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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The First Monday in October

“The Supreme Court begins its new term [October 1] as bitterly divided as it has ever been. There are three hardened camps: four very conservative justices, four liberals, and a moderate conservative, Justice Anthony Kennedy, hovering in between. The division into rigid blocs is unfortunate, because it makes the court seem more like a political body than a legal one. Justice Kennedy’s tendency to vote with the most conservative justices also means that there is a real danger the court will do serious damage to important freedoms this term.” So begins The New York Times’ editorial in Sunday’s edition.

The fear of the Court rendering rulings that are (shudder) conservative is palpable. What worse fate could befall the union, except maybe that somehow George Bush will find a way to remain President beyond January 20, 2009?

What The Times doesn’t understand or isn’t willing to say is that the conservatives—whom the editorial terms “very” conservative—aren’t “political conservatives,” they are “judicial conservatives,” and the liberals—whom The Times terms only “liberal”—aren’t “political liberals,” they are “judicial liberals,” and Justice Kennedy can’t decide which type of jurist he is and consequently bounces back and forth.

A “judicial conservative” is someone who reads the U.S. Constitution literally, a “strict constructionist,” one who thinks the Founders and the Framers meant what they said in the plain language that they used in the founding documents, the “original intent” of those documents. A “judicial liberal” is someone who believes that the Constitution is a “living” document, the plain language of which changes with the wind and the whims of The Times.

Nothing could be worse for The Times and other political liberals than a Supreme Court with a majority of justices who are judicial conservatives. Having a Court that is evenly split between the two judicial philosophies might be acceptable, if only the swing voter would think like a judicial liberal 95 percent of the time. The present makeup of the Court is a problem for liberals for the simple reason that so much of what they want to do to the nation is disallowed by the plain language of the Constitution.

Later, The Times frets: “Its members are not reluctant to strike down laws passed by Congress, as critics of ‘judicial activism’ are supposed to be, or reluctant to overturn the court’s precedents.” But once again there is a misunderstanding, or a deliberate misstatement. Judicial activism has to do with judges making law from the bench, not judges that over-rule bad laws. Is The Times implying that anything the Democrat-controlled Congress does should be okay? But you see, when the Supreme Court overrules a Congressional act, that is what the separation of powers concept is all about: the Court serves as a limit to the powers of the Legislative and the Executive Branches. And, of course, The Times couldn’t really blame the justices for reversing poor or improper legal precedents, could it? The newspaper criticizes President Bush for not admitting his mistakes, but criticizes the Court when it does.

And then there is this: “The court’s 4-to-4 split means that, on virtually any controversial question, Justice Kennedy decides what American law is,” The Times laments. Well, yes, that is self-evident. When you have four people who read the Constitution strictly and four people who read it loosely, what would you imagine the ninth person would do? The only other options are to have a solid majority of one judicial temperament or the other, or have a majority of justices that, like Justice Kennedy, haven’t decided which philosophy they like better. One wonders just how The Times would propose to repair this situation.

The Times editorial does nothing so well as it misinforms and spreads misunderstanding, and it makes villains out of four justices whose only wrong is reading the Constitution as it was written.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Silly Season is at Last Coming to an End

The most notable thing to come from the Democrat’s debate the other night was to watch how the candidates dealt with the hard questions.

Pulling troops out of Iraq was the most eye-opening issue, showing that a few of the front-runners finally realize that the popular answers aren’t sensible answers. Senators Clinton and Obama, and former Senator Edwards suddenly have begun to equivocate on their prior rash comments, and only those with little chance of winning the nomination are willing to stick with the silly and unrealistic answer that they would pull troops out ASAP.

The luxury of an extended campaign period of truly ridiculous proportions is slipping away, and sloppy thinking and foolish comments about things like the Iraq situation that were designed to excite those described by Wes Pruden as “the angry, the frustrated and the gullible,” just won’t wash anymore, as the first official votes grow closer.

From this point forward the debate will begin to grow more serious, and the answers to questions will be more carefully framed. Feeding red meat to the wild-eyed partisans is over, except for the fringe candidates who will grasp at any tactic that will help them gain relevance, and you can expect the wild-eyed partisans to start “eating their own” when the answers they want to hear aren’t the answers they get.

The fun is just beginning.

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On Blogging

One of the things I like about blogging is the opportunity for debate on issues that I think are important, and that is why I place such a high priority on the comments that readers leave on my columns. Observations has a small but loyal set of readers whose comments I value highly, and I especially appreciate that they often do not agree with me, as it gives me the opportunity to perhaps see points I haven’t thought about.

Regulars have probably noticed that there are some topics that I address fairly often, such as journalism, global warming, government’s rights and wrongs, crime and punishment, cultural issues, etc.

Whether people do or do not comment has become an item of fascination for me. It isn’t unusual for a column that I expect to get a lot of comments to receive only a couple, or perhaps none and, conversely, sometimes a column that I think won’t get many will get a bunch. My most recent effort, a piece that dealt with both journalism and global warming, surprisingly hasn’t had a comment, whereas the piece on Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia University had a bunch, and both of those surprised me. What all of this means, apparently, is that I really don’t have a clue as to what people think is interesting or important.

I also continue to be surprised at the exotic variety of locations that people who visit Observations connect to the Internet from, and have posted pieces on that occasionally. Here are some recent results, some not so exotic, but new, and some from you regulars:

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Redmond, Washington

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom

Bene Beraq, Tel Aviv, Israel

Madrid, Spain

Raleigh, North Carolina

Williamsburg, Virginia

Oleiros, Galicia, Spain

Buford, Georgia

Framingham, Massachusetts

Portland, Oregon

Colleyville, Texas

Lewisville, Texas

Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Little Rock, Arkansas

Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas

Quezon, Nueva Ecija, Philippines

Syracuse, New York

Coventry, Rhode Island

Shepley, Kirklees, United Kingdom

Belfast, United Kingdom

Bensalem, Pennsylvania

Honolulu, Hawaii

Buffalo, New York

Spanish Fort, Alabama

Wouldn’t it be great if even half of them left comments?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Best Kept Secret

It isn’t a secret that the globe is warming. A large group of environmental advocates loudly proclaims that Mankind is responsible for this increase, and that isn’t a secret, either. What is a secret is that while global warming may be a reality, there is no convincing proof, or even a consensus among authorities, that Man’s activities are the cause and, furthermore, many authorities do not think the tiny increase is a bad thing. If only sensitive national security information was as well protected as the unpopular side of the global warming controversy. Professional coverage of the global warming debate by the media would arm the American people and prepare them to make sensible, well-informed decisions about how to address this issue and related issues, or whether anything really needs to be done. Media grade: D-, and that’s charitable.

The result of the media’s disgraceful performance is that the hysterical rhetoric of the global warming fanatics is primarily what Americans and our leaders hear, and in the absence of the opposing view, otherwise sensible people are manipulated into supporting measures that address a situation that doesn’t exist, somewhat like having the fire department go to a house and start spraying it with water and breaking through the roof to fight a non-existent fire.

Some people think that even if the threat has been overstated, taking measures to reduce greenhouse emissions by driving less, buying more fuel efficient vehicles, changing to blended fuels, using solar energy, and other such things, are smart and should be done anyway. However, while these measures certainly won’t hurt the environment, they really won’t help it, either. But worse, when people operate under false premises, they make bad decisions and implement measures that are neither called for nor beneficial, and will certainly raise the cost of living and therefore lead to lower living standards.

For example, Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan) wants a 50-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline to help persuade people to drive less, and also wants to eliminate the mortgage tax deduction on what he calls "McMansions," homes that are 3,000 square feet and larger, because larger homes use more energy. Perhaps if Mr. Dingel had read the following information from the National Center for Policy Analysis, he would realize that neither of those measures is called for:

** "Over long periods of time, there is no close relationship between CO2 levels and temperature."

** "Humans contribute approximately 3.4 percent of annual CO2 levels," meaning that humans do not produce the vast majority of CO2.

** "There was an explosion of life forms 550 million years ago (Cambrian Period) when CO2 levels were 18 times higher than today. During the Jurassic Period, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, CO2 levels were as much as nine times higher than today."

** “Polar bear numbers increased dramatically from around 5,000 in 1950 to as many as 25,000 today, higher than any time in the 20th century."

But, Rep. Dingell must not have read this information, and that is likely because he would have had to hunt for it, rather than having the media tell him about it.

Damning evidence of the media’s incompetence and bias continues to mount, and specific instances of malfeasance—such as The New York Times’ recent sweetheart deal for a slanderous politically oriented ad—and CBS News broadcasting a fabricated story about President Bush, paint a picture of spectacular disservice.

Everyone is upset that Michael Vick engaged in dog fighting and killing dogs, but are mostly silent about the strong likelihood that the organs they depend upon for vital information are corrupt.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Columbia's Folly

I was surprised when I got in the car today and turned on my XM radio to the Spencer Hughes “Fox Across America” show, a program I often listen to when I’m driving in the afternoon. I get a little irritated with Hughes’ abruptness with callers, but that really isn’t all that unusual among talk show hosts, and although he is a fairly conservative guy, I find some of his positions disagreeable.

Today was one day when I disagreed with him, and it was on the topic of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address at Columbia University. Hughes was all upset that some people didn’t want Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, and tried to paint it as a free speech issue, and he complained that it was therefore improper for the state and federal government to cut off funding to Columbia on that basis.

But this isn’t a free speech issue. Our Constitution guarantees certain unalienable rights to Americans, the right to free speech among them. However, even if Ahmadinejad is entitled to speak freely when he is in the United States because of the freedoms our Constitution guarantees, that guarantee does not include providing a forum for speaking, particularly one such as Columbia University.

We ought to all be upset at Columbia’s hypocrisy, inviting Ahmadinejad to speak, but denying Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president who got in trouble over some relatively innocuous remarks about females. Does Summers not have at least as much a right to speak at Columbia? We ought to be upset that Columbia will not allow military recruiters on campus, but invites the Iranian president to speak. We ought to be upset that Columbia gave Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist a forum in which to speak, and then allowed the audience to shout him down. It is a legitimate objection to oppose Ahmadinejad on the basis of Columbia’s hypocrisy.

It is further fair game to oppose Columbia for its bad judgment in honoring an enemy of our nation, and a terrorist whose nation funds and arms the Iraq insurgents, by giving him a forum in which to spout his anti-US venom. We have little defense when our own citizens go to foreign countries and badmouth us, like the badly confused Congressman Dennis Kucinich recently did in Syria, and self-absorbed boobs like Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte did in Venezuela a while back. It’s is part of the freedoms we protect for people to do stupid things if they want to. But we don’t have to allow foreigners to come here and do it, and it is stupid in the extreme to invite them to do so. And, by the way, does Columbia intend to reimburse New York and the federal government for the security costs involved in this fiasco?

So, if someone in the New York legislature and someone else in the Congress wants to introduce a bill to take funding from Columbia for its hypocrisy and bad judgment, I say, “go for it,” and I hope they succeed.

Some submit that the upshot of all of this, after Ahmadinejad got finished blathering and dodging questions, is that the kids at Columbia will see him for what he is, and he will have lost face by coming here. Maybe so. But in other places around the world, he will have grown in stature and reputation by coming to the land of the Great Satan, and putting America in its place.

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The Wit and Wisdom of the Athletic World

I just had to post these; they are too good!!

Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson on being a role model: "I wan'all dem kids to do what I do, to look up to me. I wan' all the kids to copulate me."

"New Orleans Saint RB George Rogers when asked about the upcoming season: "I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first."

And, upon hearing Joe Jacobi of the 'Skins say: "I'd run over my own mother to win the Super Bowl," Matt Millen of the Raiders said: "To win, I'd run over Joe's Mom, too."

Torrin Polk, University of Houston receiver, on his coach, John Jenkins: "He treats us like men. He lets us wear earrings." (My personal favorite)

Football commentator and former player Joe Theismann in 1996: "Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."

Senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: "I'm going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes."

Bill Peterson, a Florida State football coach: "You guys line up alphabetically by height." And, "You guys pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle.

Boxing promoter Dan Duva on Mike Tyson hooking up again with promoter Don King: "Why would anyone expect him to come out smarter? He went to prison for three years, not Princeton."

Stu Grimson, Chicago Blackhawks left wing, explaining why he keeps a color photo of himself above his locker: "That's so when I forget how to spell my name, I can still find my clothes."

Lou Duva, veteran boxing trainer, on the Spartan training regime of heavyweight Andrew Golota: "He's a guy who gets up at six o'clock in the morning regardless of what time it is."

Chuck Nevitt, North Carolina State basketball player, explaining to Coach Jim Valvano why he appeared nervous at practice: "My sister's expecting a baby, and I don't know if I'm going to be an uncle or an aunt."

Frank Layden, Utah Jazz president, on a former player: "I told him, 'Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?' He said, "Coach, I don't know and I don't care." (Sounds like a Stephen Wright line.)

Shelby Metcalf, basketball coach at Texas A&M, recounting what he told a player who received four F's and one D: "Son, looks to me like you're spending too much time on one subject." (Completely wasted on the player in question.)

Amarillo High School and Oiler coach Bum Phillips when asked by Bob Costas why he takes his wife on all the road trips, Phillips responded: "Because she is too ugly to kiss good-bye."

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

“Alternative” News Sources

This week’s “Parade” magazine featured a piece on Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” a program that mixes news-of-the-day with satire. I kind of like Colbert, and also John Stewart, whose “The Dailey Show” Colbert first appeared on. However, and at the risk of being labeled a stick-in-the-mud, or some equal-but-hipper criticism, I believe that these programs contribute to the sad political atmosphere we have to deal with.

“Why?” you may ask, would I take such a ridiculous position? Isn’t comedy a staple of our society, and isn’t political humor and lampooning elected officials a tradition as long-standing as the republic itself? Well, the answers are “yes” and “yes.” The problem isn’t with Colbert or Stewart, or Leno or Letterman or O’Brien or any of the other comics who focus their sharp wit on our elected and appointed leaders.

We live in a time of great political divisiveness, greater than at any time in my lifetime, and accompanying that divisiveness is a fairly broad ignorance (or abandonment) of what constitutes acceptable, sensible and productive discourse. Perhaps the best of the current examples of how vile and in-the-gutter political “discussion” has sunk to is the idiotic and insulting ad by MoveOn.org attacking General David Petraeus, ably abetted by The New York Times, which now says it “may” have erred in giving MoveOn a sweetheart deal on the price of the ad. Such low-style tactics and language have become commonplace in today’s political debate, which is a shame. It’s a shame because it demonizes those with whom classless (an artless) individuals and organizations like MoveOn disagree instead of trying to persuade people through serious debate that the opponents are wrong.

Combine this devolution from sensible discourse to the playground behavior we have today with a mainstream media that has lost the war to tell us what’s going on in an objective, fair, and balanced way, and the problem becomes seriously magnified. Add into this bewildering mix a large segment of our population that is self-absorbed and lazy, and that—incredibly—thinks shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are reporting the news, and we have recipe for a great lack of knowledge of what’s going on in the world, and a high degree of misunderstanding about world and national events and issues. We can’t blame Colbert, Stewart and the others, of course; these programs are not intended to inform, they are intended to entertain, and if the truth gets skewed or trampled, well, so what? And, if people are too lame to realize that they are watching comedy, not news coverage, no big deal.

Maybe, given that so many don’t take their responsibility to be informed seriously, or who can’t disagree without malice and behaving like children, we ought to marvel that things aren’t worse.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday

Today was not a great day, for me. First, the rain continued, the outer fringes of a tropical depression in the Gulf that would have been called “Jerry” if it had reached the level of a tropical storm, but didn’t.

So the day was dreary, and it was the last full day on Hilton Head Island, so it was less than ideal. But, undeterred, we did some computer stuff, some prep for the trip home and went out to One Hot Mama’s for lunch. OHM is a BBQ joint, and we both had the platter that featured some pulled pork and some beef brisket accompanied by a pile of fries and a small piece of what they called “honey jalapeño corn bread” that was okay, but had too much honey and not enough jalapeño. The meats were good, and the homemade sauces were pretty good, too. Unfortunately, as I wouldn’t realize until later, there was too much food on that platter, even though we each brought some of it home with us.

I was very tired in the afternoon—I just felt very unmoved to do much of anything—so I napped a little, and Diane headed out to shop. It’s just as well; I just slow her down. I answered a comment from War Mule and emailed it to him after my nap, and did some work on the band CD I’m working on, and then tried to narrow down the choices for dinner.

We decided to go to one of the three places we had on our list when we went to Catch 22 the other night. It was called The Black Marlin Bayside Grill, formerly Hemmingway’s Bayside Grill; apparently the name change was either requested or demanded by the Hemingway Society (I have forgotten what I read about that, and too much time looking for it has turned up nothing. AND, it isn’t really important).

Anyway, after being seated in a quaint and private little cubbyhole, we found that Jolivet Attitude wine on the list that we had last night, and ordered a really good appetizer, a potato rellano, which was essentially a fried potato ball with a ground beef filling and a “picadillo” sauce on top, and an ailoli sauce on the side. Really, really good; the aioli was quite spicy (meaning “hot!”).

Entrée-wise, Diane had a Bloody Mary Ribeye, which was flavorful, but not a great choice. I wrestled with my decision, considering no less than five seafood choices before deciding on a Parmesan Encrusted Talapia, topped off with shrimp and scallops, with rice and a substitute vegetable of asparagus. It was very good, but not better than the snapper at Catch 22.

A stop at Publix for a couple of things, and back to the apartment for some TV and trip prep.

So, tomorrow, the idyll ends and it’s a 7-hour trip home, and maybe longer, as there are a couple of stops we want to make. I want to stop at JR’s Outlet for cigars, and who knows exactly what Di has in mind.
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Questionable News Reporting

President Bush speaking about the US economy at a news conference on Thursday said that inflation is down, markets are steady, unemployment is relatively low, exports are up and corporate profits seem to be healthy. "I say that the fundamentals of our nation's economy are strong," he told reporters at the White House.

Later, he was asked about concerns by some economists that the housing slump and higher mortgage costs could lead to a recession even in spite of action earlier this week by the Federal Reserve to cut short-term interest rates by a half-percentage point. Bush responded that "[t]here is no question that there is some unsettling times in the housing market and credits associated with the housing market," but said he didn't see that spreading to the broader economy.

So, President Bush believes our economy is strong, even though the housing market has seen some recent isolated difficulty. Fair enough.

But guess how the Associated Press headlined a story by Terence Hunt about Bush’s comments?

Bush: “Unsettling Times” for Economy

That headline is clearly misleading; it is not what the President said.

Is that fallacious headline the result of incompetence, or of bias?

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Thursday

The rain we had been expecting came today, and stuck around pretty much all day. As it turned out, that didn’t really make much difference, as I had a meeting I had planned to attend, and Diane wanted some time to shop, so she did and I did, and it all worked out just fine.

Dinner tonight was the one we had waited for, at Red Fish, a place that the interim president at the college put us onto last year. It is upscale cuisine, if not upscale attire or upscale pricing. Red Fish has the best wine list we have seen, so comprehensive that it reminded us how little we really know about wines. Actually, there are two lists, and the one, called the Cellar List, had only one wine that we recognized (but couldn’t afford), and none less than $65, a little too high for our needs. Come to think of it, we didn’t recognize most of those on the lower level wine list, either, so, being the smart folks that we are, we asked our waiter, Ryan, for his advice. And his advice was right on the money, pointing us to a very good, but not expensive sauvignon blanc called “Attitude.”

We started off with a cheese plate that went well with the wine, and Diane ordered the Crispy Ashley Farms Free Range Brick Chicken that featured Caribbean spices, boursin grits, asparagus and roasted garlic jus. It was awfully good. I went for one of the specials, and what appealed to me was that the main element was accompanied by a shrimp and lobster cake. As it turned out, the shrimp and lobster cake was too spicy to fit well with the smooth lobster cream sauce on the Mong chong fish filet. But the Mong chong was great. We had a dessert wine and a dessert, she a peach bread pudding, and he (me) a triple berry trifle. Both were very good. After two hours in Red Fish, we waddled out to the car and headed home.

Tomorrow is the last day, and we have to try to fit everything else into one day. It should be interesting.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wednesday

We went out to the beach this morning, and found it too breezy again. We sat down for a while, anyway, and took a few photos. We spent two sessions at the pool, with a lunch in the apartment in between, and throughout the afternoon the clouds moved in and blotted out the sun.

Dinner was at Tapas, which is both the name of the place and the style of dining. Tapas dining features entrees cut down to the approximate size of an appetizer, allowing you to sample more than one entrée without stuffing yourself. These folks know how to do a wine list, and they also have what’s on the list in stock. They also realize that you don’t store red wines on the beach.

We decided to order one thing that each of us wanted, and one thing that we both agreed on, plus a small salad. Diane won the salad round, even though my Spring Mix Salad with blue cheese, spiced pecans and fresh pears in orange vinaigrette was pretty good. Her Raspberry Spring Salad with fresh greens topped with candied almonds, feta, cranraisins and fresh raspberry vinaigrette was better.

She also won round one of the entrees, with Sourmash Chicken, a chicken breast with country ham, bourbon, caramelized onions and cream was succulent, while my Tornado Vernoff, which was a grilled filet mignon with caramelized garlic, deglazed with brandy and Madeira wine, then blended with demi-glace was pretty tasty, but took a distant second place.

However, I prevailed on the second entrée with the Grand Marnier Duck, which was a duck breast with pears and grapes napped with a grand Marnier sauce. Her Pork Apple Jack, a pecan encrusted tenderloin sautéed with apples, brandy and demi-glace was also tasty. All in all, a very good dinner, and a nice recovery from Tuesday night’s less-than-spectacular effort.

Then, it was off to the Old Oyster Factory to see whatever sunset could break through the seriously overcast sky. Hilton Head Island has the mainland on the northwest side, separated by Calibogue Sound, a narrow, curvy stretch of a waterway, and the Atlantic on the southeast side. In the middle is a very large marshland that nearly cuts completely through the island. On the marsh is where the Old Oyster Factory is located, and it is a very picturesque location. Along with a Bailey’s and coffee, we enjoyed the sunset, which managed against heavy odds to be right pretty.

After a stop by the Fresh Market to pick up some stuff for breakfast, it was back to the apartment for some M.A.S.H. episodes and a little email and Internet catch-up. Tomorrow there’s a 70 percent chance of rain. We’ll hope the 30 percent prevails.

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Tuesday

Another nice day, but a little breezy, so we didn’t even attempt the beach and spent a little while at the pool. We did go to the beach in the afternoon, but only to see how windy it was, and thought there was a stiff breeze, it wasn’t blowing the sand around like before. Maybe Wednesday will be the day at the beach. Finally.

We had lunch at the Wild Wing Café, a favorite spot that features, in addition to other things, 32 kinds of wings. Having eaten too much, I stayed in during the afternoon while Diane shopped.

We decided to go to Sticky Fingers for dinner. It’s a chain of 15 BBQ places across the southeast, and is generally a good place to go. It was less so, today. Immediately upon entering the service area we were greeted to the screams of a child far too young to be in a place where adults go to eat a peaceful meal, and were seated next to a group that had a 4 year-old that was too noisy, and instead of being quieted down by her parents, was encouraged in the noise-producing activity. It could’ve been worse, though.

Diane and I are “experienced wine drinkers,” which is somewhere between being a rookie and a connoisseur, more toward the middle than the expert end. We know a little about wine and brands, so we are a little choosy about what we order, and in places like Sticky Fingers, which sells a lot more beer than wine, we often find ourselves faced with buying a mediocre or lower quality wine, or trying something we’ve never heard of. Predictably, SF didn’t have the one of the two cabernets on the menu and we didn’t want the other one. The waiter said she’d go check the stock, and returned to tell us that the pickings were slim. But we selected what we thought was the best option, ordered our food, and waited.

The food came quickly, perhaps a little too quickly, being just a minute or two later than the unknown wine. You may know that red wine is intended to be drunk at “room temperature,” which is a bit misleading. The “room temperature” rule developed a few centuries back, when stone castles were typically around 55-60 degrees, and that is the ideal temperature range for reds. Anyway, the wine was warmer than the ribs. I think they stored it outside. You normally swirl a red wine in the glass to introduce some air to it, which softens the hard edges, especially in inexpensive red wines. In this case there was a second reason to swirl the wine: to cool it down to a drinkable temperature.

The meal was decent, though less than we had grown to expect from Sticky Fingers.

It was back to the room around 8 and watched two very good science shows on Georgia Public Television on the universe, a topic that has fascinated me since I was young.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Global Warming: The Fallacy Laid Bare

[Editor's Note:] Click on the photo for a larger version]

Every once in a while you stumble on a statement that really clicks with you. It has profound meaning, and says things that you have wanted to say, but does it better than you can do. The following statement is one of those; marvelously well written, it captures the sentiment as well as anyone could.

“Future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early twenty-first century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree, and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly uncertain computer projections combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a roll-back of the industrial age.”

That statement describes as perfectly as humans can the current state of global warming mania that grips the globe, and what is important about it, other than its common sense perspective, is that it was written by a very credible scientist, not a mere conservative global warming disbeliever like me. The author, Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, is a MIT Atmospheric Sciences professor, a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, and also a former lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those are Blue Ribbon credentials that every sensible person will acknowledge.

No doubt some readers will dispute the professor’s position—despite his experience, training and expertise—but that does nothing to lessen the impact of his words and the truth they represent. The environmental extremists don’t want to know the precise state of the environment, could care less about how the current temperature fluctuations fit into the historical record and don’t care about such inconvenient truths. They are convinced that catastrophe is just around the corner and that if we don’t radically change the way we live, we will destroy the planet, or at least the life forms it supports.

Fortunately for the rest of us, there are hundreds or thousands of well-informed experts like Dr. Lindzen who dispute the foolishness of the global warming lobby, if we only have sense enough to listen to them.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday

Well, I got an earlier start today than yesterday, about 7:30. We had some coffee and a little breakfast and decided to go out on our own and find out how to get to the beach on foot. That really wasn’t difficult; just a matter of a little common sense and a 20-minute walk. I still don’t understand why The Shipyard plantation doesn’t furnish little amenities like that for their guests. It was a nice day: sunny, but not too warm, but a little breezy.

When we got to the beach we found another day of sand blasting; just too much wind at the beach for comfort. So we headed back to the room and got ready to go out and about. We shopped a little (for me, any shopping is a lot) and had lunch at Giuseppi’s, which I alluded to earlier. In the afternoon, we spent a little time in the sun, and then explored the options for dinner. We decided on Catch 22, an interesting looking seafood place.

What a great choice! Our waiter was Keith, a transplanted Kentuckian who for the last 15 years has waited tables at night and ridden kite boards during the day. As it turns out, not every one is bummed out by the high winds on the beach, and Keith is one of them. He told us that the combination of high surf (a result of the wind) and the stiff breeze gives him and his fellow kite boarders a hot time on the waves. Well, at least someone likes these stiff breezes. Today, he said, he and his fellow kite boarders were able to fly up to 50 feet above the ocean. Wow!

Back to dinner: Diane had the Pecan-Crusted Free Range Chicken, served with jalapeno corn cake, green beans and peach chutney. It was goooood. I found myself stuck between five different entrees, and Keith resolved the issue by recommending the one that was one of Chef Bryan’s specials for the night, Potato Encrusted Yellowtail Snapper “served over baby arugula with Vidalia onion, vine ripened tomatoes and lump crap with a honed basil vinaigrette.” It was fantastic; the best so far, and it’ll be hard to beat.

After a short walk around the harbor, it was back to the room and the MASH 30th Anniversary Reunion on TV Land.

Food, So Far

In response to Steve’s pointing out how negligent I’ve been in not talking about our dinners, here’s the report so far:

Saturday evening, Scott’s Fish Market: Scott’s is on the harbor; a very nice setting, with outside tables, which we chose. Diane had fried shrimp and I had a fried seafood platter, with scallops, shrimp, white fish and a deviled crab with French fries for both of us. All in all, a very decent dinner.

Sunday evening, Marley’s Island Grille: Diane had corn chowder, then pork tenderloin with a ginger and soy glaze and a peanut dipping sauce. The corn chowder was great, and the pork was good, too, although I’m not as fond as she is of ginger. I had the Captain’s Seafood Trio, consisting of broiled scallops, grouper and crab-stuffed butter-flied shrimp, and the thing that drew me to the Trio: black beans and rice, very tasty! The whole thing was terrific.

Monday lunch, Giuseppi’s Pizza and Pasta: We went here on a recommendation from a friend, who said it was the best pizza he’d ever had. It was good, mine was, anyway, but Diane wasn’t thrilled. Tonight, we’re headed for a seafood place with a great name: Catch 22.


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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday

I slept late today, the result of a couple of short nights last week. I got up at 10:30, surprised at how late it was. We had some coffee and a muffin—well, I had some coffee and a muffin: Diane was up and going around 8:00—and then decided to go hunt for the beach.

The place we’re staying doesn’t provide you much information about stuff like how to get to their beach, and even some of the info they do provide is wrong, like the TV listing, for example. It’s totally different than the reality.

Anyway, we asked someone how to get to the beach and headed there, and got there in about five minutes, by car. Sunny and warm, but not hot, it seemed a perfect time to lie on the beach and let the sound of the surf de-stress us, so we walked out the boardwalk toward the beach. We walked into gale-force winds that were giving the ladies ahead of us a fit trying to hold onto the little kiddie surf-boards one of them was carrying. Undaunted, we turned right down the beach. After finding a good spot, we attempted to put down a blanket, which proved impossible. The windward edge of the blanket wouldn’t stay down, and sand quickly covered everything. So, knowing Mother Nature was going to win this game, we headed back to the pool, which was much calmer.

Later, we cleaned up and went out, bought a couple of books, one on how to clean up your computer to make it perform better, and the other a book on the environment. Then, we had dinner at Marley’s Island Grille, where we both had a great meal, and after that headed to the Coligny Theater for a jazz concert.

A few years ago, after I had taken over as director of the big band I had been playing in, we had a guest artist come and play with us on our spring concert. The guy’s name was Bill Prince. I first got to know about him when I was in the Air Force, stationed at Langley AFB in Virginia. A few of us musicians headed for DC one weekend to hear Buddy Rich’s band at the Cellar Door, and Bill Prince was the jazz trumpet player. He was terrific. I lost track of him until we were setting up the spring concert, and one of the guys in the band knew him well and made the contact, and Bill came and played the concert with us. He’s an amazing guy. He played trumpet with Rich, but he initially had been offered a seat in the sax section. Turns out, he plays darned near every instrument. On our concert, he played trumpet, sax, trombone and piano, and tonight he also played flute and clarinet. Tonight’s concert was a good one, and the group backing Bill up was pretty fine, too. As it turned out, Bill remembered me, which was a surprise.

So, it was a good day. The rain I had expected didn’t come, and still hasn’t. Tropical Storm Ingrid is falling apart near South America and likely won't be a factor, so we’ll see what tomorrow holds.

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Getting There

Well, the trip down was better than I expected: no rain and a pretty nice day, all in all. The trip is about 6.5 hours of driving, and with appropriate stops took us about 7.5 hours.

Along the way we listened to some music, primarily consisting of “Best of” CDs, including Chicago, Earth, Wind and Fire 2, and the Doobies. The Doobies’ “Best of” was far and away the best of the three that we listened to, and the others were pretty good. In fact, the Doobies CD may be the best “Best Of” that I’ve ever heard. It’s just one butt-kicker after another, and only has two tracks that aren’t great.

It starts out with “China Grove,” then moves on to “Long Train Runnin’,” followed by “Takin’ It To The Streets,” and then “Listen To The Music.” Geez! It just doesn’t let up!

Next, it’s “Black Water,” “Rockin’ Down The Highway,” “Jesus Is Just Alright,” “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “South City Midnight Lady” (my least favorite), “Take Me In Your Arms,” and ends with my second least favorite, “Without You.”

The Dooby Brothers have strong and legitimate rock-n-roll credentials, going back to 1971 with their first album, even though none of their best tunes were on that one. The next year was a breakout year for them, with the release of “Toulouse Street,” the album that caught the world’s attention, and which contained “Listen To The Music,”“Rockin’ Down The Highway,” and “Jesus Is Just Alright,” three of their best ever.

The Doobies have the ability to write good songs, the way a lot of other groups and singers did, but they have the added advantage to have mixed in imagination and creativity, characteristics lacking in so many of the white rockers of those early years. There isn’t much of anything more dreadful to musicians than most of the white rock-n-roll of the late 50s/60s/early 70s. The “Best of the Doobies” CD was released in 1976, which was before a lot of other great tunes from this group were made.

Well, I digress.

The trip is Interstate all the way, expect for the last 20 miles, so it was pretty easy driving. We stopped in Statesville, NC at a favorite spot, the Carolina Barbeque, for lunch, and hit the road again. Not much traffic, until the last 3-4 miles, and except for Virginia and North Carolina (where we saw at least seven cars pulled over) the “po-lice” weren’t interfering. When we got to Columbia and hit I-26, it was smooth sailing, and the I-95 corridor from about Orangeburg to Hardeeville was a racetrack, which in my experience is the normal condition of that stretch. It isn’t unusual to see folks travelling along at the speed of major league fastballs, although it wasn’t quite that fast yesterday. The hard-driving tunes of the Doobies fit right in with that part of the trip.

We got to our room, which was better than 80 degrees when we arrived, and settled in about 5:30, and a short time later headed to Shelter Cove Harbor to get some dinner at Scott’s Fish Market, which featured a reasonably talented singer/guitarist. After resolving the Internet connection problem, we picked up some supplies, checked in with the kids, cursed our lousy cell phone service, and called it a night.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Off to the Shore

Diane has had a tough year. She’s the Administrative Assistant to the President of a local small college. In the summer of 2005 the president resigned, and an interim was brought in for a year. She liked both the old president and the interim, who was an acquaintance of mine who once lived in our town. Then the newly hired president arrived in July. She likes him, too; he is a smart, nice and driven fellow, but, needless to say, working with three different management styles in two years, in addition to the rigors of helping new people adapt has been a strain, so she’s ready for a break, and she is letting me go along.

So off we go to Hilton Head, a favorite spot of ours, tomorrow morning for a week. It’s always good to get away, and the beach is particularly relaxing this time of the year, after the families have returned home with their young children, who more and more are not taught how to behave in public.

The biggest threat at the moment is tropical storm Ingrid which has formed in the Atlantic about 710 miles to the east of the Leeward Islands; it's a long way out and is moving slow (Ingrid is that round area northeast of South America). It doesn’t appear to be much of a threat for 10 days to two weeks, and we’ll be gone by then, even if it does hit South Carolina. There’s rain heading to SC right now, so we’ll probably be in rain all the way, but that’s about the worst of it.

I’ll keep you posted, and hopefully have enough time to write some.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Frenzied Left’s Rush to Irrelevance

It is only the most recent example of liberal excess, but it is perhaps the most effective example of just how far over the edge the fringe of the political Left has fallen. MoveOn.org’s ad in The New York Times shows the world just how foolish the fringe Left has become. The ad, in case you haven’t heard about it, uses a juvenile alteration of the general’s last name to imply that the report he was about to give Congress was nothing more than lies created by the White House. What an insult to a man who has risen to the heights of the military establishment and has devoted his life to defending his country.

Move-On.org has the right to put any ad in a newspaper that the newspaper is willing to print. However, MoveOn ought to have had better sense and a far less gutter-dweller sense of appropriate political discourse than demonstrated in this vicious and slanderous ad.

But, MoveOn’s goofy thought process is not the only issue in this shameful incident. It is fair to wonder why The New York Times would print such a reprehensible advertisement. And, The Times needs to explain why it gave Move-On.org a rate for the ad that was some $100,000 less than the paper’s open rate. Newspapers frequently discount ad rates for certain organizations that qualify for it, and perhaps MoveOn qualified for a discount. However, discounting and ad that normally costs around $160,000 by $100,000 seems a little too good of a discount.

MoveOn’s ignoble ad serves to show just how far the organization has strayed from sensible public debate, and sensible Americans will recognize that and disregard anything MoveOn has to say in the future.

The New York Times, by running this dishonorable piece of gutter politics, and giving MoveOn a cherry deal on it, has demonstrated that it is little more than a shill for the radical Left.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where Do We Go From Here?

Six years ago 19 Islamic murderers hijacked four air liners and crashed three of them into buildings in New York and Washington, and the fourth one into a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly three thousand innocent people. Today, there are thousands of memorial observances and tributes to the victims of radical Muslim intolerance, and there is no need for another one here at Observations.

Instead, I want to present and discuss a comment that addresses not what happened in 2001, but about our future and the importance of the decisions we make about how we proceed.

While much of the focus continues on Iraq, an equally important war must be prosecuted and won at home. Like a vast shell game, we must find the Islamofascist pea inside growing numbers of pods. Is the mosque down the street from you peaceful, or a sanctuary for terrorist plots? Is the Islamic school teaching peaceful religion, or jihad? Is the government monitoring them, in spite of opposition to such things from “civil libertarians”?

In that comment, columnist Cal Thomas identifies the most serious threat America has to deal with if it is to survive: the growing threat of the perverse Muslim element bent on our destruction that exists within our own borders. Addressing how the nation deals with this threat, Thomas continued:

How many civil libertarians exist in the type of society OBL wishes to impose on us? If bin Laden succeeds, the ACLU will be among the first organizations crushed, after appropriate thanks for helping to make the takeover possible.

Thomas is right: If we allow ideologues on the Left to control our response and thwart efforts to defend ourselves against this very real threat, our demise will be hastened.

Opponents of efforts at self-defense cite infringement on individual rights and freedoms, real and imagined, of intelligence measures designed to find terrorists before they strike. They say we cannot sacrifice any of our freedoms for any length of time. Our safety is not more important than our freedom, they say.

However, if terrorists succeed in unleashing more attacks on the United States, killing and injuring hundreds or thousands more Americans, of what value will that passionate defense of individual freedom have been to those hundreds or thousands?

Americans appreciate the freedoms they have, and none of us wants to lose them. However, if we are sensible, vigilant and aggressive in our efforts to find and root out these pockets of fundamentalist Islamic intolerance planning to end our way of life, we can thwart most terrorist acts before they are carried out. And the tiny concession of freedom that we sacrifice will have been worth it, if not to the individual freedom ideologues, at least to those whose lives and safety were protected.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

More on bin Laden

Nobody seems to know precisely what to make of the recent video by Osama bin Laden. Some think it contains signals, others think it is timed to coincide with tomorrow’s anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.

The Associated Press said this: “Osama bin Laden's latest message is a hodgepodge of anti-capitalist vitriol, impassioned Islamic evangelism and what can best be described as a twisted attempt at reconciliation: Join us, or we'll kill you.

“Analysts say the video that came out days before the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is more about timing than substance, an attempt by history's most wanted fugitive to thumb his nose at the forces arrayed against him and remind the world that he hasn't been caught.

“Despite widespread fears, al-Qaida has so far failed to launch a second attack on the scale of Sept. 11, and many believe the video message — bin Laden's first since 2004 — was also an attempt to stay relevant.”

Conspiracy theories abound, and bin Laden is the subject of some that claim he is dead and that efforts to make it appear that he is still alive are the responsibility of everyone from al Queda, to the Taliban, to the Bush administration.

One account from a few years ago said this: “Osama bin Laden is dead. The news first came from sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan almost six months ago: the fugitive died in December [2001] and was buried in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan. Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, echoed the information.”

An account from the French regional daily L’Est Republicain a year ago reported that Saudi intelligence services have determined that bin Laden died of typhoid in August.

There aren’t any recent stories about bin Laden’s death that I have found, however.

I have only seen reports of the new video in the media, and it is therefore difficult to tell much about. I find it curious, however, that bin Laden, who if still alive and making new movies, obviously has access to video equipment, but apparently only has one change of clothes. His attire is the same as the last video three years ago. Now, perhaps there is some religious or cultural significance to the clothing he is wearing, but his beard is trimmed short and his hair and beard have been dyed dark brown. That’s a little odd. Maybe ol’ Osama has a new girlfriend, or is looking for one.

When we remember that today’s technology enables manipulation of images and sounds such that it is often difficult and sometimes impossible to tell that modifications have been made, it is entirely possible that the tape is a fake.

But whether bin Laden is dead or alive does not reduce the effectiveness of these tapes; they either contain coded messages or they don’t, and they can accomplish their goal either way.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Weekend Chuckle

This is pretty good, even if you are an atheist:

There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone brother
2. He liked Gospel
3. He didn't get a fair trial

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father's business
2. He lived at home until he was 33
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with His hands
2. He had wine with His meals
3. He used olive oil

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.

But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 proofs that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Elusive bin Laden

Six years after the 9-11 attacks Osama bin Laden is in the news again, and everyone is paying attention to him and the video that it supposedly heralds. Does it signal a potential new attack? Will it contain some hidden coded message that will direct Islamic whackos to unleash murder and mayhem against the US, perhaps inside our borders? Is it just an effort by the whackos to get everyone all upset?

An interesting new element in the hype surrounding this new video is a photo of bin Laden showing his beard both shorter and darker than in the last “Dial ‘ObL’ for Murder” production, which experts have offered different opinions about, including that the photo has been “PhotoShopped,” that it is an Arabic/Islamic trait to darken beards (which I seriously doubt), and other similar things.

Of course, no one knows what the video means until it is released, and we may not know very much after it is released. Even so, among the residue of the bin Laden resurfacing is new criticism of the Bush administration for not having caught or killed the murderous coward. It should surprise no one that renewed criticism of Mr. Bush has arisen; the manic Left and juvenile Democrats criticize him for doing something, not doing something and even for continuing to draw breath. But the issue of whether bin Laden should have been caught or killed warrants re-examination.

Many, if not most, Americans believe that the US military is the best in the world, and when it suits their purposes, even Democrats and liberals make this claim. Now is one of those times. “Bush should have stayed out of Iraq and focused on the war in Afghanistan and hunting for bin Laden,” is one frequent comment. The clear implication, of course, is that our military and our intelligence apparatus (frequently the butt of criticism) would definitely be able to accomplish this task. “How can we have failed to find a six-four, four-inch Arab in an area of the world where men mostly grow to far less than six feet in height?” is another.

Perhaps a more determined effort might have captured him, and perhaps it is a legitimate criticism of the President that we haven’t caught him. But we need to think about a couple of things while we are considering how to feel about this situation. First, maybe it isn’t as easy to find one person hiding in the mountainous terrain along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, who is a local hero fiercely protected by his own entourage and the local tribes, as critics like to think it is. And maybe, as President Bush said a couple of years ago, finding bin Laden isn’t the most important focus for our attention.

Is bin Laden really the “brass ring,” the “blue-ribbon trophy,” the most important target for America? Or is he merely the evil symbol of radical fanatic dolts who believe Allah really told them through Muhammad that they have the duty to conquer or kill those who believe otherwise? Is bin Laden even still alive?

Interesting questions, I think.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

America's uninsured

Editor's Note: The following column is the one referenced in the preceding post that was posted on Spero News.


We hear, read and see a good bit about the 47 million Americans who do not have health insurance, and it is implied that this is a scandalous shortcoming of our society, or of our government, or of our capitalist system, or some such thing. Often accompanying these news stories is anecdotal evidence consisting of personal stories of a few of the 47 million unfortunate Americans that cannot afford to buy a health insurance policy. The implicit message being sent is: “These Americans, your friends and neighbors, do not have health care.”

America’s uninsured are in the news again, by virtue of a Census Bureau report released late last month showing that, as The Washington Post put it, “The nation's poverty rate declined last year for the first time this decade, but the number of Americans without health insurance rose to a record 47 million,” or to about 16 percent of the population. The Post told its readers that “The figures also reflect a continuing decline in employer-provided coverage. The percentage of people covered by employer-based health insurance fell to 59.7 percent in 2006, down from 60.2 percent in 2005. The figure was 64.2 percent as recently as 2000.”

We also learned that “the new census data show that many of the newly uninsured are working Americans from middle- and high-income families. Of the 2.2 million people who became uninsured in 2006, 1.4 million had a household income of $75,000 or higher. About 1.2 million of the newly uninsured worked full time.”

And, the story ended with this opinion from Harvard Medical School professor Stephanie J. Woolhandler: “This is about the problem of the uninsured spreading to the middle class and working people,” she said. The Post identified Woolhandler as a liberal advocate of creating a government-run national health insurance program. “That's the thing that's emerging newly this time," she concluded. Clearly, the intent of The Post’s story is to lead us to the conclusion that the solution to this crisis is socialized medicine.

Absent from this story, however, is any meaningful breakdown that helps us understand just who is uninsured, for how long, and why. Also absent is the fact that the total of 47 million is disputed.

If you really want to find the truth about the uninsured in America, a little perseverance will turn up information like this: According to Census data, a little less than 46.6 million persons in America are uninsured, not 47 million. By rounding up to the next whole number, it does bring that figure up to 47 million, but it also makes the problem seem just a little worse than it really is.

So, more accurately, 46.6 million are uninsured; 400 thousand people are not insignificant.

But the Census data also show that 9.5 million of the uninsured listed themselves as “not a citizen”: they aren’t Americans. The total now drops to 37.1 million, about 12 percent of the population.

The Census report also shows that there are 8.3 million uninsured people who make between $50,000 and $74,999 per year and 8.74 million who make more than $75,000 a year. That’s roughly 17 million people who ought to be able to “afford” health insurance. If we are concerned about the number of Americans that cannot afford health insurance, should we really count those that can afford it? Not if we are being honest, we shouldn’t.

So, 37.1, minus 8.3, minus 8.7, now leaves us with 20.1 million people without health insurance, which is approximately seven percent of the population, a far cry from the 16 percent we have been led to believe by the socialized medicine lobby and the compliant media, who either support socialized medicine or are too lazy to actually examine these claims.

We have to wonder just how large a crisis there really is.

If we believe the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is a frequent source for the mainstream media, Americans who do not qualify for current government programs and who make less than $50,000 a year total somewhere between 13.9 million and 8.2 million, no more than 5 percent of the population. Furthermore, according to the Congressional Budget Office, 45 percent of uninsured people will be uninsured for less than four months.

Which brings us to the ultimate question: Does it make any sense to destroy a health care system that 5 out of 100 people do not have adequate access to? Rational people will, of course, say “no.”