What it Means to Be a Braves Fan

On June 30, the Braves were 4 1/2 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East. After play today concluded the month of July, they're 5 games in first. That's an incredible one month swing. If they remain in first, it would mark the 14th year in a row that they've won their division. (Skipping the strike year of course, when nobody won anything.)

There are a lot of Braves fans who have never known anything but success. Many people jumped on the bandwagon in the early to mid 90s. Some of us have been suffering since the 60s--when the Braves fielded one of the worst teams ever put together. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes the 70s and 80s too! Aside from the incredible (and still underrated somehow) Hank Aaron, there just wasn't much to like if you were a Braves fan. But I grew up with the transistor radio stuck in my ear, listening to Ernie Johnson try to find something good to say about a team that every year seemed to be going nowhere fast.

Earlier this year, when we were back East on the kids' senior trip, we went to the Braves-Red Sox game at Fenway Park. (Hey, the adults have to have some fun too--or least the Dad!) Sure, the Braves lost, but it was still a lot of fun to see a game in "my" team's old home town.

Being a Braves fan to me means never forgetting the awful teams--and enjoying every day of the great ones.

Second Thoughts

I've been struggling for the last week with what to do with my "The Only Good Indian" post. Of course there's always the eraser option, by which I look good (at least to everyone but me) by hiding the evidence. There's the edit option, by which I could, as our elected representatives like to say "revise and extend my remarks." But frankly I'm not happy with either of those.

So I'm going to just leave it as is, and give the benefit of time and reflection and see where we come out.

I still think that, on balance, the only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. I'm not in favor of the law enforcement approach to terrorism. Although there is considerable intelligence work involved in trying to protect us, it seems to me to be primarily a military problem. If we can find and kill, or capture as the case may be, these guys before they get to us, we're much better off.

However the killing of a man with no apparent terrorist connections highlights the problems we face in this battle. Now on the one hand, you can make the case that he brought it on himself. He refused repeated commands to stop, and despite the weather was dressed suspiciously. But of course a visa violation shouldn't be a capital offense.

So my bottom line conclusion is this: this death is just as much the terrorist's fault as the forty-something people killed in the train and bus bombings two weeks before. Due to their use of civilian warriors the terrorists have still more innocent blood on their hands. Not that they care. Such warfare is specifically prohibited by the Geneva Conventions precisely because it poses a grave threat to innocents.

Which brings me back to my starting point. They have chosen to make it a question of us vs. them. I suggest we take them seriously and prosecute the war around the world accordingly.


The Only Good Indian

In 1869, General Philip Sheridan met a Comanche Indian chief who told him he was a "good Indian." Sheridan replied, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." The phrase later became widely known as "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

I hardly approve of the sentiment toward Indians. My wife has Choctaw Indian in her background, and blanketing a race of people with a generalization like that is wrong, stupid, counterproductive, and yes, evil.

However I thought of Sheridan's line this morning as I watched the news that London police had killed a terror suspect trying to get on the subway. Frankly, the one thing we know for sure about that guy is that he will never again attempt to kill innocents in his struggle to establish his twisted world view as the dominant culture. He will never again threaten harm to defenseless civilians. He will never stone a girl for not wearing a veil. He will never blow up children surrounding American soldiers to get candy. He will never murder political leaders to discourage freedom from coming.

Sounds like a good terrorist to me.


Death and Taxes

My kids both have summer jobs this year. When they got their first paychecks not too long ago, the weeping, wailing, and teeth-gnashing over the withholding taxes was something to behold. (Today was payday again, which is what triggered this thought.) When you've been working and getting paid for 20+ years, you tend to forget how annoying it is to first realize exactly how much the government is siphoning off from your money. And it is your money.

So allow me to make the follow two suggestions. 1) Let's move tax day. April 15 is way too far removed from the perpetrators. Let's make taxes due the last week of October. Having to write those checks a week before voting would (as Mark Twain said of the prospect of being hung) focus the mind. If we drew a stronger correlation between the laws our elected officials pass and the direct financial consequences, maybe we'd vote a little more intelligently.

2) Let's do away with withholding. If people had to pay the bill all at once, the pressure to lower our taxes would be immediate and immense. The drip, drip, drip of tax withholding torture doesn't galvanize us the way the total would if we recognized it.

Franklin said the only sure things were death and taxes...it's just too bad they don't come in that order!


Fighting the Last Peace

People often say the military is preparing to fight the last war. In other words, they're really good at learning the lessons of the last conflict, but poorly prepared to fight in the next war, which inevitably will be quite different from those that came before. Changing technology, tactics and weaponry invariably means that a new war will not be much like the last one.

But I think today what we're seeing is America's military and political leaders fighting the last peace. Today the news (before the Supreme Court announcement avalanche) reported that the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) wants to close Pearl Harbor Naval Base.

My mom reads this occasionally (not to mention my kids), so I'm going to make an effort to keep my language clean enough to be fit to print...but are we REALLY that stupid?

By my count this is now at least the fourth time that we've failed to learn the lessons of history. Following WWI, we deliberately dismantled most of our military, leaving us woefully unprepared for the start of WWII. Following WWII, we quickly drew down our military, even in the growing shadow of the Communist threat. Following the end of the Cold War, we celebrated the "Peace Dividend" and raptuously spent the excess funds we'd been wasting on military preparedness. Now, even as we fight a global war on terror--a real shooting war in two countries now that is going to have to be expanded at some point--we're cutting back on our military yet again.

Have these people never read a single report on the growing military might of Red China? (Yeah, I know it's horribly un-PC to refer to them that way, but these guys are everything the Russians weren't. They are serious about domination, and willing to do whatever it takes to get there.) You think a base halfway across the Pacific might come in handy someday? The problem is that now, unlike in 1941, we won't have time to gear up when the big war starts. If we aren't ready, we lose. Plain and simple.

And if we're not ready because we beat our swords into plowshares...we deserve what we get.


We often forget how fleeting America's history really is. 229 years have passed since our Declaration of Independence. But it's really only in the past seventy years or so that we've become a world power...and only a couple of decades while we've been the one "superpower" in the world. The temptation is to think that it will always be that way.

Frankly there aren't any guarantees of that. We're seeing a spirit of division between "red" and "blue" America that's widening almost every day. If you don't believe me, just watch what happens when President Bush nominates someone to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. (Rumored to be coming up any day now.) The support and opposition patterns will be reflexive and automatic. You could already write the speech Ted Kennedy will give on the Senate floor, denouncing Mr. (or more likely) Mrs. Blank who will turn back the clock...blah blah blah.

Look at the war. Close to half the country thinks we're in a titanic struggle of civilizations that will mark a turning point between freedom and tyranny. Close to half the country thinks it's our fault that they hate us, and if we'd just turn the murderous thugs loose from Gitmo (or at least quit making them listen to Christina Aguilera music) and get out of Iraq they'd leave us alone.
Of course the first World Trade Center bombing was in 1993, but that fact is generally ignored in those circles.

Our place in the world as the America we know is not secure. Things change. Frankly when my children were born, I didn't think their children would live long enough to see the Berlin Wall come down. Instead it happened before they were old enough to remember it. Most great and powerful empires do not collapse slowly. The buildup is slow, but the events tend more toward the cataclysmic. If we fail to heed the warning signs, we will suffer the consequences.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies,
whose frown,And wrinkled lip,
and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley


Just Call 911

Following up on the immigration post the other day, I thought this story was fascinating. A group of illegals called 911 for help yesterday. Arizona has been in the grips of record heat. Tucson, where I live, has not seen a day under 100 degrees since June 13! Even by our standards, it's been ugly.

Apparently the smuggler--they call them coyotes--who was leading this group got tired/bored/mad or something and left them behind. One of the group found a cell phone in the bag the coyote left behind and used it to call for help. The Border Patrol showed up and took them into custody, and in a day or two I'm sure they'll be headed back to the staging area south of the border to prepare for their next trip north.

It's time to start effectively controlling our border. As we were reminded with the London bombing last week, the terrorists are still alive and well, seeking to render us not so alive and well. And there's a HUGE whole in our security when tens if not hundreds of thousands of illegals are waltzing in from Mexico.

From a political standpoint, there is an enormous opportunity to the politician and/or party who effectively takes on this issue. McCain? Hillary? There's an open door (to borrow a phrase from Emma Lazarus) that could easily lead to the White House in 2008.


Playing by the Rules

There are now apparently nine states, Kansas being the most recent addition, where the children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tutition rates at state colleges and universities. It's hard to know whether to call this foolish, misguided, ill-conceived, or just suicidal. Following the trend to give driver's licenses to illegals as well, I think we've lost our collective minds.

I'm not against immigrants. Most of my ancestors made their way here from Ireland back in the 1800s. America has been greatly enriched by our history of accepting those who came here from around the world. But those who came here legally and worked to become Americans are far different from those who break the law for a few bucks. It's time to start enforcing the law, rather than giving perks to people who break it.

If for no other reason, the war on terror makes this a priority. Quit rewarding bad behavior, and you'll see a lot less of it. Keep on, and we'll have more.


Hitting the Big Time

My daughter has posted her first piece of jewelry up for sale on ebay. She was blessed to get to spend almost three years working as an apprentice to a master jeweler specializes in Southwestern Native American pieces. Another proud dad moment!



"Textbooks Are So Last Century"

That's the first sentence in an article in the Tucson paper today about a new school at which every student will use a laptop computer instead of traditional textbooks. Almost twenty years ago, I wrote the following story about a society that went away from books. I've brushed up a couple of things to account for new inventions, but other than that, this is the story as I wrote it in 1988. It sure seems closer to reality today...

Any Fool Can Make a Tree

The three events of that third Friday in May had no visible connection, but taken together, they marked the culmination of a massive change in the world. It was on that Friday that the Browning Home Science Corporation in Palo Alto, California, announced the sale of its ten-billionth Personal Creation Home Kit. That same day, Joyce Carter came to corporate headquarters to claim her promised seat on the board of directors, and the Hirsch Memorial Library closed its doors.

Only a few decades before, the world had been a very different place. Continued deforestation had brought massive drought and famine to the world. Population growth outpaced the ability of diplomacy to keep peace, especially as the resources to fuel modern society became scarcer. Political leaders, philosophers, historians and mystics sought the answers.

But it was from science that salvation came. Reaching back to the groundbreaking work on personal fabrication done at MIT in the early part of the 21st century, Dr. Thomas Young, the greatest inventive genius since Edison, unlocked the DNA code to produce a creation/growth formula.

Trees, plants, even animals could be created and brought to full maturity in days. Suddenly, the world’s problems changed dramatically. The hunger that had claimed so many lives became only a memory. The introduction of billions of trees ended drought, flooding, and replaced pollution with clean air. In many ways, it seemed a utopia.

Governments fought to restrict the technology but popular demand quickly forced them to relent. The Browning Home Science Corporation was formed to take advantage of the commercial aspects of Dr. Young’s discovery by his childhood friend, Ben Browning. Though for obvious reasons the home kit was greatly restricted in power compared to the government version, it quickly became the most successful commercial product ever launched.

Because of their exclusive licensing arrangement with Dr. Young, BHSC cornered the market and soon became the largest, most profitable corporation in history. Everyone wanted the ability to create.

The creative sciences quickly became the field of choice in education. Young people in high school and even grade school cared for little else. New classes were established at universities to turn out teachers trained to instruct students in the use of the Personal Creation Home Kit.

The decline in other areas of study was unforeseen. Students quickly turned from the humanities and learning about the past. Compared with the fervent thrill of creating plants and animals, learning the history of past wars and studying arcane philosophical debates held no interest.

That change led directly to the closing of the Hirsch Memorial Library in Charlottesville, Virginia. As fewer people spent time reading, the libraries found demand for their services in sharp decline. When someone did want to read, the convenience of e-books kept them from needing to leave home. One by one, the public libraries closed their doors. No longer would children read and study, now, with their BHSC kits in hand, they would create.

Joyce Carter saw the announcement of the library’s closing on the news wall of the elevator as she rode to the 157th floor at BHSC headquarters, but her mind was elsewhere. Her day of triumph had arrived. Though some in the company had carped about the ease of marketing their products, she was justly proud of her campaign, and the ten billion unit sales goal she had reached.

Joyce had been recruited by BHSC straight out of school. This was the world in which she had been shaped, and there she would change that world still further. She had shown a remarkable flair for creativity, and several of her scholastic projects had been patented. Her rapid rise at the company was driven in large part by her intense wonder at the possibilities of creation.

On being given the top marketing position, she had built a worldwide marketing campaign around the company’s slogan “Any Fool Can Make a Tree.” She succeeded in the one thing many thought impossible—increasing interest further in the already wildly popular Personal Creation Home Kits. Her campaign tapped into the desire in every human heart to be the creator of something unique.

She had been promised a seat on the board when sales reached ten billion units, and she had come to claim her prize. As she walked down the hall toward the boardroom, triumph mingled with wonder in her heart. She had reached the pinnacle of the world’s most profitable company. Even the top job there now might be within her reach when Dr. Browning retired in a few years.

As she waited to enter and take her seat among the Browning directors, she saw one of her marketing brochures on the table and picked it up. More than ever before, the company’s slogan caught her eye. She mulled it briefly, wondering why she had never thought about its origin before.

Dr. Browning himself came out to greet her. He had adopted her as his protégé when she first was hired. She had grown to respect the older man, and deeply appreciated his interest in her. “Welcome, Joyce,” he said. “You’ve earned your place here today.” She returned his greeting, the brochure still in her hand. “Thank you, Sir,” she replied. “Can I ask you a question before we go in?”

“Of course,” the older man said. “What is it?”

“I was just looking at this brochure, and it occurred to me. I’ve known our slogan forever—I even used it to get here, but I don’t know where it came from. It’s brilliant, but who came up with it?”

“I did,” Dr. Browning replied with a chuckle. “It’s a play on words from an old poem written a couple hundred years ago. The author said, ‘any fool can write lines like these, but only God can make a tree.’ I just sort of turned that around.”

And Joyce Carter, a proud and successful product of the world’s best schools, an innovative and creative marketer and thinker, a brilliant woman in every way, looked at him in complete puzzlement and said, “Dr. Browning, what’s a poem?”

@Copyright 1988 by Robert Byers


"And--Which Is More"

I don't know if there is any day in a father's life better than the one on which he sees his son become a man.

(Necessary background info: My 16 year old is a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the Air Force. His rank is Chief Master Sergeant. The Arizona cadets are spending 11 days at "encampment", a military boot camp style program where they learn discipline, drill, attention to detail, and so forth. This year Bryant is filling the role of flight sergeant for one of the groups. He had planned to be part of the public relations staff, but they were short on sergeants, so he was tapped to fill the position. We now return you to your regularly scheduled post, already in progress at this time.)

This morning I got a phone call from my son. There was an ugly incident yesterday in his flight involving one of the cadets using racial slurs and physically attacking another cadet. Some of the guys wanted to sweep it under the rug. Instead, Bryant went to the commander and reported the incident. After an investigation, the offending cadet was sent home.

I can't begin to list the emotions I felt when I hung up the phone, the pride and joy that, even though others did not, this teenager stood alone for what was right. Without his parents to guide him. Away from home and family. He may not have become a man at encampment. He may already have become one here and I just didn't notice it in the day to day progress of life...but there is no question in my mind that, however he left, he will come home a man.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

Thomas Paine

Two days before Christmas in 1776, Thomas Paine wrote these words in The Crisis. "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."

There is no doubt in my mind that we're fighting against a form of tyranny today. While our terrorist enemies do not have the power of government to pass laws limiting our freedom, their aim is to bring everyone under the authority of their interpretation of Islam. To that end, they use terror to try to dishearten those who oppose them. We cannot afford to falter in this battle. Freedom is worth the price.


In Case You've Forgotten

One of the negative characteristics of the American public is that we collectively tend to have very short memories. Today, once again, there is no doubt. We ARE at war. The only alternative we have is to fight and win. Yet even in that fighting, you see the difference between us and our enemies.

They intentionally and repeatedly target innocent civilians. They hide behind civilians, using hospitals and churches as shields. They attempt to increase civilian casualties, hoping to sway public opinion.

We don't do that. But as they have repeatedly made it clear that their intent is to make this a choice between us and them, I vote we get even more serious about making sure it's them. It's time for everyone to quit carping about who dropped the ball on 9/11, who told what to whom before we went to war in Iraq, whose fault it is that the building of a democratic government there where one has never been before is so difficult--and unite around this one idea...we MUST win this war. We did not choose it; many would rather not fight it. But we have no alternative to fighting and winning, unless you consider dying with your head in the sand to be a viable option. I say the ostrich makes a poor national symbol.


I hate vans too

So a week after the oldest one gets back from her week at music camp, the youngest one gets on a van AT 4:30 IN THE MORNING to go off to Civil Air Patrol encampment for 11 days. ARGH.
Dealing with your kids growing up is really tough. (Yeah, I know I'm hardly the first person to go through the process--but it's new to me!)

When my parents were out for the kids' graduation, I asked my dad, "Why is it that the happiest moments in a child's life are at the same time some of the saddest for parents?" He gave me the look--you know the one that says, "you just now figured that out?"--and a little sympathy. But there aren't very many good answers to this quandry. For years we've been getting closer to this moment. Knowing that it's coming is like being tied to the train tracks in one of those old movies...you can see it, but you can't do much about it.

They're great kids. They're just too old.

So let's add vans to airplanes on the list of things that I hate.


The "and" in the Star Spangled Banner

I've been reflecting a lot this Fourth of July weekend on freedom--its costs and benefits. Reading the stories about the special forces troops killed in Afghanistan, the terrorist attacks in Iraq (and boy am I SICK of hearing the attackers called "insurgents" on the news), and watching soldiers leaving and returning from their missions, I've been reminded to stop to appreciate and give thanks for the sacrifices that got us to where we are as a nation.

Recently we took our kids to the East Coast for a senior trip. While we were in Washington, we went to the Korean War Memorial. It's the first time I've been to DC in nearly twenty years, and thus my first chance to see the memorial. My dad fought in Korea more than 50 years ago. Frankly I didn't expect the emotional impact of the memorial to be so great. Thankfully, my father came home safe and sound, met my mom and had me. Yet seeing those statues of soldiers making their way across a frozen battlefield filled my heart with pride and thanks for his willingness to answer the call of duty. Even though he did not have to pay what Lincoln called the "last full measure of devotion," he joined a long line of American heroes who have defended our nation at home and around the world.

Every verse of The Star Spangled Banner ends by talking about "the land of the free AND the home of the brave." We saw the original flag from Fort McHenry at the Smithsonian on our trip as well--the same flag that Francis Scott Key watched as it "gave proof through the night." On this July 4th, it's fitting to stop and remember that the USA will only continue to be the land of the free if it continues to be the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

(It wouldn't hurt if we'd quit trying to get rid of God either, but that's a topic for another day.)