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  • Dec 19 / 2008
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Character Counts

Bad character leads to bad economics, which is bad for liberty. Ultimately, whether we live free and in harmony with the laws of economics or stumble in the dark thrall of serfdom is a character issue. — Lawrence W. Reed in The Freeman

I’ve followed Larry Reed’s brilliant career for more than 20 years. Now the president of the venerable Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Larry was president of the Mackinac Center in Michigan when I first “discovered” him back in the mid-80s and began featuring his commentaries in the national news magazine I edited at the time.  He was the person I turned to for an on-the-scene assessment in 1989 when the Evil Empire began to implode and my conspiratorially-minded colleagues refused to accept the legitimacy of this amazing phenomenon. As one of America’s best-known defenders of the free market, Larry had been invited to Russia to explain the fundamentals of capitalism to the ideological descendants of Marx and Lenin. He had gone there himself and seen what was happening.

As I noted in a July 89 commentary, there was reason to be cautious, for the Communists have a long history of feigning liberalization in order to flush out hidden dissidents; but the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed genuinely to be the moment that staunch anti-Communists had fought for, and the great drama had gone on long enough for me to suspect that something more than skepticism was troubling my colleagues. Were they  mourning the apparent loss of our raison d’être?

Larry had the answer to my question. It was real, all right. No one in Russia believed in socialism anymore, and its victims were eager to enjoy the fruits of economic freedom. It was great news, and I couldn’t wait to leave the office so I could celebrate openly.

  • Dec 19 / 2008
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Pray for Faith

Maybe you don’t believe in the power of prayer. If you’ve lost your faith, or never had it, but would like a convincing demonstration of the power of prayer, then this challenge is for you. Find today’s date on the calendar. Flip six months ahead and mark that date. Now, starting today, pray for faith. Pray for faith every day, at least once a day, for six months. Pray sincerely, pray with all your heart, and one day — on or before the date you’ve marked — you’ll suddenly notice that all your doubts have vanished. In their place you’ll find an abiding faith, and you’ll never question again the power of prayer. — F.R. Duplantier

I actually did this in my mid-twenties. Having convinced myself that I didn’t need a “crutch,” I stopped going to church when I was 15 and began a lengthy period of unconscious moral decline — which culminated, fortunately, in an epiphany in which I recognized, and summoned the courage to admit, that I had become a moral cripple. I did need a crutch, after all. The seemingly insurmountable problem was that I no longer had any faith. I wasn’t a staunch unbeliever, merely an agnostic (never have understood how anyone could affirm God’s nonexistence), but the unquestioning faith I’d known as a child was utterly gone. How could I get it back?

The solution was paradoxical: I would pray for it. It seemed like a crazy idea, especially for an intensely logical person like me. How could I pray when I didn’t really believe in God, much less the efficacy of prayer? Why would God listen to the prayers of a faithless person like me? It was illogical, it didn’t make any sense, but I didn’t know what else to do. So I prayed.

It wasn’t much of a prayer, either, for I’d forgotten how to pray. I just asked for my faith back. Please, God, let me believe again.

I did that every day, several times a day, for weeks or months — I’m not sure how long,  because I have no idea exactly when my faith was restored. I never could pinpoint the precise moment, because it came back quite unobtrusively. I just happened to notice one day that the doubt was gone, completely gone, never to return. Where the emptiness had been, there was fullness. It was a nice feeling.

Five more years passed before I actually ventured into a church again, but I had begun the journey home.

  • Dec 18 / 2008
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One Big Snowman

snowmanThis is the largest snowman my wife and I ever built, on the ice-covered Wolf River in front of our house in Weyauwega, Wisconsin. “Frenchie the Snowman” was 8-10 feet tall. I have no idea how much he weighed, but it must have been several hundred pounds. The top two sections were too heavy to lift, so we rolled them down our hanging dock and dropped them into place. This will give you some idea of his size: what looks like a tiny little “beret” on his head is actually the lid to a large cast-iron pot, and the scarf that barely circles his neck is a queen-size bedsheet. The snowmobilers  whizzing up and down the river in front of our house did double takes when they saw our supersized French Frosty. Then Spring came, the river thawed, and Frenchie crashed through the ice, never to be seen again.

  • Dec 17 / 2008
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Give & Receive

[T]he tradition of gift-giving is rooted in the gift that God offers to the world in his Son who comes in the appearance of a frail babe. Likewise, the Magi, the Wise Men, who came from the East, brought the Christ-child exotic gifts to celebrate his Advent. — Robert Sirico, Acton Institute

If you’re a gift-giver, you know how good it feels. If you’re not, pretend that you are, start giving, and eventually you will be. You are what you do. Why not be generous?

  • Dec 17 / 2008
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Adios, Casablanca!

casablanca

3143 N. Lindbergh, St. Ann

Sad news: My favorite Greek restaurant is closing.  Casablanca, on Lindbergh Boulevard between Old St. Charles and Dorsett Roads in St. Louis County, serves up the best gyro in town. Their daily specials (plate lunches) are large and hearty, too, and I always meant to try them; but, no matter how determined I was to stray from “the usual,” whenever I opened my mouth to order, the single word “gyro” would come out. Which is just as well, because that’s what I really wanted, anyway.

Casablanca has been my favorite lunch destination for the last two years. It was a nice break from the hellhole I worked in, and I always went back to the office with a smile in my stomach. The one thing I regret is that I drove by the place for eight years wondering if it was a Greek restaurant or not. Casablanca? Probably Mexican, right? That’s what I figured. I love Mexican food, but already have a favorite Mexican place nearby. Plus, it was in this cheesy strip mall, next to a naughty lingerie shop. Not the kind of place I usually hang out.

One day, fortunately, I finally decided to put the mystery to rest. Lo and behold, Casablanca was a Greek restaurant after all, and the gyros were sensational. I’ve eaten there on an almost weekly basis ever since. Some time in the new year, I’ll go for lunch one more time and savor my last gyro — and maybe get half a dozen to go.

  • Dec 16 / 2008
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Merry Christmas, Filthy Dictators!

The Depression — let’s call it what it is — leaves us, well, depressed. But there is very good news from around the world. Our enemies are collapsing under the strain of dropping oil and gas prices. What we had all hoped conservation and off-shore drilling would achieve, the global economic collapse is accomplishing: the defeat of OPEC, Iran, Chavez, Putin and the weakening of the financial underpinnings of Islamist terrorism. In each of these nations, the hold of the dictator is weakening as, one after the other, they face the consequences of dropping oil prices. — Dick Morris

Good news, and good riddance!

  • Dec 16 / 2008
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Falling Through the Ice

There is a thin layer of ice that supports all of us in our daily lives — made up of myths, half-truths, and misconceptions. We walk about on it oblivious to the precariousness of our situation, and to the cold, deadly reality that lurks beneath. — “Falling Through the Ice,” F.R. Duplantier

boat

Winter on the Wolf River: The two minutes of perfect serenity I enjoyed during my summer passages became a forty-minute ordeal.

It was this time of year, maybe even this day, 19 years ago, when I took that last step — and boy was it a doozy! I published an account of my brush with death in a January issue of The New American, the magazine I edited at the time. The following spring, it was republished in The Weyauwega Chronicle, our local weekly. That’s when I discovered that I had committed a macho faux pas.

According to the “Code of the Norsemen,” it’s okay to fall through the ice, but not to acknowledge publicly that one has done so. Most Wisconsin outdoorsmen have had this experience at least once, and with prodding will privately admit to it — but, in public, never! Evidently, it’s considered quite stupid to fall through the ice.

I, however, had at least two legitimate excuses. First, I was from New Orleans and didn’t know the first thing about winter hazards — aside from the folly of licking frozen flagpoles, of course, though I did get my fingers stuck to the inside of my mailbox once, and only once. Second (and this was something I discovered months later), it turned out that there was a dam, and hydroelectric plant, upriver from where I fell through. It was the opening of the dam the night before that had undermined the ice in a relatively shallow section of the river and made it precariously thin where it had been rock solid just the day before. The following year, I knew better than to cross there.

  • Dec 15 / 2008
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What’s the Point of Christmas?

If people do not recognize that God was made man, what is the point of celebrating Christmas? The celebration becomes empty. We Christians must first reaffirm the truth about the Birth of Christ with deep and heartfelt conviction, in order to witness to all the awareness of an unprecedented gift which is not only a treasure for us but for everyone. — Benedict XVI

Viva il papa!

  • Dec 15 / 2008
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Happy Birthday, Bill of Rights!

The Bill of Rights was a guarantee
To protect our rights and our liberty.

Freedom of religion and the press
Are essential to our happiness.

To protect ourselves and our families from harm,
We reserve the right to keep and bear arms.

The unreasonable search is an abomination,
And we will not compel self-incrimination.

Defendants are always presumed innocent.
No excessive bail or punishment.

Today is the 217th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The above excerpt from my History Chant is a brief synopsis of its significance. It’s sad to say, but anyone who memorizes the 45 verses of this jump-rope chant will know more about American history and government than the average college graduate — more than the average Congressman, as well.

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