Thursday, April 18, 2013

Common Sense

The death of a child is a tragedy. The death of an adolescent is a tragedy. The death of a teen is a tragedy. The death of an adult is a tragedy. The death of a senior citizen is a tragedy. Let's face it, to someone, somewhere, the loss of any human life is tragic. Unfortunately, many politicians have decided that some deaths are more tragic than others, for nothing more than furthering their own political agenda. Parading the victims of gun related violence around like trained circus monkeys is criminal. Yes, their pain is real, yes, the horrors inflicted on them are real, but is their tragedy any more tragic than that brought about by any other method?

Recently, a four month old little girl died as the result of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Take a minute and think about this. Was this crime any less horrific than what happened at Sandy Hook? I think not. Both events were the acts of a person with a very sick mind. And yet, because a gun wasn't used, there is nowhere near the coverage of the death of that little girl. There is no politician fanning the flames of public opinion on the matter, there is no politician demanding that every male be castrated least he decide to take indecent liberties with a baby...and yet, the fact remains that her death was no less horrific, no less tragic than the deaths of anyone else.

Don't get me wrong, what happened in both cases was absolutely vile and offensive, uncalled for and possibly even preventable. Mental health problems are at the core of virtually all of these heinous crimes, but instead of focusing on the real cause, we find ourselves being told that we need to blame an inanimate object for an act committed by a human.

Yesterday, a very sick individual or group of individuals decided to use a household pressure cooker, some nails, some ball bearings and other assorted benign objects to craft a series of bombs, which were then unleashed against a crowd of harmless, innocent victims. The explosions wreaked havoc,  causing the loss of both life and limb, forever changing the lives of countless people. Was there an immediate cry from anyone demanding a background check on all persons purchasing pressure cookers, nails or ball bearings? No...we instead realized that it wasn't the inanimate objects used, but the deranged mind of the perpetrators what was responsible for the carnage. Why is it that virtually everyone can understand the proper blame to assign in this instance, but they can't seem to employ the same rational thought process when a firearm is involved?

If a drunk driver runs a stop sign and crashes into a loaded school bus, killing and injuring dozens of children, do we immediately seek to ban cars? If an individual driving down the road, playing with their cell phone, plows into a crowded restaurant, do we seek a ban on phones? If someone walks into a grocery store and starts stabbing people with a butter knife, do we seek a ban on cutlery? Obviously, the answer is no. We look to the cause of the problem, the human behind the act and precede accordingly. You don't arrest cars, phones and cutlery, you arrest and prosecute the criminal that committed the act. 

Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the nation and yet gun related crimes there are statistically astronomical compared to the rest of the country. Banning guns does not stop crime, if anything, it serves to intensify it. I honestly think we need to sit down and evaluate our current laws, determine what the failing points are, and correct and (and even more importantly) enforce those laws. Something is very wrong with our system when a murderer spends less time in jail than a teenager caught with a "joint" in his pocket.

The time has come to look to some real solutions to these problems:

1. If you commit a crime with a gun, you go to jail...not for 5 minutes, but for a meaningful period of time. Twenty years sounds like a good starting point.

2. If you kill someone during the commission of a crime, you go to jail...forever. No parole, no pardon, no country club incarceration, just four cold, grey walls and eternity to reflect on your actions.

3. If you sell the gun used in the commission of a crime without following due diligence to ensure that the buyer is entitled and able to own a firearm legally, you go to jail alongside the criminal, with the same sentence.

4. Get rid of the foolish notion that banning things solves problems. (If you don't believe me, look back at history, Prohibition...didn't work, ban a book or film in Boston and you have a new best seller or the hottest movie ticket in town. There are countless other examples, but I think you get the gist of it.) Our current laws prohibit virtually all private ownership of actual military weapons. (This includes things such as machine guns, fully automatic weapons of any type, bazookas, landmines and hand grenades) Regardless of what anyone says, you can not go into any store in the United States and buy an "assault weapon".

5. Stop using the ignorant and inflammatory term "assault weapon". Shy of the military items previously mentioned, they don't exist. The term was coined to incite hype and fear. A customized gun is no more dangerous than a customized car. Composite stocks, folding stocks, hand grips and the like do no more to up the so-called "killing power" of a gun than 20" rims, low profile tires, pinstripes and carbon fiber hoods do making a '98 Buick Regal into a "race car".

6. Fix our broken system of mental health care. It is painfully obvious that our current method of treating people with mental illness like there is nothing wrong is woefully inept. Being "politically correct" and denying that mental illness exists is insane. There are people out there that need help of competent, trained professionals.

7. This one is beyond politicians. We need to get back to being responsible parents. Shutting your child in their room with the latest iteration of "Mortal Kombat" or "Call of Duty" for 16 hours a day or longer is absurd. Set boundaries, teach them that no means no, that there are consequences for their actions and stop rewarding failure. Life isn't always fair and we further complicate it when we refuse to acknowledge our children making mistakes. Part of the process of growing is learning that you are not always going to be number one.

I think we all realize that something is broken in this country. We need to fix it, but we also need to work in a reasonable fashion, addressing root causes and not trying to repair a ruptured appendix with the application of a cast. The problems facing America are not Republican or Democratic problems, they are American problems, which are best fixed by good old American ingenuity. (Surely it still exists!)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Attack on Christmas

Yet another dark veil is descending on America. In Little Rock, Arkansas, a group of citizens has decided that Charlie Brown and company is infringing on the separation of church and state. Atheists belonging to the group, Arkansas Society of Freethinkers has decided that allowing children to view the play "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is an assault on the United States Constitution.

The play is being performed at a Little Rock community church. A local school district is offering a field trip for students to attend the December 14th production. As is the case in most field trips, permission slips were sent home for the parents to approve or disapprove. While this seems like a very simple and straight-forward choice, it would appear that the "Freethinkers" are incapable of any kind of thought.

Instead of saying, "I would prefer my child not attend this program", the leadership of this group think that no child should be allowed to attend. In a classic case of the tail trying to wag the dog, a very vocal minority are trying to spoil the holiday season for the rest of America.

So many traditions are being eroded and others completely destroyed, simply to comply with the needs of a very small segment of the population. The United States Constitution guarantees Freedom of Religion. The intent of the Constitution is to preclude a State sponsored religion. Each and every American is guaranteed the right to live and worship as they please, without fear or interference from the government or any other entity. If you wish to worship a bush in your neighbor's yard as your savior, you have that right, if you wish to believe that there is no supreme being, that is also your right.

I think that we can all accept that there is no problem until one group or another decides that their "rights" supersede the rights of another group. Invariably, someone will try to twist this simple event around to mean that "Christians" are somehow trying to impose their will on others.....which is not the case at all. This is where your freedoms and rights come into play. If you do not like Christian celebrations, you have the freedom and the right to not believe in the message, the freedom and the right to look the other way and the freedom and the right to not participate on any level. What you do not have is the freedom and the right to tell other groups that their celebrations and beliefs somehow infringe on your right to have your own beliefs.

I don't know about the rest of you, but growing up, not only were we exposed to Christmas, we also learned about Hanukkah and other holiday celebrations. Not only did we discuss traditional Christian events, we discussed the events as they were viewed by others, including those people that chose not to celebrate any holiday on or near December 25th. By learning of the cultures and traditions of others, I would like to think my horizons were broadened, not poisoned as seems to be the thought process today.

I don't know a single Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian or other child that turned to stone from playing with a dradle or viewing a menorah. No Wiccan child has ever died as a result of seeing Santa Claus, no atheist has ever died from viewing a nativity scene nor has any American child of any race, creed or religion died or had their life severely impacted in a negative fashion simply by being exposed to a different set of religious values than those practiced in their home. I sure that some will take exception to that last statement, but I am speaking in the simplest of terms. Allowing a group of school kids to watch a play with a message of peace, love and understanding of all men is neither a nefarious plot to impose a religion, nor an attempt by the state to sponsor or endorse a religion.

It doesn't require a lot of thought to realize that by attempting to restrict the children's ability to see a simple holiday play, the "Freethinkers" are actually attempting to circumvent the Constitution and stretch the meaning to suit their own needs, while denying others that same opportunity. The answer is very simple, if you don't want your child to see what other cultures and religions embrace, simply don't let them attend the show. That is your right, but that is also where your right ends. These folks need to quit trying to play the Grinch, while hiding behind a false sense of Constitutional entitlement.

"Peace on earth, good will toward men." If that is a message that causes alarm among us, I am truly worried about the course our nation is following.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Victory Junction and the Old Guy on a Bike

It has been a while since I have felt inspired to write anything. Saturday changed I have a million things I want to say and I'm not sure that I can remember them all. I suppose that all I can do is give it my best shot and see what appears on the page.

For some time, I've wanted to get back into biking. I used to ride all the time and it was very relaxing. After my accident, I was a bit reluctant to get back on.....and I didn't exactly get what could be termed overwhelming support from the home front. As time passed, I found I still had the urge to ride, but there remained some doubts and questions.

In July, the urge returned with a vengeance. I finally decided to look for a cheap bike and give it a shot. (Note to self and all reading, buying a cheap bike was a huge mistake. I should have gone with my instincts and purchased a better bike right up front.) After a few weeks of looking in semi-earnest, the local Wal-Mart had a bike on sale. It looked good to I loaded it up and carted it home. Did a quick check on the assembly, made some minor adjustments and voila.....we're off!

That night, I tooled around the neighborhood until my butt was sore, then decided to call it a night. Riding became a daily ritual. Each day I rode a bit further and for a bit longer until I was just over a week in. While cruising around the neighborhood and displaying my prowess on two wheels, I ran over a rock on the roadway. Said rock turned the front wheel violently to the right causing my elbow to make hard contact with the neighbor's mailbox, which in turn, caused me to swing abruptly to the left and directly into a large rolling garbage bin. Brilliant discovery number are way better than sandals at offering protection to your feet. My sandal clad right foot impacted the garbage can in a manner not recommended to the faint of heart. The impact broke the big toe and the toe next to it, as well as ripping the nail almost completely from the big toe. There was blood....lots of it.

For a normal person, this might be the end of the story, but not for me. I managed to get myself in the house....applied liberal doses of Betadine and hydrogen peroxide, wrapped the big toe in a gauze pad to provide some cushioning, taped the two mangled toes together and went out and completed the 5 mile goal I had previously established for myself. I can tell you that the pain was pretty intense, but something told me I needed to complete the ride. It wasn't easy, but I managed to make the full 5 miles.

The following day, the foot was too sore do anything more than hobble my way to the local clinic. They took one look and said I should go to the ER or a foot specialist. I didn't think it hurt enough to merit sitting for hours at the I opted to return home and read my email. In my inbox was a message from the Victory Junction Camp telling me about a charity bike ride to raise money for the camp. Having long been my favorite charity, I decided it was time for me to really make a difference. I would begin training immediately and participate in the ride.

On the surface, this seemed like a pretty simple task. The camp offered advertised rides of 15, 30 and 62 miles in length. Given that I only had a bit over a month to prepare, I decided that signing up for the 15 mile ride would be the best plan. I sat down with some computer workout software and came up with a training program that would have me up to the 15 mile mark in short order.....and ultimately have me ready for the big event. Each day, I increased the riding times and distances until I was doing 15 miles with no problem. Riding here in the mountains seemed like a great way to prep myself for that simple charity ride down on the Piedmont. In the two weeks leading up to the ride, I alternated 10 and 15 mile rides.....10 miles at a brisk pace, 15 at a more leisurely "charity ride" pace. My toes were slowly healing and I was feeling pretty good about myself. I rode in all sorts of weather, from blazing hot to pouring rain. In the last couple of days before the event, I almost broke my arm patting myself on the back for how well I had done in the preparation department.

We need to jump back in time though, as there is a parallel track to this story. As part of the obligation associated with participating in a charity ride, you are also expected to raise money for the cause you are attempting to support. I did not immediately register to participate in the event, knowing full well that my toes and my general lack of physical conditioning could be a show-stopper. I made up my mind that when I had completed my fifth 15 mile training ride with no issue, that I could safely register and participate in the Camp Event. On August 29, I completed my fifth greater than 15 mile training day and decided that I was good to go for the event. Late that evening, I filled out my registration information and on the morning of  August 30, I officially became a registered participant. Now comes the hard part....raising money. There are some effective tools for fund raising that come with your registration. I immediately put them into action and naively expected the money to just pour in. I wasn't asking for much....hell, I told people that a buck would be great and that anything more than that would be incredible!

People began asking questions about the event and I seriously expected the floodgates to open and the donations would come pouring in. The ice was finally broken when my wonderful (and by now, very, very supportive) wife made a donation. That was followed by a donation from a friend since Kindergarten days. Ultimately, I received donations from four additional families and friends that understand just how important this cause is. If you are hung up on seeing how much I raised, I will include the link to the donation site, where your contribution will help make this story that much better!

Just to keep the story interesting, during the course of  preparation for the big ride, we were faced with Hurricane Irene, impending surgery for my wife (your thoughts and prayers on September 13 would be greatly appreciated), the anniversary of 9/11 and Tropical Storm Lee, which absolutely devastated our hometowns in upstate NY. Most of our family was out of harm's way, but our son Jon's home was extensively damaged, as was Jan's rental property next door. Jon, his wife Teresa and their two kids are fine, but their home and many possessions didn't survive. Sometimes it is very hard to be 700 miles away.

But, I digress. We worked around the distractions and decided that it was important to complete the charity ride.  At 4 a.m. on the morning of September 10, I set out for Randleman, NC and the Victory Junction Camp. The drive over was very serene and I had lots of thoughts racing through my head, not the least of which was switching from the 15 mile ride to the 30 mile ride, just because my training had been progressing so well and I was feeling great. I arrived at the front gate shortly after 8 a.m. and immediately developed a lump in my throat. Just pulling in, I could feel that I was in a very special, very important place. I snapped a few photos at the front gate and then headed to the parking and registration area.

Check-in was quick and painless....and surprise of surprises, my registration number was 43. NASCAR fans will understand the significance, but for the uninitiated, 43 is one of the numbers associated with the Petty family, most notably "King Richard". I took that as a great sign of things to come.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the drive over contemplating switching to the 30 mile ride instead of the 15, based on how well I felt and how well the preparations had gone. I ultimately decided to stick with the original plan, especially since this was my first attempt at anything like this. During the training leading up to this, I had tried to follow a similar route to the one that was laid out by the organizers on a neat little smartphone app entitled "Map My Ride".  Data gleaned from the app indicated this would be a very flat ride with only a net elevation change of  50 feet. Just walking from the parking/registration area to the starting point, it became obvious that there was over 50 feet of elevation change in just that short span. The worst was yet to come!

We had a few minutes to look around before we set out. Like most of the riders, I had a banana and a couple bottles of Gatorade to make sure we were hydrated and fueled. Everyone spent some time looking around, stretching, having the on-site mechanic double check their bikes and just generally reflecting on the surroundings. Unless you are totally numb from the hair down, I don't know how you can't get a sense of awe and respect for what a fantastic place the camp really is. It wasn't hard to understand why some very big names in sports are willing to lend their names, funds  and endorsements to the Camps. From Paul Newman to Tony Stewart to Kyle and Pattie corporate sponsors like Bass Pro Shops, Norfolk Southern, Sunoco and donations from everyday folks like you and me all go to making for a magical place. At 9:45 we had a safety briefing and thank you for participating session. I think most of us had lumps in our throats by then.

At 10 a.m., the green flag waved and we were off. The first mile wasn't too bad. Many of us learned quickly that you didn't want to try to keep pace with the boys on their fancy road bikes. A group of about 7 of us settled into a routine that we managed to keep for about 9 miles. It became painfully obvious after the first climb that the 50 elevation change bit was totally wrong. There were a number of climbs far longer and far steeper than the climb out of my development.....and I can tell you that climb has stopped a lot of people. By the time I got to mile 10, there wasn't another rider in sight. There were camera crews at several vantage points along the course as well as one crew in an ATV that followed a number of different riders along the way.

Somewhere after mile 10 one of the support vehicles followed me until the rest stop at mile 12. I was plagued by wicked leg cramps on almost every climb from mile 8 on. I can tell you, the thought of stopping crossed my mind more than once. This ride was far more complex than what I had trained and prepared for....but I found myself thinking back to the kids that I was there to support and there were no more thoughts of stopping or giving up. It became a quest, a rite and flat out necessity to finish. My GPS later showed over 585 feet of elevation differential....a far cry from the 50 in all the lead up information. The 15 mile route also turned out to be 17.89 miles, but in the didn't matter. I made it! I made the "victory lap" of the camp on completion too.

After cooling down a bit, eating some bananas and drinking copious quantities of  fluids....(did I mention the temperature and humidity? Let's just say that it added to the overall experience).....I had the opportunity to spend about 45 minutes talking with Linda, a volunteer on a regular basis. You couldn't help but be infected by her charming accounts of the kids, the camp and the whole experience. Suffice it to say, our conversation only reinforced the importance of the Camp and the value of our fund raising efforts. The dining staff then provided all the riders and guests with a fantastic luncheon, followed by a concert in the Dale Jr, Amphitheater.

Eventually the day drew to a close, we loaded up our bikes and everyone headed home....a little tired, a little sore, but with hearts filled with the joy of knowing we had been a part of something very special. I'm pretty sure I get the award for the longest travels of the day.....over 450 miles in the car and on the bike....not too bad for a somewhat out of shape 55 year old!

If you've taken the time to read this, would you please also take the time to consider a donation to Victory Junction? Big, small or in between, every bit helps.....and 100% of your donation goes directly to support the campers!

I should add this little post script. On the drive home, there was a loud explosion and my bike visibly jumped in the rack. On inspection, I discovered the front tire had blown out....there was a huge hole in both the tire and tube. I'm glad it happened when it did and not when I was flying down the final descent at nearly 40 mph....I suspect that result would not have been pretty.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Declaration of Independence

This seems a fitting post for today. The text of the most important document in American drafted by Thomas Jefferson and signed by our founding fathers. You will note, that this does not say that it is the Declaration of Independence. I will post the actual Declaration at the end.

The Unanimous Declaration
of the Thirteen United States of America

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

As signed by John Hancock and the other delegates from the 13 colonies.

And now for the actual Declaration of Independence......drafted by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and adopted by the Congress.

“these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states....and that all political connection between them and The State of Great Britain is, and of right ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Not as eloquent as the Jefferson Declaration, but far more effective in making the actual point that the 13 colonies were now in a struggle for their very lives. Happy Independence Day America!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In the Garden

The new crop of daylilies is in full bloom. The full gallery can be seen at