2005 in review/2006 in preview

Tonight is the first time I’ve had a blog at the end of the year.

On April 1st, I went to the Blogspot website and started to create what I called “ttown’s right wing conspiracy.” There were a million voices in the blogosphere and I decided to create my own. It evolved into something that was my goal from the start – my own website. You’re looking at monoblogue, which is a labor of love for me. Lord knows it’s not profitable, but what first-time enterprise is? It’s a much less expensive hobby than golf, that’s for sure.

In one month, monoblogue has pissed off more leftists, moonbats, and so-called “progressives” (but I repeat myself) than any letter to the editor of mine ever did. And it’s a good thing! All of this is a lot of fun, particularly the “My feedback” page I have now. Ooooh, does that burn people up!

Yes, I thought to myself – why waste all this good writing and argument that not everyone will see? I can put it all in one place, plus as a bonus link to the blog in question so the reader can get the flavor of the post and others’ commentary on it. Sometimes I get my comeuppance, and many times those others who comment bring up things I didn’t think about and it’s a learning experience.

Now, I didn’t write on everything that happened in 2005. But there were many seminal events that bear looking back at as a reminder.

Around the world, Pope John Paul II died and was eventually replaced by Benedict XVI in somewhat of a surprise. Many thought the man known as Joseph Ratzinger was too old at 78 to be Pope.

While the tsunami that engulfed parts of Southeast Asia actually occurred in 2004, the impact and cleanup continued in 2005. A massive humanitarian effort dominated the first half of the year before thoughts of charity turned to domestic matters (see below.)

France had a summer of its discontent as Muslim youth rioted for weeks. Most of the catastrophe was in the property damage caused by the rioters, but there were fatalities and the world saw France take a black eye in some of its reaction to the strife.

Also, the UN saw its share of trouble as the “Oil-for-Food” scandal widened. Hundreds of businessmen and politicians in several nations had their reputations sullied by being named as beneficiaries of a scheme that served to enrich the deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

But a lot happened in America as well. The event that holds the biggest long-term impact was not a man-made one. Much like the 2004 tsunami, a twin punch from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devestated the Gulf region. It turned out to be a record hurricane season, as part of a multi-decade cycle that promises more of the same in the next decade or two. Even as I write, Tropical Storm Zeta is spinning in the Atlantic, a very rare late-season storm. It’s the 27th and last named storm of 2005.

The political world remains ruled by the War on Terror being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many heroes have fallen in this battle, but progress occurred as Iraqis and Afghans worked on electing representatives for new republics, the first of their kind in each nation. Debate was led by minority Democrats on whether the war was worthwhile and whether its means justified the ends. But a resolution for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq was almost unanimously defeated in the House of Representatives.

Other political issues came to the forefront. Relief aid for the Gulf hurricanes became entangled in a new effort by fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party to not spend new money on emergency help, but offset other areas of the budget to pay for it. The “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska became a symbol for those fighting the pork in various spending bills.

Immigration reform surfaced late in the year as an issue as the problem of illegal immigration and its impact on homeland security was debated in Congress.

Left simmering in the background was a national divide over the War on Terror and the presidency itself. A vocal minority of people continued to protest the war and other actions taken by President Bush. They coalesced in the person of Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her son in Iraq. Leftists hailed her as a hero speaking out as she and a band of followers camped out in Crawford, Texas near President Bush’s home. On the right, she was derided as a misguided mother besmirching the memory of her son.

Closer to home, the big issue in Maryland was the fate of the “Fair Share Health Care Act”, better known as the Wal-Mart bill. Approved by the General Assembly in the spring, Governor Ehrlich vetoed it in a public ceremony in Princess Anne, where nearby a Wal-Mart distribution center was being proposed for a site along U.S. 13. This promised to bring over 700 good-paying jobs to the area and would immediately become the #2 employer in Somerset County.

While that debate continued, candidates began their 2006 campaigns. This coming year brings elections for the governor’s office and an open U.S. Senate seat, as incumbent Sen. Paul Sarbanes will not seek a sixth term.

And that’s one thing I’ll be following as the curtain is opened on 2006.

The year is going to start with a bang as the Maryland General Assembly begins its session. First on the agenda is attempting to override several of Governor Ehrlich’s vetoes, including “Fair Share”. It’s something I’ve already commented on, but the story continues to develop. In the pipeline is a post on a conversation I had with one of my delegates to the General Assembly.

Once the General Assembly session is out of the way, the election season will get going in earnest. At the moment, Governor Ehrlich will be facing off against either Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan or Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley for the governor’s seat. No Republican has won re-election to the governor’s chair in Maryland since 1954. Governor Ehrlich also needs to find a running mate as Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat opened up by the retirement of Sen. Sarbanes. On the Democrat side, a crowded field is led by U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin and former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume. Maryland hasn’t had a Republican U.S. Senator since 1987.

On the federal level, Congress will start out the year with two pressing issues. One for the Senate is the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court for the seat vacated by the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The other issue for both House and Senate approval is the fate of the PATRIOT Act, enacted in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Many of the provisions in the act were to expire a few short hours from now, but a compromise grudgingly accepted by all extends the deadline to early February.

Later on will begin the 2006 campaign season for control of the U.S. House and Senate. Democrats are hopeful to gain control in both bodies to thwart progress on Bush initiatives. They’ve already proven themselves as masters of obstruction being in the minority.

Of course, at any time events in the world could take precedence to domestic issues. While squabbles in the Middle East are not unknown, a number of other trouble spots loom large: the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Straits, unrest in Indonesia, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, or sub-Saharan Africa, and even unresolved tensions in Europe could seize national headlines. Natural disasters are common but unpredictable.

There are a couple things I’m going to leave behind in 2005.

First and foremost, the 2004 election. Bush won. Quit bitching. The conspiracy theories are just that, theories. A bipartisan slate of electoral authorities in all 50 states certified the results. And that continues to me; yes, the state of Washington’s 2004 results were awfully fishy, but nobody’s in jail (at least yet) for fixing that election. I can think all I want the Democrats stole that one but I have no proof, and I’m not going to seek it out.

Secondly, I’m not going to be such a nice guy to those who would defame my friends and people I believe are of good character. It’s time to call bullshit what it is.

It seems to me in reading a LOT of blogs on a regular basis (I have over 20 on my Favorites bloglist, and I’ll come across a batch of others through links off those) that arguments by those on the left sink to namecalling and personal attacks a lot more quickly than those who argue from the right. (This is in general, I know the lefties can point out examples of namecalling by people on my side. But you get the point, shut up and read on.)

I am 41 years old. I have seen a lot in my time, I grew up with Walter Cronkite tallying up the body count in Viet Nam. When I was 4 years old, Neil Armstrong took that one small step for man. I saw President Nixon resign in disgrace, and recall the outcry when he was pardoned by President Ford. The gas lines in the 70’s were a rude shock, when I grew up gas was 35 cents a gallon and Sam (the owner of the gas station) would come out, clean the windshield, and check the oil and battery.

The first election I really took an interest in as far as paying a bit of attention was the 1976 election between Ford and Carter. At the time, it seemed like Jimmy Carter would be a good change from all the scandal of the years preceding, so I hoped he’d win. Well, he did. Then we got real hard times and hostages in Iran.

The next election was 1980. While Jimmy Carter did whip Ted Kennedy’s ass, he had no chance against Ronald Reagan. I recall the sea change in attitude among a lot of people. Sure the Hollywood types were afraid of that cowboy pushing the nuclear button, but most regular people welcomed a man who wasn’t timid or afraid to lead. He had an agenda and he made it happen. My first Presidential vote was cast to re-elect Ronald Reagan in 1984.

If I were to boil down the last few paragraphs into a short sentence or two, it would be thus: I have seen how the world works in my lifetime. Countries that value freedom for their citizens tend to prosper, while countries that subject their citizens to a range of ideas from outright tyranny to communism to socialism don’t tend to have a long shelf life, or their citizens lag behind the free world.

To me, conservatives and libertarians value freedom most. So I’m among them. So-called “progressives” and leftists value elitism and the domination of the few over the masses. And those who blindly follow their siren song find that they’re almost always not among the elites who have their own set of rules.

I’m not going to look backward like those who are upset over certain events of a few years ago. I’m going to take those events and place them in my memories to make sure that the ones I want to continue to happen do so and that, as we go forward into a bright future, we don’t doom ourselves to repeat events that shouldn’t be.

Odds and year ends

It’s all about the Benjamins for the Democrats and their cronies in Maryland.

I’ll start with the lighter stuff as we pass Christmas and begin the last lap of “the holidays.” Of course, TV will still have all the Christmas-theme commercials through New Year’s Day.

News item: Leading this season’s greetings (Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2005)

The slug line says a lot: Without using public funds, Ehrlich sends the most holiday cards among U.S. governors. While I wasn’t on the card list myself, it is amazing that Governor Ehrlich sends out 40,000 cards. My simple math tells me that 8 of every 1,000 Maryland residents gets a card from the governor. May not seem like much but honestly, how many of you know the governor of your state that well?

Best thing is that unlike previous administrations (according to the Sun article), these cards are paid for through private donations and not out of the public till. What the Sun doesn’t tell you (but I will) is that the last four administrations in Maryland were all Democrats. But I’m sure the Democrats complain about somebody buying influence by paying for the Governor’s Christmas cards and placing a little bit lighter burden on the taxpayers.

News item: Spend surplus on new schools, advocates say (Baltimore Sun, December 23, 2005)

Speaking of a burden on the taxpayers, here is this story as I see it. Instead of lessening the property tax burden on those who have chosen to invest in the state, the Democrats want to spend even more money on building schools. Their lackeys at Progressive Maryland claim that 35% of the people surveyed want to build new schools, while only 20% or so want a tax cut. What I’d like to know (and I haven’t been able to locate the survey online to answer this) is whether this question was asked after they were asked if they agreed with the statement, “Maryland’s schools are overcrowded, many are dilapidated, and too many students are forced to learn in temporary trailer classrooms. We should use most of the surplus to build and repair schools.” Obviously that’s a leading question, so you get 75% of the people saying yes.

The order of questioning is important, particularly if they asked this one after the school one: “(Do you agree with the statement) Tax-and-spend liberal Democrats in Annapolis have been overspending for years. Now that there is finally a budget surplus, lawmakers should give taxpayers long overdue tax relief.” People aren’t going to want to appear greedy after saying they were in favor of building more schools (because it’s for the children, you know.) So that only had a 55% agreement. (56% if you count me.)

There is at least a $600 million surplus. If the Sun figures are correct, Ehrlich could completely erase this year’s state portion of the property tax burden on everyone (13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value) and still have some money left over. That would put $528 million back into the hands of property owners and still leave a small surplus. Obviously the Democrats would rail about “tax cuts for the rich.” But money would return to the state with additional sales tax revenue and just maybe a few thousand new jobs created.

I don’t want to come off as saying that new schools are unnecessary after a period of time. But, honestly, is a Taj Mahal-like school building really more conducive to learning than a good teacher? All a primary school for 300 kids in 6 grades really needs are 12-14 classrooms (which includes 2 for special ed), a gym, a media center, rooms for a science lab, art, and music, office space for a few staff, and a cafeteria. That and be well-designed for expansion. I honestly believe that no primary school should be larger than about 450 kids.

The other thing I’d like to know is whether any new school construction would have a provision to save taxpayers money by waiving the (so-called) “prevailing wage” requirements. Ohio did this with their school building program.

And of course, every other advocacy group wants a cut of this rapidly-shrinking surplus. A group called Advocates for Children and Youth wanted $400 million for schools PLUS $375 million for other social programs.

But you can’t pay big money for schools without getting the teachers’ union seeking a piece of the pie, to wit:

News item: Support builds for better pensions (an AP story in the Daily Times, December 26, 2005)

The teachers’ union wants another $480 million a year for their pensions, although they would generously share about 1/3 of that for other state employees. They whine about the measly pensions that Maryland teachers get, and in raw numbers they are right: it’s about half of Pennsylvania’s average and roughly 50% less than the averages in Delaware and Virginia. An average Free State teacher’s pension is only 36% of their salary, which is tied for the bottom with Hawaii’s average.

But, and this is a big but, Maryland teachers contribute just 2% of their pay toward their pensions. (Hawaii contributes none, but it’s a far smaller state.) While the teachers are willing to kick in another 3% of their pay, they also want to change the multiplier rate to a retroactive 2 percent – an increase of almost half over the current 1.4%.

I actually participated in Ohio’s system for a very short time, back in 1991 when I taught one section of AutoCAD for one semester at Owens College (about 12 hours a week.) It seems to me that I had a lot more than 2% taken out, even then. I recall my rebate being over $100 when I dropped out of the system shortly after leaving Owens, but my salary there was a low four figures.

I’d be curious to know what TB thinks about this one.

News item: Democrats target Ehrlich vetoes (Baltimore Sun, December 11, 2005)

In a nutshell, here is the Democrats’ idiocy Governor Ehrlich properly vetoed:

1. The “Fair Share Health Care” bill, aka the Wal-Mart bill. Bad legislation to target one successful (and non-union) business. The proponents speak of “fairness” but forget that it works both ways.

2. A bill allowing voters to cast their ballots up to a week before Election Day. Can you say electoral fraud? Sure you can. I don’t buy the higher turnout argument because now it’s fairly easy to get an absentee ballot. If I can make time to vote because it’s that important to me, others can sacrifice as well.

3. Increasing the state minimum wage $1 to $6.15 per hour. So, when the inevitable uptick in the unemployment rate comes of this, I’ll bet the Democrats blame Gov. Ehrlich for messing up the economy instead of their support of this artificial wage increase that squeezes business.

4. A juvenile justice bill that simply seems to create more red tape and regulation.

5. A bill that allows same-sex partners to make medical decisions for each other. Just another step toward legalizing gay marriage. But the Ehrlich administration claims they’re seeking a compromise, which means that he only gives away 3/4 of the store instead of 100%. Much like most other liberal programs, get the camel’s nose in the tent and pretty soon you have a humped roommate.

It’s going to be very interesting in Annapolis about two weeks hence. That’s going to really kick off the 2006 campaign. Ironically, Governor Ehrlich will be at a fundraising disadvantage for the 90 days of the legislative session as he cannot raise money during that period, while his Democrat opponents can. But he does have the advantage of a late primary (Maryland’s primary is in mid-September) so both Martin O’Malley and Doug Duncan can beat each other up all summer – unless the powers that be in the Democrat party convince one to drop out, or the Democrats game the election cycle and move the primary back to June.

But the Democrats would NEVER change the rules in the middle of the game, would they?

The final week

Well, once again I’ll be glued to the TV next weekend. It’s really nice to have Monday off 2 weeks in a row because the Sunday night games are relevant to the playoff picture.

It all starts next Saturday night with the late game:

New York Giants (10-5) at Oakland Raiders (4-11), 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

The Giants can win the NFC East with a win, but they did get some help from the Ravens tonight. By beating Minnesota, Baltimore knocked the Vikings out of the playoff picture and allowed the Giants to back into a spot despite losing to Washington yesterday.

At the moment, the Giants are the #4 seed in the NFC. They could finish anywhere from #3 to #6 depending on results of theirs and other games.

To be a #3 seed, the Giants must win and Tampa Bay must lose to New Orleans. If that happens and Carolina wins their finale over Atlanta, the Giants must hope that enough of their beaten opponents win to carry the “strength of victory” tiebreaker. Currently the Giants’ defeated opponents have 3 more victories between them than Carolina’s defeated opponents do.

If the Giants simply defeat Oakland, or if Philadelphia beats Washington, New York is assured no worse than a #4 seed and a home game next week.

If the Giants lose to Oakland and do not win the NFC East, their seeding is determined by the NFC South contests. If both Carolina and Tampa Bay win, the Giants would finish as the #6 seed. If one wins and the other loses (or both lose), the Giants most likely finish #5. That would depend on how Tampa Bay’s defeated opponents do, since both teams would stand with both their conference record and common opponent record in a tie.

Carolina Panthers (10-5) at Atlanta Falcons (8-7), 1 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

Carolina needs to win and hope Tampa Bay loses to win the NFC South title. They currently could get the #3 seed if they win and both Tampa Bay and the Giants lose. Even if they don’t win the NFC South title, a win would give them a playoff berth as the #5 seed.

If Carolina loses they could miss the playoffs entirely if both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington emerge with wins.

Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-6), 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS)

Cincinnati needs to win to hold on to the #3 seed in the AFC, or else they need New England to lose to either the New York Jets tomorrow night or Miami Dolphins next Sunday.

Kansas City may hold the largest contingent of Detroit Lions fans outside the state of Michigan next week since the Chiefs must win and the Lions must beat the Pittsburgh Steelers for Kansas City to sneak into the playoffs as the #6 seed – possibly setting up a rematch in Cincinnati. If I were running the FOX station in KC, I’d be putting the Detroit-Pittsburgh game on.

Late edit: According to nfl.com, a win by San Diego against Denver on Saturday would also eliminate the Chiefs.

Detroit Lions (5-10) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5), 1 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

For Pittsburgh, it’s very simple. Win and they’re in as the #6 seed in the AFC. Lose and they need help from the Cincinnati Bengals. But it’s possible this game becomes irrelevant if San Diego wins Saturday afternoon. (see above.)

Miami Dolphins (8-7) at New England Patriots (most likely 10-5 after tomorrow night’s game), 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS)

If New England chokes against the hapless 3-11 Jets, they deserve the #4 seed. This only becomes relevant as a game if they beat the Jets, otherwise New England is locked in as the #4 seed. Either way, I’m sure CBS is drooling over the possible matchups for the Patriots against either the Steelers in the first round or the Colts in the second round. The Steelers matchup only occurs if the Patriots win out and Kansas City wins over Cincinnati, while the Steelers knock off Detroit.

New Orleans Saints (3-12) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5), 1 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

If Tampa Bay wins, they are set as the #3 seed in the NFC race, as they will be NFC South champions and win the tiebreaker over the Giants on the basis of conference record.

A loss could possibly eliminate them, but it would be highly unlikely as they defeated Washington earlier this season and Dallas would have to win on strength of victory where they are 4 wins behind Tampa Bay. Basically all three NFC East leaders and Tampa Bay would have to finish 10-6.

Washington Redskins (9-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-9), 4:15 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

If the Redskins win, they’re in. If they win and the Giants lose, they’ll win the NFC East. But because Tampa Bay beat the Redskins earlier this year, there’s no way Washington could be higher than a #4 seed.

If the Redskins lose, they’ll become huge St. Louis Rams fans because they’ll need the Rams to beat Dallas later that night in order to make the playoffs.

St. Louis Rams (5-10) at Dallas Cowboys (9-6), 8:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPN)

The final game of the regular season is only meaningful if Philadelphia wins earlier over Washington – otherwise they are both playing for pride.

So there’s 7 teams in each conference vying for 6 playoff spots. At the moment, their order is:


1. Indianapolis Colts (have won AFC South with a 13-2 record)
2. Denver Broncos (have won AFC West with a 12-3 record)

Both of those teams will get a bye through the opening round.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (have won AFC North with a 11-4 record)
4. New England Patriots (have won AFC East with a current 9-5 10-5 record)
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (have locked up a wild card with a 11-4 record, 2nd in the AFC South)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (currently have a 10-5 record, 2nd in the AFC North)

On the outside but still alive:

7. Kansas City Chiefs (currently have a 9-6 record, 2nd in the AFC West)

If the playoffs were held by the current standings, Indianapolis and Denver would get byes, Jacksonville would play at New England, and Pittsburgh would play at Cincinnati. I think this is the way things will shake out anyway after next week.


1. Seattle Seahawks (have won NFC West with a 13-2 record)
2. Chicago Bears (have won NFC North with a 11-4 record)

Both of those teams will get a bye through the opening round.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (lead NFC Sourth with a 10-5 record)
4. New York Giants (lead NFC East with a 10-5 record)
5. Carolina Panthers (currently have a 10-5 record, 2nd in the NFC South)
6. Washington Redskins (currently have a 9-6 record, 2nd in the NFC East)

On the outside but still alive:

7. Dallas Cowboys (currently have a 9-6 record, 3rd in the NFC East)

If the playoffs were held by the current standings, Seattle and Chicago would get byes, Carolina would travel to New Jersey to play the Giants, and Washington would be at Tampa Bay. Again, I think this is the way things will work out next week. But the team with the toughest game to me is Carolina, so it could be 3 NFC East teams in the playoffs.

Another interesting guessing game to me is who plays at what time and which day. The TV networks split the first-round coverage three ways. ABC gets the two Saturday games and FOX and CBS take care of Sunday’s. I’m not sure who picks the games covered, but I think FOX and CBS get their preferred games.

So let’s say the matchups above are the ones that occur. Here’s my prediction of the TV schedule.

Saturday (January 7th):
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 4:30 p.m. (ABC)
Washington at Tampa Bay, 8:00 p.m. (ABC)

Sunday (January 8th):
Carolina at New York Giants, 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
Jacksonville at New England, 8:00 p.m. (CBS)

I’d like that schedule if it panned out. I especially hope that they do play the late Sunday games, so I can watch bowling beforehand!

There was another thing that happened today on account of the games played. Those results almost locked up the 2006 schedules for my two favorite teams, the Lions and the Browns. There’s only one question left for each schedule.

Lions 2006 opponents will be:

Home: Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, San Francisco, Seattle, Buffalo, Miami, and Atlanta.
Away: Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Arizona, St. Louis, New England, New York Jets, and the 3rd place NFC East team (currently Dallas but possibly Washington).

I predict right now that the Thanksgiving game will be Miami at Detroit. The other turkey day game will be Washington at Dallas.

Browns 2006 opponents will be:

Home: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Denver, Kansas City, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and most likely the New York Jets (unless the Jets win both their remaining games, then the Browns would host Buffalo in 2006.)
Away: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Oakland, San Diego, Atlanta, Carolina, and Houston.

The great thing about Baltimore winning tonight is that it knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs (since I hate the Viqueens) and it assured Cleveland of getting the “easier” fourth place schedule even if they kick the shit out of the Ravens next week (which I hope they do.)

Of course, Green Bay losing earlier tonight did the opposite for the Lions – instead of easier games against New Orleans and Philadelphia, the Lions will get two teams who will finish at .500 or better this year in Atlanta and the NFC East team.

But right now the combined record of Detroit’s opponents for next season is 113-127. The teams of the NFC North get a big advantage playing full slates against two weak divisions (NFC West and AFC East) next season.

Cleveland’s opponents combined are 124-116. This is mainly because the AFC North draws two tough divisions for most of its games (AFC West and NFC South.) So all four teams are in the same boat, but it may hurt them if the Browns are in the playoff hunt next season.

It will be interesting to see what happens next week. Hopefully things will work out best for teams I want to get into the playoffs.

I’ll update this tonight as needed if New England runs into trouble with the Jets.

Merry Christmas to all!

This is a greeting for a Merry Christmas and a shout out to those who I’d like to thank.

First, Merry Christmas to those who created WordPress and the people at midPhase who serve as my server. Without them monoblogue is still a germ of an idea in my head.

A Merry Christmas to all of you who have read my blog. There may not be a whole lot of you but Rome wasn’t built in a day, either. Having started one month ago, you can consider yourselves as trendsetters.

To my blogging friends I extend my Christmas wishes:

Dawn at WriteWingBlog…thanks for being among the first to find me and for your help. Hope things continue to improve with your family.

Flip at Suitably Flip…for a startup blog this year you’ve come a long way! Keep up the good work!

Timmer at Righting America…Soldier, you continue to fight the good fight. While it may not always seem that way, we’re winning.

Dan at The Crallspace…while we’re generally at loggerheads with each other, you’re becoming a more noble warrior for your cause. The next couple years will be an interesting battle.

TB at Tidy Bowl Begins…I really appreciate your insights and point of view. May that new diploma of yours serve as the key to your dreams in life.

Drea at Fina’ Drea…All the best to you and Travis. Hopefully I’ll be getting some special news from you soon.

I know I’m forgetting some of you bloggers out there who I’ve enjoyed reading, particularly those who I don’t know personally (yet!) I wish you a Merry Christmas as well.

Now it’s time for the folks in “real life” to have their due:

A Merry Christmas to all those I work with – Keith, Lee, Steve, Jen, Trish, Randy, Jeremy, Tim, Bob, Eric, George, Bill, Dave, Korey, Joe…and a Happy Hanukkah to Mike.

To my friends Judy and Kristine…you both deserve a wonderful Christmas.

For the Swartz clan: you may not read this, but Merry Christmas to you Mom, Dad, LJ, and Tom!

And finally for my daughter Danielle: May you get all your Christmas wishes to come true. luvya!

On morality and free will

I finally finished reading Atlas Shrugged today. I’ve spent most of the last month reading this book, reading a chapter here and a couple chapters there. Think the longest stretch I read was about four chapters. It’s a very powerful book, and it has a very simple premise: what if all the doers and thinkers went on strike? What would happen to society?

I can see the book’s appeal to libertarians. The main heroic characters eventually accrue to a place where they can act of their own free will, unencumbered by regulations but trading in things they value. The remainder of characters (save one) can only ride along as their society descends through the stages of socialism, totalitarianism, and finally anarchy as no one wants to assume any sort of responsiblity. The last stage occurs when the final heroic character realizes there’s nothing left to save in that world.

The book also made me think about the interactions of faith, morality, and free will. It’s obvious to me without reading any biography of Ayn Rand that she was an atheist, or at the least agnostic. Her depiction of faith in the book leaves little question of her attitude. But I began to wonder if all three are mutually exclusive.

It’s fairly clear that morality and free will are opposites in the sense that for one to have absolute free will would leave them unencumbered by morality; at least morality as expressed in commonly accepted terms like the Ten Commandments. These are used as guideposts to what one should not do, or, limits to absolute free will.

But one can be absolutely moral and at least have some free will in the matter, if only by choosing to continue to be absolutely moral. However, that choice would bring one off the extreme of absolutism if they elected, even for a moment, not to be absolutely moral – a hollow choice. Thus, morality and free will are not quite polar opposites. But they are close.

Faith and morality tend to interact in a way where, the more faithful one is, the more moral one is. But there are exceptions. An atheist can be almost absolutely moral (as defined by the Ten Commandments.) A priest can be a pedophile.

An interesting question can be asked when one considers the interaction of faith and free will. There are many out there who believe in predestination. I received an e-mail from a friend where she stated that, in her belief, God had chosen who she would marry and when the time was right that man would come to her.

But would not a belief in predestination then eliminate the incentive for free will? Why choose to do anything when the result is already written in stone someplace but you’re not free to see it? You become an automaton, drifting through life on someone else’s plan. Of course, that’s probably the extreme in faith. But, in order to be faithful to most religions, one gives up some of their free will.

Most people have a little of each of these components in their lives. Even the homicide bomber, who acts as the warrior of his absolute faith by killing those of other creeds and the final destroyer of his morality by killing himself and those around him, retains his free will of whether to blow himself up or not until the instant of his detonation.

One of the final passages in Atlas Shrugged details a judge busily rewriting the Constitution to add protections to commerce from government.

It is wonderful how the Founders came up with a document that is supposed to protect the rights of the governed from their government. But there is a paradox in this: they assumed that the governed would be those who value highly their morality, and they enlisted their faith in Providence to ask that the entire enterprise be showered with His blessings. Thus, the free will of the people who were delivered from the tyranny of the Crown to the freedom of being governed by and with their consent was still kept within the boundaries of morality and faith. Still, it was much better and provided much more freedom than being subject to the cruel whims of an emperor.

So is it any wonder that, in a nation where morality and faith are in shorter and shorter supply, that the government no longer operates by and with the consent of the governed? It is now a single man who can turn aside the will of the people, by declaring something they duly voted for null and void because that proposition conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution and what it says (and doesn’t say.) Instead of a crown, this man wears the black robes that once signified justice.

And the downward spiral of society profiled in Rand’s book has began in some quarters. The absolutism of right and wrong is eroded by the waves of political correctness and secularism. We are asked to consider the root cause of a criminal and blame ourselves for his crime when it was, very simply, the decision of the bank robber to attempt to take money that does not belong to him at the point of a gun.

But by the absolutism of the Eighth Commandment; thou shalt not steal.

And by the absolutism of laws that are based on the United States Constitution (as well as indirectly in the Fifth Amendment;) bank robbery is illegal.

Even if the bank robber is only attempting to get money to further his crack habit, or to feed his starving kids because he’s lost his job through no fault of his own, it’s still illegal and immoral. It’s a place where free will cannot go – to enable one’s free will to be accomplished, he prohibits others from enjoying theirs.

For anything other to be acceptable, it becomes only a matter of time before the strike begins.

The Empire writes back

Been sitting on this letter for a week or so as other items I see in and out of the news took precedence. But a week ago Saturday I got my reply to my letter to Congressman Gilchrest. I was shocked that it wasn’t a form letter, to be honest. It did look like he took the time to read it and understand my arguments to some extent.

So, to place it in context, I’ll put my letter in first. I’m surprised I didn’t put in on ttrwc, but I would have wanted to reshow it anyway with the changeover.

November 10, 2005

To: Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest

Re: HR 4241, Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 – provision for ANWR drilling

Congressman Gilchrest:

I was disappointed to read that you were one of 25 “moderate” Republicans who have threatened to hold up a bill that would begin a much-needed process of cutting federal spending because of its provision to begin drilling for oil in a small portion of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

It is only a short-sighted few who are opposed to beginning the process of oil exploration and recovery in this area. Meanwhile, a broad coalition of native Alaskans, energy experts, union workers, and a large swath of the general public frustrated with the rising cost of gasoline support taking advantage of a domestic oil supply. While the stocks of oil in ANWR certainly won’t be enough to fulfill all of our energy needs, it can serve as a bridge to a time when we will find alternative sources of energy. Your support of HR 6 earlier this year, while unpopular with a vocal minority of constituents, was a step in this direction.

However, the reality is, even with measures you’ve supported (such as raising the fuel economy standards for automakers) America finds itself in the dangerous position of having foreign oil producers supply a growing portion of the market. While Canada is a steady friend, the rest of our top 5 suppliers (Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia) contain anywhere from an unofficial to state-sponsored disdain of American policies and values.

Personally, I would like to see more done in the way of extracting oil from shale domestically and using more nuclear power to generate our electricity rather than a growing dependence on natural gas. For the foreseeable future, though, we are in a position where oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Thus, I urge that you rethink your opposition to ANWR drilling as part of a balanced and forward-looking total energy policy.

Additionally, I hope I can count on you to support the aim of the overall bill, which is to cut federal spending to reallocate those resources to victims of this year’s hurricanes. It is a prudent thing to cut the unnecessary to fund the priorities – hopefully it will also spur a look at where our priorities are set.


Michael Swartz

And he wrote back:

December 6, 2005

Dear Mr. Swartz:

Thank you for your interest in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, HR 4241. This bill is commonly referred to as the “budget reconciliation” bill and was passed on the House floor on November 18, 2005.

I opposed the inclusion of language in HR 4241 authorizing oil and gas development in ANWR, in part, because ANWR is the largest area of unspoiled wilderness in the US. Among other wildlife species, it is home to the Porcupine caribou herd, and provides critical calving habitat for them. Exact oil reserves available on the refuge are unknown, but the median expectation projected by the US Geological Survey is about 10.3 billion barrels of oil. While this would imcrease US domestic production of oil, market analysts predict it could have only a minute impact on US energy prices.

This is because the US is the largest consumer of petroleum products in the world, using fully a quarter of annual globa supplies. Yet, we own only about 3 percent of total global oil reserves. In addition, many market analysts and geophysicists tell me the US either has or will soon peak in its available supply for oil production – meaning that supplies on the downside of that peak will never be able to meet emergency needs for oil in the future. The US currently imports 60% of its oil, and our demand for oil is projected to increase over 30% in 2025, especially in the transportation sector. Therefore, it seems unlikely that domestic oil production can meet even a small fraction of US oil demand in 7-12 years – when ANWR supplies may be available should development begin now. Our thirst for oil and the very small portion we own will continue to sustain significant oil imports and volatile prices until we can meaningfully replace it with renewable and alternative energy sources.

We will likely never again find a product so diverse and flexible – for energy and many other uses – than petroleum. The US must seriously invest in development and delivery of affordable, reliable energy from more diverse sources and must reserve its small supply of oil for the many other applications for which it is now or may be used – including roads, plastics, chemicals, and other products. I will continue to do all I can toward progressive energy policy that supports a wide range of alternative energy sources.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.


Wayne T. Gilchrest
Member of Congress

Now, I did a little research on oil awhile back for a ttrwc post. By the time ANWR comes online, we’ll probably be consuming about 23 million barrels a day.

If you assume that ANWR does have the 10.3 billion barrels Rep. Gilchrest cited, that works out to 447 days’ worth of oil. I think this is the figure the anti-ANWR people cite. There are two problems with this assumption though. Number one is that it’s not a given that ANWR would be our sole source of oil. If I go under the assumption that the ANWR reserves per day would be depleted at the rate we import from our largest current foreign supplier (Canada’s 1.616 million barrels per day) then the figures grow to 6,374 days (or about 17 1/2 years.)

The second faulty assumption is that there’s only 10.3 billion barrels of oil in ANWR. We have no way of knowing this without further exploration. The current “best guess” ranges up to 16 billion barrels of oil that’s recoverable under current technology. There’s certainly nothing to indicate that the ANWR oil can’t be double or even triple this best guess – at best case it could last 40 years.

One other issue I have with Rep. Gilchrest’s logic regards the pristine environment, calving habitat, etc. When exploration is only going to take a small fraction of ANWR’s total area (the reserve occupies basically the entire northeast quadrant of Alaska) I think the caribou can find many a place to have little caribou. To hear environmentalists talk, oil drilling in ANWR would place derricks as far as the eye can see, and that’s simply untrue. For those of you familiar with Maryland, think of something that takes up the area of 2 of the 23 counties and imagine how small of an area that really is compared to the state as a whole. That’s at the high end of estimates for the oil industry impacted area.

As I stated in my letter to Rep. Gilchrest, we do need to explore other avenues of filling our energy needs. I’ve cited a couple that, while they’re not strictly renewable, they are certainly plentiful or very efficient given the amount of material used. There’s merit to continuing research into hydropower, wind, and solar energy, but I believe that research into those avenues are best conducted by private entities. The X Prize is one example – the incentive of $10 million to develop a renewable space vehicle was a very good one, and one that is evolving into other areas.

Once again, capitalism at work – it’s a beautiful thing! So let’s get to work in ANWR and continue to fuel the engine until we can use our ingenuity to figure out a better way.

Late edit: Here’s a photo of the ANWR area.

Isn’t that majestic scenery beautiful? Look at all the caribou!

Premonition or coincidence?

On September 29, the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 4-2 on Detroit’s home field of Comerica Park to wrap up the AL Central title. Less than a month later, they celebrated a World Series championship.

Earlier today, the Cincinnati Bengals routed the Detroit Lions 41-17 to clinch the AFC North title at Detroit’s Ford Field. Will there be a repeat performance? I’m not sure I could stand that.

It’s truly odd how a city with four professional sports teams could have two that are so good (Red Wings and Pistons, who have 6 championships between them in the last 16 years) and two that are so wretchedly horrible. And of course, the bad ones are in the sports I like (baseball and football.)

I guess there’s no way I could be called a fair-weather fan, can I?

Saturday football is back!

I’m a huge baseball fan, so that whole season is my favorite time of year. But second comes the final few weeks of the NFL season, and when the Saturday games start, that’s the time when they’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. Today is the first batch of Saturday games, and all three of them have some sort of playoff implication (unlike the remaining Monday night games.) For all the things the NFL is, they are the worst prognosticators of what teams will be in the hunt at the end of the season, so it seems like in the last several years they’ve had some real stinkers for MNF at season’s end.

And there’s something that really fascinates me about the math and gymnastics the NFL does to break ties in the standings. They set the schedule in a rigid fashion so each team plays the same number of division games, conference games, and a set number of common opponents for each team in a particular division. It’s rare that they have to go beyond the third stage of tiebreakers to determine playoff teams and scheduling position for the next season. The only time the tiebreakers get to the esoteric stage (like coin flip) is for things like draft order (which is based on standings in reverse order, except the Super Bowl teams draft last regardless of standing.)

But today is the first batch of Saturday games and they’re really all pretty good. So I’ll be sitting slack-jawed looking at the TV most of the day. First up:

Tampa Bay (9-4, 1st in NFC South) at New England (8-5, 1st in AFC East) (1:30 p.m., FOX)

What this game means:

For Tampa Bay, they can maintain their NFC South lead with a win regardless of what the Carolina Panthers do against New Orleans. If both teams win out, Tampa Bay would win the NFC South based on division record (5-1 vs. Carolina’s 4-2.) The loss to Atlanta last week hurt the Panthers badly, while the loss to Tampa Bay 2 weeks ago enabled the Buccaneers to split the season series.

For New England, a win and they’re in the playoffs as the AFC East champions. Despite it being possible to match New England’s overall record, Miami could not beat the Patriots in the next tiebreaker (division record, New England’s worst possible 4-2 vs. Miami’s best possible 3-3.) The Patriots would also maintain what is basically only a mathematical chance of getting a bye through the first week of the playoffs with a win, while a loss would end that possibility. (The top two teams in each conference get to skip to the second round of the playoffs.)

Other teams rooting for Tampa Bay:

Miami, because a win by Tampa Bay helps keep their flickering hopes of winning the AFC East alive for at least another day (the Dolphins host the 3-10 New York Jets tomorrow.)

Denver and Cincinnati, because a loss by New England helps their playoff chances by improving their seeding. Assuming they win their divisions, they can be no worse than a #3 seed, while the AFC East champion (with a New England loss) would be #4.

Other teams rooting for New England:

Carolina, because of the tiebreaker noted above.

Kansas City (8-5, 2nd in AFC West) at New York Giants (9-4, 1st in NFC East) (5 p.m., CBS)

What this game means:

For Kansas City, they can stay in the hunt for the AFC West title with a win, while a loss and a Denver win tonight would end their title hopes. It also puts pressure on San Diego (who plays at 13-0 Indianapolis tomorrow) and Pittsburgh (who plays at 8-5 Minnesota tomorrow,) both of whom share Kansas City’s 8-5 record as they fight for one of the two wild card berths.

For New York, a win keeps them on pace to win the NFC East title, as one of their closest two pursuers would be eliminated tomorrow (Dallas plays at Wahington, the loser would be out of the title hunt if New York wins.)

Other teams rooting for Kansas City:

Dallas and Washington, because a loss by the Giants helps their chances at the NFC East title. In fact, Washington needs the Giants to lose to either Kansas City or Oakland (in the season finale) to have a chance for the title. With a win, Dallas moves back into a tie for the division lead at 9-5.

Seattle, because a loss by the Giants brings them one step closer to a first-round bye – they could be no worse than a #3 seed and with more help this weekend they can be #2 or #1 seed.

Minnesota, because a loss by the Giants and beating Pittsburgh tomorrow puts them ahead of the Giants in any tiebreaker (they beat the Giants earlier this season.)

Other teams rooting for New York:

San Diego and Pittsburgh: both are in the 8-5 group with Kansas City fighting for an AFC wildcard.

Denver: (see below)

Denver (10-3, 1st in AFC West) at Buffalo (4-9, 3rd in AFC East) (8:30 p.m., ESPN)

What this game means:

Denver can clinch the AFC West title with a win in this game, coupled with an earlier win by the New York Giants over Kansas City and an Indianapolis win over San Diego tomorrow. But simply winning assures them a playoff berth, as that would eliminate Pittsburgh in a tiebreaker (at worst an 8-4 conference record compared to Pittsburgh’s best possible 7-5.) San Diego and Kansas City play next week, thus one of them could finish with no more than 10 wins and be eliminated from a possible tie with Denver.

Buffalo is playing for pride, they’ve been eliminated from the playoff race.

Other teams rooting for Denver:

Miami and the New York Jets: Miami would finish no worse than second in the division, and the Jets would have more of a chance to get out of last place in the AFC East. It’s down to pride now for them.

Other teams rooting for Buffalo:

San Diego, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh: all need a Denver loss to improve their division title or playoff chances.

Cincinnati: a loss by Denver would enable the Bengals to pass Denver for the #2 seed and first-round bye. Both have a 10-3 record but Denver currently holds the tiebreaker for conference record (best possible 10-2 for Denver vs. best possible 9-3 for Cincinnati.)

Rooting for weather.com to be right:

Me, because it’s fun to watch games played in the snow and the prediction for Buffalo is 1-3″ today with more snow showers tonight up to 1″. Too bad Buffalo plays on artificial turf, it’s even better when snow games are played on natural grass.

The battle is joined

Looks like it’s time for the fight to begin. January 11th is just around the corner, and that’s the start date to our 90 days of lunacy known as the General Assembly session. At or near the top of the list is going to be the vote on overriding Governor Ehrlich’s veto of the so-called “Fair Share” bill.

I was reminded of this yesterday listening to the radio. I was working out and minding my own business when I heard a commercial. (Hopefully the link works, it’s the actual .mp3 file.) And it just so happens that Delegates Bozman and Conway are MY delegates.

So I laughed to myself and said, “well well well…looks like it’s time to take the fight to them.” Step number one is right here, I dashed off a letter to the Daily Times. As always, we’ll see if they have the balls to print it.

Yesterday I was listening to the radio and a commercial came on asking me to thank Delegates Bozman and Conway for their support for “fairness” – that concept being determined by their support of a particular piece of legislation.

After listening to that, I said to myself, “ok, the battle is joined now. It’s going to be the special interests and the money that they all but coerce out of their workers to put ads on the radio, against me and my words that I type on my computer and hope to have placed in the paper.” Luckily, I know that common sense and right are on my side.

Here’s why. When they speak of “fairness,” they forget to tell you that this bill is written against one particular multibillion dollar entity. Just one. It would be as if the rest of Maryland decided to levy a tax against the citizens of Salisbury for a real or perceived advantage they have over the remainder of the state.

In fact, their commercial never cites the entity by name, nor does it reveal the true source of the funds behind buying its time on the radio, simply billing itself as “Maryland for Health Care.”

Well, I live in Maryland and I’m for health care too (is there anyone who’s not?) But I’m not for using the power of the legislature for gaining an unfair advantage at the expense of a successful company. As a resident of their district, not some far-off national concern coming into Delmarva with slickly packaged radio ads, I strongly encourage Delegates Bozman and Conway to reconsider their previous stance and uphold Governor Ehrlich’s veto of “Fair Share.”

And I wonder what I’ll be doing this Friday afternoon when I get off work. Think I have a phone call or two to make. That’s step two.

Oh, as if it wouldn’t be patently obvious, “Maryland for Health Care” is a front organization for the Service Employees International Union. I suppose the SEIU decided that the United Food and Commercial Workers had put enough money into lobbyists and political contributions to the Democrats in Annapolis so it was their turn.

It’ll be a story to follow as the time gets closer. We’ll see if Maryland really wants to punish achievers, wipe out Somerset County’s bid for 800-1000 jobs, and show that special interests run the state. Considering which party has a stranglehold on the General Assembly, it’s pretty obvious what the answer will be. Even so, I’m not going to just sit idly by without making my feelings known. It’s time to fight.