In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talk About Your Nanny State

It's all over the news: a Grand Rapids-area woman has been threatened by the Michigan Department of Human Services with fines and possible jail time for babysitting her neighbors' children while they wait 15 to 40 minutes at her home for the morning school bus, so that their parents can get to work on time.

A local TV station reports that when DHS received a complaint from a neighbor that Lisa Snyder of Middleville was operating an illegal child care home, DHS contacted Snyder and told her to get licensed, stop watching her neighbors' kids, or face fines and/or 90 days' imprisonment. Mrs. Snyder says that she accepts no money for the babysitting, which she does as a favor for several of her neighbors because they have to leave for work before the bus arrives.

According to MSNBC, the 1973 law at issue says that anyone who watches an unrelated person’s child for a period of 28 days a year is running a day care center and has to have a license. It doesn’t matter if the child is being watched for five minutes a day or five hours. Mrs. Snyder said that she called DHS to try to find out why she needed a license when she was just watching her friends’ children and wasn’t being paid.
“I said that the children should be able to come into my house if it’s raining or there’s a snowstorm,” Snyder went on. “The lady said to me, plain and simple, ‘Tell the parents to buy an umbrella.’ She was serious.”

Snyder also asked if the kids could come to her house for playdates. She was told that if the children’s parents were at home during the playtime it was OK, but if they dropped the kids off to play and then went to the store or out to dinner, it was no longer a playdate — it was day care.
The MSNBC story also reports that James Gale of DHS confirmed the facts of the case and said that the department must look into all complaints about illegal day care centers. “In the interest of protecting children, we will investigate all allegations or complaints of unlicensed child care.” An Associated Press story reveals that the head of DHS and the Michigan Governor's office have now acknowledged that this application of the law defies common sense, and that the agency will work with the state legislature (a member of which is working on the project already) to change the law to exclude neighbor-helping-neighbor situations.

REALLY! Does it take national media exposure and the embarrassment of the Governor and state agency directors before common sense can prevail in such a situation? The thuggish, all-controlling mindset of even the pettiest bureaucrats is beyond belief. DHS defended its actions here by invoking a duty to "investigate all allegations or complaints of unlicensed child care." From what's been reported, there was no "investigation" at all--just a knee-jerk response to a (jealous, mean, or self-serving) tipster's report with a threatening letter and ultimatums. That's a lot easier and cheaper than sending a flesh-and-blood person over to the Snyders' house to find out what the actual facts were, and to hear their side of the story. Of course, if that had been done. someone at DHS would have had to exercise some common-sense judgment and responsibility, and chosen not to pursue the matter. But that's just not in the nature of a bureaucrat--to have power, and not flaunt it? To be able to control, and not do so to the maximum extent of the most liberal interpretation of the law? How else could they cover their own behinds if something unfortunate happened to one of the while at the Snyders'?

This case also reflects the bankruptcy of the license-and-regulate-everything-that-moves instinct of the Nanny Staters. Almost inevitably, the protective purpose of the law is quickly lost or never achieved, and regulation becomes an end in itself. As a commenter to another article about this case observed (I've deleted the expletives), "Mary Poppins could watch children and the law will come down on her if she does not have a license. Charles Manson could watch kids and the law will leave him completely alone if he has a license." Worse, the regulation becomes a weapon used against ordinary people to advance and protect the vested interests of some favored group--licensed professional day care providers, for example, or the unionized providers that monopolize the market in some states.

The Michigan case as well exposes the tendency of officials and other "socially responsible" people--typically, professionally-degreed, affluent liberals without nuclear families of their own--to take from ordinary people (whom they disdain and distrust) power over their own lives and affairs, and commit it to government agencies whom they are sure know what's best for all. Plain folks are usually unaware of how their freedom and independence are being sapped away, even inside their own homes, until they have an experience like Mrs. Snyder's. But in recent months the scales have been falling from more and more eyes, to the discomfort of the socialist crowd now prevailing in our nation's capital. As another commenter about this story remarked, "I gotta thank Obama. If it wasn't for him, I never would have paid attention to the damage that big government intervention does to society."

Unfortunately, it will take more than one embarrassing incident to slow down the Nanny State, for which even licensing isn't enough. According to the Boston Herald, officials of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care have issued regulations providing (among other things) that:
  • Child-care workers are now called “educators.”
  • Written progress reports must be issued every three to six months that track the cognitive, social, emotional, language, motor and life skill developments of infants and preschoolers.
  • Day-care providers must “assist” with toothbrushing after all meals, or for any children on site for four hours or more.
  • Day-care providers must devise a “curriculum” that provides “evidence that programs provide specific, planned learning experiences” and that supports “school-readiness.”
I'd like to think that the bureaucrats who concocted these rules are well-meaning and idealistic, but so far removed from real life that they can't appreciate the virtual impossibility of compliance by any but the largest, most sophisticated, and most amply-funded day care operations. Or perhaps they know that perfectly, and fully intend to drive small-scale day care providers out of business, and their clients into government-contracted or government-run facilities. That, of course, would create employment opportunities for more day-care bureaucrats and business opportunities for their friends and hangers-on.

I can hear them gleefully hollering now: "Who's your Nanny?!"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Autumn in New York

One of the finest things about living in upstate New York (I know you were thinking, "I didn't imagine there were any.") is Autumn--or Fall, if you prefer. If you ask people who live around here what their favorite season is, this will be the answer 8 of 10 times. In many ways it's mine, too, except for the knowledge that Autumn--which is all too brief here, functionally running from mid-September to about mid-November, when the snowflakes usually start falling--is inevitably followed by interminable Winter. So, one feels a need to savor the season and wring from it every last particle of Fall-ness, before the brilliant colors and that spicy nip in the air turn suddenly to gray-brown and just plain icy. There are a host of ways to do that around here, from the Oktoberfest in Irondequoit that begins in mid-September (you read that right; no one knows why it isn't "Septemberfest") through umpteen fall/apple/pumpkin festivals, corn mazes, and cider presses, to the haunted/scary houses that abound locally around Halloween (we scrupulously avoid those--too scary).

This past Saturday Melany and I kicked off our observance of "Autumn in New York 2009" by attending the annual AppleUmpkin Festival in Wyoming, New York. That's a small village in the hill country southwest of Rochester, about a 45-minute drive from our home in Brockport. The trip itself is breathtaking this time of year, and yields vistas like the one below.

"Downtown" Wyoming (only 513 people live the whole community) is well known as "Gaslight Village," a quaint area lit by old-fashioned gas street lamps that are fueled by deposits of natural gas directly underground. The one-weekend festival attracts thousands of visitors to the hosts of craft, food, and other vendors whose booths crowd the main street and nearby fields, as well as to the local shops. Some of the vendors' booths are quite cleverly named!

Needless to say, there are apples and pumpkins in profusion--hence the name "AppleUmpkin."

Also noteworthy in the area are lovely gingerbread houses,

stately inns,

and churches dating from the early and mid-19th century.

We spent most of our time in Wyoming just strolling around, watching the other festival goers (there were almost as many dogs being pushed in strollers as babies!), and poking our heads into booths now and then. The one thought that occurred to me again and again: how blessed we all are to live in America! Where else could so many different people from so many places congregate peacefully and happily with their families and friends, in such a beautiful spot, just to enjoy their little corner of life and to share that fleeting magic time we call Autumn?

We did pick up several books for a dollar each at the local public library's used book booth (two history books for me--natch, and some craft and gardening books for Melany). I resisted the temptation to shell out $8.50 for a grape pie (the signature confection of the Finger Lakes region this time of year), which left us just enough cash to buy a beautiful fall garland for hanging in the dining room. All tuckered out, we headed back home through the countryside once again. A perfect Autumn excursion!

We hope to sally forth for more Fall adventures in the coming month, and we'll share them with you if and when we do. Till then, here's the "other" Autumn in New York--Vernon Duke’s marvelous jazz composition written for the 1934 show Thumbs Up! This version is by the incomparable Billie Holiday. I acknowledge that Lady Day (as she was called) is an acquired taste, but if you listen to her enough, you'll come to appreciate that her voice and singing style were tailor-made for jazz. Besides, this was the only rendition I could find paired with a good video of seasonal scenes in the Empire State! So sit back and enjoy all the facets of Autumn in New York!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Faith Wins a Battle, But the War Continues

In another heartening (if modest) victory for religious freedom, U.S. District Judge Margaret C. “Casey” Rodgers ruled this past Thursday that two Santa Rosa County, Florida School District employees did not willfully disobey the court's prior order forbidding district employees from “promoting, advancing, aiding, facilitating, endorsing, or causing religious prayers or devotionals during school sponsored events” at Pace High School in Milton, Florida. The order was issued in a lawsuit brought on behalf of two anonymous Pace students by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which claimed that principal Frank Lay and athletic director Robert Freeman were guilty of criminal contempt of the order when Lay asked Freeman to say a blessing before a luncheon in a newly built field house at the high school where about 30 boosters were invited to celebrate completion of the facility. Judge Rogers determined that the prayer appeared to be spontaneous and not a willful violation of her order, and therefore dismissed charges that could have in jail or hefty fines for both defendants. Lay had explained that his request of Freeman was one of longstanding habit between friends; that he “didn’t think about it”; and that he believed that the court's order referenced influencing students, which he didn't see in the room. Freeman had said that he simply asked the blessing when prompted, and that “It was a reflexive, traditional thing."

The judge's ruling comes about three weeks after school administrative employee Michelle Winkler was cleared of civil contempt charges for asking her non-school-employee husband to to read a prayer blessing that Mrs. Winkler had written for noninstructional employees of the school district being honored at an event off school grounds.

These developments are encouraging. Thank God (this blog isn't a public school, so I can say that), the Pace High School defendants were not fined or jailed for innocent expressions of faith not aimed in any way at students. Judge Casey seems to acknowledge that even the "separation of church and state" has limits, and that public school employees are people, whose religious faith and expression are legitimate personal interests which the government cannot expect or demand be totally abandoned as a condition of employment in the public school system.

But the fundamental problem remains. These people should never have had to endure these proceedings, or to worry about their livelihoods, careers, or freedom. The hammer wielded by the ACLU may have been held back for now in this case, but it hangs still over all public school districts and their personnel, ready to fall on anyone whom that organization decides might chink the "wall" that they believe exists, or should exist, between public education and religious faith.

The problem is uncertainty about where the proper line is between acceptable religious expression by school personnel and expression that becomes the functional equivalent of systematic religious indoctrination. The latter would not be appropriate for a variety of reasons, not least that a public school should be equally welcoming to all and serve the secular educational needs of all children in the district, so that parents can send their children there in confidence that their primary role in the children's instruction about religion will not be usurped or drowned out. Keeping public school districts free from the systematic promotion of one faith is also essential to preserving and fostering religious freedom for all students and school personnel.

I believe, however, that these goals can be met without ruthlessly purging the schools of every last vestige of religious thought and expression, which is the ACLU's apparent object. As Judge Casey seemed to recognize, doing so isn't realistically possible unless public schools are allowed to employ only atheists (and could they be trusted to scrupulously avoid saying anything to disparage religion?) or automatons without any of the personal convictions, doubts, dreams, or feelings from which religious thought and expression typically spring. Nor is it necessary, especially in a high school where students are of an age at which they generally have enough independence of mind and judgment to approach others' occasional religious expressions critically (albeit, one would hope, respectfully).

Perhaps most important, turning public schools into "faith-free zones" isn't desirable from an educational or social standpoint. As much as cynics and atheists deplore the fact, religious belief is an inescapable part of life and a driving force in the world around us, as well as an ineradicable part of our culture--even of modern culture. To stop the mouths of teachers and the ears of students against it would deny public school children the chance to learn not only what has inspired so much of the history, literature, art, and music to which they will be exposed, but also how properly to relate to adults and peers who have a religious faith or don't have one, how to treat them all respectfully as individuals and members of other cultures, and how to understand and cope with the forces that motivate others' behavior. If we're serious about promoting tolerance and diversity in our schools, we should be welcoming responsible religious expression there, not forbidding it. What will really disserve students is not exposure to religious faith, but the kind of rigid, sterile orthodoxy of non-religion that the ACLU wants to enforce.

Oppressive regimes like those in Saudi Arabia and Iran employ "religious police" to patrol the streets and even invade homes to root out any manifestation of unorthodox thought or behavior. Secular police in countries like North Korea and Communist China (whose dictator Mao Zedong famously decalred that "religion is poison") employ the same means against religious expression among their people. Should organizations like the ACLU be allowed to perform such a function in American public schools? Should they be allowed to dictate who can and can't be hired to work there, what they may and may not say and when or where, what the curriculum may and may not be, and how it must or must not be presented? Should they have veto power over what may be said in a valedictory speech? Should the ACLU be able to haul school personnel before judges to face criminal contempt charges whenever its agents, in their sole judgment, decide that a school employee's speech or actions have crossed a line that the ACLU itself has drawn?

It's welcome, but not enough, that Messrs. Lay and Freeman, and Mrs. Winkler, were acquitted of contempt charges in this particular case. Until public school districts start putting common sense and educational interests above "legal fees" in dealing with ACLU intimidation, and until courts have the wisdom and courage enough to articulate an appropriate medium between promoting and purging religion in the schools, their employees will remain subject to threats of prosecution for things as innocuous as bowing and praying silently during school hours, when it's obvious to a student or anyone else present that that is a prayer.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Abide With Me--and the Men of Market-Garden

Today is the 65th anniversary of the launching of Operation Market-Garden, the largest airborne military operation of all time. The endeavor involved drops behind German lines in the Netherlands of almost 35,000 British and American paratroopers, who were to seize and hold a series of bridges over the Rhine River and several tributaries and canals, paving the way for a mighty armored column to pass from south to north and pour into the heart of Germany at Arnhem--and hopefully, end World War II by Christmas 1944. Sadly, the operation's reach exceeded its grasp; while waiting for relief by the much-delayed armored force, several thousand British soldiers were trapped and captured by German troops in and near Arnhem, after eight days of savage fighting. The Arnhem bridge was not secured, and the war dragged on for eight more bloody months.

Being an Allied failure, Operation Market-Garden was not widely celebrated until the release in 1977 of the epic film A Bridge Too Far. Near the end of the film, a group of filthy, injured, and exhausted British troops are huddled in a field hospital about to be taken over by the Germans. One of them quietly begins to sing the hymn Abide With Me, and soon all those who can have joined in. It's one of the most moving scenes in film (war films, anyway).

The text of Abide With Me was written by Rev. Hen­ry F. Lyte in 1847 as he was dy­ing of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, which claimed him three weeks later. The hymn was sung at the wed­ding of King George VI of Great Britain, at the wed­ding of his daugh­ter, the fu­ture Queen Eliz­a­beth II; and at the funeral of Nobel peace prize winner Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1997.

Today I would like to pay tribute to the men of the British 1st Airborne Division, the American 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, XXX Corps, and all those who fought so hard, bled, and died to free Europe and the world from totalitarian domination. Here is a beautiful rendition of Abide With Me, with the complete lyrics below the video (and here is a link to another stunning rendition by Dame Vera Lynn, the "Forces' Sweetheart").

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea —
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Like My Bike!

After failing to persuade one of our college-student boys to use the second-hand bicycle we had bought him through craigslist, Melany was struck with the idea of getting a bike for herself. She hadn't ridden one in many years, but I thought it was a capital idea. I'd been trying to get her to go out riding with me for as long as I could remember, but I think the idea never came to fruition because of other commitments, lack of opportunity, and perhaps under-confidence on Melany's part. I was thrilled when she found one she liked --we drove into Rochester together to pick it up--and since that mid-August day, we've been going out a couple of times a week to ride along the Erie Canal towpath (which runs by just a few hundred feet from our house), or around the village of Brockport.

I love to feel the breeze on my face as I ride along, and the rest of me appreciates the workout--I'm always more relaxed and sleep better afterwards. And having my sweet spouse along for company makes it seem like a little romantic adventure!

My mount is very special--a single-speed, coaster-brake, Schwinn American that I bought with money I received at my First Communion party back in 1963. That's right--I'm 54, and my bike is 46! I've never owned any other bike. Why should I? It runs as well today as it did the day I brought it home--better in fact, as I wasn't quite big enough to actually ride it then, and had to wait most of the next year before I had grown enough and could start learning. This sweetheart is as solid as a tank, has no extra gears, hand brakes or cables to get fouled up, and gathers very little rust, which I clean off along with the winter's dust every spring. It's surprisingly easy to pedal when the tires are fully inflated. The kids made fun of it for years because its various little creaks and squeaks made me audible for some distance as I approached or rode away. Well, I finally fixed that--WD-40 in a few strategic places, and now she's quiet too! True, the fenders and frame have some dents and scratches from several senseless acts of vandalism when I had the bike with me in college and at our second apartment in Chattanooga. Her original brilliant red paint is now a faded coppery color. The handgrips are more brownish than the snow white they started as (and, of course, are devoid of the multi-colored plastic streamers that I removed for maleness' sake soon after the bike came home) . Thousands of miles under my butt have worn down the once nicely-padded seat to a thin layer of vinyl over the coils. But I've never replaced anything on the bike except tires and once, after a nasty fall, the rear rim. And all I've added are a rear carrier and a bell.

I can't begin to number the miles my bike has carried me--in a pack with my brothers and pals in the mid-60s around Grand Island, NY; between home and the Little League ball fields, the public library, and several summer jobs; around campus at Michigan State University; between my apartment and work (for several months) in Chattanooga; and through our various neighborhoods with the kids to playgrounds, the library, and school. Her history is a cherished part of my own half-century-plus, and connects me with the "golden age" of the 60s in America before drugs, politics, and war spoiled the end of that decade--the age of baseball cards, transistor radios, grape Nehi, scouting and Boys' Life, the Beach Boys and Herman's Hermits, Corvettes and Camaros. Who from that era would want to discard something that went through it with him, and made it possible for him to live those days to the hilt?

I'm afraid that when I pass on, they'll have to inter my bike with me. I don't know how I'll do without her on the other side.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dr. Obama's Miracle Cure

"Snake oil" has been defined as "a derogatory term for compounds offered as medicines which implies that they are fake, fraudulent, quackish, or ineffective. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with exaggerated marketing, but questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit." This is a concept to keep in mind when considering the current furor over "health care reform" now gripping the country.

I don't usually watch speeches by politicians--even Presidential ones--on TV. But I felt that the health care debate was grave enough a matter that I should watch President Obama's speech before Congress Wednesday night to find out just what he is trying to sell, and to see if he could somehow dispel the confusion and suspicion that surround the legislation now before our representatives. Click here to read the full text of his remarks.

As contemporary political speeches go, it was a pretty good one--direct, breezy, and kinda friendly-like (except toward insurance companies and critics of his ideas). We all know that Mr. Obama is a good speaker. His outline of the health care reform plan he proposes was presented with appealing, and probably deceptive, simplicity. As he sees it, nobody loses, everybody gains, and it won't cost anybody an extra cent. Given the breathtaking complexity of medical science and the health care business, and the fierce battles that have raged over the issue for so many months and years--does that smell just a little like snake oil to you?

For one thing, if this plan is so clear and self-evidently ideal for everyone, where was this speech when the health care debate started last spring? Why not lay out your plans at the outset and thereby avoid all that public confusion, anxiety, and anger? Why, instead, were 1000+ -page bills hurled onto the table with a dare that anyone try to read them, and a demand that they be passed in a matter of days, essentially without opposition? Why, having so put people on the defensive and insulted their intelligence and integrity, did Democrats find it necessary to castigate them as liars, racists, and Nazis when they expressed reservations or objections to what they believed, without the benefit of the President's guidance, this legislation provided? Was it just a try to get away with whatever they could and, if determined opposition developed, have a basis for demonizing it? Don't blame people if, after being treated this way, they are suspicious of the Administration's new-found candor.

Another thing that left me skeptical was the President's explanation of how his plan will be paid for--all $900 billion of it over 10 years. Is it really possible that "reducing . . . [fraud,] waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan"? If all that fraud and waste were so easy to identify and eliminate, why hasn't it already been done? Can government agencies that have squandered that much money for so many years be trusted to suddenly become honest, efficient, and financially responsible, merely because this President wills it? Can the rest of this reform really be paid for by adding premiums paid by or for 30 million new insureds--less than 10 percent of the population--when insurance companies are also being forced to cover all of their preexisting conditions, all of their routine checkups and preventive care, and all of their annual, lifetime, and out-of-pocket expenses? And what's this about "charg[ing] insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies"? Aren't those usually their highest-quality policies? That's probably one choice you won't have under the new plan.

Nor was I impressed by the President's reference to tort reform, such as limits on specious lawsuits and on jury awards for noneconomic damages. All the President promised to do was "move forward on a range of ideas" in this area. No specific ideas or proposals, and no promises--"We'll look into it." Given that organizations of plaintiffs' lawyers are always among the Democratic Party's most slavish and financially generous supporters, you can rest assured that meaningful tort reform won't be part of any health care bill that gets through Congress.

Remember that, as the President stressed, the financial viability of his plan depends on everyone being forced--under threat of fines--to participate in the health insurance system at their own cost (or at the taxpayers'). It matters not that an individual may have sufficient means to pay his or her own medical expenses if and when they arise. And for larger businesses, providing health insurance benefits to employees is no longer simply a supplemental form of compensation or a means to attract and retain the best talent available; it's now a moral and legal obligation to employees and to society in general.

What most affronted me about the President's speech was contemptuous way he characterized those (including me) who have raised serious and legitimate issues about what the current health care reform legislation does and doesn't provide for, and what its effects may be. His response to concerns about rationing care to senior citizens and coverage for illegal aliens and abortions consisted almost entirely of epithets: "misinformation", "bogus claims," "demagoguery and distortion", and "lies." Aside from vituperation, here is all he had to say about these things:
It is a lie, plain and simple [as to rationing of care]. . . .

The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. . . .

[U]nder our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.
As to care rationing, the President gave no explanation as to how government-run or -certified boards and panels would be restrained from taking into account the age and "quality-of-life" prospects of senior citizens and critically ill patients in determining how to contain costs and allocate scarce resources--as Rahm Emmanuel's own physician brother has advocated.

The President's assurances that his health care plan will not cover illegal immigrants or abortion don't seem credible, either. An article today from the Associated Press observes that while the House version of the health care bill prohibits spending any federal money to help illegal immigrants get health care coverage, and health care legislation in the Senate is also being crafted to exclude illegal immigrants from coverage, illegal immigrants could use their own money to buy into a new government-run insurance plan if Congress creates one; worse, there is no provision in any of the bills for enforcement of the prohibition on federal health care subsidies for illegal immigrants, nor is there any requirement for people to prove that they are citizens or legal residents before getting health care benefits.

As to coverage of abortions, the nonpartisan reports that while the bills now before Congress don’t require federal money to be used for supporting abortion coverage, the legislation would allow a new "public" insurance plan to cover abortions, despite language added to the House bill that technically forbids using public funds to pay for them; low- and moderate-income persons who would choose the "public plan" would qualify for federal subsidies to purchase it, and private plans that cover abortion also could be purchased with the help of federal subsidies.

Of course, one runs a risk in pointing these things out. As the President said, "If you misrepresent what's in this plan, we will call you out." As in, take you behind the woodshed? Whup you upside the head?

The bottom line: we must all be most vigilant about what issues from Congress in the way of "health care reform." Will it really do, or avoid, all the things the President promised? Will it carefully adhere to the guidelines that he set forth Wednesday night? Or was the President just talking through his hat like the snake oil salesmen of the 19th century, using his personal charm and glibness to sell us a magic elixir that contains (in its dense and endless verbiage) who knows what, and will affect the body politic in ways we can't foresee and wouldn't want? This is one instance in which we can't "try before we buy," so we'd better be absolutely sure that this cure is not going to be worse than the disease.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another Old Athlete on the Disabled List

. . . and this one never took steroids, made an eight-figure salary, or appeared on "Dancing With the Stars." He does, however, have long legs and muscular shoulders, enjoys a good ball game, and owns a beautiful fur coat.

I'm speaking, of course, of our dog Frank. He's now fully into middle age (7) and about 10 pounds heavier than he was when we got him 3 years ago, but he's still trying to race around like the speed demon he then was just off the greyhound track. But as any old ballplayer will tell you, age and decrepitude have a way of sneaking up on you. Well, they paid a visit to Frank this past Monday when our daughter-in-law's family came over for a Labor Day cookout in our back yard. They brought their dog William--some kind of sheepdog, I think, and a perpetual motion machine himself--and Frank, while reeling off laps around the house with the evident purpose of showing off his athletic prowess, somehow managed to break a toe in his right front paw. Yesterday Melany took the poor fellow to the vet, who advised that Frank stay off that paw as much as possible over the next 4 to 6 weeks. No more laps around the house, no more chasing down squirrels (or the shadows of them), no more brisk walks along the Erie Canal even (his favorite nightly activity). He limps his way into the back yard to answer Nature's call, then limps back into the house to resume his enforced rest. Like many banged-up sportsmen, though, he appreciates a good soak in the jacuzzi now and then.

I've reminded Frank of that old saying by Mark Twain about age being "an issue of mind over matter: if you don't mind, it doesn't matter.” But that seems to have just gone in one of his floppy ears and out the other.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Boys and Their Toys

I want one! A cannon, that is. And not one of those wimpy things that you carry in your pocket or a holster.

An NBC affiliate in Philadelphia reported this morning:
A Pennsylvania history buff who recreates firearms from old wars accidentally fired a 2-pound cannonball through the wall of his neighbor's home in Uniontown, Pa.

William Maser, 54, fired a cannonball Wednesday evening outside his home in Georges Township that ricocheted and hit a house 400 yards away. The cannonball, about two inches in diameter, smashed through a window and a wall before landing in a closet. Authorities said nobody was hurt.

State police charged Maser with reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

No one answered the phone Friday at Maser's home. He told WPXI-TV that recreating 19th-century cannons is a longtime hobby. He said he is sorry and he will stop shooting them on his property, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
It's not clear from this story or other reports on this incident (click here and here for some entertaining collections of stories and commentary on it) whether the cannon was a restored original from the Civil War, or a reproduction--or just something that Mr. Maser knocked together out of some old pipe and scrapwood. Moreover, by historical standards, his piece is a peashooter--during the Civil War, that ball would more likely have weighed 12 pounds or more, not 2, and he might have chosen instead to fire shrapnel-loaded canister or an exploding shell, either of which would have made mincemeat of his neighbor's house. No matter--Mr. Maser is obviously in possession of something to command real respect from his neighbors, as well as from the local authorities.

Just a couple of weeks ago, while riding through Batavia, NY, I noticed a building (it looked like a private home, but maybe housed a veteran's organization or something like that) with two 19th century cannons out front. I wondered out loud to Melany whether the occupant might be persuaded to part with one of them, so that we'd have something really nifty to adorn our front yard. It might even be used to "discourage" those inconsiderate people who race their noisy motorcycles up and down our street! Well, she wasn't persuaded, and that was that. But I can dream, can't I?

UPDATE: Some of Mr. Maser's neighbors have reportedly organized a self-defense unit, and have been photographed beside an item with which they're prepared to deliver counterbattery fire should Mr. Maser be seen tinkering with his toys again. With any luck, the neighborhood will be treated to a real old-time fireworks show!