Posts categorized “Series”

2014 Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous (and the Funny)

January 3, 2015   12:54 pm

I missed this in 2013, and this is not a 3-post series as usual. Instead of writing a lot about each topic, I’ll give a short reason I categorized it where I did. Please make no assumptions or conclusions about what I don’t say; the fact that people are so apt to do that should probably make the “Bad” list, but not this year. Since this is a single post, we’ll lead with…

The Good

  • No Terrorism at World Stage Events - 2014 saw the Winter Olympics in Russia and the World Cup in Brazil. Neither were marred by terrorism.
  • 16 Out of 20 Ain’t Bad - Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood did not want to provide coverage for 4 of the 20 forms of “birth control” mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as they work post-conception (an “abortofacient”). The Supreme Court agreed, in a rare victory for religious freedom.
  • Plummeting Oil Prices - In spite of the current administration’s best efforts, our economy overcame them. The “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd was vindicated, as an explosion in US oil production caused prices to drop substantially. Fracking has enabled this boom while preserving the environment, and the drop in prices has hit hostile-to-us oil-based economies hard. It’s a big win-win that progressives still can’t throughly grasp.
  • Republicans Win Control of Congress - This is a qualified “good” entry, assuming that they’ll govern as they ran. Hey, there’s a first time for everything, right?
  • Tennessee Football Rises - Playing an SEC schedule and non-gimme out-of-conference games with the youngest team in FBS is a recipe for a 3-9 season; the Vols made it 6-6 (and, since this is written after their bowl, 7-6) and have great momentum for 2015.

The Bad

  • The Deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner - Neither the Brown nor Garner families had loved ones with them this Christmas that they had last Christmas. There may be speculation as to the incidents surrounding their deaths (and neither are going to trial, so we’ll likely never fully know), but even the public knowing every little detail of what happened will not bring these young men back to their families.
  • Colorado Going to Pot - The first year’s experiment with legalized marijuana has not gone well. Assurances that children will not be able to easily get it have evaporated, and nearly all the tax money it’s generated has gone to enforcement. Their governor caught some heat for saying that the citizens acted foolishly, but the facts certainly indicate he was correct in his assessment.
  • Ebola - 2014 was the year Ebola came to America. While there were some ridiculous things with how it was handled, the bad was limited, with some who contracted the disease surviving, and a new set of medical protocols helping to protect those who care for people.
  • ISIS - Nearly 10 years after being freed, Iraq fell back into enslavement thanks to a group coming in to make a hostile takeover, combined with an army that was not willing to fight for what it had won. Islamic law marches on, while Christians die, in a place where thousands of Americans gave their lives to win freedom.
  • Russian Aggression Versus Ukraine - Russia invaded and took over part of another sovereign nation. They do not appear to be done yet.

The Ridiculous

  • The Handling of the Death of Michael Brown / The Reaction to the Brown Grand Jury Verdict / The Reaction to the Garner Grand Jury Verdict - Ferguson and Missouri police handled the initial aftermath of Brown’s shooting about as poorly as you could. The riots once the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson were unnecessary and unhelpful (and unwanted by Michael Brown’s family), and the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” gesture would have been impactful had it been based in verified fact (which it was not). This was also the case where “unarmed teen” is supposed to imply harmless, peaceful, law-abiding child, but video showed a certain store owner who would dispute that characterization. Once the Garner verdict came out, there were die-ins all across the country, proving nothing, but inconveniencing people who had nothing to do with anything surrounding the case. Two dead New York policemen and one in Florida, at last reports, still hadn’t brought Michael Brown or Eric Garner back to their families. (If I have a chance, there will be much more on this in my MLK post.)

    p.s. ALL lives matter.

  • Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Missing E-mails - Under oath, and subpoena from Congress, IRS chief Lois Lerner claimed to have lost her e-mail. This was after other e-mails came out that pretty much confirmed their deliberate targeting of conservative groups leading up to the 2012 election. While those e-mails were “found” toward the end of the year, this Watergate-esque dodge was pathetic. IT does not work that way, and if it does, those people need to be fired.

  • Computer Security - This was a bad year for computer security. “HeartBleed,” “Shell Shock,” and “Poodle” were names given to long-existing exploits that were discovered in the software that runs much of the Internet. Target fessed up about how large their breach was, and Home Depot let a lot of customer information get away as well. Finally, targeted attacks released iCloud data from celebrities, while an (internal? North Korean? We don’t know yet…) attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment released salaries, movies, even e-mails among leaders and actors. (Maybe we should sic the Guardians of Peace on the IRS!) Hopefully some good will come of this; if nothing else, it will make people think about security before they trust a “cloud” service with their information.

  • Kaci Hickox - Kaci is a nurse who was exposed to Ebola. She defied quarantine, though, and created a lot of concern. While she ultimately was not found to have the disease, her foolish, selfish actions stirred up a lot of concern in her community. As a medical professional, she should have known better. But, of course, if she had, then her name wouldn’t be on some random guy’s blog in a year-in-review post, would it?

The Funny

Continuing his tradition which he didn’t miss last year, Dave Barry has his take on the year’s events.

Here’s to 2015 - let’s hope it’s a good one!

2012 Year in Review - The Good

January 2, 2013   11:00 pm

This is the first or last post of our “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. 2012 wasn’t all bad; let’s take a look at how.

The London Olympics

London got a third turn to host the modern Olympic Games in 2012, and they did an outstanding job. The facilities were all first-rate. The opening and closing ceremonies both set new high bars, being spectacular without being cheesy. Security was also successful, with no violence or terrorist acts being committed during the games. Of course, seeing USA sitting atop the medal board at the end was an added bonus.

The only thing about the games that I would change would be the coverage. I’m not going into full #NBCfail mode, but they should have found a way to televise the games as they occurred, while still preserving their prime time “here’s what we think you want to see” coverage. Rio lines up with the US, so that shouldn’t be an issue as much; evening events can be broadcast live if they wanted.

Eat Mor Hate Chicken

In July, Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, mentioned in a Baptist Press interview that the chain was supportive of the traditional definition of marriage. Judging from the reaction, you’d have thought that he had just introduced the new spicy sodomite sandwich! There were calls for all sorts of punitive actions against Chick-Fil-A, from boycotts to denying future permits. They also were attacked for giving charitable donations to “hate groups.”* So why is this on the good list?

This is here because of what happened next. A groundswell of support arose for the purveyors of fine non-cow products, culminating in “Chick-Fil-A Day,” where every single restaurant had lines around the block as people came out to show their support. The protests two days later paled in comparison to the outpouring of support for the stand the Cathy family was willing to take. Meanwhile, many in the gay community “came out” (sorry, couldn’t help it) in support of the restaurant, citing its employees’ respect for every customer, and others spoke highly of the environment as an employee. Chick-Fil-A fought back against the “you donate to hate groups” charge, and the official boycott effort went by the wayside.

In a year where “same-sex marriage” won at the ballot box, and religious groups failed to get the government to amend “health care” requirements that violate their religion, Chick-Fil-A was a nice bright spot of support for traditional marriage and the right of business people to share their beliefs.

* Just a note, activists – if you call Focus on the Family a hate group, you really should educate yourself, and close your mouth so you don’t completely destroy your credibility when you figure out how things actually are and start making sense.

MSM Exposed

Mark it down - 2012 proved that the mainstream media now makes no attempt at objective reporting. From the debate moderators, to the selective coverage of the party conventions, to the complete dearth of investigative reporting on Bengahzi, it’s like they just quit trying. When comedians other than Jay Leno are writing jokes about you, you’ve become a parody of yourself; and, when Jon “I can cuss, 'cause I’m edgy, but they can’t broadcast it” Stewart makes more sense than you do, you are an embarrassment to the craft. But, these two facts have become so self-evident that even the American people can’t miss it.

The bias is not the “good” part, but sunlight is the best disinfectant; the exposure of it (and embracing of it) is why this lands on the good list. Some journalists are starting to get it. While Jake Tapper (of ABC News in 2012, of CNN this year) has been the fairest MSMer for a while, this year saw many reporters, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, asking tough questions and refusing to allow dodging. Special recognition also goes to Univisión for their debate questions; the English-language moderators could learn from you.

Maybe we’re almost to the point where liberals will actually see why criticizing “Faux News” with supporting links from The Huffington Post and Mother Jones aren’t that convincing. And there lies the rub; you shouldn’t restrict your reading to either “side.” Read the editorials with which you disagree, as well as the ones you like. Compare story selection among several news sources, and if there is a story missing, find out why. We have the tools now to easily do it, which may be the best part of all of this. You can be as informed as you want to be.

Family Time

This past year was a great year for our family. In January, February, and March, we were able to do quite a bit of snow skiing. I and my two oldest sons conquered several black diamond runs and couple of double-blacks; I learned the trick to moguls (ski the tops, not the groove in between them); and even my 7 year old found blue and a couple of black diamond runs he could do. We’re looking forward to more of that in the next few months, as our favorite ski area is ready!

In September, we were finally able to take a family cruise where one of our stops was letting our sons swim with stingrays in Grand Cayman. Michelle and I had done that back in 2006, and wanted them to experience it. We also visited Jamaica, where we had a surprisingly good time, and I celebrated my 39th birthday in Cozumel, Mexico. We got to cruise with the same couple with whom we cruised in 2006, and they also brought their family; it was great to spend time with them.

When we got back, we prepared to move. After living on a military base for nearly 10 years straight, we now have a place to live off base. Great friends here in Albuquerque got transferred overseas, and we are able to live in their house. It was a great blessing; we had begun to outgrow our current house. It is definitely nice to have a separation between “work” and “home” now; plus, now I’m not the guy who lives on base, who gets the calls to do stuff “because you’re already there.” Win-win!

Finally, in November and early December, our family was able to participate in Hoffmantown Church’s production of The Story, a dramatic musical presentation of the Christmas story, starting with creation and ending with the resurrection. We had never done anything like it; we usually were not around for it. But, since we were, we signed up. It was amazing! At the first rehearsal, I was not quite sure it was all going to come together, but each time, things got smoother, and by the time our final dress rehearsal came, we were ready. There were 450+ volunteers who worked, and over 6,500 people saw it. We are really looking forward to next year.

 

Of course, the 2013 production of The Story is still 11 months away; there’s a lot of 2013 between now and then. I hope that I have much trouble narrowing down the few things to include in this post next year. Happy New Year!

2012 Year in Review - The Bad

January 1, 2013   11:00 pm

Either way you read it, this is the middle post of the “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. This past year has given me no shortage of things from which to choose to compose this post.

Mass Murder x2

2012 saw two mass murders on U. S. soil. On July 20th, at a premiere of the movie The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, 12 people were killed and 58 injured by a freak who made himself look like the Joker. Then, on December 14th, a troubled young man killed his own mother, 20 children, 6 adults, and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. While the reaction made the ridiculous list this year, the murders themselves are here. They are a stark reminder that we live in a fallen world. Dr. Albert Mohler broke his less-than-a-day-old hiatus on The Briefing for a special edition, and he summed it up quite well.

Though the murders themselves were horrible and tragic, there were reports of heroes in both instances. In Colorado, men shielded others with their bodies, and ultimately gave their lives to save others In Connecticut, a teacher named Victoria Soto hid her students wherever she could, and told the gunman that the children were elsewhere. These ordinary people, stepping up to against evil, give us some hope that while we will never eliminate this sort of evil, it is far from the norm; and, there are those who will fight against it with little to no warning.

The Benghazi / Petraeus Affair

September 11th, for the past 11 years, has been a dicey day. Obviously, the one in 2001 was the worst; however, our intelligence and counter-terrorism forces have been vigilant to the point where we really had not had to deal with any actual attacks on that particular day. 2012 saw that streak come to an end, as a group of terrorists laid siege to the U. S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, kidnapping and then killing our ambassador and three others. Initially, the State Department blamed the attack on a spontaneous reaction to the film The Innocence of Muslims, a 16-minute film that made a great deal of fun over Mohammad. In the past few days (see why you write these things after the year is done?), the report has come out calling it “sloppy security.”

Conflicting reports came out about the threat level surrounding that particular embassy, and there were even conflicting reports on our reaction to the attack once we knew it was underway. Even with the report, many people still feel that the entire story is not known. Why would that be? Well, when a cover-up or misdirection is the initial response, how are the American people to know when the next answer is the right one?

But, surely, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or the Secretary of State, could get the answers and bring them out, correct? This, too, was not to be in 2012. Thanks to a sexual harassment complaint launched in April and concluded in August, an affair between the CIA director, retired General David Petraeus, and his biographer, was revealed. This “trump card” was not played until after the election, and was used to oust Petraeus before he could give official testimony as the CIA director. At the same time, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, couldn’t testify due to scheduling conflicts, then due to the “flu.” It may be just as well; she doesn’t have a great history of having a very good memory when she’s placed under oath. Additionally, the African Command commander was relieved of his position shortly after the attack.

September 11, 2001 is generally considered a failure of intelligence. The more we learn about September 11, 2012, it looks less like a failure of intelligence and more a failure to take appropriate defensive action based on that intelligence. To put it more bluntly, we hung our own countrymen out to dry, and four of them are no longer with us.

The Fiscal Cliff

If Benghazi’s problem was inaction, then the CIA and State have learned it from the U. S. Congress. Over three years of Senate inaction have left us with a budget that is nearly 4 years old; Obamacare deferred-until-the-next-election mandates will kick in; we’re about to hit the extended-several-times debt ceiling; across-the-board cuts, called “sequestration,” a compromise from the last debt ceiling expansion, are set to kick in; and the so-called “Bush tax cuts” which were extended a few times are once again set to expire (itself a concept that probably deserves a spot on a ridiculous list at some point). Since that’s a lot to say, the term “fiscal cliff” was coined to describe these economic events all hitting at the same time.

What is required to keep the next U. S. national sport from being fiscal cliff diving? A budget. Will that be the solution presented? Probably not. As I write this (on the 1st), the Senate has passed a compromise bill, but several House members do not seem to approve. When the next congress is seated later this week, that bill will be invalid. Bills proposed by the president and the Senate have been rightly termed “unserious” by Republicans; however, their bills are not very serious either. On a family budget that’s $24,000 in the red each year, we’re cutting $360. Neither side wants to do the hard work of cutting spending where it needs to be cut.

Here’s hoping the water is deep enough at the bottom of this cliff that we don’t break our necks.

Mitt Romney Loses

I covered my incredulity at the results of the election in the ridiculous post; but here, the negative is that we do not have Mitt Romney at the helm to guide our nation away from this cliff. Not since Sarah Palin have I witnessed such a successful character assassination, where his positives became negatives, and his successes presented as disqualifications.

As a business, America is failing. The Securities and Exchange Commission wouldn’t let our stock be traded. We need someone who cares enough about our country to make hard decisions about what needs to be cut, so that a leaner America can emerge and once again regain her strength. Who better to do that than someone who ran a company that did that for businesses over and over again? And what if this someone had also donated his entire inheritance to charity, and given 2 years of his life for his religion? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

I know some of my fellow conservatives had some problems with him on social issues, or the size and scope of the state. I wasn’t 100% with him (though in an isidewith.com survey, I scored 97% Romney), but if our country is not economically viable, social and domestic policy matter little; at that point, we’ll be answering to someone else anyway.

Hurricane Sandy

Cross an Atlantic hurricane with a nor’easter, and it’s not good. Hurricane Sandy battered much of the U. S. east coast in late October, merging with a northern storm just before Halloween, leading many to call it “Frankenstorm.” Its wake was no laughing matter, though, with over 100 dead. New York and New Jersey sustained the hardest direct hit, and current estimates have it as the second most costly storm on record, just behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Those two states provided a stark contrast in dealing with preparation and relief. New York City was particularly bad, with refugees being evicted from hotels for the “show must go on” New York Marathon, while generators were pulled from relief efforts to power the tents for the race. Mayor Bloomberg, at first a strong proponent of continuing to hold the race, changed his mind, and the organizers agreed to cancel it. Meanwhile, the Federal government has yet to vote on any special aid for Sandy relief; the Senate passed a bill, but the House won’t take up any legislation except the fiscal cliff. (And these are the people we want in charge of health care? But I digress.)

Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sandra Fluke - 2012 was a bad year for disasters named Sandy.

Lance Armstrong Revelations

Lance Armstrong was a 7-time Tour de France champion. He did it while fighting cancer, and founding a charitable foundation. However, he had been fighting doping charges for years, and in 2012, decided to stop fighting the charges. All his wins have been vacated, Olympic medals stripped, and the Livestrong Foundation that he founded has kicked him out. His defense is that he was not taking any substance that was not banned, and that he had done nothing other than what others had done.

Even if we take him at his word - if everyone took the same enhancement, that’s still a terrible way to determine athletic prowess. Professional sports should not be about who has the best chemistry; it should be people training their bodies to perform a specific task so well that no one else can do it equally. I’m not so naïve as to think that this means that no one is going to try; even NASCAR has had its fair share of drug problems. However, anything short of pure physical ability will inevitably lead to more and more use, and more experimenting. The NFL is already dealing with players who feel they were unfairly exploited and put in harm’s way. How much worse would it be for the players who tried experimental (i.e., not-banned-yet) drugs whose side effects were unknown until much later?

 

There you have it. 2012 didn’t lead to the end of the world, but there was much that we will be happy to see pass into the rear-view mirror. Other issues will still be here for us in 2013, waiting to be dealt with then. May we have the fortitude to do so.

2012 Year in Review - The Ridiculous

January 1, 2013   1:00 am

Welcome to “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” If you’re reading this as they’re posted, it’s backwards; but, if you’re reading back through the blog archives, they’re in order.

2012 has been quite a year. We survived 3 ends of the world, by my count. That’s pretty ridiculous, true, but our very existence here means that they must be, so we won’t waste any more words on that. What did make the cut?

The “War on Women”

That this tops the list should not surprise my regular readers; several of my posts this year (including this one and that one when it first broke) dealt with it. Now, the “war on women” is not to be confused with the “war on a woman”; that I addressed in 2008 (first item). No, in yet another display of Democrat projection, this one was an accusation against Republicans.

It started with a strange question in the Republican primary, shot to the forefront with Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh, and continued throughout the campaign. The Obama campaign created a horribly insipid animation called “The Life of Julia,” where their heroine (um, victim?) displays her dependence upon government at every stage of her life. It was presented as if it was a good thing; the government as boyfriend, husband, business partner, and health insurance provider. To me, the suggestion that women need, or would want, something like that is truly offensive and sexist.

Granted, the Republicans didn’t help themselves against these charges. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, both running for the US Senate, answered questions about abortion by emphasizing their “no rape exception” views – clumsily. Akin should have removed himself, but did not, and squandered a gift-on-a-platter opportunity to remove a senator who has not been that helpful to her home state. Mourdock was a Tea Party Republican who defeated a long-term incumbent in the primary, yet went down to defeat in a state that Romney took 54/44.

Really, the war on women was nothing more than the “they want kids to starve” meme from the late 80’s and 90’s, where ridiculous charges were made against Republicans, and those charges went unanswered. This year, as well, the response was tepid. What Republican wants to take away health care? The charge is ridiculous, and should be addressed as such. Otherwise, they’ll continue to make these outlandish statements “They’re gonna put y’all back in chains!”, said our vice-president. They took “binders full of women” out of the context of people-to-hire and somehow turned it into a negative. “You didn’t build that” - oh wait, that’s just poor sentence structure. Please! There is no poor sentence structure in a pre-written campaign speech!

The main problem with all of that, though, is that it worked. Which brings me to my next item…

Barack Obama Reelected

When Obama was elected in 2008, that fact made the “bad” list for that year. Looking back at that post, in view of the past 4 years, I see that I was being way too generous. He presided over 4 of the toughest years in recent memory, making things worse with every decision (or indecision). His party hasn’t passed a budget in over 3 years now, and one of his was so unrealistic that it was defeated 96-0 in the Senate. We lost our top credit rating, and that cannot be blamed on George W. Bush; S&P downgraded us because of our lack of a plan of paying back our debt, not the size of it. This administration has brought us economic time bombs in the form of Obamacare mandates and repeated “debt ceiling”/“fiscal cliff” showdowns, one of which is staring us down even as I write this.

But, all of the above is not the ridiculous part; it just proves that I was right to put his election on the bad list 4 years ago. No, the ridiculous part is that the American people, seeing all of the above, put him back in office for another four years. My countrymen are playing the part of fools, falling for the ridiculous claims about their opponents, while failing to see that their own are the ones leading us down the slide to mediocrity. They’re behaving like little kids; what little kid wants to vote for the guy who says “Hey - we’ve got to pay for all this free candy we’ve been eating”? No, they vote for the guy who promises even more free candy, while demonizing those who generate enough wealth for our government to skim the top of it to provide the free candy. They cheer when the rich get poorer, not noticing that this does not make them richer, it only diminishes the overall wealth of our nation.

The National Park Service has signs in several forests warning against feeding bears, because they will become dependent on that food, lose their hunting skills, and become aggressive. Yet, the very people who suggest that this applies to human beings as well are branded as hate-filled and greedy. America needs to wake up, and do the hard work of dealing with the withdrawal symptoms of this free ride coming to an end, or the country itself will find itself in decline. Sadly, I don’t see this generation as one willing to sacrifice its own comfort to secure the comfort of future generations.

Reactions to Mass Murder

Again, I get to fault my fellow citizens. Sadly, our nation endured two mass murders this year; one at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, and the other at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On my first visit to Facebook after learning about the Sandy Hook shooting, I was greeted with lots of “Don’t Take Our Guns!” images. Really, guys - that’s the way you show compassion for 25 families who lost their kids a scant few weeks before Christmas? And, the other side is just as bad. “Why are these guns on the street?” is not the question (although “because, Constitution” is the easy answer). Confiscating every gun in the Union would not bring an ounce more comfort to those families who lost their children and adults that day.

The proper response to something like this is sorrow and compassion, then anger, then punishment (if applicable), then speculation on prevention measures (within the parameters of our founding law). Jumping to #4 dehumanizes the response. I fault the gun-grabbers with having the non-Constitutional lead in this; but, while I did fault people above for not responding to ridiculous charges, there is a time for those sorts of debates. While the dead bodies are still warm is not that time.

Year-In-Reviews in Early December

On a lighter note, when did December become not-part-of-the-year? How can you review a year with nearly an entire month remaining in that year? Unless you’re covering NASCAR or the college football regular season, the first week of December is way too early to be publishing retrospectives (and, for the latter, you’d better wait until the conference championships to write it up). Look at the newsworthy events this year - Sandy Hook, the deaths of several notable people, and George H. W. Bush’s hospitalization, just to name a few. Don’t review a year until it’s over.

 

There you have it. I’m sure I’ll have no problem filling out another one of these in 2013.

2011 Year in Review - The Good

January 4, 2012   8:00 am

This is the last (or first, depending on how you’re reading it) part of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.”

Evil’s Class of 2011

2011 was a good year for tyrants to breathe their last. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrors attacks, was killed in a daring raid on May 2nd. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Lybia, was captured and killed October 20th. Then, a week before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, breathed his last. These three men did very little to soothe pain and suffering in this world, choosing rather to inflict it in an attempt to maintain their power and control. As of today, none of these three men control anything - in my book, that’s a very good thing. (Even better would be a change in direction, though that’s looking doubtful at this point, except possibly in Libya.)

Contrary to popular opinion, you can make value judgments about these nations (or, in al-Qaeda’s case, their organization). Man has a God-given yearning to be free, both physically and spiritually. God also made it plain in His Word that choosing Him is a personal decision - it must be made in one’s heart, not forced by government at the point of a gun. Regimes can try to control behavior, but they cannot change hearts. These leaders used violence and oppression to try to conquer the hearts of their citizens, rationalized in many cases via religion; the God of the Bible wants us to surrender our hearts to Him voluntarily. These leaders worked against Him, and they are gone.

9-9-9

While the Cain Train’s derailment made the “bad” list, one positive to come out of his campaign was his 9-9-9 plan. This plan scraps all existing tax code, and replaces it with a 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and a 9% corporate income tax. This plan is the first time a poll-leading presidential candidate has proposed such a massive overhaul of the tax system, and the only plan apart from the FairTax (which Mr. Cain also supports) that eliminates the ridiculous spaghetti of our tax code - spaghetti with a compliance price tag in the millions. While there was the expected knee-jerk reaction from the usual sources (“What? You mean POOR PEOPLE would have to pay 9% on THEIR INCOME, TOO?!?!”), Cain’s analysis showed that this would bring in about the same amount of revenue. Combine that with the vast simplification of the tax code, thus eliminating much of the compliance and enforcement expense, and you’ve got something that just might work.

I realize Cain’s analysis is that of someone running for office, but it does mesh with the analysis done by those that espouse the FairTax. 9-9-9 provides the most level of playing grounds - if you make $10,000, you’d owe $900; if you make $100,000, you’d owe $9,000; if you make $10,000,000, you’d owe $900,000. Corporations, although merely voluntary associations of individuals, are taxed at this rate as well. The national sales tax, balanced with reduced compliance cost to the businesses that would be collecting it, is nearly break-even. This would encourage growth without punishing success.

I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s almost like some people are obsessed with making sure everyone has their “fair share” of the pie. Others see the pie and ask “Hey, why don’t we just get a few more of those?” 9-9-9 clearly falls into the latter camp. Basing economic policy on “It’s not fair that he has more than me” is poor; there’s a reason we teach children not to look at life that way. Instead, we should compare our poor to the poor of other nations, and realize that even the “poor” in this country are better off than the average citizen in many other nations.

I hope that, the next time an alternative tax is pitched, we can have a rational discussion about it. In fact, the FairTax is proposed nearly every year - if you read about it and like it, just let your Congress-critter know.

A Full Trip Through the Bible

Inspired by my Christmas gift from my family in 2010, I searched the web for reading plans and found this one, which looked very interesting. I started a Facebook group and asked if any of my friends would like to join me on this journey, and 22 others joined me; I even made a few new friends along the way. Each day I would post the reading for that particular day, and we could use the group to share, discuss, or encourage one another. There were times I got behind (it happens), and when I posted an encouragement to the group, others were there with me. We weren’t judging each other, we were simply encouraging one another - as Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”

The pace was quick, and although I enjoyed it and was blessed by it, I believe 2012 will see me taking it a bit slower. I did flag several verses as I was reading through, and those are the places I’ll start digging in and digesting what’s there.

 

So, there you have it. As in previous years, while I had to cut off the lists for the bad and the ridiculous, those all happened externally. I could have filled the list for this post with solely personal things. This tells me that I serve a God Who blesses me, no matter what sort of bad or ridiculous stuff goes on around me. I believe more good is on its way in 2012, and some of it might not even be just for me. :)

2011 Year in Review - The Bad

January 3, 2012   8:00 am

This is part two of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” These are the things that were bad, but didn’t quite make the ridiculous list. (In many cases, though, they were close.)

Japan’s Handling of Fukushima

The tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011 was bad - really bad. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives because of it, and estimates on the damage it caused was over $200B. The enormity* alone would have been enough to land it on this list. However, the nuclear angle of the tsunami sent it right to the top.

Initially, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency. Then, they said that they had everything under control, and did not need to take any further steps. Some people familiar with reactors were not comfortable with this, and sadly, they were proved correct. The government of Japan admitted, little by little, how dire the situation was, which ended up with a complete meltdown of three reactors, and several hydrogen explosions. The contamination was likened to Chernobyl; thankfully, that disaster has not produced the ill effects that were forecasted for it. Hopefully we will see the same at Fukushima.

While there is no guarantee that any other nations’ aid could have prevented these meltdowns, it underscores the need for honesty and transparency in government, particularly during times of disaster. Thankfully, the myriad armchair nuclear scientists have moved on to other pursuits, and Japan has cleanup well underway. However, the effects of this disaster will be felt for many years to come.

Gabrielle Giffords Shot; Moonbats Expose Themselves

On January 8th, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was holding a constituent meeting in Tucson when she was shot at point-blank range. The shooter then turned and sprayed bullets into the crowd, killing several people. Miraculously, Rep. Giffords survived the shot, though she spent the majority of 2011 in the hospital or in rehab facilities. As the year closed, she was nearly ready to resume her regular schedule in Congress. While she was in the hospital, her husband flew on one of the final Space Shuttle missions. The shooting was bad, but her recovery has been one of the good news stories of 2011.

The man who shot her was a troubled individual, an anarchist who believed in “nothing” according to his friends. However, this did not stop the rush-to-judgment speculation of many media members. The first meme was that this was a deranged right-wing lunatic, acting out a map produced by Sarah Palin’s PAC in 2010. This map showed vulnerable seats with a cross-hair icon; of course this was the dog-whistle for the loonies to assassinate Democrats! Well, when that fell though, they still stuck with the right-wing narrative, until finally recanting when it was clear that this was not the case. Their rush to judgment gave us a window into their hearts, and what we saw was not pretty. (It also wasn’t news to many of us; just confirmation.)

Finally, many used her shooting to condemn the “violent” rhetoric (AKA firearms metaphors) that had become a part of the political system. This civility proved to be short-lived, and gave rise to the #NewTone Twitter hashtag, used by conservatives to retweet some of the vitriol directed at them.

These reactions illustrate the value of freedom of speech. Should these people have reacted the way they did? Of course not. But, without free speech, we wouldn’t know who the moonbats are. There are “journalists” who I simply will not patronize based on their behavior during this terrible tragedy.

US Credit Downgrade

In August, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA. They did this in response to the failure of our country to address our looming deficits. When you look at our economic policies from 2006 forward, including 2009 being the last year with a Senate-passed budget, it’s hard to fault them for doing so. Our nation is ignoring the signs that tell us we should change; this year, the debt eclipsed our annual GDP. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have, while ignoring debt we have already accrued. Austerity is probably not going to get anyone elected, but it’s what we need; the world economy is no better than ours, so we cannot base our recovery on exports to other nations. We should position ourselves to ride out this contraction, so we will be ready to take advantage of the next expansion.

The Cain Train Derailed

I was on the Cain Train. I really liked Herman Cain’s plans for our nation. He was not a Washington insider, he has proven results with taking indentured businesses, making them live within their means, and growing them. His 9-9-9 plan attacked the sacred cow of tax code, proposing a much more fair solution. I wrote about him at length. However, as he rose in the polls, women began coming forward claiming sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. These were bad, and he sadly put himself in the position of being vulnerable to those claims. His response, through his lawyer, was even worse; it sounded like something out of the Clinton administration.

Character matters. Even if every one of these claims were false, his inability or refusal to deny them outright gave us pause. A legal response that it was none of our business sounded fishy. Learning that he gave these women money unbeknownst to his wife just made me hang my head. Now, I realize that this comparison I’m about to make isn’t really apples to apples, but bear with me. When the Bible lists qualifications of a pastor, two of them are “husband of one wife” and “manages his own house well.” The first is important because fidelity to one’s spouse is an indication of fidelity to the rest of what they claim to believe, and the lack of it the same. The second lets us know that this person can work with people with whom they are close without letting them dissuade him from doing what it right. We’re not electing a pastor - I get that; the character required, however, is very similar. Mr. Cain did not manage his own house, could not refute these charges, and thus was drummed out of the race for Barack Obama’s job.

 

While there were plenty of bad things that happened, we can generally learn from them. May we learn, and not repeat 2011’s mistakes in 2012.

p.s. Intentionally left off this list is the Jerry Sandusky / Penn State scandal. Such unspeakable horror - may anywhere else this may exist be exposed, and the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law, and then some.

* Word nerd tip - “enormity” is not a synonym for “size,” but carries a negative connotation as well; in other words, it’s not just big, it’s big and bad. Its use here is appropriate; its common use elsewhere usually is not.

#OWS, Educate Thyself - Income Inequality (Part 3)

October 23, 2011   9:21 pm

Previously in this series - Part 1 - IntroductionPart 2 - Credit and Banks

Income inequality. The rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street crowd really rings hollow with this 99%-er. This is certainly not a new complaint; “eat the rich” has been a sentiment for decades (or centuries). I would posit that covetousness has existed for over 6,000 years, and led to the first recorded murder in human history. It was wrong then, just as it is wrong now. Now, this is education, not church; we’re not going to belabor this point too much. But, the cries of “fairness” are a moral appeal, and must be dealt with accordingly. The ultimate in fairness is that everyone is taxed the same, and paid the same wage for the same type of work. Some people believe this is way-unfair, and they seem to start with “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” and work backward just enough to make it palatable to someone who claims to desire freedom. Know, as we enter this education, that I’m much more on the former end than the latter. (See the “Welcome to the Real World” heading in the introduction.)

Income inequality would be incomplete without a discussion of equality of opportunity. Think back over your life; have you ever had a friend who could out-eat everyone else, but still retained their beanpole-like physique? Did you also have a friend who was always dieting, and always looked like they should be dieting? Given an equal opportunity - a pizza and birthday cake celebration, for example - these two people will have unequal results. This is exactly how it is in life. Many different people take the same high school courses; some do well, others do not. Does the fact that everyone is not the valedictorian mean that the system is not fair? On the contrary, this illustrates that given equal opportunity, different results are possible (and likely). There’;s a phrase that originate with cars, but now is used for almost anything - “Your mileage may vary” (YMMV). This is an acknowledgement by car companies that, the way they drove the car, in the environment they had, that was the mileage they got; but, you may drive it a different way, or in a different environment, so your mileage may not be the same as what’s printed on the sticker in the window.

A boy is pushing a bagging lawn mower, with the caption "I figured out at a young age the easiest way to get money from rich people. Its called a JOB."

Now, let’s continue this train of thought. There are two people who get the same college degree; let’s even say that their GPA was the same, and it was good - they graduated Cum Laude. Fast-forward 5 years, and the likelihood of these two individuals bringing in the exact same salary is very low; one is going to be making more than the other. Is this fair? That’s tough to say, but just with these facts, it seems pretty fair to me. Going back to the introduction again, a college degree is a tool, and what one does with it has a lot to do with their decisions, and also has a lot to do with the environment in which they live. Think about it this way - the same hammer that demolishes a house can be used to hit a chisel to make a sculpture; and, depending on the scenario, both are important. However, the demolisher is probably not going to get paid the same as the sculptor.

How many people could you employ? I know my answer to that question - zero. I have a small programming business, and currently, I am at the point of breaking even. Over the course of 2+ years, I saw a project with potential to go nationwide fizzle and die; the work I put into that is gone, with no monetary return. I went from looking at a breakthrough project to being back to square 2 (not quite back to square 1) overnight. What am I doing? Continuing on, keeping the lessons learned in mind. I’m not camping out in front of the organization that didn’t choose me, and I’m not blaming the system. But, I can assure you that there is no room in my budget for any employees at all.

Businesses can only hire people as they have resources to do so. These resource quite often manifest themselves as stores of money saved and earned via profits. There is nothing wrong with businesses making a profit, just as there is nothing wrong with you exchanging an hour of your time for a profit yourself (via a wage). (For the record - who was one of the voices saying that a rise in the minimum wage would lead to fewer available jobs? Oh yeah - me. I take little pleasure in that vindication, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point it out.)

A graphical representation of the tax burden shift from Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax proposalTo illustrate, let’s look at a hospital. Profit is a motivation even in a seemly-altruistic endeavor like health care. The operators of the hospital are responsible for hiring doctors, surgeons, nurses, nursing aides, medical technicians, janitorial staff, laundry personnel, anesthesiologists, etc. (or contracting it out). They are also responsible for purchasing beds, linens, cleaning supplies, medical supplies, and a full array of drugs; they also must maintain power, water, environment, and maintenance on their facilities. (I’m stopping there; I’m sure this list is incomplete.) The janitors and surgeons are both important; however, you’re not going to find a single hospital that pays janitors as well as it pays surgeons. Why? Two words - skill and education. Is that fair? Absolutely. The additional pay surgeons receive over janitors is a big reason many of them go through years and years of schooling, internships, and career-long continuing education.

Now, imagine you’re the surgeon. Would you think it fair if unemployed people demanded that you reduce your pay to that of the janitorial staff? If you say you’d be OK with that, you’re either naive or lying. But, these people get their way, and your pay is cut. You would be indignant that the fruits of your hard work were being demanded by people who have no claim on them. You would also no longer be able to pay the support staff necessary for your surgery practice, nor would you be able to spot the neighborhood kid the $50 to keep your yard up on a weekly basis. You would have to pull your children out of whatever private school they attend, which affects the teachers and workers at that school.

To put it as plain and simple as I can, these “rich” people you decry are the ones making our economy work. And, in our economy, you start where you start and try to improve your lot. That’s the promise of America. Not everyone will succeed, but the opportunity is there for those willing to work for it. For years, one party has fomented angst against one class of people, while pillorying those who are against that party as filled with hate. (Oh wait - maybe those are big words for college-educated people…) The Democrats make people mad about people who run businesses, and cast Republicans as hating poor people. Like many items of the Democrat platform, nothing could be further from the truth. These rich people are the ones employing people and supporting other businesses; they’re not sitting around their fireplaces smoking $100 bills and laughing at the peasants.

The graph running down the side of the post, as best I can tell, originated here, and was produced as an example of how bad Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan is. But, what I’d like for you to do is click on that, and look how tiny the increased tax is on the bottom 20% versus how much it saves the top 20%. (Keep in mind, #OWS-ers, that 19% of that top 20% are in your 99%.) This chart illustrates perfectly what is wrong with our tax code, and why our jobs are going to other countries. Where is the motivation to move yourself into that top 20%? (FTR, I am saddened by Cain’s recent adjustment to 9-0-9 “for poor people” - this completely destroys the beauty of 9-9-9 as an equalizer.)

At this point, I can hear the rebuttals about all the greedy people who have broken the law to increase their wealth. Those people will find no quarter here with me. One of my biggest problems with immigration reform is that the focus is always on the illegals, rather than the businesses who hire them with impunity. However, this greed and illegality must be fought where it is found, not via a whole-scale war on wealth. American has her position in the world because of her wealth! If profiling is so wrong in other areas, why is tolerated here?

Bottom line - instead of seeing these people as the enemy, you should see them as people you should emulate, whose accomplishments to which you should aspire. You should stop looking at what someone else has, and start looking at how you can improve your lot in life. Chase Bank is probably not hiring many Gender Studies graduates, and Exxon doesn’t have a great need for Gay and Lesbian Studies graduates. You may not find a job in your degree specialty - that’s OK. Work where you can find it, continue your education (but by all means, not at the same university that failed you so much already), and quit looking around so much.

Derek Sivers, in his summary of Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice, puts it this way.

More than half of people chose options that give them better relative position : better to earn $50k/yr while others around are earning $25k/yr than to be earning $100k/yr while others around are earning $200k/yr.

Can you see the lunacy in this? Because of their jealousy and covetousness, over half the people would choose half as much pay. This is exactly what you’re doing. Wake up, #OWS.

 

#OWS, Educate Thyself - Credit and Banks (Part 2)

October 22, 2011   11:28 am

Previously in this series - Part 1 - Introduction

Credit is a big part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They want debt forgiven, some even calling for an across-the-board forgiveness of all debt. By having this demand, they reveal another area where their college education has failed them. Let’s do a quick version of what they should have learned.

To illustrate, let’s create a hypothetical scenario. Person 1 (let’s call him “Bill”) has a business idea, but lacks the funds to make it a reality. Bill is sure that his idea will make lots of money, but he is frustrated because he cannot implement his idea. Person 2 (let’s call him “Tom”) has money that he has accumulated that he is not actively using. Bill comes to Tom and asks if he can borrow some of Tom’s extra money, so that he can implement his awesome idea. Tom is not sure about the purported awesomeness of Bill’s idea, and is reluctant to lend Bill the money. Bill is so confident in his idea that he offers to repay Tom 110% of the money that he wants to borrow. This provides Tim an opportunity for financial gain, and he decides to lend Bill the money he needs.

This story illustrates some of the basic concepts of credit.

  • Loan - money belonging to someone else, that is temporarily made available to another person.
  • Interest - money, in addition to the loan amount, that is paid to the lender.
  • Risk - the likelihood that the loan and interest will not be repaid.

In our story, a 10% interest rate was enough to make Tom assume the risk that Bill’s idea would generate the money Bill thought that it would.

Banks and other lending institutions have simply taken the above scenario and enlarged its scale. They take depositors’ money, and lend it to those who need it. They also provide services, such as securing the money they’ve received, providing convenient ways for people to get to their money. For some services, banks charge fees; for some services, banks pay interest. Because banks must be able to return depositor’s money on demand, they must assess risk before giving a loan. Some risk they simply will not accept; some risk they will accept, but charge the borrower a higher rate on the money to make up for it; and low risk is generally acceptable.

Student loans, a particular interest item to the #OWS set, are no exception. It is understood that obtaining an education may require money that a fresh-out-of-high-school person probably does not have. (Whether it should is a different topic altogether.) However, lending institutions see the value in having an educated populace, and are willing to extend loans to students to allow them to obtain productive skills. They realize that college-educated people are more likely to have good jobs, buy cars and homes, take vacations, and do lots of other things that inject money into an economy.

So, what’s the problem with them forgiving loans? It’s theft, plain and simple. Whoever was extended credit would be stealing the money not from the bank, but from the depositors of that bank. The bank is simply an intermediary set up to provide a mutually-beneficial service to both saver and borrower. (I’ll tackle the class warfare aspect in the next post, but it’s still their money no matter how much they have left.)

Another assumption regarding student loans is that the degree obtained will help this happen; with many degrees these days, a person may be no more qualified to hold employment than they were before they went to college. When I went through college right out of high school, my adviser recommended certain degrees as being more employable than others. I don’t know if colleges don’t have that, or if advisers these days think that we really need a ton of Fill-in-the-Blank Studies degrees; either way, that sort of degree has limited employment opportunity. If you obtained that sort of degree, and now can’t get a job, you rolled the dice and lost. Now, it’;s time to act like a grown up and get whatever work you can to provide for you (and your family, if you have one), and start repaying that loan you took out.

David Burge (AKA Iowa Hawk), via Twitter, provides a nice summary on this point.

Lemme get this straight. A bank lent you $100k that you handed to a college for a worthless degree, and now you’re mad at… the bank?

Banks provide an important service by offering credit. If that credit is not repaid, the system collapses. If you think it’s hard getting a job now, try bankrupting all the employers, and see how much more plentiful (or scarce) the jobs become.

Next in this series - Part 3 - Income Inequality

#OWS, Educate Thyself - Introduction (Part 1)

October 16, 2011   9:52 pm

This is the first in a series doing the education that the colleges which the Occupy Wall Street gang (#OWS hereafter, taken from the shortened version of their #OccupyWallStreet Twitter hash tag) failed to impart. I have two in the queue behind this one, but there may be more.

For those living under a rock, a group has been camped out in New York, protesting Wall Street. There was a list of demand published, but many protesters were quick to point out that there was no official list. However, there have been recurring themes. Corporations are greedy. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Debt is bad. People aren’t hiring them even though they have a college degree. A job is a right.

Dear #OWS, your parents and your colleges have failed you. Before we dig into details of why your demands are unworkable, there are a few big-picture things we need to discuss.

Welcome to the Real World

This is where your parents have failed you. You are the generation who grew up “safer” than ever, protected from terrible things like concrete under your playground equipment, lack of head protection when you rode your bike, having to suffer the indignation of losing your soccer match because they didn’t keep score, etc. You are the result of a social experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong, where a bunch of too-smart people decided that the way children were reared for generations had to change. They were going to do it better. They were going to do it more safely. They remembered how bad they felt as children, when they were picked last for sports, or struck out and helped their team lose a game; or how they were made fun of during the awkward stages as they grew from children to adults; or how they never fit in with the “in” clique at school. So, they tried to eliminate all these things. No scorekeeping, and everyone gets a trophy. “Don’t say that word!” “Bullying is wrong!”

Where they went wrong is that by their attempts to eliminate bad things, they did not teach you how to deal with these bad things. I’m all for the elimination of bullying, but you can’t wish that and make it go away; you should be trained on how to deal with it. In real life, there are winners and losers; there is no “no scorekeeping” option. Everyone does not get a trophy. There are attempts, and there are failures. You have tragically had your opportunities to learn how to deal with this as a child snatched from you. Now, you’re behaving as children would normally behave; you’re just a lot bigger. You’re adults, so you think that your demands aren’t childish. Sadly, I’m here to inform you that they are. Railing against the real world is futile; you are not going to change it, at least not much. You would be much better served applying yourself and learning how things work.

A College Degree Is a Tool, Not a Guarantee

Here is one area where your college has failed you. No matter what the admissions adviser told you, a college degree is not a guarantee of a good job. Even in good economic times, a college degree is likely to get you in the door, at an entry-level position. (You understand where the term “entry-level” comes from right? The level you start, when you enter a company?) The people that have been there for 10 years beg to differ with your assertion that you should start out at the level to which they have worked themselves up. And, if your degree ends with “Studies,” you’re probably 1/4 as employable as someone with a degree oriented toward something a business would actually need.

The Corporations You Decry Have Made Your Protest Possible

You have utilized the services of several public and private companies. Let’s take a look at the evil that’s made this protest possible, shall we?

  • Twitter - Still a private company, Twitter was valued at $10B earlier this year.
  • Facebook - Also a private company, Facebook’s valuation at early 2011 was $50B.
  • Google (GOOG) - You know, the owners of YouTube, the developers of the Android mobile operating system, and the target of your “Google It!” chants? They are a publicly-traded company valued at $57.85B (plus assets, minus liabilities)
  • Did you drive, or take public transportation, to get to the site of your occupation? Those evil oil companies made that possible.

Now, what you’re not going to read in future installments are claims that the “real world” is perfect. There is room for change, and there are people running companies who have no business running them. However, if you want to maintain the lifestyle in America to which you’ve become accustomed, or improve it, you really don’t want to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I’m sorry your parents and colleges have failed you. If you stay tuned to this spot, I’ll help educate you on why the things you’re so worked up about, contrary to what your “I wish communism worked because it’s just such a good idea” professors taught you, are actually good for you.

Next in this series - Part 2 - Credit and BanksPart 3 - Income Inequality

2010 Year in Review - The Good

January 13, 2011   12:00 pm

This post begins (and ends) my look back at 2010 called “2010 Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” If you’ve been reading them as I posted them, this is the end; if you’re new, just keep scrolling, and all three posts are there in order. What follows is a non-exhaustive list of the things I considered good in 2010.

Firesheep

Toward the end of October, a Firefox plugin called Firesheep was released. This plugin illustrated a gaping security flaw in the way a large number of sites handle trusted communications. While the media reaction was negative, with accusations of this being a hacker tool, I think it’s a good thing. Firesheep didn’t create the problem, but it did illustrate, in vivid detail, how easily non-secure web traffic can be intercepted and impersonated. With the explosion of Facebook (which does login securely, then switches back to insecure, and has not changed as of this writing) over this past year, the time was right to remind people that there are serious flaws that need to be addressed.

I should note, for those unfamiliar with this whole scenario, this only affected open, unencrypted Wi-Fi points; if you’re connected to a secured wireless network or a switched wired network, the plugin wouldn’t be able to see your traffic. In response to the plugin, many sites have begun enforcing or offering an always-encrypted (https) connection to their sites. Also, note that WEP-secured networks are now able to be broken in less than a minute - WPA or WPA2 is what you want to use to secure your wireless network.

Forest Home

I don’t know if Forest Home Christian Camp in Forest Falls, CA was better-than-ever in 2010, as 2010 was the year I became acquainted with it; however, I can state unequivocally that 2010 was a great year to attend Forest Home’s family camp! We checked in on a Sunday and checked out on a Saturday, and were blessed from the time we got there until the time we left. Worship, eating, hiking, exploring, a night-time zip line - and that was just the first 36 hours. They have a lake (fed from melting snow - refreshing!), several hiking trails, swimming pool with diving boards, mini-golf course, as well as a game/lounge area with pool and ping-pong tables. If you’re looking for activities, they’ve got it.

But what made the week there such an amazing week was the quiet times. There was singing and teaching in the morning with the director, Kent Kraning, and singing and teaching in the evening, let our week by Dr. Erik Thoennes of Biola University. Other than those times (where all age groups had their own programs), there were hikes before breakfast, family devotion times after breakfast, free time in the afternoons between lunch and dinner, and time after the evening sessions where you could reflect on what you’d heard. One of their core values is solitude - getting away from the noise so that you can hear God speak. I presented a laundry list of activities, but through the campground, there were benches and seats where you could just stop, sit, think, and pray. It’s amazing how clearly God can speak when you unplug for a week and listen. I pray that 2010 is only the beginning of many years of family camp at Forest Home.

Personal Fitness

2009 was the year I got my head right, and 2010 was the year my body followed. The scale said I was 17 pounds lighter at the start of 2011 than I was at the start of 2010, and I can tell that I’m in the best shape of my adult life (possibly excluding the month or so immediately after basic training). The big change in 2010 was the way I view food - food is fuel, not fun. We used to celebrate everything with food as a central focus - birthdays, holidays, date nights, even fitness achievements. I have actually celebrated passing a fitness test by going to Outback Steakhouse for an order of Aussie Cheese Fries. How ironic and self-defeating is that? The quantity of food that I now eat is less than half of what I used to eat, and I’m still consuming enough calories that I have the energy to exercise. Of course, I’m not perfect - occasionally I will have more than I know I should, but it’s still nowhere near the huge amount of food I used to eat.

NASCAR Parity

NASCAR in 2009 was a two-horse race between Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano) and Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). 2010 saw the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing (Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer) and Roush Fenway Racing (Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, and Greg Biffle), and steady improvements in Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray). That’s a lot of driver names, and while some of them weren’t title-competitive this year, the teams are becoming more and more balanced. Every year brings new rules to which teams must adjust, so 2011 is still up in the air; however, the parity that existed in 2010 is a good thing for the sport, and makes for good races for its fans.