The first farmer was the first man. All historic nobility rests on the possession and use of land. Ralph Waldo Emerson

11 December 2010

Public Education Gets A Wake-Up Call

As faithful readers of this blog already know, I have little love or respect for the National Education Association--the strongest teachers' union in the country and one of the strongest unions in the United States. To briefly reiterate, my biggest argument with the NEA is that it's grossly self-interested in the preservation and expansion of its membership--not the education of our nation's youngsters. The NEA promotes mediocrity, rewarding teachers with the longest service with top salaries while completely disdaining individual initiative and achievement so that the best teachers receive the highest reward. Sure, the NEA gives plenty of awards, but real incentives are financial--and there's no way the NEA will allow anything but remuneration based on seniority.

The preservation of the mediocre is not the NEA's only goal. It also fiercely defends the grossly incompetent. This was most graphically revealed this week in the Southern California city of Compton. McKinley Elementary School has consistently underperformed over the past decade, and ranks in the bottom 10% of California's elementary schools. The students' parents--exercising their rights under a law passed by the California legislature in January--signed petitions demanding school reforms, including the firing of the administration and the faculty, in favor of a charter school. Under the new law, if more than 51% of the parents sign such a petition, they can choose from a menu of school reforms--from conversion to a charter school to removal of the principal and faculty to closing the school outright.

The move by the parents was applauded by Governor Schwarzenegger, as well as by Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. "This is the beginning of a revolution", said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization focusing on education reform. "Parents are waking up to the fact their schools are failing because they are run on an agenda designed for adults. We advocate a kids-first agenda."

The new California law has inspired similar legislation in the state of Connecticut with six other states now considering parent trigger laws similar to California's.

The reaction of the California Teacher's Association was predictable: it is questioning the way the signatures were gathered and intends to pursue legal action.

But Mr. Austin concludes: "Parents are the only ones who truly care about their children. The only way to truly change things is to take power away from adults with an agenda."

07 December 2010

69 Years Ago Today...

...America changed forever. On a leisurely Sunday morning in Hawaii--December 7, 194--"a date that will live in infamy"--America's nervous peace was ripped apart by the attack of 353 Japanese fighter planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers in the infamous and never-to-be-forgotten bombing of Pearl Harbor.

More than 2400 Americans perished that day--and many of them still call Pearl Harbor their final resting place. Five battleships--the USS California, the USS Utah, the USS West Virginia, the USS Oklahoma, and--most famously--the USS Arizona--were either destroyed or run aground. A total of eighteen naval vessels were destroyed.

The next day, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a formal declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. Less than an hour later, the war authorization was approved. Three days later, the Axis powers of Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S.--and America reciprocated with a war declaration of its own later that same day.

Thus--within the space of just four days--America was plunged into a massive two-front war that ultimately claimed the lives of 416,000 Americans before the war finally ended with Japan's surrender in August 1945.

I have visited the USS Arizona Memorial on two different occasions. It is a place of solemn remembrance and reverent respect. Even today, oil droplets still bubble to the surface of the sea from the fuel tanks on the ship--a quiet, poignant reminder that Pearl Harbor is yet a home of the brave.

06 December 2010

The History Behind "I'll Be Home For Christmas"

Often, the meaning of songs and the circumstances under which they are written make the songs eminently more interesting. That's the case with one of America's all-time favorites--"I'll Be Home For Christmas". The song was written in 1943, at the height of World War II. Hundreds of thousands of young GI's were stationed in Europe and the Pacific, far away from their loved ones and the comfort and safety of home.

The mood of the country was perfectly captured in a new Christmas song penned by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent. In it, the song begins cheerfully and hopefully, affirming that the subject of the song will be home for Christmas "where the love-light gleams". But the song ends with the haunting closer: "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams".

When the song was recorded by Bing Crosby and released in the fall of 1943, it shot to the top ten in the record charts and became an instant classic.

For millions of Americans during the War--and today for those serving our country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world where our troops are stationed--the closest the troops would get to home at Christmastime is in the dreams they share with their loved ones who would readily welcome them.

01 December 2010

A Grief Observed

As faithful readers of this blog already know, I am an immense admirer of Abraham Lincoln--not only for his astonishing leadership in the our nation's years of greatest crisis--but also for his unutterable eloquence and dexterity with the English language.

I've recently come across a little-known letter that Lincoln wrote in the early days of the Civil War to the parents of Elmer Ellsworth, who died in Alexandria, Virginia after he had torn down a Confederate flag and was subsequently shot by the owner of the hotel upon which it was displayed. Ellsworth was Lincoln's friend, a young protege of Lincoln who had worked with him in Lincoln's law office in Springfield, Illinois before he was elected President. He had formed a largely ceremonial detachment known as the Zouaves, a drill team that thrilled spectators with its exotic costumes and precision choreography. When the war began, Ellsworth--only 24 years old--asked for and received a commission in the U.S. Army and led the Zouaves as they were sworn into military service. Less than three weeks later, the young officer was dead--and the loss hit Lincoln hard.

In the midst of his grief, he wrote this letter to Ellsworth's parents. It is a model of timeless grace, personal remembrance, and tender compassion--and I commend it to you...

My dear Sir and Madam,

In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one's country and of bright hopes for one's self and friends have rarely been so suddenly dashed as in his fall. In size, in years, and in youthful appearance, a boy only, his power to command men was surpassingly great. This power, combined with a fine intellect, an indomitable energy, and a taste altogether military constituted in him, as seemed to me, the best natural talent in that department I ever knew. And yet he was singularly modest and deferential in social intercourse. My acquaintance with him began less than two years ago; yet through the latter half of the intervening period, it was as intimate as the disparity of our ages and my engrossing engagements would permit. To me, he appeared to have no indulgences or pastimes; and I never heard him utter a profane or intemperate word. What was conclusive of his good heart, he never forgot his parents. The honors he labored for so laudably and, in the sad end, so gallantly gave his life, he meant for you no less than for himself.

In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early fallen child.

May God give you that consolation which is beyond all earthly power. Sincerely your friend in a common affliction.

A. Lincoln

30 November 2010

A Little Walnut Humor

Okay, this is a shameless shill for our product, but it's also entertaining :)
With thanks to Lynn Johnston and her wonderful comic strip For Better Or For Worse

24 November 2010

What Thanksgiving Means To Me

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love this time of year for many reasons:

  • It is a uniquely American holiday. As I wrote in my post of 18 November, Thanksgiving has its roots in the first Thanksgiving celebration of the Pilgrims who came to America in 1620. They barely survived their first winter, and in the fall of 1621 they hosted a Thanksgiving feast to thank God for their successful and bountiful first harvest. The legend of that first Thanksgiving became a part of American lore and is remembered today, nearly four hundred years later.

  • Speaking of the harvest, Thanksgiving is particularly meaningful for those of us who make our living from the land. Harvest is an incredibly demanding time--both exhausting and exhilarating. The walnut harvest begins sometime right after Labor Day in early September and does not end until sometime around the 10th of November. The days are long. We're usually working an average of 14-16 hours. And weekends disappear during that time of the year. We work to gather the crop in, we require huge demands on our bodies and minds to ensure that the logistics of getting the crop in before the fall rains come--or minimizing the damage when they do come--are well-planned and executed. Our employees are incredibly dedicated. Yes, they love the overtime pay--but everyone gets tired. And by the last week of October, we're all ready for harvest to be over so we can get our lives back. But when it is over--when the last load of walnuts is brought in from the orchards--there's a great sense of accomplishment and gratitude.

  • And, speaking of gratitude, that's what Thanksgiving is for. It is a time to remember that the source of our strength and our provision comes not from our own hands, but from our Heavenly Father who graciously and faithfully brings us our crop each year. We are but stewards of what He has placed in our care. And if we care for the land and the trees, if we tend what He has created with passion and vigilance, if we treat our employees with dignity and honor and respect, and if we remember the source from which all of it comes, then God is faithful to bless us. And so Thanksgiving is a time of remembrance, of gratitude, of rest after the long harvest just completed.

  • Thanksgiving is a time for the gathering of families. This year two of our three sons will be with us (the oldest lives in Costa Rica, making it a little difficult to get home for the holiday). We'll enjoy time together, probably watch a few football games, maybe go to a movie--and, most of all, just enjoy some time together as a family. We'll watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. And we'll bundle up against the chilly nights and the brisk days.
To all of my faithful readers of this blog, I offer my fondest greetings and wish you all a happy and warm Thanksgiving holiday.

22 November 2010

"A Day Of Thanksgiving And Praise"

In October of 1863--in the months following the tenebrous summer of slaughter at Gettysburg and Vicksburg and the disaster at Chickamauga--President Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving. As many of you know from earlier readings of previous posts on this blog, I am a great admirer of Mr. Lincoln. His proclamation is magnificently Lincolnesque: concise, eloquent, lyrical, even pastoral in its tone and simplistic elegance.

I had the pleasure of sharing it with my family last Thanksgiving as we gathered around our table to celebrate the holiday together, and now I wish to share it with you, my faithful readers (whoever and wherever you are):

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.  In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.  Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.  Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people.  I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.   And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

18 November 2010

The First Thanksgiving

I'm currently reading a fascinating book entitled "Mayflower" by Nathaniel Philbrick. In it, Philbrick provides us with the story of the establishment of America's first successful European immigrant settlement. It's refreshing to read real history, as opposed to so much of the legend and myth that surrounds the founders of modern-day America.

The Pilgrims left England and settled temporarily in Holland to escape the religious persecution they were experiencing in their homeland under the rule of King James. But they increasingly felt stifled in Holland, for although they were free to worship as they pleased, they were still foreigners and were unable to find anything but the most menial of jobs to support their families. Their pastor was introduced to an investment group called The Adventurers who were willing to fund their emigration to the New World with the idea that they would ship back to England a half share of the riches they would undoubtedly find when they arrived on America's shores.

But the Pilgrims did not even arrive until November of 1620 at Provincetown Harbor. By the time they settled at Plymouth, winter had already set in and they hurriedly built a small village of 7 houses and four common buildings in which to live. The first winter was brutal. Of the 102 Pilgrims who arrived, only 50 survived to the spring of 1621. They forged an alliance with Massasoit, the chief of the Pokanoket tribe of Indians and they built a fast friendship with their interpreter, Squanto, who showed them how to plant native corn which was the critical crop which would allow them to survive the winters ahead.

Not all of the Pilgrims were religious. Some of the "Strangers", as the Puritans called them, came to start a new life, though they agreed to live under the governing rules established by the governor of the new settlement (first, John Carver and then--most famously--William Bradford).

Sometime in late September or early October 1621, a great feast was planned at the Plymouth settlement that included Massasoit and some ninety other Indians from the Pocanoket tribe. The feast lasted for three days and included fowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkins, squash, and wild turkey.

And contrary to revisionist historians who, sadly, misrepresent the real Thanksgiving in today's history textbooks, the 53 Pilgrims who celebrated that year did not hold the feast to thank the Indians. They thanked God. They took time to acknowledge the mighty provision and mercy of the Almighty, and they rightly attributed their safety and survival and establishment of their new settlement to God's protection.

Nearly 250 years later--in the middle of the crucible of the Civil War--President Lincoln memorialized that first Thanksgiving with an official holiday. More on that in my next post...

14 November 2010

"We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For"

One of the most disarming and endearing qualities in any leader--whether a business leader, academic leader, church leader, or politician--is the ability to poke fun at oneself, to engage in self-deprecating humor. It conveys a degree of humility--a quality of not taking oneself too seriously.

By contrast, leaders who display arrogance or an inflated self-importance necessarily separate themselves from those they're leading. They alienate themselves, and are more vulnerable to losing the respect of those they're leading to the point that the followers will soon agitate for new leadership.

The 2010 Midterm Elections witnessed the greatest turnover of U.S. House seats from one party to the other since 1938. The election was not so much a vote in favor of Republican policies or ideas as it was an abject repudiation of President Obama and the Democratic Party leadership. And part of that repudiation comes as a result of Obama's arrogance, who famously stated repeatedly during his campaign for President in 2008 "We are the one ones we've been waiting for!"

Aside from the curious and lazy phraseology of the statement, what is most striking is its puffed up self-importance. Obama was telling all of us that he has finally arrived, although his message is buried in The Royal We. What is The Royal We? It is also known as the Majestic plural and is used, according to Webster, as "the use of the plural pronoun to refer to a single person holding a high office, such as a monarch, bishop, pope, or rector.

So what is so arrogant about the statement "We are the ones we've been waiting for"? By employing The Royal We, Obama was already assuming the mantle of power before he'd been elected. Worse, he was proclaiming to America that he was the one we'd all been waiting for; he had finally arrived. There was not then--nor is there now--a drop of humility in the man. He is generally regarded as thin-skinned, as someone who does indeed take himself all too seriously. You don't find any self-deprecating humor in Obama.

If he was the one we'd been waiting for in 2008, the midterm elections of 2010 should send a clear message to Mr. Obama that we're not waiting for him anymore.

11 November 2010


Today is Veterans Day. It's celebrated on the 11th day of November every year, reaching back to Armistice Day 1918--when what was then called The Great War (now known as World War I)--ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is a day when we solemnly thank and remember the sacrifices of the thousands of men and women who have served our country in the name of freedom and liberty.

Veterans Day is commemorated with hometown parades, American flags on Main Street, visits to military cemeteries, and appreciation for the bravery, the suffering, the triumphs of generations of soldiers who've fought and served to keep our country great.

We thank you. From the bottom of our hearts.

They Want A Parade In Troy, New York

I ran across an endearing and fascinating story in the paper today. It seems the people of Troy, New York want the newly-minted baseball champs--the San Francisco Giants--to come to Troy and show off their new World Series trophy.

You see, the Giants are one of the very oldest professional baseball franchises in the country. And it turns out that they actually began their existence in 1879 as the Troy City Trojans. They played in Troy for three years before league owners voted to move the team to New York. In order to appease the fans of Troy, the league agreed to return teams to Troy occasionally for exhibition games. But that promise was broken, and no major league team has been there since the people of Troy lost the Trojans (now Giants) some 128 years ago.

Now the city is crying out, from across the continent, for some connection to the champs. And the Giants should give it to them. Just imagine Bruce Bochy, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, and Cody Ross holding the trophy and riding down Main Street to the cheers of the long-jilted fans of Troy.

Here's one Giants fan who says yes--let's spread the love.

09 November 2010

The Dumbest Voters In America

California is blessed with a lot of wonderful things: the grandeur of Yosemite, the spectacular coastline that stretches from Mexico to Oregon, a wonderful climate sparkling with lots of sunshine. We also have, I am loathe to admit, the dumbest voters in America.

Let me offer a few examples:

  • In 2008--as California was sliding toward insolvency--the voters of California approved Proposition 1A, which authorized the issuance of nearly $10 billion in bonds to build a high speed rail system connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco. I won't comment on the efficacy of such a system. But it is ludicrous to borrow a huge amount of money at a time when California's budget deficits are out of control.
  • Speaking of budgets, Californians just approved Proposition 25 which allows the State Legislature to approve a budget on a simple majority vote, instead of the previous 2/3 supermajority needed. The ploy that California politicians used to get this passed was the provision that--for every day past the mandated July 1 deadline--legislators will lose their daily pay and per diem if a budget is not passed. This cynical provision successfully baited the voters to a) allow the current majority in both houses of the Legislature to more easily levy taxes to reduce the deficit and b) essentially guarantees that some kind of budget is passed--even though it says nothing about getting a budget signed into law.
  • California--once The Golden State of opportunity and innovation--has drifted over the past two decades into a dismal economic condition. This year California's budget deficit is over $20 billion. The state has been under Democratic control in both houses of the Legislature for more than 20 years--and the Democrats hold just short of a 2/3 majority in both houses. One would think there would be some measure of political accountability for what's happening in California. But one would be sadly mistaken, because the massive majorities of Democrats who have managed to tax and regulate businesses right out of California to neighboring Nevada and other states in the country have just been re-elected with even slightly larger majorities.
As I have written in previous posts, California has one of the most hostile business environments in the country. If you're producing so-called "green jobs" there are plenty of incentives. But if you're not, you're likely being overwhelmed by new and more oppressive regulations requiring huge investment in plant, property, and equipment. You're paying the highest minimum wage in the country. You're staggered by the array of building and environmental permits required to expand your business. You're being hit with among the highest tax rates in the country--and with new taxes and fees that do nothing more than fund more state programs while your bottom line suffers, thereby preventing you from hiring more workers. And you're probably looking for ways to follow so many others and move part or all of your business someplace else--away from the tax and regulatory madness of California. (I know of at least one friendly competitor who moved his business to Sparks, Nevada and willingly pays to truck his raw materials from the agricultural heartland of the San Joaquin Valley over the Sierras at huge cost in order to avoid the taxes and regulations in California.)

So what does this have to do with the voters of California? Well, the voters recently rejected Proposition 23--which would have suspended California's AB 32--the equivalent of California's Cap & Trade law. Yes, while Cap & Trade has been held back at the national level, California is boldly charging ahead. On the surface of it, it all sounds good. Who doesn't want cleaner air and reduction of greenhouse gases? But in a time when our country is experiencing near 10% unemployment (and California's is well over 12%), Cap & Trade is a bona fide jobs killer. Prop 23 would have suspended AB 32 unless and until unemployment fell below 5.5%--a quite reasonable provision to allow the state to generate new jobs and investment from the business community. The measure failed. Which simply means that regulatory pressures will continue to grow, the state will require more and more cost to businesses to comply with new regulations, and business owners will have less and less capital to spend on expansion of their plants and equipment--and will therefore be hiring fewer new workers.

It is a dismal state of affairs. But we are getting exactly what we keep voting for. And that's why we really do have the dumbest voters in America.

04 November 2010

Thoughts On My Beloved Giants

Thought #1: They say that great pitching neutralizes great hitting in the playoffs, especially in the World Series--and that was manifestly so in the 2010 World Series. The San Francisco Giants won this Series on the strength of a simply phenomenal pitching staff. Consider:

  • The Giants were locked in a three-way battle for the National League West crown with the Padres and the Rockies. Down the stretch, in the crucial month of September, the Giants pitching staff had the fifth best team Earned Run Average for a month in the history of Major League Baseball at a phenomenal 1.78. You have to go back to May of 1968 and the Cleveland Indians before you'll find a better month by a major league pitching staff. It was the Giants' pitching that even got them into the postseason to begin with.
  • The Giants bullpen was nothing short of sensational. Their ERA ranked second in the major leagues during the regular season, but in that same month of September--when every game counted--their team ERA dropped from 2.99 to 0.90. 
  • In the critical League Championship series against the heavily-favored Phillies, the Giants team ERA was 0.93--the third lowest since the LCS began in 1969.
  • The Giants were only the third team in Major League history to record four shutouts in the same postseason.
  • Coming into the World Series, the vaunted Texas Rangers hitters had the highest team batting average in the majors at .276. In the World Series, the Giants pitchers baffled the Rangers, who hit an anemic .190 against them.
  • It was even worse against the Giants bullpen, which gave up 3 runs in a collective 10 innings pitched--but all of those came in the ninth inning of Game 1 with the Giants leading 11-4. After that, it was lights out. The Rangers never touched the bullpen for the rest of the Series.
Thought #2: Since 1958 when the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco, they've been blessed with some legendary Hall of Fame players: Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, Perry, Will The Thrill, Matt Williams, Bobby Bonds, Jeff Kent, and--of course--Barry Bonds. They've had guys like Jim Davenport, Jim Ray Hart, the Alou brothers (all of them), Tom Haller, Ken Henderson, Mike McCormick, Ray Sadecki, Gary Matthews, Garry Maddox, Tito Fuentes, Chris Speier, Randy Moffitt, Darrell Evans, Bill Madlock, Terry Whitfield, Larry Herndon, Joe Morgan, Bob Brenly, Chili Davis, Jeff Leonard, Gary Lavelle, Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow, Atlee Hammaker, Brett Butler, Candy Maldonado, Dave Dravecky, Mike Lacoss, Rick Reuschel, Willie McGee, Robbie Thompson, Rod Beck, Rich Aurilia, JT Snow, and Frank Reberger (a little inside joke there, but the Giants really did have a guy named Frank Reberger on their roster). It's ironic and amazing that during all those previous 52 years--with such a host of talented players--the Giants could never get it done. 

And then 2010 happened. How do you characterize this team? They have one of the finest pitching staffs ever assembled, from their starters to their middle relievers to their closer. They have a gold-plated rookie catcher whose presence since he was called up in late May electrified the team and its fans. And then they have a collection of "misfits and castoffs" who jelled into a team in its true sense. The other day I was listening to MLB Radio where Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster was being interviewed. He made an interesting observation: "You can always tell how close a team is during warm-ups before a game. Most teams divide up into little groups of guys spread around the field to do their stretching and running. Not the Giants. They were all together. All of them. Every one. I was envious."

Baseball is a team sport. Yes, you have the dramatic element of the pitcher and the hitter, mano a mano. But the teamwork of the Giants was never more evident than in the 7th inning of the decisive Game 5 of the World Series: Pat Burrell had a horrible Series, going 0 for 13 with 11 strikeouts. With runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out in a scoreless pitching duel between Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee, Burrell had just struck out again, failing even to get the ball out of the infield to score the run from third. And then Edgar Renteria came up. He promptly blasted a three-run homer into the left center field seats and the Giants were ahead 3-0. And the first guy to greet him when he reached the dugout was Pat Burrell. He wasn't sulking on the bench about his poor performance. He was celebrating and congratulating his teammate. That epitomized the Giants of 2010, and it's a huge reason why all of Northern California is so enamored with this team.

Thought #3: The ragtag nature of this team has captured the imagination of baseball fans around the country. I'm going to close this post by quoting Rob Neyer of, who writes about baseball throughout the year: "Anyone who is shocked by the 2010 World Series hasn't been paying attention, over the years. The Giants were a very good team that played better than another very good team over the course of five games. If they play another five games next week, everything might be different. 

They're not going to play another five games. This one's over. The great majority of Giants fans have never seen their team win a World Series. No Giants fan has seen their team win a World Series since moving to California more than a half-century ago.

Now they've got one. And as anyone who followed the Royals in '85 or the Twins in '87 or the Reds in '90 or the Cardinals in '06 will tell you, the only thing that matters is getting one. All the rest is details.

Meanwhile, as a baseball fan (as opposed to a Giants fan), it's really easy to enjoy this team's success. The Giants wear classic uniforms in a beautiful ballpark. Their roster is studded with fascinating players like Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval and Brian Wilson. Their manager was forced to make any number of tough decisions down the stretch and into the postseason, and nearly all of them worked brilliantly.

This one's for the fans who love the Giants, mostly. But there's plenty left over for the rest of us, too.

01 November 2010


Tonight my beloved Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in five games to win the World Series--their first championship in my lifetime. I'm over the moon. I can barely believe it. I'll have more to say about this a little later in the week after having taken the time to reflect on it. But, for now, it's complete elation.

23 October 2010

The Giants Win The Pennant! The Giants Win The Pennant! The Giants Win The Pennant! The Giants Win The Pennant! Whoooooooo-OHHHHH!!!

Tonight my beloved San Francisco Giants beat the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies 4 games to 2 to win the National League Championship and punch their ticket to the World Series for the first time in eight years. This is just the fourth time in my lifetime that the Giants have made it to the pinnacle of Major League Baseball.

In 1962--when I was just five years old--the Giants lost the Series to the Yankees in 7 games on a whistling line drive out by Willie McCovey in the bottom of the ninth inning with runners at second and third and trailing 1-0.

In 1989 the Giants were swept by the Oakland A's in a series remembered more for the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck just prior to the beginning of Game 3 at Candlestick Park. (On a personal note, I was there that night and have the ticket stub to prove it--the only World Series game ever cancelled on account of an earthquake.)

In 2002 the Giants held a 5-0 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 6, needing just nine outs to win their first Series in nearly fifty years. But the Anaheim Angels scored three runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to win Game 6, and then coasted to a Game 7 victory as well.

Three berths in the Series. Three failures to reach the pinnacle.

Now comes try # 4.

The last time the Giants won the World Series was in 1954 when they beat a heavily-favored Cleveland Indians team that had 111 games in the regular season.

The World Series opens in San Francisco at the beautiful AT&T Ballpark on Wednesday night.

I feel like a kid at wow wow.

19 October 2010

The Glory Season

Back in February, I wrote about "the glory season" for my part of the world--when the almond blossoms were bursting with their pinkish white explosion of color, the peach trees would soon be blooming, and the landscape was covered in a carpet of green, something that disappears by May when the dry season begins.

But this is the peak of the glory season in other parts of the country, most notably New England. I had the pleasure of living there for three years in the mid 1980's. My family and I lived on Cape Cod, and we took full advantage of the spectacular displays of color in Massachusetts to see it all, breathe it in, and savor it in advance of the stark monochrome landscape of winter set in.

From the bright yellows and deep crimsons of the maple trees to the showy deep red of the cranberry harvest to the bright orange of the pumpkins for sale at the country stores and farmer's markets, Autumn has always been the season when New Englanders have bragging rights over those of us in other parts of the country.

I will never forget a vividly memorable outing my wife and I took to the classic New England village of Weston, Vermont. Weston is the home of the Vermont Country Store, has a beautiful grandstand and gazebo on its village green, and offers a picturesque setting for all that is New England on an autumn afternoon.

Now that I'm covered in walnuts during the harvest this time of year, it's nigh on impossible for me to get away to see the colors during the fall in Massachusetts or Vermont or New Hampshire. But I do often think of those years when I was immersed in the glory season of New England.

02 October 2010

San Francisco Fog

I love San Francisco. It's one of the most beautiful cities in America, blessed with one of the mildest climates and surrounded by some of the most pristine natural beauty of any city in the world.

San Francisco--like all great cities--possesses characteristics that mark its personality. One of those features is the fog that reliably rolls in during most months of the year, particularly in the summertime. The fog lends an ethereal mystery to the city, and it's welcomed by the locals like an old friend.

It is also a major reason that one of the city's most famous quotes is attributed to Mark Twain: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."


30 September 2010

On The Verge Of Jubilation

A little over a month ago, I wrote of how fun it is for my favorite baseball team, the Giants, to be involved in a pennant race. Today they clinched at least a tie for their division championship and a playoff berth. Tomorrow they can win it outright.

The Giants have had a remarkable stretch run, winning 18 games and losing only 8 during the month of September. Not only that, but their pitching staff's 1.78 earned run average for the month is the lowest for a team since the 1965 Dodgers.

It's been an amazing run.

The Giants haven't won a World Series since three years before I was even born. And they may not even make it to the Series this year. But hope springs eternal...

29 September 2010

Another Reason Why Most Of Us Despise Bailouts

Buried in yesterday's Wall Street Journal is an article informing us that General Motors--the still bankrupt and now taxpayer-paid-for and government-owned auto maker--has resumed providing political donations to candidates for federal office. According to records released by the Federal Elections Commission, GM has paid $90,500 to mostly Midwestern politicians, predominantly Democrats.

While it's not at all unusual for large corporations to engage in political donations to candidates, what is both unusual and troubling is that the dollars GM is donating actually come from you and me--the taxpayers who bellied up to the bar last year to bail out GM in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown.

This is unconscionable. What is, in effect, happening is that taxpayer dollars are being funneled through a government-owned company to--predominantly--one political party. No wonder that, according to Rasmussen Reports, 59% of us think the government bailouts were a bad idea while only 26% support it.

The government does not serve the people. The government serves the government and those in power.

26 September 2010

Reward The Great Teachers

If you're lucky--as I was--to have been educated by more than a few great teachers, you know what a profound impact they have had on your life. The teaching profession is rightly revered and honored in our country, because teachers not only impart to us many of the building blocks of life but they also have the great responsibility and power of molding young minds in their fields of study. Teaching is not just a job--and no one who views it that way should be a teacher in the first place. In no other profession--with the possible exception of the family doctor--do parents willingly place their children in such a vaunted position of trust and influence, hoping their youngsters will be blessed with the guidance and encouragement of a few great teachers.

That is why I have a palpable contempt for the National Education Association, which also happens to be the largest teachers' union in America. The NEA does not believe in rewarding the great teachers. Instead, it's much more focused on gaining and preserving tenure for all teachers, including the very worst. The union never seems to have enough money allocated to public education; it advocates smaller student to teacher ratios primarily to strengthen the union with more teachers, not to improve the degree of personal instruction for each student; it values mediocrity over excellence; and it promotes liberal causes in the classroom that have no place in the classroom in the first place.

These charges may be debated, but the wave of public opinion over the abject failure of the NEA is gaining broader acceptance simply because the facts are immutable. Consider the following: among 29 industrialized nations, the USA ranks 24th in math--beating only Poland, Hungary, Spain, and Latvia. Of thirty industrialized nations, the USA ranks 16th in science.

Now, the NEA will tell you that the problem is lack of funding. And that is a complete fabrication. Consider this: Since 2001, the Cost Of Living Index in the USA has climbed 22.4% between 2001-2009. During that same period, the federal government has increased spending for public education by 76%, from $514 billion at the beginning of the decade to $904 billion in 2009. Lack of spending is simply not the problem. And the most damning fact is that while the US went on its spending spree, American youngsters continued to sink lower in comparison to their peers internationally.

So what's the answer? Of course, there is no magic bullet. But just like an alcoholic who can never begin to heal unless he at least recognizes he has a problem, the public education system will not begin to improve until the majority of us recognizes what a deep hole we're in. That may be happening. A new film titled "Waiting For Superman" was released last week, documenting the dismal failure of our educational system and pinning the blame squarely on the teachers' unions. One might rightly assume that this film was produced by some right-wing organization with a political axe to grind. In this case, one would be wrong. The film is produced by Davis Guggenheim, who also produced the Oscar-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth" which highlighted the effects of global warming. It's encouraging to see that those on the political left are willing to recognize the failures of the unions and of our schools--and that this film is attempting to issue a call to action for all of us.

Here's a second answer--both remarkably common sense but filled with political landmines: fire bad and/or ineffective teachers, train mediocre ones, and generously reward the great ones. I've had more than a few discussions of this ilk over the years with teachers, and their standard answer is "It's a simple and great idea, but how do you do it objectively? How can you guarantee fairness?" And my answer is always the same: you can't. What we can do is to try--and in so doing, do our best to be fair and balanced. But teachers have been pampered by a system that rewards mediocrity for so long that they simply cannot relate to what those of us in the private sector live with everyday. We get an annual performance and salary review, and during that review we learn what our boss thinks of our work--good and bad. We may not think parts of that review are fair, but all we can do is work harder to improve.

Teachers have to be willing to accept what we in the private sector live with everyday. Yes, there will be some mistakes made--especially in the beginning as a new system of reviews, rewards, and consequences takes shape. But over time, I am confident that such a system will reward the great teachers. Like the ones who had such a great influence over us. And like the ones who have such a great influence over the lives of our children and grandchildren.

23 September 2010

The Harvest Moon

Of all the full moons that occur during the year, the most famous and most anticipated is the Harvest Moon. It's the full moon that occurs nearest the Autumnal Equinox, usually a few days before or after. This year, however, the Harvest Moon occurred on the exact same night as the first day of Autumn--an event that has not happened in nearly twenty years and will not occur again until 2029. When this happens, it's known as a Super Harvest Moon.

Why is it called a Harvest Moon? In the 18th and 19th centuries, farmers took advantage of the luminous reflection of the huge Harvest Moon to continue to harvest their crops through the night. It was a bonus, as they worked the very long hours synonymous with the harvest to gather their crops in before rain might slow them down or risk ruining their bounty.

Last night at around 10 pm I walked outside and spent a few moments basking under the huge, bright full moon of September. I thought about all of those generations of hard-working farmers who had labored under that same moon decades and centuries before us. And I gave thanks to God for the beauty of the moment and the privilege of living close to the land, and truly understanding the meaning of the Harvest Moon.

22 September 2010

My Favorite Season

Today at 8:09 PM Pacific Time, the Earth's axis will be exactly aligned with the center of the Sun in the same plane as the Equator. That's a fancy description for the Autumnal Equinox, which is another way of saying that it's the first day of Autumn.

It is my favorite season. There isn't a close second.

I love the Autumn for so many reasons. The harsh heat of the Summer is past. I've never been a fan of Summer because I tolerate the cold of winter (and you're right--we don't have a real winter here in California anyway) much better than the heat of summer. So when the cool, crisp air of Autumn greets me in the morning, I kind of revel in quiet celebration.

It's not just the temperatures, though. I love the long shadows cast by the angle of the Sun. The light bends differently, especially in October and into early November. It's a dream come true for photographers--and it's both comforting and sublime. I love especially the end of an Autumn day. The days, of course, are shorter but it is during that gloaming in the half-light of those days that I find myself more reflective than perhaps at any other time of the year.

Perhaps best of all is the luminescent colors of the season. The hardwoods offered that bright green of the new leaves in the spring, provided shade through the heat of the summer, and now they offer their showy, spectacular finale in bright hues of crimson, ocher, orange, carnelian, and goldenrod.

I love pulling out sweaters and sweatshirts and jackets again--and feeling the coolness of the air when I can draw it down deep and savor the freshness after a fall rain.

I love the return of football season, especially--like this year--on those rare occasions when my alma mater (Stanford) actually has a team to get excited about.

Autumn is when we harvest our crops--a time when it's crazy busy, exhilarating, exhausting, rambunctious, and energizing all at the same time. It's like our once-a-year payoff for all of the hard work and planning and preparation of the crop. And God is a gracious and good God, as He faithfully brings us the crop each year at this time.

It's during the fall that my favorite holiday of the year happens: Thanksgiving. That's when families gather, and the demanding harvest season is over, and we actually get four days off from work to rest, relax, reflect, and give thanks.

It's the best time of the year. And now it's here and I'm celebrating.

21 September 2010

A Primer On Peppers

In my corporate days, I worked as a marketing jock for a large food processing company in their foodservice division. I remember attending a presentation by a research company who was involved in forecasting new trends in the industry. One of the things the presenter said has stuck with me: "As America's population ages, the Baby Boomers will be looking for more richly-flavored and spicier foods. As a person ages, their taste buds don't distinguish flavors as readily as they used to--so the aging Boomers will be looking for help from the spice rack."

Well, as one of those aging Boomers, I can attest to the validity of that prediction. I really enjoy well-seasoned foods, and more and more of my Boomer brethren (and sisteren--yes, I just made up a new word) are discovering the variety and versatility of the pepper.

The thing about peppers is that they come in a whole host of sizes, shapes, colors, and--most importantly--levels of spiciness. As a matter of fact, there's even an objective way of measuring the heat index of various types and varieties of peppers called the Scoville Scale.

The Scoville Scale was developed in 1912 by an American chemist named Wilbur Scoville. Scoville developed a method of adding sugar to an extraction of a pepper's capsaicin until the heat is barely detectable. The more sugar is added, the higher the Scoville rating for a particular type of pepper.

For example, sweet bell peppers have no capsaicin at all and have a Scoville rating of zero. That's not really an eye-opener, is it? What is an eye-opener, however, is how hot the peppers are that occupy the upper level of the Scoville Scale. Here's a look at the peppers and their Scoville ratings:

    • Bell pepper                             0
    • Pepperoncini                       300
    • Poblano                           1,500
    • Jalapeno                          6,000
At this point, I want to intervene with a comment. Before I had ever heard of the Scoville Scale, I thought the jalapeno was one of the hottest peppers around. It is certainly the hottest I've ever had the courage to eat. But as it turns out, the tear-inducing jalapeno is like a 98-pound weakling compared to the truly powerful peppers that follow:
    • Serrano                         18,000
    • Cayenne                       40,000
    • Scotch Bonnet             250,000
    • Habanero                    400,000
And the king of all peppers--the one that literally cannot be handled with bare hands--is the knee-buckling Naga Jolokia (also known as the Ghost Pepper) with a Scoville rating of an astounding 900,000 Scoville units! Think of that--the Ghost Pepper's potency is 150 times more powerful than a jalapeno.

I'll admit it: when it comes to spicy foods, anything more than a very small taste of the jalapeno is about as far as I go. Call me a wimp. But at least I'll only have to deal with bloodshot eyes when I eat my jalapeno. For those of you who are tougher than me, I want to know when you're scheduling your ulcer repair.

12 September 2010

The Day The Skies Were Silent

Nine years ago today, the skies over U.S. airspace were silent. It was the first time it had ever happened since the dawn of commercial aviation. In the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11, President Bush ordered all commercial aircraft in the USA grounded because of fears of another hijacking and attack.

I well remember walking outside on that sunny Wednesday afternoon and looking up into the sky for many minutes and hearing complete silence. We lived at the time in the flight path of Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport--the busiest airport in the world. But not on 12 September 2001.

It was a day unlike any in our nation's aviation history.

We pray there will never be a repeat of that sad and melancholy and uncertain day.

02 September 2010

A Word About Trees

I make my livelihood from trees. My brothers and I are fourth-generation farmers, growing walnuts in the San Joaquin Valley of California. We love caring for the orchards, and we take a lot of personal pride and satisfaction in making the orchards not only productive but aesthetically beautiful as well. Our part of California has been a farming Mecca for generations, but the face of the kind of agriculture being practiced here is changing. The dairy industry is in the middle of a long and deep downturn, and many dairymen are converting their land to almond, walnut, olive and cherry orchards. Cattlemen have been doing the same thing. Fewer cowboys. More orchards.

And I'm not complaining. The orchards are beautiful and they not only dot the landscape--they dominate it.

But it's not just fruit and nut trees that I love. We're blessed in this part of the Valley with an abundance of oak trees. There are White Oaks on the California coast. On the valley floor, we have Valley Oaks. And just a few miles east of here--as you drive into the Sierra foothills--you'll see Black Oaks, and further up in the high country you're likely to encounter Live Oaks, Canyon Live Oaks, and Blue Oaks. One of the biggest oak trees I've ever seen is at the end of the driveway where I grew up--a spectacular Blue Oak that is estimated to be around 150 years old.

Oak trees are fascinating because they have such character. They're gnarled, with limbs that twist and turn. They lack the symmetry of a redwood or a pine. They grow slowly. But they're beautiful and distinctive. And there are still parts of California--especially in the foothills--where one can drive past acres of old oak groves that were likely there when the Mi-Wuk Indians lived among them.

California is perhaps most famous for its Giant Sequoias. The Sequoia is massive. In fact, the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest tree in the world. It's estimated to reach 275 feet high, with a girth of 103 feet in circumference. It is estimated to be at least 2,300 years old. Nearby, the General Grant tree is nearly as big, but it's a relative youth at an estimated 1,600 years old.

Trees are a precious gift, and California is blessed to have such an abundance of beautiful and fascinating trees.

29 August 2010

The Loyal Opposition

An intelligent and conscientious opposition is a part of loyalty to the country.  Bainbridge Colby

About a year and a half ago, concerned and patriotic citizens found common voice in a movement called the Tea Party. At first, the movement was discounted by many politicians of both major parties in our country--until Tax Day 2009, when mass demonstrations took place in some 750 towns and cities across America. (What is little remembered is that the term "TEA Party" is an acronym for the phrase "Taxed Enough Already".) These protests were remarkable in the fact that they were peaceful and made by citizens who, for the most part, had never participated in any form of protest or political action in their lives.

Some five months later--on 12 September 2009--some 75,000 marched in Washington to protest not just the policies of the Obama Administration, but the Bush Administration before it for profligate government spending that had put the country on the brink of financial ruin.

Now, nearly a year later, the Tea Party movement is causing upheaval in both major political parties. Three incumbent Senators--Michael Bennett of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and the opportunistic Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania--have seen their political careers end at the hands of the Tea Party. And key Tea Party-supported candidates, including most prominently Sharron Angle of Nevada who is running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid--have the establishment candidates on the run.

Liberals--most prominently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi--have referred to the Tea Party protesters as an "angry mob". But these concerned citizens appear on the brink of a historic election in little more than two months from now.  Since 1968--through the upheavals of Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War, the rejection of the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, three major wars (the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War), and 9/11--the greatest turnover of US House seats was 36 in 1974. And while the election is still 65 days away, most pundits believe that the Republicans will regain control of the House with a turnover exceeding the 39 seats needed to do so. If this happens, not only will the GOP regain control, but the political bent of the members will be decidedly more conservative--buttressed by the many Tea Party candidates who will undoubtedly be elected.

The genius of the Founders was that they allowed America--every two years--to re-define itself and force its elected officials to pay heed to the voice of the common people. That voice is about to be heard with thunderous resonance.

07 August 2010

The Fun Of Being In A Pennant Race

As any faithful reader of this blog knows by now, I am a big sports fan. I love football and have been a huge 49ers fan all my life. I love basketball and--even though I grew up in California--I've always loved the Boston Celtics. But my first love is baseball. I well remember the day my dad and mom took my brother and me to our first baseball game--a San Francisco Giants game played at the infamous Candlestick Park. My favorite player was Willie Mays--and he hit a home run that day, making me a lifelong fan of the Giants.

In the whole scheme of things, the Giants would probably rate as a middling franchise. They haven't won a World Series since before I was born. They've played in three World Series since I've been alive--in 1962 against the Yankees, in 1989 against the A's, and in 2003 against the Angels--and they've lost them all. But I love rooting for my beloved team, and I love rooting against the hated L.A. Dodgers.

Since the departure of the controversial Barry Bonds, the Giants have struggled. Until this year. Now they have a wonderful blend of veterans and extremely talented young players. They have one of the best pitching staffs in the Major Leagues. But what I like best about them is they're a team. There is no obvious star player who carries the team; everyone has a role, and each of them play it with gusto. Rarely are they out of a ballgame, and they are always scrapping to climb back into games where they're behind. Ten days ago, against the hated Dodgers, a recent addition to the team named Pat Burrell hit an eighth-inning home run that beat the Dodgers 3-2. And last night--without the benefit of a hit--the Giants beat the Braves 3-2 in the 11th inning after tying the game in the ninth.

The Giants stand today one game behind the division-leading San Diego Padres, but they've gained six games on the Padres since the All-Star Break a month ago. I don't know if the Giants will make the post-season playoffs, or if they'll get another shot at a championship in the World Series. What I do know is that it's a lot of fun to be in a pennant race.