Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dangerously Dumb People in the World -- Bluesy

Hey, I'm actually home this weekend, which means I can actually partake in my weekly installment of identifying people I feel are dangerously dumb. This week, there's a lot of blue amongst the winners.


3. Barack Obama -- His lame-ass trip to New Orleans this week was called out by none other than Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post and well-established liberal commentator.


"I wish I could just write a check," Obama said. If that was his message, he should have stayed home. We now know that our government can make hundreds of billions of dollars available to irresponsible Wall Street institutions within a matter of days, if necessary. We can open up the floodgates of credit to too-big-to-fail banks at the stroke of a pen. But when it comes to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, well, these things take time.

As Robinson mentions, New Orleans doesn't even have an "operational full-service hospital". Nine months into Obama's presidency, and the situation in Katrina-stricken areas remains unacceptable. The response, according to local officials, has improved. Somewhat. Not enough. "I wish I could just write a check." Wow.

2. Keith Olbermann -- In a curious argument exposing Chuck Grassley's lack of any coherent opposition to health care reform, Olbermann pulled out a counterargument that actually was incorrect. One actually reasonable argument in terms of proposed health care reform legislation is mandated coverage. (In other words, "everyone" would be required to have health care insurance.) Grassley's argument included the use of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Grassley's argument was that the government may not be able to make such a law, in violation of this amendment. (Whether this argument is valid/correct is not within the scope of this note.) Keith Olbermann brought up car insurance as a rebuttal. Except that the requirement of auto insurance is provided by the states, not the federal government. This was astutely pointed out by guest Lawrence O'Donnell, who contended that such a mandate would indeed be unprecedented (federally).

A rare miss, Olbermann, but one nonetheless.

1. Arianna Huffington -- I cannot even begin to see why Arianna Huffington thought it would be a good idea for Joe Biden to resign because of his stance on the future of Afghanistan.

It's been known for a while that Biden has been on the other side of McChrystal's desire for a big escalation of our forces there -- the New York Times reported last month that he has "deep reservations" about it. So if the president does decide to escalate, Biden, for the good of the country, should escalate his willingness to act on those reservations.

What he must not do is follow the same weak and worn-out pattern of "opposition" we've become all-too-accustomed to, first with Vietnam and then with Iraq. You know the drill: after the dust settles, and the country begins to look back and not-so-charitably wonder, "what were they thinking?" the mea-culpa-laden books start to come out. On page after regret-filled page, we suddenly hear how forceful this or that official was behind closed doors, arguing against the war, taking a principled stand, expressing "strong concern" and, yes, "deep reservations" to the president, and then going home each night distraught at the unnecessary loss of life.

So Huffington thinks the best plan is to resign. To make this opposing stance as public as possible, and potentially embarrassing as possible. Of course, she neglects to point out the repercussions of such a move.

First, the next VP would be selected, not elected. The next VP would likely be more "in-line" with the President. Biden would certainly not strengthen his political stature. And, what's the slippery slope here? Any official who opposes the President regarding any issue of national security (which may be indirect topics such as the economy -- since economic stability is historically associated with national security) should resign or face the "mea culpa" later on.

Where's the line here, and what's the positive? That the President is embarrassed enough, or convinced enough, to change his mind? Doubtful. A lot of pomp and circumstance with such a decision...but, I suspect, the conclusion would be far less different than she imagines. In fact, a resigning VP would probably be an incredibly large distraction. Certainly not something warranted in a decision as important as future military plans in Afghanistan.

Arianna Huffington, this week's dangerously dumb person in the world.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stories from the Road -- Two Harbors, MN

I rolled down the window. The breeze was chilly. Very chilly. It was early June, but northeast Minnesota did not seem to care.

In the late spring of 2006, I embarked on a week of fishing and sightseeing in the Boundary Waters region of Minnesota with my father. We were to meet in late afternoon on a Saturday, but I decided to leave Norman, OK, early on Friday. Early ended up being about 1 pm, but that still falls under the definition of the word in my book. The drive was solely to be I-35 until the town of Cloquet, after which various highways would take me to my final destination of White Iron Lake, a few miles east of Ely.

The drive on I-35 is beautiful in its vastness. The Flint Hills of Kansas are a particular favorite driving destination. Endless seas of grass in the rolling hills of commonly untouched prairies envelop the tollway for what seems like hours. The Flint Hills are a stark reminder of just how big this country is and how much more land there is to fill (or, hopefully, not fill). The horizon commonly features a road scarring the sides of these hills, with virtually nothing else in sight. Some see this as boring; I see it as excitingly untouched.

The trip involved a Steak 'n Shake stop in Kansas City (of course), a beautiful sunset in southern Iowa, and encroaching lightning in northern Iowa. Finally, the sky opened the floodgates (really) in southern Minnesota. Just north of Albert Lea, flooding of the interstate was common under overpasses. There was one overpass in particular I was afraid to drive underneath. However, the shoulders featured relatively little standing water, so I slowly pulled onto the right shoulder and inched my way past the bridge. Fortunately, there was little traffic on the interstate at this point, as it was around midnight. After successfully crossing this increasingly impassable stretch, the rain began to diminish and the skies began to clear. The lightning show and the torrential rain had already made this drive a very successful one, though. What can I say? I love storms.

I made it to Minneapolis before 2 am, and the commonly busy freeways were virtually empty. No one parties on stormy nights in the Twin Cities after midnight, I guess. The lack of traffic on these roads was eerie, with the typical urban onslaught of bridges and buildings unaccompanied by honking horns and exhaust fumes. I've had similar experiences in Cleveland, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, making me wonder if this is a Midwestern attribute of nocturnal city traffic. Whatever the reasoning, I was grateful, as I pleasantly gazed at the points of light emanating from buildings and factories decorating the panorama.

By this point, I wondered if I should stop for the night and get a hotel room. I had not reserved one anywhere, having no clue how far I could go before hitting the wall (figuratively, of course). I was not feeling tired, and I was a poor graduate student. The urge to pay a hundred dollars to sleep on a smelly bed was not substantially high. By North Branch, I decided to charge ahead and forget about a hotel. It was now nearly 3 am, and I guesstimated that I would be well past Cloquet by sunrise. I decided to instead drive to Lake Superior to see the sun rise over the water. This was one of the smartest road decisions I have ever made.

The summer solstice was quickly approaching, and the relatively high latitude region of northeast Minnesota features very early twilight. By 4 am, the northern sky was lighting up. It was beautiful to drive in the forests of eastern Minnesota, observing this slowly brightening sky to the north. This was something I had not experienced before, and I was astounded at how astounded I was with the view. I rolled down the window. The breeze was chilly. Very chilly. It was early June, but northeast Minnesota did not seem to care. Quickly adapting, I did not care, either. The sound of the breeze, the fresh smell of trees, and the whimpers of light on the horizon were enough to eliminate any discomfort from the cold temperatures.

I reached Duluth just after 5 am, and the sky was beginning to light up rapidly. Soon, oranges and reds began to appear on the horizon. After passing a small summit just southwest of Duluth, I observed an absolutely grand sight. The city lights of Duluth twinkling before a beautifully glasslike Lake Superior, underneath blazing colors of yellow, orange, and purple. It is a memory I will forever treasure.

After passing through the empty freeways of Duluth, I decided to trudge onward to the North Shore Drive, a beautiful stretch of rural highway along the northwest coast of Lake Superior northeast of Duluth. The sun would soon be rising. Music was playing in the car at the time. I am fond of movie soundtracks, and I was listening to the Superman soundtrack at the time. The song playing was "The Fortress of Solitude". The piece features a long stretch of atmospheric music, with prominent use of celesta. The celesta is one of my favorite instruments. The celesta sounds like a soft bell, and the celesta sequence in the piece gives me a sense of floating (appropriate, given the film). I'll never forget listening to that song while driving along the coast of Lake Superior.

I have discussed particular moments of pure happiness on my blog before. One of these moments, the one I will most treasure actually, occurred in 2002 in Carmel Bay. The sounds of ocean water hitting a beautiful white/gold sand, with rocks jutting out of the water like monoliths. I don't remember anything else about my stay at that beach. All stresses were gone; all of my focus was on the ocean, the sand, and the rocks. And the sound. If there is such a thing as nirvana, that was the closest moment I have had to it.

Driving along Lake Superior, I had another one of these moments. I remember the peaceful sounds of the song, the distant sound of water crashing onto the shoreline, the breeze of the air crashing into the interior of my car, and the furious colors streaking out from the horizon. All of my cares in the world were gone.

Just before sunrise, I reached Two Harbors, a beautiful port town in Lake County. I found a pullout and watched the sun puncture the horizon over the water. Sunrises are rare experiences for me, so the magic of that experience cannot be overstated. I watched as the sun decreased in size and left the watery horizon. I listened as ships approached or departed from town. I saw a few families launch their boats from a nearby dock. I heard birds joyously flying in the chilly morning air. For me, to experience the world simply by observing it is rare. It does not take much to make me a happy man. The drive to Minnesota, culminating in the beautiful sunrise at Two Harbors, was all that was required.


Ed. note: In future "Stories from the Road" posts about this trip, I'll go into specific detail about what makes this region so special. However, this is my most vivid road trip memory -- out of all road trips. I thought it deserved an individual post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Growing Up: Small Town Fourth of July

A special edition of the "Growing Up" series tonight. "Special" because I am linking to my sister's post on the magic of small town Independence Day celebrations. Her focus is on our hometown of Tekamah.

Tomorrow: Stories from the Road takes us to Lake Superior.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chad's Takes

Of the two topics, celebrating America's non-selection for the Olympic Games in 2016 is more absurd. But I happen to believe that panning Obama's selection as the Nobel Peace Prize winner is more interesting. I question anyone's judgment on the matter, purely from an intelligence standpoint. I wonder how many quick critics of the decision knew the details of past winners, or more simply, knew past winners? Perhaps people who claimed, in ill-advised fashion, that past nominations included Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, didn't know that it required only one qualified person to nominate a person? And that qualified person comes out of a large list of people. (Of course, this is talking about nominations. Not winners from those nominations.)

To bash the Nobel Peace Prize because Arafat was a recipient neglects to inform the reader/listener that Rabin and Peres were co-winners. To claim Obama's win is without merit is a slap in the face to Gorbachev, who won before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end to the Cold War.

People who take the big stand, whether voluntarily or otherwise, who advocate peace among nations seem credible recipients (to me) for the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama has done that, repeatedly, in his short duration as President. (The claim that only the time up to the nomination of Obama is relevant is not correct. The time after which the nomination is given but before the selection is made also matters in the selection process.) Of course, he did that before he was even President.

In this arena, speeches do matter. His speeches in Europe during the campaign and to the Muslim world this summer were announcements to the world that a new vision of foreign policy and international cooperation were coming (if he were elected President for the former, while he was President for the latter). Aggressive diplomacy with Iran has led to the agreement of UN inspections of a nuclear facility in the country.

Of course, we should already be aware of why speeches matter. Otherwise, Martin Luther King's Nobel Peace Prize wouldn't make much sense.

Heard of Martti Ahtisaari? I'm guessing a lot of you haven't. He was last year's winner. What country is he from? What did he do to earn the prize? Unless you can answer questions like these, and come to terms with the precedents in the selection of such recipients as I have mentioned above, your "opinion" of Obama's earning the prize? Well, you can have it. But calm yourselves down, or be prepared to provide a substantive argument for it. In front of me, at least.


Visiting all of the US national parks is elitist? As my previous post mentions, a recent op-ed piece makes the suggestion. Arguments such as "You won't understand the parks if you spend a little time at all of them versus a lot of time at some of them!" and "Think of the carbon footprint for all of the travel that you put in to making the visits!" were used. My opinion?


Visiting national parks is a show of support for their existence and continued efforts to preserve these national treasures. And what does it matter if people don't grasp every single aspect of a park? I imagine it would take several lifetimes to understand the complexities of Yellowstone, the terrain of Glacier, or the ecosystem of the Everglades. I wonder if it is even possible to visit every single acre of Wrangell-St. Elias, every single aspect of the glaciers at Glacier Bay, every cove of Acadia, every mountain of the North Cascades. I know it isn't possible to hike every mile of Rocky Mountain or Shenandoah.

I wish I could ask the writer of this poor excuse for an editorial if he can name every animal who lives in Wrangell, since he uses it in his argument. I wonder if he can name all the plant species found in Olympic, every granite structure in Yosemite, every waterfall in Kings Canyon. Can he decipher all of the rock drawings in Mesa Verde, raft the waters in Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

I doubt it. So, piece of advice, Mr. Goetzman. Put your money where your mouth is. Or a sock.


I've been hearing a rather strange argument more and more against climate change recently. It's not a new argument, certainly, but I've heard it rather frequently the last few months. So much so that I finally must say something.

The argument goes something like this: "I think it is pretty bold/arrogant of us to argue that we can change the climate so dramatically."

Really? Remember the Cold War? Where the threat of nuclear war was prevalent in society? When the very real possibility of the planet's "nuclear death" was a daily thought? No, it didn't happen. But it certainly COULD have, and there is much scientific evidence to back this claim up.

Such nuclear death of a planet, which would essentially make the planet one of "insects and grass", as one author put it, seems to be a fairly large "anthropogenic" impact. I think it is naive to claim that we couldn't affect the climate of the earth (which would obviously have been influenced by such a calamitous event).

A corollary of this argument, of course, is that the increase in carbon dioxide is natural. What scientific evidence is available to back this claim up? In other words, what natural sources of carbon dioxide emissions can possibly explain the approximately exponential increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Do you think scientists haven't looked into the possibility of natural sources (e.g., volcanoes/earthquakes, ocean sources, changing plant/animal sources -- the latter of which, obviously, may be influenced by human activities)?

Provide this evidence, and I'll consider the possibility. But refuting the claims of a legion of experts in the climate field without such evidence seems incredibly arrogant to me.

Visiting Every National Park Is Elitist? I Beg Your Pardon!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Growing Up: Fools in the Pool

In the summer, there were two options in Tekamah. Doing farm work, or going to the pool. I preferred the latter.

In elementary school, I was a "crusher". Most of my crushes involved the pretty girls who decided to lifeguard each summer. I was notorious for being whistled, nearly hourly, at the pool, just so the lifeguard would come up to me and tell me to behave myself. Curiously, my suave skills at attracting the ladies have developed little since my elementary school days. Perhaps this is explained by my overwhelming urge to irritate rather than to attract. There is a reason I title these blogs "Growing Up". I'm still in the process of doing so.

Early in my elementary school years, I was given swimming lessons by one of those lifeguards. (Worry not. This was before the time I even knew what "girls" were.) I had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before this lesson, which is important only because I had a serious case of the kid belches during the lesson. When the lifeguard said, "Ew, is that peanut butter?", I decided my days of peanut butter were over. If a lifeguard thought the smell of peanut butter was gross, who was I to judge? (Since then, I have developed a strong dislike of peanut butter anyway.)

I always admired lifeguards. High school students sitting, twirling the whistles around their fingers? Oh, the power. By age 6, I wanted to be on the swim team. More time with the lifeguards.

This required lessons of a more rigorous sort (maybe -- I'm not sure they were required, actually.). One evening a week, two friends, myself, a parent of one of us would go down to Blair and take serious lessons. It was a sad day when I received a FAIL my first time. Why? Because I couldn't do the dead man's float. And seriously, why was the skill necessary? Floating face-down in a deep pool, only gasping for air after a long number of seconds. Repeat for several minutes. Why? I refused to do it out of principle. Principle, I say!

Truthfully, it's because I did not like staring at the base of the pool so far down. And my friend couldn't do it, either. Why fail alone?

So, we tried again the next semester, this time easily passing. At this point, I could join the swim team. (If I recall, it really wasn't a requirement, but it seemed logical to pass swimming lessons before competing in swimming competitions.)

Joining the swim team was among the more interesting things I did as a child. First, it was one of the few sports I actually had some skill at. My favorite stroke was the butterfly, which was hated by pretty much everyone else. So, they had me compete in that my first year, and I actually received several medals in various swim meets.

The individual medley (IM) -- I was not so good at. I usually came in last. Endurance was not my skill. I was a swimming sprinter. (As it turns out, this would rapidly change as I grew up. Sprints would become a skill of the past, and endurance would only marginally improve. True of swimming and running.)

I dreaded the IM. I was asked to do it every time. Ugh, I hated it. I hated being last. I hated being tired after being last. I hated the breast stroke. I always lost because of the breast stroke. I don't know what was so hard about it, but I was terrible. Just terrible.

Swimming practice involved the following. A free-for-all for about thirty minutes. Swim until you can swim no more. Then swim in various competitions with friends. Then another free-for-all. After this two-hour session, attempt and fail to get out of the pool. No matter. That's when they opened the pool anyway.

Going to the pool in Tekamah was THE social event for kids in the summer. That's how I kept up with everyone. Otherwise, I was at home doing some various chores (or more often, not doing those chores), or playing football, basketball, or some concoction of a sport involving a ball with the neighbors. I preferred "gutter ball" at the pool, though. Throw a wiffleball into the opposing gutter of the pool, protected by a various number of friendly opponents. You know those movies or TV shows where the nerd with no sports skills was always picked last on a team? That was me, and there was a reason.

I adapted to this lack of skill by becoming seriously amused at other people's insane obsession with winning meaningless sports competitions. When others would mock my lack of skills, I typically just mocked myself. Quickly, I was no longer chastised and would soon be the one doing the chastising. Sometimes, not caring is an advantage.

But I did care about those lifeguards. Dunking a friend in the pool was easily my most common pool vice. But those twirling whistles. Such power! And the lifeguard would come over, tell me to quit being a brat, and sit back down staring at me. True love.

Soon, the sun was setting, my skin was shriveled like a worn sandy beach, and I trudged myself out of the pool into the smelly locker room past the lifeguard office out to my undersized bike, and rode slowly home. The forecast for tomorrow: Rain and 60s. Didn't matter. Every day was a pool day.