The Pardoned Turkey

Yesterday President Obama carried on the presidential Thanksgiving tradition of pardoning a pair of turkeys, named Apple & Cider. According to this Yahoo! article , turkey-pardoning has been a White House tradition for over 60 years. Other websites dispute this, saying the first turkey-pardon occurred in 1989, not 1947. The reasoning behind pardoning a Thanksgiving bird remains a little fuzzy. According to this website , the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. His son Tad had a pet turkey, whom Mr. Lincoln supposedly pardoned. Other reasons given include honoring our first president, George Washington, who raised turkeys at Mount Vernon, and honoring Benjamin Franklin, who wanted the national bird to be the turkey instead of the eagle (if he had his way, would we be eating bald eagle on Thanksgiving? Blech!)

No one really seems to know how this tradition got started, but I have to admit that it is secretly one of my favorites. It is absurd, silly, ridiculous, and fun, and if you’re going to have a tradition then by gosh those are the best kind to have. Does the President have better things to do with his time? Yes. Does turkey-pardoning solve any national or international problems? No. Is it an utterly pointless exercise? Yes. But I think it definitely has its place on the list of presidential duties. Being the President is a stressful and thankless job, regardless of what party you’re from. On a daily basis, you are confronted with dozens of decisions that will impact the entire nation, if not the entire world. These decisions are related to a multitude of topics, and include things like deciding to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, reading and signing or vetoing legislation put forth by Congress, determining whether or not it is in the best interest of the United States to assassinate a crazy South American dictator, etc. These decisions are stressful and often difficult to make, and they are not very fun things to think about. Pardoning a turkey, however, is fun. It is not stressful and does not bring criticism from the other side. It’s just the kind of thing I would want to do to kick off my holiday season if I were president. Happy Thanksgiving and long live the turkey pardon!

Not So Fast with that Victory Dance Please

As of 11:45 PM Central Time, it looks like the Republicans have stormed the House. It doesn’t appear that they’ll take the Senate, but these victories in the House are certainly a good start to turning things around in Washington. I am cautiously pleased about the results thus far, but I do have some reservations. It’s like John Boehner said – this is not the time to celebrate. The Republicans have to remember that this election was not about them. It was about rejecting President Obama, the Democrats, and their policies. My concern is that the Republicans will forget this key piece of information, that they will get cocky and forget that the people who put them in power can just as easily vote them out. They need to adopt the lessons from the Tea Party and Libertarian Party – mainly the idea of “more freedom, less government.” They need to step back and encourage government to do less, not more. They need to lower taxes to encourage private sector job creation. They need to work to repeal health care (though it is unlikely they will succeed, at least not while President Obama has his veto power). The Democrats need to acknowledge that their policies and the policies of President Obama are not popular with the American people. Their dogged insistence on passing health care against the will of most Americans and at the expense of focusing on fixing the economy has cost them dearly in this election. They need to tune in to what the people want, and then they need to legislate (or stop legislating, as the case may be) accordingly.

I was happy with the outcome of the elections in my new home state, Tennessee. Bill Haslam won the governorship and Stephen Fincher was elected to the Senate. Other important Congressional races in Tennessee went to Republicans, though none of this was a surprise – Tennessee almost always goes red. I was also pleased that my neighbors just over the border in Kentucky elected Rand Paul. I’m still not sure about that Aqua Buddha thing, but his stance on the issues is in line with mine, so I was pleased to see a victory for him there. I was also glad to see that most of Virginia (my permanent home) went mostly red. I was very disappointed about Harry Reid winning in Nevada. I sincerely think that there was some corruption and foul play in that particular election and I hope that it will be investigated. I was also sad to see that Barney Frank & Barbara Boxer retained their seats. However, I think that overall voters have sent a clear message to Washington in general and the President in particular, and that message is “We don’t like what you’re doing. Cut it out.”

Like I said at the beginning of this post, Republicans HAVE to stay humble. They have to remember who they work for, as do the Democrats. It is especially important for the Republicans to keep that in mind though if they plan to win the elections in 2012. More than likely people will still be feeling the effects of the recession in 2012, and people will still be upset over the Obama agenda. The Republicans, conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Libertarians have a golden opportunity here to take back the country from liberals and Democrats, if they keep their finger on the pulse of the people and remember that those seats they just won do not belong to them. They belong to US – we the people – and our finger is hovering over the “eject” button, ready to press it if our politicians don’t behave. These are just some things for the GOP to keep in mind over the next two years. John Boehner seems to have the right attitude. I just hope that he and the rest of the newly elected conservatives can maintain it.

An Observation on Aviation

I am an Etsy addict. I have a shop on there, but I spend WAAAAAY more time looking at other people’s items than I do maintaining my own shop. Not very profitable, I know. Anyway, I was perusing stuff on there today trying to figure out what to get my dad for Christmas. He loves to fly, but because of some truly ridiculous FAA medical restrictions he can’t fly most airplanes unless there is another licensed pilot in the plane with him. There are a few small planes, like the Piper Cub, that he can fly without that stipulation, so lately he has been trying to get back in to flying these smaller planes. He recently purchased a Cessna-172 that he plans to use to fly out to see me, and to maybe take short vacations with my mom. Every mid-life crisis is different – some men buy a Ferrari and find a 25 year old girlfriend. My dad buys an airplane.

To celebrate his recent purchase, I was thinking about getting him something airplane-related – maybe a painting, a framed photograph, something like that. When I did my search for “airplanes” on Etsy, I was disappointed to find that most of the items were related to children – birthday party invitations, decals for nurseries and kids’ rooms, little plush biplanes, etc. There were very few airplane-related paintings, photographs, sculptures, or other pieces of art that would be appropriate for an adult. I realized that this made me kind of sad. Why were there so many children’s items, but very few items for adults? Does society really crush our dreams so thoroughly that every child by the age of 12 has given up his or her dream of flight? That might be part of it. Unless you are in the military, it’s hard to find a full-time job as a pilot, especially since airline companies have had to cut back due to decreased air travel (mostly caused by fear of terror attacks, the obnoxious routine of going through airport security, poor customer service, and ever-increasing prices). When someone asks an 8-year-old kid what he wants to be when he grows up, and the kids answers, “I want to be a pilot!” the adult probably chuckles, thinks “That’s cute,” and then chalks it up to one of those crazy dreams kids have, like being an astronaut or a t-rex, and then assumes the kid will turn out to be an accountant. But, if at age 16, the same kid still wants to be a pilot, well then there’s a problem. His interests must be re-directed into something much more practical, like accounting! So, our wide-eyed 8-year-old has his dreams unceremoniously crushed and he becomes a miserable 33-year-old who does other people’s taxes for a living while constantly keeping one eye on the sky.

It doesn’t help this situation that flying has become extraordinarily (and prohibitively) costly. The cost of fuel has increased significantly over the past 10 years, resulting in increased operation costs for airplanes – they use much more fuel per hour/mile traveled than cars do, and aviation fuel is more expensive anyway. The cost of renting a plane, paying an instructor, and paying for other costs involved in getting a private pilot’s license are quite high, and there are more regulations for flying than for driving car (even though driving is far more dangerous, statistically. Most people simply do not have the time or money to put into getting licensed.

A desire to become a pilot is often dismissed as an unattainable childhood fantasy, and as a result, the aviation culture is suffering. Pilots from my dad’s generation (people in their 50s &60s) are beginning to retire, or their health prevents them from continuing to fly and they are not being replaced by younger pilots. Female pilots of ANY age are almost unheard of. There are some programs for youth to get involved in aviation, but very few scholarships are offered and the programs are not well-publicized. There are a number of famous people who have their pilots license (John Travolta, Clint Eastwood, Dennis Quaid, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford – the list goes on) and if these celebrities did PSAs or set up programs to get people into aviation, I think things would start looking up for the whole field. It might even help commercial airlines, who have been plagued with bad publicity (some of it well-deserved) since 9/11, and even before then. They have had to continually raise rates & charge extra for luggage because fewer people are flying, but then less people fly because they hate the security hassle and financial cost of taking a plane. If more people were comfortable with the idea of flying and if there were more private pilots among the general population, I think this would change peoples’ attitudes about flight. It would also help if the FAA would relax some of their ridiculous restrictions on pilots. If these things came together – youth programs about aviation, relaxed restrictions, and celebrity endorsement & support of aviation programs and scholarships – I think there would be a lot more people lining up to fly the friendly skies, both in airliners & in their own small planes.