Saturday, March 31, 2007

Newt Weighing How to Pander

Newt Gingrich's advantage over McCain, Giuliani, and the hopeless Mitt Romney is that he's been pandering to the right-wing much longer. As a result, Gingrich doesn't have to pander to the right by changing his mind about issues like abortion, liberal dissent, the flat tax, and other conservative nostrums. He already agrees.

Instead, Newt has to figure out what is the tastiest red meat that he can throw to conservative audiences.

Tonight, he tried "bilingual education" in a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women. Newt's argument was that bilingual education creates a "language ghetto" for immigrant children.

"We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto . . ."

You can't say that Newt's not efficient in his bigotries. He managed to slam Hispanics by implying that Spanish was a language of poverty and blacks through the ghetto reference.

Newt is also wrong. The fact is that many immigrant children have to live bi-lingual lives between their native-speaking families and the dominant culture. Getting training in both their native language (mostly Spanish) and English is the best way to promote adjustment to the peculiarities of being an immigrant in the U. S. If immigrant children participated in language immersion programs and only learned English, they would have a harder time communicating with their parents and extended families. Given that strong family ties are extremely helpful in immigrant adjustment, American public education needs to help students learn their parents language as well as English.

Actually, it's native-born American children who should be learning more foreign languages. One of the problems that has been revealed by the Iraq War is the relative isolation of American society from the rest of the world and the harmful effects that isolation can have on American political and military initiatives. People like Gingrich want to make the U. S. even more insular, to turn the whole country into a version of Kentucky.

Instead of banning bilingual education, we should be using the bilingual needs of immigrant children as leverage to encourage native-born children to learn Spanish, Arabic, French, Swahili, Chinese, and other multinational language. It would be good for American politics, good for business, good for foreign policy, and good for the military.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fred Thompson and Conservative Deprivation Syndrome

Last week's weirdest little phenomenon was Fred Thompson's 12% support among Republicans after hinting in one interview that he might run for President. Because Thompson's paper-thin resume is limited to stints as former Watergate Committee Counsel for the Republicans, gravel-voiced actor, and invisible Senator from Tennessee, it's difficult for anyone outside conservative circles to view him as a serious presidential candidate. But then again, the same was the case with Rudy Giuliani.

How did Thompson became so appealing so quickly? What do conservatives see in Thompson? Why did support for Giuliani and Romney sink so quickly as Thompson rose?

I have an answer: Conservative Deprivation Syndrome, or CDS, a disorder that characterizes large numbers of Republicans. One characteristic that distinguishes conservatives from liberals is their strong orientation toward iconic movie-type phrases like Clint Eastwood's "make my day," George W. Bush's "bring it on," or Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall." It's difficult for those on the left to recite these phrases without lapsing into satires like The Colbert Report, but conservatives have a strong desire to see iconic speech reflected in American society and politics. When conservatives can't see iconoic speech and American reality as matching, they feel deprived and seek ways to make up the deprivation. It's this sense of deprivation that I'm calling "Conservative Deprivation Syndrome."

One of the major symptoms of CDS is "movie iconitis," a phenomenon that explains the current appeal of Fred Thompson. In an ideal conservative world, an American president would be as committed to piety and laissez-faire as Calvin Coolidge and as aggressive in foreign policy as Theodore Roosevelt. Such an ideal president would be a perfect embodiment of a pre-jazz, pre-1960's America. He would talk tough, use inspiring words, accomplish his foreign policy objectives quickly and cleanly, and roll back the New Deal and the Warren Court. His accomplishments would give iconic status to his words and make him conservative beacon for generations like Winston Churchill.

George W. Bush looked like a potential candidate for ideal president status with his ostentatious piety, tax cuts, and disrespect for the federal bureaucracy. But the internal bickering within the Bush administration, failure of the Iraq War, and Republican scandals have made Bush such a strong disappointment for conservativers that there is doubt on the right that the conservative vision can succeed in America. That's one of the reasons why conservatives like Dinesh D'Souza and Michael Savage are going back to blaming 9-11 on American culture. They're losing faith that American culture could ever turn back to conservatism and feel deprived of what they see as their culture.

This explains the initial attraction of conservatives for a guy like Fred Thompson. In cop shows, action movies, and westerns, iconic words are reflected dramatically in victories over mushy liberals, rigid bureaucrats, and the forces of crime and international terrorism. For many conservatives, the movies and television are a better place for embodying their political aspirations than the world of American politics and society. A good example of the importance of movies can be seen in Harvey Mansfield's Manliness where the main models for conservative manhood are John Wayne movies and Gary Cooper's High Noon.

As a guy whose current reputation is primarily as a tough-guy prosecutor, Fred Thompson can represent the merging of iconic gestures and the real world (although a fictional real world) in a way that conservatives feel deprived of in politics.

In other words, Fred Thompson is appealing because he provides some satisfactions for the yearnings that characterize Conservative Deprivation Syndrome.

Mitt Should Quit

There's a new USA Today/Gallup Poll out with Fred Thompson taking a lead over Newt Gingrich as the no. 3 man in the race for the Republican nomination. Hopefully, Thompson and Gingrich will do than the many al-Qaeda no. 3's who have been captured or killed.

Still, the really surprising result of the poll is that Mitt Romney sank to 3%. As far as I'm concerned "Multiple Choice" Mitt should just take down his tents and declare his candidacy over. Romney has never done that well in the polls and peaked at only 8%. But the fallback to 3% is most likely deadly. Romney has rolled out his campaign, gotten some interested press, and scored with Ann Coulter at the CPAC meeting.

But the media boomlet never translated into support from Republican voters and Romney will never have a chance to introduce himself again.

It's over.

Is It Limbo or Limbaugh?

Actually, this post isn't about Rush Limbaugh. It's about Michael Savage instead. The down scale version of Dinesh D'Souza who himself is a downscale Ann Coulter, Savage claimed today that the terrorist attacks on 9-11 were God's answer to the secularization of the United States, especially the openness of American society toward gay people and transsexuals.

Savage seems as sexually obsessed with transsexuals as a lot of racists are with black men and women.

Now, you come to a point where the spiritual vacuum has emerged in the United States of America. Enter the vacuum are very religious Muslims. They don't like the stuff that I don't like, frankly. The very same things that offend me, offend them. That's the strangest part of it. As they do offend -- for example, the city manager cutting his schmekel off to become a woman. To me it's disgusting; the doctor should be arrested, their licenses taken away, they should be given 10 years in prison for what they're doing to these poor mental cases. I mean these head cases who suddenly say, "Oh, I want to be a woman, all my life, there was a woman within --" this is a mass psychosis that's going on now in America: "Oh, God, you're so wonderful, Steve, for becoming Clara. Oh, you're such an advanced, progressive human being. Isn't that wonderful."
SAVAGE: Enter the vacuum, comes the fanatically religious Muslim who doesn't go along with the gay and lesbian propaganda, doesn't go along with the sex-change operations, doesn't go along with the slew of the very social degeneracy that we are all struggling to, let's say, live with without accepting [...] It's becoming increasingly clear to me that God wants radical Islam on this planet at this time -- that it's not actually the scourge you think it is. What it is -- it's a counterpoint to the Romanization of the United States of America and the West. The collapse -- the spiritual collapse of the West, the death of the West in that regard, is being countered by the birth of fanatic religion, which is fundamentally a fanatic love of God, when you think about it.

[...] And God, who is the center of this monotheistic religion, has said, "Oh, you don't worship me anymore? Oh, you don't like me anymore? Oh, I don't exist anymore? Really? All right, I'm going to show you boys in Hollywood and you girls in New York City that I do exist. But since you're very hard-headed, stiff-necked people, and you don't really believe that I exist because you've gotten away with everything you've done all your life without any repercussions, I'm going to show you I exist in a way that you can't believe." Down came the World Trade Center towers. That was God speaking.

I've heard Savage a few times on the radio. For a guy who talks a lot about treason, Savage is coming very close to saying that he is glad that militant Islamists launched the terror attacks against the World Trade Center. After all, he believes that God created militant Islam for purpose of punishing the U. S. for it's "extreme" tolerance and secularism.

To be honest, I don't think Savage really believes this. Like D'Souza and Coulter, he's seeing how far he can take his commentary on liberalism into the bigotry gutter.

Conservatism is becoming a limbo ideology. It's all about how low you can go.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"This is No Time to Go Wobbly"

That's right. For the first time in the brief history of RSI, I'm leading with a famous Margaret Thatcher quote urging the first President Bush to stay firm in the lead up to the Gulf War.

In the same way, I want to urge the Democratic leadership to stay firm in the looming confrontation with President Bush over the funding of the current Iraq War. Matthew Yglesias is worried about confronting the Bush administratration about war funding "at this time" and suggests that the Democrats pass a bill that Bush can sign but only provide funding for three more months of war.

That way in three months time, with public opinion even more against Bush and against the war, he needs to come back and ask for more money. Then Democrats pass another supplemental with a withdrawal provision. If Bush vetos again, then give him another three months eventually.

This doesn't work. There's no reason to think that President Bush would be any less likely to veto the Yglesias Plan than the current Democratic plan. If Congress passed a three-month appropriation bill, Bush would veto the bill and say that the Democrats were just "playing politics" by funding the troops for such a short time. Even worse, Bush would be correct because the primary logic of using three month appropriations would be to build up political pressure on Republicans to vote for withdrawal deadlines. In other words, it would be playing politics.

It looks like the Democrats are faced with a fundamental choice when Bush vetoes the Iraq funding bill. On the one hand, Pelosi and Reid can cave, send Bush a bill that he wants, and wait to fight another day. In that case, however, the Democratic leadership will have proven Bush right about the original funding bill just being "political theater." I don't know what would be worse, caving in to a weak President or making Bush look like he knows what he's talking about.

On the other hand, the Democrats can stick to their guns and engage in the confrontation that Bush wants. The moderate version of the confrontation option would be for the Democratic leadership could use their majority position to push Bush to negotiate. From Wednesday's comments by Nancy Pelosi, that sounds like what she has in mind. The Dems also could take the "more confrontational" route of telling Bush to either accept the deadline bill or shut down the war. That's what I want, but maybe that makes me a "left-wing extremist" rather than someone who can get something done through the political system.

The obvious risk with any kind of confrontational strategy is that the Democrats could lose public support and be forced to give Bush what he wants. And it's a real risk because presidents usually do win these kinds of showdowns in the way that Clinton won over Gingrich and the Republican revolutionaries in 1995. However, there are several reasons to think that the risk will be worth taking. Most importantly, the public approves the idea of a troop withdrawal deadline by at least a 25% margin (59%-34%). That's a lot of ground for Bush to make up at a time that the surge doesn't look to be particularly successful and the administration is hamstrung by scandals. The Dems would have to really blow it to lose that much popular support in a short period of time and I don't see that happening. Both Pelosi and Reid are careful, circumspect leaders whose main skill is holding together diverse coalitions of Democratic legislators. I don't think that either would make the kind of spectacular mistake that would help Bush catch up.

Moreover, the Pelosi Democrats are different from the Gingrich Republicans in that they're not perceived as being over-aggressive bullies. Indeed, Peter Beinart is right that the public probably would respect the Dems more not less if they stood up to Bush. Finally, the Pelosi strategy of inducing negotiations sounds moderate in comparison to Bush's "my way or the highway" approach to the issue. She'll get credit for sounding more like an adult than the President. One of the things that did in Newt Gingrich was the broad and accurate perception that he was a jerk. That's also how people perceive President Bush at this point. Unlike Gingrich, Pelosi can look good while she pursues a confrontational strategy.

Ultimately, it looks to me like Pelosi and Reid have set up a fight they can win even if it does entail significant risk. I think they should go for it. This is definitely no time to "go wobbly."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Today's Iraq Funding Weigh-in

The Fired Prosecutors scandal, Abuse of National Security Letters Scandal, and GSA scandal are all significant. But the big showdown this spring is going to be about what to do after President Bush vetoes the Iraq funding measure. Bush yet might flinch, but the President and the Democratic leadership still engaged in some mild pre-veto taunting about the Iraq funding bill.

President Bush: "Some [lawmakers] believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders that I believe would make withdrawal and defeat more likely . . . That's not going to happen."

Harry Reid: "Why doesn't [Bush] get real with what's going on in the world . . . His arrogance is getting real out of touch with what's going on with reality."

Nancy Pelosi: "Pelosi stood in front of the cameras to offer "a hand of friendship" and urge the president to "calm down with the threats . . . There's a new Congress in town. We respect your constitutional role. We want you to respect ours."

The heavier taunting will probably commence as Bush and the Democrats get closer to fight day although Nancy Pelosi's evidently been brushing up on her pseudo-Western cliches. Perhaps she's looking to confuse and distract a president who thought he had a monopoly on tough-guy gestures.

But the bottom line is that the Democrats outweigh the president in the polls by 59%-34% on whether there should be a deadline for withdrawing from Iraq and 80%-15% on whether troops should meet readiness criteria before they're deployed.

That's why Pelosi and Reid were jabbing and hooking like Oscar De La Hoya. They know they have the public on their side. Unfortunately for President Bush, he's huffing and puffing like a washed-up heavyweight who acts like winning or losing is simply a matter of who has the stronger "will." And that's pretty much all Bush can do as long as his poll numbers are in the low to mid-thirties. To even things up, Bush needs to get his numbers up into the high forties, a place they haven't been for almost a year.

Of course, things would be easier for Bush if his government were not plagued by so many scandals that it's hard to keep up with them all.

Initial Taunting Advantage: Democrats.

W's Bad Breath

It seems like President Bush is having trouble corralling dinner guests. According to Jim Hoaglund of the Washington Post, Saudi King Abdullah recently withdrew from an April 17 gala that White House was going to mount in his honor.

Hoaglund believes that skipping out on the gala is part of a general shift in Saudi policy toward reconciliation rather than confrontation with Iran. It seems that the Saudis are not willing to pursue such a risky pro-U. S. policy while the Bush administration is so weak at home.

That's certainly possible. If there's anything that's brought the world together over the last six years, it's rejection of Bush administration policies.

On the other hand, it might be that Dubya just has bad breath and the King doesn't want to spend all that time sitting with him at the head table.

The Real Saint

It looks like Pope John Paul II is getting ready to become Saint John Paul. According to today's Lexington Herald-Leader, a French nun has come forward crediting her "inexplicable cure for Parkinson's disease" to the recently deceased pontiff. That would give John Paul II the "miracle attributed to his intercession" needed for him to be beatified.

One miracle. That's it? Talk about lowered standards. According to Bede's History of the English Church and People, even the dirt at the spot where King Oswald (later Saint Oswald) died was miraculous for any number of people who drank it with water.

By comparison, John Paul II seems like a low standards Saint.

Mrs. RSI also mentions that she deserves to be beatified more than Pope John Paul II. Something about living with bloggers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tom DeLay: Painfully Pathetic

Here's how Tom DeLay explains the ability of the House Democrats to get a majority to pass the Iraq funding bill with troop withdrawal deadlines last week.

You don’t get that many ‘Nays’ turned into ‘Yeas’ without the application of pressure. Committee chairmanships and assignments were undoubtedly leveraged, the exposure of dirty laundry was threatened, and the peril of political recrimination and assault were used as intimidation tools.

DeLay's evidence for his claims about the Democratic leadership--none, nothing, zero, nada, non-existent. No pithy quotes from the Republican leadership. No subtle allusions from GOP staffers. Nothing from the media or lobbyists. Nothing besides DeLay's not particularly vivid fantasy life. Nothing.

Maybe DeLay really did see too much opera during the good old days when he didn't have deny that Jack Abramoff was a friend.

Oh How I Hate NPR

I didn't listen much to NPR before I moved to Morehead, KY at the age of 36 and the campus public radio station was one of only two radio stations in town. The reason why I couldn't listen to NPR before was that I couldn't stand Garrison Keillor and his Lake Woebegone stories. But I never noticed how much I detested NPR in general. That changed though when I had to really start paying attention to NPR.

And with good reason. What NPR does is to package neo-liberal or conservative news and commentary in ways that appeal to the cultural sensibilities of college-educated suburbanites. I'm not a neo-liberal or a conservative and I don't have anything resembling a suburban sensibility. Perhaps that's why I find NPR so repugnant. I hate the radio personalities, I hate their jazz dj voices and manner, I hate the intro music for the news segments, I hate the fact that it doesn't include anything for young people (I'm 52), I still hate that smug asshole Garrison Keillor and all his Lake Woebegone crap, and I hate NPR's pro-globalization, anti-union, anti-minority, anti-anti-war politics. Moreover, NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea might be the single most stupid person in the media.

NPR pretends that their stories have more depth than the television networks because they're longer. That's complete B. S. NPR is just as superficial as the television networks. The only difference is that NPR reports are long and boring as well as superficial and fluffy.

Most of my friends and all of my in-laws (lovely people by the way and much nicer than I am) are NPR addicts but I think NPR is smugness personified and believe that following NPR is their single biggest weakness. I can't help but think that NPR's appeal come from a certain smug sense of superiority to popular culture. Of course, NPR is popular culture as well, with its own celebrities, buzzwords, cliches, and long-running hits. In other words, NPR is popular culture for people who are too good for popular culture. One of the big ironies of life.

Mrs. RSI was a big NPR fan when we met but it became clear after our first couple of dates that I couldn't listen to NPR as background noise without becoming somewhat agitated. Really, I'd rather listen to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity instead. At least they're opponents I can respect. So Mrs. RSI did me the favor of limiting her NPR listening to her car for the most part. Foregoing NPR is one of the many sacrifices she makes to live with someone as disagreeable as me. Bless her.

Monday, March 26, 2007

How Conservatives Lost Marriage

Unsurprisingly, the Weekly Standard is just as dishonest about gay marriage as it has been about the war in Iraq. In this week's issue, a feature by David Blankenhorn (via Slate) attempts to associate positive attitudes toward gay marriage with a purported "decline" in marriage in Europe. The whole enterprise is disingenuous. What Blankenhorn means by "marriage" is not being "married" in the sense of having a legal "marriage" relationship, but being in a "traditional marriage" which is "authoritative" in two senses. On the one hand, traditional marriage would be the only legally sanctioned form of adult sexual cohabitation. On the other, traditional marriage would be coercive in the sense that there would be legal obstacles to divorce.

Blankenhorn argues that gay marriage was more acceptable in European countries where there were few signs of attachment to "traditional," "authoritative" marriage as opposed to marriage as a marriage "as a private personal relationship." But Blankenhorn was extremely disingenuous in not reporting any percentages on the number of people in the United States who view marriage as a "private personal relationship" rather than an "authoritative institution." Of course, there was good reason for Blankenhorn to fudge. That's because few people in the United States have any belief in marriage as "an authoritative institution." I've never talked with anyone below the age of 70 who didn't believe that marriage was a "private personal relationship" that you could enter and leave when you chose. That's one of the reasons why there are high marriage rates and high divorce rates. People in the U. S. view marriage as an appealing personal relationship that they can leave if it doesn't work out.

So, how did conservatives lose gay marriage? The answer is the conservative campaigns to promote traditional values, family values, and two-parent families during the 1980's. What conservatives like Dan Quayle did was to promote marriage as the "moral," "meaningful," and "responsible" way for loving adults to co-habit and raising children as a big part of the meaning of adulthood, indeed a big part of the meaning of love. Personally, I've found it to be that way for myself.

But guess what. Gay people are Americans and gay people are just as susceptible to these kinds of value campaigns as everybody else. As a result, gay people began to focus more on "marriage" as an appropriate or, in many cases, the only appropriate way to express their love for each other. That's a great thing and sentimental straight people like myself even get emotional about it. Of course, gay people deserve a lot of credit for the progress they've made in being able to live openly in American society and the struggle for recognition for their marriage rights has been a significant part of that progres. However, much of the initial impetus for the gay emphasis on marriage rights was inspired by conservative cultural warriors.

Public Opinion Holds Through Initial Troop Withdrawal Salvos

A recently released Pew Center poll shows the public supporting legislation to set a troop withdrawal deadline by a margin of 59-34%. In a way, that's no surprise. Exactly the same percentage supported the idea of setting a troop withdrawal deadline last week.

However, that's good news for the Democratic leadership because it means that public support for a withdrawal deadline has held steady after a weekend of high profile condemnations of the House legislation by President Bush, Dick Cheney, and right-wing commentators.

If there's a showdown over the supplemental appropriations bill, it will come after the President vetoes the legislation or the Senate is unable to pass the House bill. I haven't seen any media treatment of this issue yet, but the question is not whether the House can override a Bush veto. It's obvious that the House can't override.

Instead, the key question is whether the House will then approve another Iraq funding bill more to the Bush administration's liking. Both the mainstream media and the left-wing blogosphere seem to assume that a Bush veto would the House would be forced to pass a bill without a deadline or other restrictions.

That is not the case at all.

The House could refuse to pass another Iraq funding bill at all. In effect, the House Democrats then would be cutting off money for the war by default, and, in effect, vetoing the war. More likely, the Democratic leadership would use their leverage to try to force Bush to accept a deadline and other restrictions if he wants the money.

This is where the House Democratic leadership would need popular support. Presidents usually win these kinds of showdowns with Congress with Bill Clinton's triumph over Newt Gingrich during the government shutdown of 1995 being the most recent example. If the Democrats hopoe to win a showdown with Bush, they'll need to keep a decent plurality of public opinion on their side.

Consequently, it's very much to their benefit that the Democrats are starting out ahead 59%-34%. A 25% margin will be hard for President Bush to overcome.

Is Billy Donovan Good Enough for UK?

Billy Donovan has taken the University of Florida to the Final Four for three out of the last seven years. But is that good enough for UK basketball fans? I'm not sure. What about those four years of disappointment?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's More Than Oversight

In dealing with a government as lawless as the Bush administration, it is necessary to attack them from several angles in order to make progress. That's why I think Glenn Greenwald over-emphasizes the importance of Congressional oversight in bringing the fired prosecutor abuses to light.

"There is one thing and one thing only distinguishing this U.S. attorneys scandal from all of the others over the past six years: namely, because Democrats now have subpoena power and seem willing to use it, the administration is forced to disclose actual evidence and documents -- rather than simply issue unscrutinized and uninvestigated denials of wrongdoing -- and that evidence demonstrates that their claims are false. "

Certainly the Bush administration has come up with more documents as a result of more active Congressional oversight. However, it was Bush-appointed prosecutors who blew the lid off the White House's abuse of their appointment power. In fact, traditionalist Republican bureaucrats have been at the front line of opposition to the Bush administration since 2002. It's because of testimony from resigned Republicans like Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill and leaks from anonymous State Department, CIA, FBI, and Pentagon officials that many of the intelligence, detainee, and warrantless wiretapping abuses of the Bush administration initially were exposed. Most left-wing commentators underestimate the extent to which the Bush years have seen an on-going war between the administration and traditional Republicans in the bureaucracy.

Over the last five years, the Bush administration responded to this kind of information with grossly dishonest blanket denials. In fact, Alberto to Gonzales engaged in this kind of dishonesty so often that the denials should just be called the "Gonzales Standard Lie." Nevertheless, the "Gonzales Standard Lie" has never been fully convincing even in cases where the Bush administration was able to ward off further scrutiny (like warrantless wiretapping or CIA prisons) and the general credibility of the Bush administration has been undermined partly because of its reputation for dishonesty in its response to exposes by Republican bureaucrats. Congressional oversight accomplishes is important for providing proof of Bush administration abuses and cover-ups, but it has been the honesty of Republican bureaucrats that originally brought the abuses to light.

The Fire In Hillary's Belly

This might be one of the real ironies of recent presidential politics, but Vassar and Yale educated Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the blue collar set. According to Ron Brownstein (via Matthew Yglesias), Hillary is leading Obama by 2 to 1 among non-college educated white Democrats in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania and 23 points nationwide among whites without college education. Hillary was especially effective in expressing her identification with firefighters at the International Association of Fire Fighters convention: "You were there when we needed you, and I want you to know I will be there when you need me." Fifteen years in the Washington trenches have given Hillary one of the most important intangibles for governing effectively in our ferocious political climate--fire in her belly.

Correction: Clinton went to Wellesley instead of Vassar. Thanks Anonymous!

The Test of Spring

THE SETTING. Looming magnificence. It's 70 degrees and sunny in Morehead, KY. The grass is green. The woods look like their ready to burst with new growth and new colors are bursting out as our pussy willow tree, forcythia bush, and daffodils are already in bloom. The explosion of spring beauty on North Wilson Avenue is about to commence. Even the leaves on the trees will have a dazzling effect.

THE POLLEN. But, there's a price to pay and that price is allergies. The pollen starts circulating as soon as the blooms begin. Even at this early stage, the stuff gets inside our air-conditioned cocoon of a house and today I had my first allergy sneeze of the spring. And as the spring bloom develops, all those dazzling trees and flowers produce an unbelievable amount of pollen--sometimes, there's an inch or so on our cars in the morning and the air is thick and sweet with it all day long.

THE TEST. The question is whether I still have what it takes to appreciate the springtime even after I descend into the allergy hell of having my head so full of snot that I can barely remember my name. That's the test of springtime in Eastern Kentucky. Almost everybody I know has allergies and most people who move here begin having allergies pretty quickly. That's the price we pay for the beauty of the place.

But am I willing to pay that price again this year?