Suddenly, a phone call I got 13 1/2 years ago makes sense.

Today’s post was going to be about the big atheist billboard in Times Square, and it was going to be sarcastic.  Today is different now than it was this morning.  With 11 days to go before Christmas, a disturbed person in Connecticut has made good hearts everywhere heavy and sad, made devout hearts everywhere question their beliefs, and made peaceful hearts everywhere sad and mad at the same time.

Why am I talking about such a big event on a blog that’s read by a dozen people on a good day, with 10 of them stumbling by accidentally?  Why shout from a non-platform?  It’s actually quite appropriate, because today I feel helpless and small.

Unfortunately, it seems like this story gets replayed every few years.  Among others, there was Jonesboro, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and today Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I had a brother attending Virginia Tech in 2007, which is the closest I’ve been to having a personal stake in any of these.

Today’s shooting actually made me think back to Columbine, though.  That night, while sitting in my dorm room at UMass, I got a call from my Mom.  I knew about how horrible that day’s shooting was, but getting a call that night seemed a bit odd.  She must have been shaken up more than she let on, I reasoned at the time.

I get it now.

Today’s shooting is not the first school shooting since I became a Dad.  But Sandy Hook is unmatched in human toll since Virginia Tech, and the children in that school were just a few years older than my daughters – short years which I know will fly by.

In 2007, by the time I heard anything about Virginia Tech, my brother was safe and sound in his off-campus apartment; the threat was apparently over.  The massacre in Connecticut makes me worry – not about today, but about tomorrow.  I want to go home, bolt the doors, and huddle with my family.  No one goes outside anymore.  The End.

That’s not realistic; my little girls are going to get bigger every day and they are inevitably going to go to school.  And with that realization comes the next logical thought about these two little souls were entrusted to me and my wife:  “Oh, my God.  I can’t protect them.”

Naturally, we all grieve for the families of the victims.  Yes, we feel a mix of anger and confusion directed toward the apparently deceased gunman.  And if we are completely honest, surely we have wondered to ourselves why God would let this happen.  Scrolling through my Facebook feed, though, I see something else.  “I can’t hold my babies tight enough tonight,” said a high school classmate.  “Giving extra kisses to my baby today,” said a college friend.  The sentiment has been echoed by former softball teammates, ex-colleagues, clients, and others I’ve met in various walks of life.  The only common threads are our children and our fear for them.

Suddenly, I know why Mom and Dad were so worried.  Today is heartbreaking.  But tomorrow is terrifying.

"Wall Street was drunk…"

Last week, a few blogs picked up on this video of President Bush speaking “off the record” at a Houston fundraiser. The President talks about Wall Street being “drunk” and waiting to “sober up” to illustrate economic woes. “That’s why I asked you to turn your television cameras off,” he quips, apparently unaware that a small camcorder is recording him.

It may not be a White House leak, but it is certainly a good video for the President. He shows the personal side and sense of humor and humanity that made it easy for Americans to rally behind him in the years following September 11.

This video may not have gotten enough coverage to cause any bump in W’s approval ratings – and even if it did, it’s too little too late. If Bush had maintained this kind of visibility in his second term, though, his approval ratings might not be setting record lows. Bush’s strength has always been his ability to connect with and earn the trust of the populace – on a personal level.

This was the President America had hoped to see when they re-elected him in 2004. In this video, he demonstrated an understanding of the challenges facing average Americans – and the role of Wall Street excesses, which is something Republicans are reluctant to admit. But Bush does it in an effective way – he gives a roadmap through the current economic crisis without calling for big-government regulations that would probably only make things worse.

It’s just too bad we haven’t seen this President for the last four years.

Your Next President?

Since 1960 — and especially since 1976 — American Presidential contests have been decided based more on media images more than policy. While it’s true that the mainstream media has a girlish crush on Barack Obama, it’s also true that Obama is a master of media images. Case in point: the image to the left, which appeared on the New York Times home page yesterday.
It looks like Obama is co-piloting a helicopter, and it could very well be a still from an action movie. In other words, it’s the perfect image to get out there if you have recently been accused of being weak-kneed in your beliefs and flip-flopping on several issues.
And while Obama looks like he’s out of central casting for Airwolf: The Movie, John McCain still looks like Ernest Borgnine.

Obama: Let the free market work

Kudos to Barack Obama, who eventually decided not to accept public financing for his Presidential campaign. Tax money should not be used to fund Barack Obama’s speeches – after all, if you don’t plan to vote for him, why should the government force you to donate to him?

More importantly, Obama has found that he is able to raise more money outside the public campaign structure.

If Obama wins the Presidency, he should continue applying this principle. After all, most people can make more money saving for retirement on their own than they can by sacrificing a slice of their paycheck to Social Security. It naturally follows that President Obama would naturally let them opt out of public retirement financing/Social Security, right?

The Mortgage Bailout: A Little From Here Makes A Little For There

The Senate is poised to vote on a massive mortgage bailout bill. So, no worries if you bought a house that was more than you could afford. And if you made a bad loan to someone who clearly wasn’t qualified, you’re in the clear.

Policies like this can have disastrous effects on our financial system. It reminds me of a book Mama Eltringham used to read to me when I was little: Hiram’s Red Shirt.

Here’s the gist of the story: Hiram was a farmer whose daily uniform consisted of a red shirt, which he adored to the point that he wore it every day. Predictably, farm work took its toll on the shirt and the elbows wore out. Hiram fixed it by patching the elbows with the shirt’s cuffs – his philosophy was: “A little from here makes a little for there.” When his wrists became scratched, he shortened his jeans to make cuffs for the shirt – “a little from here makes a little for there.” When Hiram’s ankles were scraped by the brush, he finally resolved to suck it up and buy a new shirt – in fact, he bought a new red shirt exactly like his previous one.

There are some plot holes: Did he buy new jeans, too? Didn’t he have any other shirts? How did someone so obviously oblivious to resource allocation manage to run a farm?

That’s appropriate, since Congress’s mortgage scheme isn’t much better than Hiram’s misguided laundry preservation plan. Congress wants to spend tax money that could be used on any number of things (schools, roads, you name it) to bail out irresponsible businesses and citizens who acted irresponsibly and recklessly. A little from here makes a little for there.

It may work for a while – most quick fixes do. It also proves that a lender can loan someone $200,000 or more without worrying about whether he or she can pay it back.

That means risky loans are only risky for the borrower. Currently, if you ask a bank for a $200,000 loan, they will evaluate how likely you are to pay them back. They do this because if you default, they lose money and you get a big black mark on your credit score, which hurts the next time you try to take out a loan – for things like a new house, a car, or your kids’ college tuition.

In other words, under the current system, the bank has an incentive to look out for you. A foreclosure has two losers: the lender and the borrower. If there is no consequence for the bank, their incentive to look out for you is gone.

But subsidizing the lender’s potential losses still leaves the lender with a stain on his or her credit report – goodbye future home, goodbye new car, and hello “Proud Bubba Community College Parent” sweatshirt.

Maybe, like simple Hiram, Congress just doesn’t understand the consequences of their actions.

UC Boulder enacts affirmative action for conservatives

One of the country’s most liberal universities has instituted an affirmative action program for conservative professors.

The University of Colorado is a little slice of Berkeley nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Like most prominent colleges, UC Boulder’s faculty, according to a recent survey, lean decidedly leftward – only 32 on the more than 800 faculty members are filled by Republicans. That’s not uncommon for campuses.

The answer? UC Boulder is looking to raise money for an endowed Chair of Conservative Thought and Policy.

Of course, it is nice to see a school recognize its own biases – and especially one like Boulder. I have personally known students who were harassed, berated, spit on, threatened with expulsion, and Photoshopped into porn for being outspoken campus conservatives, so this is refreshing.

But this is far, far away from a solution, because it is a truly empty gesture.

The outcry from the campus left has been predictable – and ironic. Colorado teaching assistant Curtis Bell asked the Wall Street Journal (rhetorically), “Why set aside money specifically for a conservative?” Bell would “rather see [the school hire] a quality academic than someone paid to have a particular perspective.”

If it sounds familiar, it should. Those arguments are the ones you’ll hear when you ask a conservative about affirmative action.

And make no mistake – affirmative action is exactly what Chancellor G.P. “Bud” Peterson is proposing.

When a student or workforce population does not fit the demographic guidelines others have set out, affirmative action balances those statistics through quotas, whether those quotas are stated or unstated.

When I was at UMass, there were student groups built to protest th fact that our student body was only 17% minority. These organizations thought the number should be 20%, so they marched on the administration, held “teach-ins” and rallies, and ran student government candidates.

No one seemed to care to ask why our minority enrollment was low. Was it the fact that there are plenty of private schools in Massachusetts also trying to attract minority students? Was it the fact that Massachusetts couldn’t be whiter if it was the Commonwealth of Wonder Bread?

Maybe it was something more serious, though. Maybe our schools in predominantly minorty communities were failing and not preparing kids for college. Maybe we had closet racists working in admissions. Would a quota solve any of those things? Of course not. But it would gloss over the problem and make the advocacy groups feel like they made a difference.

The University of Colorado is faced with a similar problem and is, similarly, taking the path of least resistance. And Chancellor Peterson isn’t asking why his faculty skews 800-32 blue – he’s just patching up the problem by hiring more from the red column.

That means that if the 800-32 is the result of a tenure review board driven by a political agenda, that problem may never be fixed. And forcing conservatives onto campus through a special position will not help.

It is not easy to find the root cause of these problems. But then, who said the search for knowledge would – or should – be easy?