Category Archives: Miscellany and Tomfoolery

Did they really come from the same gene pool?

They both came from the same womb just 477 days apart, and they both share certain faint physical traits with Melissa and with me. But otherwise, is there any reason to believe they have the same parents? Sure, Sofia looks like Melissa in some ways and maybe like me in a few minor ways (lucky girl!), and Liam shares some of my physical traits and a few of Melissa’s as well.

Yet for the small ways they look like their parents, they look absolutely nothing like each other. Liam is blonde with a round face, while Sofia has brown hair (not much of it) and an oval, pudgy face. Liam has always been small for his age  – 10th percentile in weight as of his last doctor’s visit – while Sofia has always been average to above average in size (50th-75th percentile in weight). Liam has mostly rough, dry skin, while Sofia’s has always been smooth and soft. Sofia has always had the little baby fat rolls, while Liam never really had them. Sofia has a big, open mouth smile with dimples, while Liam has more of a beaming grin.

Yet beyond their static physical differences, they are also dynamically disparate as well. Sofia never stops moving. And no, that’s not hyperbole: the little wiggle-worm has been in perpetual motion since conception. Melissa felt her moving non-stop in utero, and she hasn’t slowed down, even after birth. It doesn’t matter if she’s eating, sleeping, or just sitting in someone’s lap, some part of her body is moving: twisting her feet at the ankles, reaching for some irresistible object with her hands, or generally contorting and twisting her little slinky of a body. She wakes up in such radically different positions and locations in her crib from where we put her down for the night, we are suspicious she makes late-night excursions around the house. She has been rolling over since before she was 4 months, and now at 7 months is basically crawling. Sofia has no problem with tummy time, and if she sees something she wants across the floor, she at least makes an effort via rolling, pseudo-crawling, etc. to get it.

Liam composing his first concerto at 16 months old.

Liam runs and walks around like any 23 month old boy, but he can also sit still for long periods of time. He is perfectly content to sit in our laps and read books, watch Sprout TV, or teach me how to use the I-phone. Perhaps simply savoring his food, Liam has never fidgeted considerably while eating. Neither has he felt any sense of urgency in gaining mobility. He rolled over for the first time at 4 months, but rarely did it for the next few months, and did not crawl until he was 11 months. He took his time walking as well, refusing to go it alone without the security blanket of an extended parental finger until he was nearly 14 months.

Sofia enjoys eating. She has always breastfed well, and as a result we waited until she was nearly 6 months old before feeding her solids, whereas with Liam we started at 4 months. It has always been a bit difficult getting Liam to eat: he is picky and impatient when it comes down to sitting down for a meal. He prefers to eat his food on the go, or at least graze during the course of playtime. And he has always had certain likes and dislikes, and he can be fickle: a banana-avocado  combination (“bananacado”) was initially positively delectable, but over time morphed into something repulsive. He was never a big fan of yellow squash or anything green. Now ice cream (helado) is a favorite, along with bread (pan); vegetables are unpopular. Sofia just likes food. Any food.

Their vocal emanations are also near-opposite: Sofia doesn’t “talk” much, Liam never shuts up. Indeed, our 23 month old is so loquacious I’m really curious to find out what we’re missing when he finally develops the ability to enunciate fully. He carries on a running monologue from the moment he wakes up to the moment he falls asleep. Liam is not “awake” until he’s talking. I’ve gotten lectures on all sorts of things, most recently the mechanization of a lawn mower. Granted, there were some fuzzy moments, but he clearly said “gas” while pointing to the gas can, “round-round-round” while pointing to the engine, “push” while pointing to the handle, and “grass” to top it off. And after we pick him up from the nursery after church, there’s no need to wonder what he was up to: he gives us a play by play all the way to the car. This is nothing new. From 2 months old he was “cooing” incessantly, and from 3 months old was prone to fits of hysterical peals of laughter. Only when in the company of strangers does he become somewhat reserved.

Sofia chuckles…occasionally. Mostly she smiles and lets out excited little squeals in the heat of the moment. She hums with approval while eating, and whines in disappointment when she isn’t being fed fast enough or when the meal is done. She lets out a frustrated “ma-ma-ma” or “da-da-da” when she’s not perfectly content, which is rare. For all her love of movement far beyond that of her brother, she is relatively mute compared to his verbosity.

And of course their personalities couldn’t be more different. Liam is always into something. He’s inquisitive, curious, and patient when it comes to figuring things out. He is also finicky, picky, and has definite ideas about the way things should be and has no problem vocalizing those ideas. He has a bizarre obsession fondness for vacuum cleaners. He likes pushing them, he likes watching other people push them, he likes turning them on and off, and he likes detaching the hose to get those hard to reach places. And he likes actually vacuuming. If the vacuum gets put away, a fit will follow. And speaking of fits, Liam throws them. Often. Indeed, if there’s one area of clear precociousness, it’s his penchant for epic tantrums. Melissa – and me, but mostly Melissa – has done a great job disciplining and correcting him and he has improved considerably, but there was a time when it looked the Terrible Twos were starting very early. Yet he is also extremely loving and gentle. He loves snuggling and loves doing things with us: he likes reading with us, playing with us, and teaching us things. Liam is very sensitive, and always try to “comfort” us and Sofia if he senses we are unhappy. Most of all, he just enjoys being around his Ma-ma and Da-da.

And in that regard they actually similar: both of them love being around us. Neither of them tolerate being “on their own” for more than a few minutes. Yet even with us, Liam can still be prickly at times. Sofia is just happy to be there. She is extremely generous with her wide smiles, and really only cries if very hungry or tired. For the most part she is profoundly content as long as she’s with someone. She’s happy to bounce in her jumper, to play with her toys, to hang out on her play mat, to eat, to sleep, and she’s even fine with riding in the car now. If Liam isn’t perfectly content he has never been shy about letting us know; Sofia has seemingly never been discontent.

Yet for all their many differences, I could not be more proud of either of them. I love Liam’s talkative particulars, and I love Sofia’s jolly equanimity. They are both wonderful children in their own way – truly gifts from God. Just as racial diversity gives us a glimpse of heaven, so too does the varying personalities of our children. I can only imagine what a 3rd would be like…




Filed under Liam, Miscellany and Tomfoolery, Parenthood/Pregnancy, Sofia

Why the Supreme Court was right to uphold a terrible law

Full disclosure: I am totally opposed to the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare). It is a well-intended but horribly executed law that harms patients, health care providers, and the economy (the job losses will be significant), and benefits no one other than insurance companies. The law has noble intent: to expand health coverage for more Americans. But the law is a ramshackle dunghill of poorly conceived ideas that lacks reason, coherence, and efficacy. It is a gross expansion of federal power with very little tangible benefit from said expansion. I completely support its repeal, and believe it is the single most important issue in the November elections.

Yet as bad as the law is and as much as I wanted to see the Supreme Court strike it down today, after reading the opinions (yes, I actually read them), I cannot disagree with Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion in upholding the law. The reason I can’t disagree is based on understanding the role of the Court. The Supreme Court does not make law or policy – that is the job of Congress and the President. According to Article III of the Constitution, the Supreme Court rules in disputes about the interpretation of laws, treaties, and the Constitution. Part of that role includes Judicial Review: determining if a law passed by Congress is Constitutional. Thus the purpose of the Court’s decision today was not to decide if Obamacare is a wise, good, or effective law, but to determine if there is any way that it passes “Constitutional muster.”

The core issue of this case – and the reason 26 states sued to block the law – is the idea that a federal mandate to purchase insurance (or any product) is beyond the powers granted to Congress in the Constitution. The states argued that there is no legal right for Congress to force people to purchase something they may not want to purchase, and therefore is exercising a power it is not granted in the Constitution. The government (ie, President Obama’s lawyers) argued that the law is permissible because Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution expressly allows Congress to “regulate…commerce among the several states,” and to pass laws that are “necessary and proper” according the powers they are granted. Their case centered around the notion that everyone is a participant in the health care market, whether or not they have insurance, and therefore Congress can regulate that market and force people to purchase insurance. They also argued, secondarily, that if not a mandate then the law is effectively a tax, and Article I, Section 8 expressly allows taxation.

The states (ie, the law’s opponents) responded to these arguments by stating that the Commerce Clause allows only the regulation of commerce, not the creation of commerce. The core of their argument was that if Congress can regulate an “activity” that exists merely by virtue of being alive, then the government has truly limitless power. They also argued that the tax is really a penalty, not truly a tax, based on the wording of the law itself. What’s more, President Obama was emphatic that the new law was not a tax. In his now infamous interview with George Stephanopoulos, the President was unambiguous that Obamacare was not a tax. In an act of either flagrant hypocrisy or outright deceit, his lawyers argued that it was a tax while the President himself argued that it was not a tax!

In his well-written opinion, Chief Justice Roberts makes the compelling case that the states were mostly correct: Congress CANNOT mandate the purchase of a good or product. The Chief devotes almost the entire first half of his opinion to explaining this concept. He wisely points out that the Constitution does allow for the creation of certain things in Section 8 of Article I, but commerce is not one of them. So he agreed with the opponents of the law in that regard:

Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers.

I agree with this completely. Congress does not have the power to force people to purchase a good or service that they do not want to purchase. To allow such an action would give virtually limitless powers to Congress, as the Chief Justice implies. Likewise, the “Necessary and Proper” clause does not apply because such a mandate is not proper according the logic above. Thus the core argument of Obamacare’s proponents was eviscerated by the 5-4 majority opinion.

But it doesn’t end there. As Chief Justice Roberts noted – and as all the justices agreed – when the Court determines if a law is Constitutional, it must make every effort to read the law in a way so as to make it Constitutional. In other words, it should look for every way to uphold it, not strike it down. This is appropriate and correct: Congress makes and passes laws, the Courts rule on those laws. It would be wrong to try to find any way to overturn a law passed by the legislature – laws must be presumed to be Constitutional, unless there are glaring problems that cannot be resolved.

Yet despite acknowledging such glaring problems, the Chief Justice ultimately concluded that the law could be considered Constitutional – but only narrowly – as a tax. While acknowledging that the intent is to coerce people to purchase insurance, Chief Justice Roberts notes that the law essentially levies a tax against those without health insurance, and since Congress has the ability to levy taxes, this allows the law to stand. But again, he notes that Congress cannot mandate the purchase of a good, they can only collect the tax from individuals who do not purchase the good. Therefore it cannot be illegal not to purchase health insurance, but it can be illegal not to pay the tax.

The 4-justice minority – possibly at one point the majority – argues that interpreting the mandate as a tax is wrong because the law itself doesn’t consider it a tax, and wasn’t strongly argued as tax before the Court. As this portion of the dissent reads (likely authored by Justice Antonin Scalia):

The Government’s opening brief did not even address the question — perhaps because, until today, no federal court has accepted the implausible argument that §5000A is an exercise of the tax power. And once respondents raised the issue, the Government devoted a mere 21 lines of its reply brief to the issue. Petitioners’ Minimum Coverage Reply Brief 25. At oral argument, the most prolonged statement about the issue was just over 50 words.  One would expect this Court to demand more than fly-by-night briefing and argument before deciding a difficult constitutional question of first impression.

In determining whether, in fact, the law imposes a “tax” or a “penalty,” he also says:

We never have classified as a tax an exaction imposed for violation of the law, and so too, we never have classified as a tax an exaction described in the legislation itself as a penalty. To be sure, we have sometimes treated as a tax a statutory exaction (imposed for something other than a violation of law) which bore an agnostic label that does not entail the significant constitutional consequences of a penalty — such as “license” (License Tax Cases, 5 Wall. 462 (1867)) or “surcharge” (New York v. United States,supra.). But we have never — never — treated as a tax an exaction which faces up to the critical difference between a tax and a penalty, and explicitly denominates the exaction a “penalty.” Eighteen times in §5000A itself and elsewhere throughout the Act, Congress called the exaction in §5000A(b) a “penalty.”

The Chief Justice answers this charge, however, by noting that at this point the main objection is simply over how the exaction is labeled:

The joint dissenters argue that we cannot uphold §5000A as a tax because Congress did not “frame” it as such. In effect, they contend that even if the Constitution permits Congress to do exactly what we interpret this statute to do, the law must be struck down because Congress used the wrong labels….Interpreting such a law to be a tax would hardly “[i]mpos[e] a tax through judicial legislation.” Rather, it would give practical effect to the Legislature’s enactment. Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in §5000A under the taxing power, and that §5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. That is sufficient to sustain it.

In other words, even if poorly “labeled,” the tax is still fundamentally a tax, does not force people to purchase insurance, and therefore is within the enumerated powers of the Constitution. So the law is upheld, but not for the reasons the President and his lawyers argued.

The current justices of the Supreme Court.

While I can certainly see the dissent’s argument – and it is a compelling one – I can’t really fault the Chief for his ruling. Remember, his job is not to determine if the law is good or if it was “sold” to the American people honestly, only to determine if it passes Constitutional muster by any means, and in his view it does. Furthermore, he drew a clear, bright line limiting the federal government’s power under the Commerce Clause. It is abundantly clear from his opinion that Congress cannot mandate people to purchase a good or service: in that sense the reality is that the “mandate” was struck down, but the law was able to stand. I’ve read some opponents of the law blast the Supreme Court ruling and the Chief’s opinion. While I would have been happy to see it go, I can’t find fault with this ruling.

As for President Obama, this will likely turn out to be the ultimate Pyrrhic victory. While his signature legislative accomplishment is allowed to stand, it is forever labeled a tax – something he vociferously denied on multiple occasions.  Americans don’t like taxes, and in an election year it will be extremely difficult for the President to defend an already unpopular bill, especially now that it is undoubtedly a major tax increase. The Republican base will be extremely motivated, and many others (a clear national majority) who are opposed to the bill will see it as a major reason to not only vote for Mitt Romney (who has pledged to repeal the law entirely), but also Republican Congressmen as well. Furthermore, it takes away the core principle on which the law is based: that the government can force individuals to buy health insurance. That notion is gone. So now the President is left with an unpopular law that can only be viewed as a tax increase. It could be a classic case of winning the battle but losing the war.

The Supreme Court is my favorite part of government. Located in a shimmering white neoclassical building across from the Capitol, with an elegant chamber ringed with beautiful friezes, it projects an almost divine, or mystical aura. While the Court certainly makes bad mistakes (see Dred Scott vs. Sandford), in general it seeks to ensure justice. Nine wise individuals with impeccable knowledge of Constitutional law come to reasoned, thoughtful decisions. I like the formality, the reserve, the tradition, the lack of video coverage, the mysterious ways the Court reaches its decisions – it provides such a nice contrast to the bombast of Congress. Even if I do not always agree with the Supreme Court, I can always revere it.

In the end, as much as I detest the ACA, I can’t argue with the Supreme Court’s decision in light of the way they reached that decision. They clearly reinforced the concept of the enumerated powers and crystal clear limits on the power of government in the lives of its citizens. But rather than simply tossing out a bad law, they found a way to uphold it. Now it’s up to the people to determine the fate of Obamacare. Election day is just months away – the people will have the ultimate say on the fate of the law, which is just what the Founding Fathers had in mind.


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Filed under Miscellany and Tomfoolery, Reviews

The Excellent Wife

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. – Proverb 31:10

The first line in a Hebrew acrostic poem about the “excellent” or “virtuous” wife, the above quote seems to me a vast understatement; even on the most literal level, I can’t fathom the notion of trading Melissa for the most precious gem at the 5th Avenue Tiffany’s or Cartier. The message here, I think, is that an excellent wife is worth more than anything in the mere material realm – her value is beyond compare, far exceeding the ability to quantify in numerical fashion. Her magnanimity is so great that it exceeds the ability of language to describe. In a word, she is priceless.

My wife, Melissa Turnbough Mandy, is indeed priceless. She is the reason I get up in the morning and do what I do during the course of my day. She is the basis for virtually all of my decisions, she is the wind that fills my sails as I journey through the seas of life. (And lest you think that metaphor is more than a bit twee, consider that the Bible uses the same metaphor in Hebrews 6. If God provides the current and hope in Christ anchors the soul, then Melissa certainly billows my sails.) When I wake up in the morning the trajectory of my day is irrevocably launched by her. More than merely a friend or helpmate or mother of our children, she is the catalyst of my life, the nucleus of my existence.

Melissa’s worth is certainly boundless, but beyond her worth she is a gift from God. As the verse implies, finding a good wife is extremely difficult – if not impossible – because such a “search” is undertaken on human terms using human faculties. God brings the truly excellent spouse into our lives, often in vividly apocalyptic fashion. I wasn’t looking for a wife and on my own I would have been hopeless. But through His perfect, supernatural divine work He brought us together. I do not deserve Melissa; for me she is a shining example of His mercy and grace. In His manner and in His time we can all have someone excellent, as long as well allow Him to define what “excellent” really means. And His definition of excellent is found in the remaining verses of Proverbs 31.

I won’t go into a lengthy discussion of the specific virtues listed in Proverbs 31, but I will say that Melissa embodies them all to varying degrees. Specifically, she is wise, shrewd, an excellent mother, good with finances, plans ahead for the household, possesses a vision for the family and put a plan in motion to that end. She is highly regarded by her peers and family, and above all she “fears the Lord,” and desires to glorify Him in all she does. It is impossible to reach a higher pinnacle of excellence than that.

At the Nashville Zoo.

In the past 2 years Melissa has been tested by the Refiner’s fire, and proven to be of exceeding worth. In that span she has had two children, the first of whom was a very poor sleeper. Melissa was repeatedly sick and exhausted in the first 7-8 months of Liam’s life, and just when things started to improve, we found out – to our great shock – that she was pregnant again. After a physically trying pregnancy she had a long, arduous labor. Throw in my Achilles’ heel injury that left me virtually immobile for a month, the usuay daily difficulties and illnesses that come along, five moves, two job changes for me, and a spattering of financial difficulties (mostly beyond our control), and you begin to understand the trials she has endured. And now there’s the “great matter” spoken of in my last post – that alone has been as difficult as everything else combined.

Yet here she is, after everything still the same wonderful person, excellent wife, and superb mother. She gets up early in the morning, breastfeeds Sofia, and then gets Liam out of his crib as soon as his eyes snap open and he is full chatter mode. She then cares for them, which includes trying to coax Liam into eating something – anything – and taking care of 7 month old Sofia. She balances their naps – which usually do not coincide – all while taking care of the normal chores around the house, along with anything else that comes up during the course of the day. You moms know how difficult all this can be, yet despite being exhausted at the end of the day, Liam and Sofia are the last thoughts on her mind, as she checks on them both before going to bed. Over the past 3 months she has had to do all this without my help other than on the weekends, which is obviously a draining experience for her. Yet she loves her job as a wife and mother, and performs both with effortless sublimity.

The fact of the matter is that I am deeply in love with her, and always will be. Melissa is my best friend – the one person I confide in and the one person I absolutely have to talk to on a daily basis. Life without her is truly unfathomable. She is  a blessing, and one that I absolutely have not earned and do not deserve. I fall short as a husband on a consistent basis, but my aim is to enrich her life only a fraction of the extent to which she enriches not only my life, but all those around her. You are my jewel, Melissa: you make the world more beautiful every day.



Filed under Miscellany and Tomfoolery, Parenthood/Pregnancy

Change is in the Air

Most of you know that I am a missionaries’ kid. As such I am accustomed to change. We moved from Spain to the States and back to Spain several times. We moved to a lot of different towns within Spain as well. The last time I counted in my THIRTY years of life (yikes!) I have lived in twenty-seven or so homes. I’m sure the number is higher now. And being as though I am married to a surgeon who is in the Air Force that number is simply going to continue to climb for a while. That’s ok, I feel claustrophobic after a while, I get a deep yearning for change. I’m not sure what I would do with myself if I knew there were no more moves in my future.

Through all the homes, towns/cities, friends,changes in relationship status, jobs, hair colors, phases, etc the one thing that has remained constant in the past thirty years are my parents.  I have ALWAYS been able to count on them for anything-day or night. For the most part they have gone through all my biggest changes with me. Now it’s their turn. For the first time they are leaving Spain (with no plans to return), the place they started their first church, the place they raised their children, the place they met their first grandchild. Spain is where they grew up together as a couple in many ways. This is a huge turning point for us as an entire family. I’m not sure I ever believed this time would come. Spain is “home” and my parents have always been “home.” I can’t decide if this blog is going to be more about my feelings about their move or how I imagine it must be for them. It will be some of both, I suppose.

My parents are amazing parents, grandparents and have become best of friends to me. Selfishly, this move is a gift from God. Instead of being 4,579 miles away (yes, I googled that) they will only be 447 miles north of us in Nashville, TN. I wish they were only 4 miles away, but hey, I’ll take what I can get!! I have said this before and I will say it again, as I get older I feel more of a need for my parents. More importantly, I WANT them near. I can obviously live my life without them right here, but life is simply more enjoyable when shared with two of my favorite people. I look forward to being able to call my parents up and not count seven hours ahead every time to figure out what time it is there. I look forward to texting them. I look forward to them seeing Liam and, soon-to-be-arriving Sofia more often. I look forward to being only a SHORT plane ride away or a day’s car ride away from quality time with them. I look forward to celebrating more holidays and special occasions together. There are a ton of things I look forward to – one being the day we live in the same town!!!

On the other hand, I am sad that they are moving back. Mostly because of my brother and his three children. I think it will be a huge change for them. Every time I am around our nephews and niece and they see my parents they yell “ABUELOS!!!” and seem really excited to be with them. Their entire lives they have had them close by. I have only known Spain with my parents there. It is the same for my brother. Spain without my parents must be an odd place. Now that they are moving back we will not be visiting Spain as much. We will still go to see M,B,A,C & D of course, but it won’t be the same. This is sad to me. I will miss Spain and I will miss Spain without my parents – it simply will not be the same. I almost feel as though I am leaving home all over again. There is a sadness amidst the happiness.

It will also be difficult on all the people my parents have touched in their thirty years. I don’t think they realized how deeply they have impacted people until now. We tend to take people for granted on a day to day basis but when our day to day is threatened by change you re-evaluate the value of those around you. I think those around my parents are experiencing this and vice versa.

Change is never easy but when this change entails moving your ENTIRE life across the ocean and saying goodbye to thirty years of memories it makes it seem almost impossible. I know God has a reason for this move and He will be guiding them and holding their hands throughout this entire process. I pray they feel His presence at every step of this journey.

Mama y Papa, I love you both so much and we are here for you and praying for you always!



Filed under Liam, Miscellany and Tomfoolery, Parenthood/Pregnancy

Dearest Baby M2

Baby Girl,

What a surprise you have been to us in every way! We already love you so much and are so thankful for you. One day you will probably hear  how shocked I was to find out that you were growing inside of me. You will also probably hear that I was a little sad. Baby Girl, this had nothing to do with you and everything to do with your silly Mommy. I was/am scared that I won’t be as good as a mommy as you and your brother deserve. I am terrified that you and Liam will not feel loved enough or have enough “Mommy time”. In my perfect plan you were due to arrive a year or two later. But you came at a much better time. You came in God’s perfect timing.

You also shocked us by being a girl! Daddy and I really wanted you to be a little girl but we had convinced ourselves that you were a boy. We were going to name you Lucas. When Dr. Esses did the ultrasound and told us you were a GIRL I just kept saying “WHAT?!??!? REALLY?!? NO WAY!”  I still can’t believe that I get to be a mommy to you, my precious little girl. I think I might not completely believe it until I hold you in my arms!

I am twenty weeks pregnant with you and time is flying by until the day we get to meet you. I find myself dreaming of you and what  you will be like on a daily basis. I daydream of all the fun girly things we are going to be able to do together. I hope we can be as close as I am to Abuela. I pray for you. I pray that you will see how precious and perfect you are. I pray that  you will see yourself in God’s eyes.

Honey, you are so blessed because you have the BEST Daddy in the entire world. Your Daddy treats me better than any woman could ever dream of. I really hope and pray that you will find a husband exactly like your Father, but I feel as though it will be hard. He is so uniquely wonderful. You will be spoiled by seeing how amazingly he treats me and us. You deserve someone like him though, I pray you wait patiently for whomever God has for you.

Your big brother is so much fun! I know he is going to make you laugh a lot. He is a good snuggle bug too!  I really hope you two are really close and truly enjoy each others company. I know there will be times when you get on each others nerves but I pray that at the end of the day you realize there is nothing in this world like family.

I am planning your room and having so much fun all along the way. I love looking at all the girl bedding and baby clothes. It really is so much fun. I hope I don’t go overboard! I cannot wait to have your nursery together! I know you probably won’t remember your first room but I want you to know that we put a lot of effort it to making it perfect for you. We have many years of planning your rooms and clothes together-how much fun!

Well, I guess that is all for now. I am sorry if I don’t write much but know that I think about you everyday. Our family is going to have so much fun together. You were perfectly placed in this family and I love you always, Mama.

Our first unofficial family picture!



Filed under Liam, Miscellany and Tomfoolery, Parenthood/Pregnancy

Unfriendly Skies

Imagine, for a moment, that a hotel requires you to pay your bill in full for your entire stay before you arrive. When you arrive, you are greeted by a surly bellman who whisks away your luggage, but not before charging you $20 up front for this chore. You make it to the front desk, where a clerk who, despite her nametag that reads 10 years of service, acts with utterly confused cluelessness, as if you are the very first guest she’s ever assisted. After a cacophony of keystrokes on the computer, she informs you that your room is not ready and won’t be for hours. The reason? A maid from another hotel in the chain is delayed by bad weather outside and won’t be able to clean your room for several more hours.

You wait in the lobby. No refreshments are offered and no refund is even hinted. Several hours after the initial delay, you overhear the busily confused clerk mention to another employee that the rooms won’t be ready for several more hours due to problems with the beds. She doesn’t mention this to you or anyone else. You approach her to get clarification and an update on the room availability, but she claims that she has no new information. At this point you are tired and hungry, and around you babies cry and someone with a foul smelling odor grumbles incessantly. You are frustrated, and call the hotel’s customer service hotline. They don’t offer so much as an apology, and blame the entire problem on the weather.

At long last, the hotel clerk makes an announcement that your room will be ready in an hour. Two hours later, you are told you can head up to your room. You make it up to find that the bed is lumpy and uncomfortable, there is trash tucked away in a corner, and the toilet doesn’t flush. You inform housekeeping, but they tell you the toilet is broken and you’ll have to either wait or use one down the hall. Too exhausted to be angry, you collapse on the bed, which subsequently collapses beneath you. Again, too tired and hungry to care, you call for room service, but they inform you they only offer a can of soda and maybe a few crackers – for everything else there is a fee, and you must pay with cash, preferably exact change. Oh, and your luggage. When you call the bell desk they tell you it is lost and won’t be back until morning. No apology, no offer of a refund of your $20, just a cold statement that it will arrive in the morning. No consideration is given to a refund or future travel voucher for your horrible experience.

Ok, enough of the hotel metaphor. You get the point right? If any industry other than the airline industry charged you exorbitant fees in advance, proceeded to deliver pathetic service, and then treated you like an steaming pile of dung you would be shocked and outraged. You would demand an apology, write negative reviews on Tripadvisor,, and any other site where your could express your immense displeasure. Yet how many of you reading this have had a similar experience with an airline? How many of you have had a similar experience on multiple occasions? How many of you have that experience most times you fly these days? And how many of you, for all your problems, ever get offered a discount, refund, or even a simple heartfelt apology? I’m guessing the answer is somewhere between zero and “Hell no!” For Melissa and I airline travel is a nausea-inducing ordeal, an exercise in futility and a consumer rape of epic proportions. We expect to experience delays, be treated with the utmost disrespect by the staff, and have some sort of problem during the course of travel. All at too-high prices and without even consideration of a refund or discount. Ah, the joys of flying.

Recently the U.S. Department of Transportation released its annual report on airline performance. In what should be the least surprising statistic of the year, consumer complaints about the airlines were up 28% in 2010. The reason complaints were up by such a significant amount is very simple and needs little analysis: it doesn’t take a genius to see that, collectively, the airlines suck. While objective performance measures (punctuality, baggage handling) were slightly improved, customer satisfaction was down, as consistent incompetence worsens with every trip the airport.

Predictably, airlines blame bad weather, overcrowded planes and airports, and a shortage of runways across the country for the increase in consumer discontent. But what they fail to realize is that continuing to pass the blame and consistently shirking responsibility for their poor performance only catalyzes customer frustration. The airlines, ostensibly a transportation and service industry, are wholly unique in their ability to bilk passengers and simultaneously piss them off with impunity. Costs are rising and traditionally free services – such as baggage handling – now carry significant charge. Yet as prices rise and the miserly nickel & dime fleecing propagates, the quality of customer service plummets, as does even basic competence amongst airline employees. No other industry – particularly a service industry – can claim to raise prices and take a collective dump on its patrons while decreasing quality of services rendered. Hence the increasing consumer angst.

Above and beyond abject scorn and non-existent customer service, the worst part about the airlines is their unabashed incompetence. Tasks that should take 10 minutes end up taking 30; workers don’t know (or care) what the airline or airport policy is; policies on pets and infants vary from flight to flight. No one seems to have any idea how to do their specific job. All of that is infuriating, but the number and frequency of mechanical problems is downright scary. On a recent flight from Atlanta back to Fort Walton, all three flights on that route had “mechanical problems” that led to delays of at least 2 hours for each flight. Certainly strange things happen and the occasional glitches can occur, but if 3 flights to the same small airport all have problems in the same night, either the airline is lying about the problem or the mechanics are incompetent. Both scenarios only increase resentment for the airlines.

Managing a single model airplane is too much for Delta's half-wit CEO.

The airline that received the most complaints in the DOT report was Delta Airlines. Again, does that surprise anyone? Delta is horribly managed in every phase of operations and support. They are rarely on time – “Doubtful Ever Leaves The Airport” – and customer service is absolutely non-existent. The sheer magnitude and degree of incompetence at every level never ceases to amaze. The worst thing you can see on your airline itinerary is Delta ATL connection. Delta’s CEO, Richard H. Anderson, raked in $8.3 million in compensation last year. For those of you keeping score, that makes him the highest paid airline CEO and places him 394th on Forbes’ executive ranking. So what if his airline received more complaints than any other airline – by a significant margin – in 2010. And don’t mind the fact that Delta has lost money eight of the last ten years, including $1.2 billion (yes, that’s billion with a b)  last year. But who’s counting, right? The truth is Richard Anderson – like most other airline CEOs – is a colossal douchebag, a meat-head of epic proportions, a charlatan, thief, and glowworm.

Incontrovertible proof of Delta's suckage.

Cool gig, being CEO of Delta: giving a perpetual middle finger to your customers and putting the company billions in the hole while raking in a nice $8.4 million. Must be nice making that kind of dough so he doesn’t have to fly a crappy airline like Delta.

Ultimately airlines are the only industry I know of that get away with overcharging and performing horribly. Punctuality isn’t a priority, the planes are often dirty and poorly maintained, the customer service ranges from terrible to non-existent, and concerns over basic safety continue to rise, illustrated by the cracked fuselage on a Southwest flight last week. I’m not a big fan of government regulation and am all for privatizing industry, but at this point the airlines can’t get any worse. I’m in favor of refusing them future bail outs, allowing them to fail, and then just starting over. The status quo cannot continue.

If the airlines go back to basics, design sensible schedules, and starting caring about their customers they can regain our trust. Until then we will anticipate flying with absolute dread rather than excitement.



Filed under Miscellany and Tomfoolery, Travel

The Dream Ticket

Marcus Tullius Cicero was the Barack Obama of ancient Rome. A well-educated senator in the late Roman Republic, he is considered by many to be the greatest orator in Roman history. Exceptionally eloquent and extremely persuasive, he was revered for his ability to win others to his side with his speeches on the senate floor and in the forum. He was an immensely popular defense lawyer, famously successful keeping his clients (usually the wealthy and powerful) from significant punishment. Cicero was nuanced and thoughtful in his positions: he vociferously defended the traditional Republic against the prospect of Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, but hated the thought of civil war, and thus remained neutral before finally siding with Pompey in the end. His writing skills were excellent as well, but ultimately led to his execution by Mark Antony when he harshly criticized the latter in his philippics.

Cicero was not anti-war in general (Roman conquest was more or less expected), and even advocated executing captives rather than keeping them alive in prison or exile. Yet he opposed ostentatious display of victory, such as Pompey’s 2-day triumphal procession in 61 B.C. for his victory over Mithradates of Pontus. He was wary of any one man having too much military power or using the army too frequently, as Julius Caesar did for nearly a decade when he conquered Gaul and invaded Britain.

Yet Cicero was not averse to using the military, particularly for his own personal gain. When he was pro-consul (governor) of Cilicia, a province in what is now southern Turkey, he relished the prospect of an easy victory over the weak tribes of the region. As pro-consul, he had imperium over the province, meaning he had control over the military there and could wage war as he saw fit, for the Roman army was not controlled by central government. He feared neighboring Parthia (essentially Persia), which was a major rival to Roman power in the Middle East, and had no interest in starting a war with such a powerful foe. But taking on the weaker armies was a clear possibility. A colleague in the senate wrote this to him:

If we could only get the right balance right so that a war came along of just the right size for the strength of your forces and we achieved what was needed for glory and triumph without facing a really dangerous and serious clash – that would be the dream ticket.

Cicero apparently agreed with this sentiment, writing back several months later:

You say that it would suit you if only I could have just enough trouble to earn a sprig of laurel [worn by a triumphing general, possibly symbolizing a divine nature of sorts]; but you are afraid of the Parthians because you don’t have much confidence in my troops. Well, that is exactly what has happened.

And bragging of his forays into the sparsely populated mountain country:

Many were captured and slaughtered, the rest scattered. Their strongholds were taken by surprise attack and torched.

Cicero was a first class statesman, a patriotic man loyal to the true essence of Rome. He was not a military man and had little interest in foreign affairs. Unlike Pompey or Caesar or Mark Antony, he had no dreams of massive military campaigns and prolonged war. Nor did he have much interest in seeing Roman lives placed at risk. But he was not averse to relatively low-risk operations with a high probability of success. Such success was highly important if someone like Cicero wanted to build a lasting legacy in addition to advancing to the upper echelon of Roman politicians. Building an army and mobilizing it to attack a powerful foe like Parthia was out of the question; picking on far weaker forces was the way to go.

In thinking about current involvement of the United States in Lybia, along with Afghanistan and Iraq, I can’t help but think of the need for an easy victory over hapless opponents while avoiding a conflict with a tough rival. Many people today draw comparisons between ancient Rome and modern America: Rome was the overwhelming military and economic superpower of its day, involved in global trade and military intervention on multiple continents that was unthinkable by any other nation; many people who despise the U.S. make the comparison gleefully, anticipating an American collapse similar to what Rome experienced in the 5th century. So if the U.S. is Rome and Obama is Cicero, then a powerful military like China corresponds to Parthia and nations like Lybia, Iraq, and Afghanistan correspond to the Cicilian tribes that Cicero happily fought.

It is impossible to draw perfect parallels between the ancient world and modern times, but China’s relationship with the U.S. is similar in many ways to Parthia’s relationship with Rome. Rome was more powerfully economically and militarily, and had a more stable and popular government. In a full scale war the Romans would have had inevitable victory. Rome experienced victories deep in Parthian territory, along with losses that ceded the conquered lands back to the Parthians. They never fully subdued their opponents despite five centuries of unrest, but there was never any chance Parthia could invade and destroy Rome. Their rivalry was more for sphere of influence over Mesopotamia and Armenia. Similarly, China desperately wants regional influence over Asia and the Pacific without American involvement – they have no real desire (and no chance of victory) to attack the United States. Likewise, the U.S. has no intent of starting what would be a massive and costly war with the Chinese.

China is an oppressive, murderous, corrupt, immoral authoritarian regime. Sound familiar? We’ve heard those words used by at least 3 consecutive American presidents to validate military action against regimes led by Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and now Muammar Gaddafi in Lybia. Last week President Obama took to the airwaves to defend the controversial action in Libya, justifying it on almost purely moral grounds, using these terms as moral validation for the action: “brutal repression and humanitarian crisis,” “Gaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead,” “prospect of violence on a horrific scale,” “slaughter and mass graves.” All of this was more or less summed up in this paragraph:

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

So President Obama’s philosophy – and it is hardly different from President Bush or President Clinton – is that America’s military should be used to stop mass murder and violent repression when it occurs around the world. On a philosophical level, I agree with this doctrine. America should intervene in places like Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan. We have the capability to save millions of lives of our fellow humans, and I think we should come to the aid of the oppressed. On that level I am in complete agreement with President Obama and our foreign policy in general.

But I disagree profoundly with two aspects of our foreign policy for the past 15 years: the astonishing inconsistency that can only be interpreted as cautious intervention at best and cowardice at worst, and the lack of adherence to Colin Powell’s “doctrine” that calls for military intervention only when it is applied full force to achieve fast, decisive, overwhelming victory. If there is a moral imperative to help the Libyan rebels as President Obama says, and I’m inclined to agree there is, then why are we not also helping the people of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Bahrain, Syria, and yes, even China? If murderous repression is morally wrong, then the U.S. should intervene in all cases where it takes place. There is no difference between mass murder in Libya or the Sudan or Saudi Arabia or China. If we intervene in one place, we should be prepared to intervene in all of them.

China currently holds about 500,000 political prisoners – by far the most of any nation around the world. Every year China executes more people than the rest of the world combined (that we know of), most of them political dissidents. They rank 7th in per capita executions, which is impressive considering they have over a billion citizens. Confessions obtained by torture are common, and physical and psychiatric abuse are widespread in Chinese prisons. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners are currently being held without due process, many of them either political dissidents or ethnic minorities. Involuntary organ harvest from prisoners is thought to be common in China. And these are only the violent aspects of Chinese repression, never mind the lack of freedom of speech, religion, and regulations such as the one-child policy.

If we have a moral obligation to stop murder in Libya and Iraq, then why are we not mobilizing our forces for a full-scale invasion of China? Their murder and oppression is far worse than Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. So why aren’t we taking on the Chinese? Why are our naval fleets and ground bases centered around the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf instead of the South China Sea? Why are resources going to fight hapless regimes whose military strength is built on a scale that doesn’t even belong on the same spectrum as the American military? Why are we picking on Gadaffi but leaving the Saudi monarchs alone? Why is the Taliban being hunted and wiped out while the Chinese Communist Party operates with impunity?

In his address, President Obama gave absolutely no moral rationale for intervening in some places and not others. What he fails to recognize is that there is no integrity in selective intervention for moral causes. The FBI doesn’t selectively choose which mass murderers to pursue, because murder is always wrong and murderers must be brought to justice, however difficult. If our foreign policy is based on a similar moral structure, then we cannot selectively decide which murderous regimes must go. If we go after one we must go after them all. If we overthrow Gadaffi today we must go for China tomorrow.

Just as Cicero wanted no part of a war with Parthia, so President Obama wants no part of a war with China. You see, virtually of all of his criticisms of Gadaffi’s regime also apply to the Chinese Communist regime. If pressed directly (which he hasn’t been) about why we are fighting Libya and not China, President Obama would likely maintain that attacking China would lead to an enormous conflict, and he’s probably right. But what does it matter? If it’s morally right to overthrow Gadaffi then it’s morally right to overthrow the Chinese regime for their murder and oppression. If the only difference is degree of difficulty, then either we are weak and cowardly or we have no real moral compass.

I don’t mean to pick on President Obama. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were no different. Kosovo was hardly any different from Libya, either in terms of degree of oppression or ease of victory. Iraq and Afghanistan had marginally tougher military forces but were both defeated within hours. And the reasons for fighting in both places are still murky at best: are we really any safer from Al Qaeda or terrorism as a result of these wars? We may have helped the Iraqi and Afghan people throw off murderous regimes, but that brings us back to the question of moral consistency (or lack thereof). President Clinton wanted and got an easy victory in Kosovo. President Bush achieved easy military victories but completely mismanaged the aftermath in both nations. It is not only a problem of the current president’s policy, but of American foreign policy in general since the end of the first Gulf War.

If the U.S. lacks moral consistency in its foreign policy, it also lacks the will to fight war the way it should be fought. Colin Powell is correct that if we are going to use any military force at all, it should be used to achieve overwhelming and complete victory. Returning to ancient Rome, after the third in a series of bloody Punic Wars fought against Carthage, the Romans completely destroyed the city so that it would never rise to challenge them again. This prompted a rival British chieftan to say of Rome: “where they make a desert, they call it peace.” Romans valued “peace,” but to them peace was only achieved when Rome destroyed her enemies or made them accept peace on terms overwhelmingly favorable to the Romans; negotiating an even military truce was considered shameful.

As anachronistic as it may seem, that should be the way America approaches military endeavors today. If all other avenues are exhausted and it comes down to war – to taking other lives – the United States should make sure that we secure absolute victory. Otherwise the enterprise is a waste of human lives and national resources. If it is right to fight Gadaffi and oust him from power (as President Obama claims to want), the his regime should be completely destroyed. If the Taliban is worth fighting in Afghanistan, it should be utterly wiped out. Only by applying our full force and ensuring unambiguous victory do we honor those willing to fight and potentially die. Otherwise they die in vain.

President Obama claims that America has a moral interest in Libya, but is only willing to risk a few fighter missions and cruise missiles fired from hundreds of miles away. While there some ground troops involved, there seems to be no will to put any additional forces in place. It seems as though the American role will be one of support by way of intelligence and technical assistance to a NATO force. So I have to wonder why the United States is involved at all. If it is worth involving the military to stop Gaddafi, then force should be applied to the maximum extent to ensure a speedy and ultimately safer resolution to the conflict. Lobbing a few bombs and flying a few fighter sorties is meaningless. Either the U.S. should fight Gadaffi or we shouldn’t, but there is no room for dipping a tentative toe in the water when it comes to fighting a war.

Thus in my view the American involvement in Libya is just another example of a morally inconsistent and poorly conducted foreign intervention. I cannot see a way that it is morally right to fight Gadaffi and not China. The only difference between the two is degree of difficulty. And if the strength of opponent guides moral intervention to that degree, then it is hard to believe President Obama isn’t just like Cicero in wanting an easy and safe victory over a weak opponent. Furthermore, if America is going to apply its military might in Libya, it should be done to end the conflict as quickly and decisively as possible. U.S. action so far has been perhaps mildly effective, but Gaddafi is still in power, still fighting, and still killing his people. Morally we have accomplished nothing, and yet there seems to be no will to do anything further.

Until both Gaddafi’s regime and the Chinese Communist party no longer exist, the U.S. will have fulfilled no moral imperative. The alternative to becoming involved in every instance of widespread violent repression is to be involved in none of them. Personally I believe such isolationism  is morally wrong – just as wrong as ignoring the Holocaust. Thus we must be prepared to fight many wars and to fight them often. Europe’s most peaceful era was during the height of the Roman Empire. It may be that the world’s most peaceful era will be during the height of the American Empire. Perhaps that is the ultimate dream ticket.



Filed under Miscellany and Tomfoolery, Rome