over New Year's Eve in the freezing cold. Finally, my wonderful wife, who is much smarter than me, convinced me to go along. It wound up being a high point of the whole year. I had figured that my main job would be to hand out water bottles every couple of laps (the course was a 1-mile loop) and maybe jog alongside a couple of times and offer encouragement near the end when Adam was in "no man's land," beyond his longest previous training run (which, by the way, was 50k, or 31 miles). Knowing Adam's mental toughness, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would show up, run well, and meet his goals.
As it turned out, there was a lot more to the whole process than I had thought. Just the nutrition-management side was daunting; he needed about 260 liquid calories per hour... more than that meant swollen hands and feet, less meant running out of fuel and "crashing" midway through. There were two of us on the crew, but the other guy had to head back to our hotel to sleep between about 1 and 6 AM (so at least one of us was fit to drive home). Once I was on my own, it was pretty busy just getting the next dose of carb/protein/electrolyte mix ready each lap. And the "jog alongside" part went from being a very easy mile every 4 laps to eventually every other (and eventually an average of every third). As I got past my own endurance limits, I began to just barely experience a taste of what Adam was feeling. There were three "gentle rises" on the course (here in the flatlands, we call them HILLS), and as we hit the inclines, all I wanted to do was quit. But I knew that I would get the next mile or two to recover, and Adam was bravely keeping on every single loop. The effort to keep going was hard for me to muster, and near superhuman for him.
At the end of the race, he had completed 55 laps, without a single break (most of the participants in the race took planned breaks... Adam only stood still to drink his carbo-concoction). I was perversely proud of my own 18 miles, but overwhelmed at how that paled in comparison to his more than double-marathon. (As an aside, this made me think about my attitude towards God's grace... getting all proud of what "I" have accomplished, sacrificed, etc., as if it matters even a bit in comparison to the big picture of what has been done for me.)
Anyway, the weekend was awesome. Being a part of something amazing, sharing a great weekend with a kindred spirit, and sleeping the honest sleep of earned exhaustion. What a way to ring in the new year!

Resolutions 2010

So, it's that time again. Write 'em down, so next year I can look 'em up and evaluate. Most of my goals are changes of degree, rather than direction.

  1. Continue the consistency I've had the last 8 months of running. Log 500+ miles for the year, and race at least once. (Stretch goals--break 21 minutes for 5k, maybe run the Bridge Run 10k, maybe even a half-marathon?)
  2. Read through the Bible again. (BONUS-I'm getting a new Bible! More on that later.)
  3. Go back to my daily Bible study and prayer time first thing in the morning instead of just before bed.
  4. Less time on the internet, more time reading real books.
  5. Drink more water.
  6. Pay a little more attention to what I eat.
  7. Be more intentional about spending time with family. (Not just Ann and the kids, but also extended family. It takes effort to break the inertia and spend time with family, but I almost always feel better for doing it. Sorta like exercise, only less sweat.)
  8. Be a good steward of my gifts--time, talent, and treasure.

That's a good start. We'll see how that feels down the road. They say that goals should be specific and measurable, and except for the 500 miles, these are pretty nebulous. But I think I'll be better off if I make just a little progress on each of these.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2009 In Review

I hope to blog more this year (2010). I'll be posting some resolutions soon, but first I wanted to reflect a bit on how last year's goals came out. Looking back at December of 2008, I can see that I entered the year a bit down on the theme of personal disciplines. I had failed to achieve my goals in the areas of consistent running and Bible reading, and I was a little gun-shy about committing to more ambitious goals and falling short again. This year started off pretty aimless in both areas... I read my Bible haphazardly, usually a chapter of the New Testament at a time, every couple of days. I also began the year with 9 runs in the first 17 days of January, but none of them over 25 minutes in duration. Once my track season began, I only made it out the door 12 more times through April, including 6 runs of 20 minutes or less during spring break in an aborted comeback attempt.

In May, spring pre-season practice for cross-country began, and I discovered that my friend, Hugh, was as disgusted with his physical shape as I was. So we made a pact--we would make every practice, and run SOMETHING during that time. I'm pleased to say we kept that Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday commitment, missing only for illness or major vacation plans (the only two zero-miles weeks I have taken since then were one week of a bad chest cold and the week of my anniversary cruise). Those first runs were AWFUL. Slogging through 3-mile runs at 9-minute pace when the mind thinks you should be going farther and faster (but the body knows better) was torture. But with the added spur of a training partner and a set appointment, we plugged away all summer long.

It gradually got easier, the runs got longer and faster, and goals that had seemed impossible began to come back into focus. In November, I raced for the first time in years, at the Charleston Turkey Day Run. I did much better than I had hoped, and now feel completely rejuvenated in the running arena. As the year ended up, I realized that I was just a few miles away from logging my 6000th mile since I began keeping a log in 1998, which would keep my average at 500 miles per year. Since 400 of those miles had come since May 1, it became a matter of pride that I would get that milestone. Just before midnight on New Year's eve, I managed my 6th mile of the day (in 1-mile increments while crewing for my brother-in-law in an ultramarathon; that story will likely get a post soon, too) and hit the magic number of 460.5 for 2009, just enough to turn the odometer over.

Something similar happened with the Bible reading. We took a family vacation in July, and I packed my One Year Bible. As it turned out, the regularly-scheduled readings for that week was right where Psalms begins (that format includes twice through the Psalms per year) and also right at the beginning of Romans. Sitting on the deck of a beach house in Florida, I began the discipline of daily reading again, skipping the Old Testament, but committing to finishing the Epistles and Psalms by year's end. Just like with the running, it took a while to get it back, but coming back after some downtime was refreshing.

So, in a little while I'll be posting about my resolutions. And those resolutions will include some running and Bible-study goals. But getting to the point that I was willing to set those goals took some small successes along the way. Had I planned for a 500-mile year, or to read the whole Bible through again, I would be looking back on another year of disappointment. But instead, I see a few months of aimlessness, followed by half a year of great success. Happy 2010 to all!