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What’s In a Pocket Knife?

That first pocket knife weighed a ton in my hand, the weight being strictly emotional as the responsibility for something sharp and deadly sank in to my five-year-old brain. I still have that knife today, and would you believe it’s about the cutest little folding knife ever made? If it’s even two inches long, I’d be surprised.

After that, over the next few years my dad bought me ever-bigger pocket knives, each one a successively bigger symbol of my increasing responsibility and age. Dad was tough, too, because had I ever screwed up, he would have taken away whatever he had given me. Basically, they remained pocket knives, truly, stashed away in my front pants pocket, and rarely opened. Fear of screwing up and losing what I had gained was behind my being responsible.

Leap forward 35 years, and I was beginning to hand out pocket knives to my own kids. First the two daughters, and now my son.

Each got one when they were ready. The eldest was about nine, and she showed interest in it for a year, and then promptly became a teenager. Fold-out lipstick became her obsession. Even shooting became passe.

The next girl got her knife around seven, and her first gun at twelve. She’s still into them. Her middle name is “Miss Responsibility.”

The boy, ahhh, the boy…if you are an adult, then you know how boys are. They are not girls. Where girls are carefully examining things, boys are quickly demolishing them or exploding them. Would he be ready by five or six, like I had been when I got my first knife?

As a dad, I like to replicate as many of the first-time symbols with my kids that I enjoyed myself. First BB gun at six, first deer rifle at 10, first .22 at 11, first shotgun at 12. My son, I am hoping, will want to be like me. Most dads’ dream is to have their son be the mini-me, and lots of boys enjoy it. Great basis for a relationship. It worked in the Pleistocene, when hunting and woodcraft skills were passed down this way, and it works today. Watching your boy become a little man is what being a dad to a boy is all about. Great stuff.

Well, this summer in Sag Harbor I bought what was to be the boy’s first pocket knife. When I returned from the hardware store to my family, all sitting around an outdoor cafe table, each nursing a foamy ice cream drink, the rebuttals came swift and hard. Especially from Daughter Number One.

The boy is not ready, was the general refrain.

“He’s a baby,” said one daughter.

“He’s too spoiled to handle it right,” said the other.

My city-born wife had long ago yielded to the forest of rods and rifles scattered about our home, leaning in corners or stashed across door frames. Each one or pair representative of a different season or combination of hunting and fishing seasons at a given time of year. Her eyes said she was uncertain about this, even though she knows how important it is to me to reach this milestone.

With the ice cream soda in his hand and the straw in his mouth, his eyes goofily crossed and focused on the receding liquid, the boy had no idea what was happening, so we were spared the agony of offering something and then taking it away. The brief discussion flew right by him, and I kept the little box in my pocket.

Tonight on his Cub Scouts hike at the PA Game Commission headquarters trail, three months past the Long Island moment, he took with him the pocket knife he got two weeks ago. It would be surprising if any of the other cub scouts carried a pocket knife with them, and he quietly knew it. Step one in developing a sense of responsibility is discretion. Good boy!

Two weeks ago we were in the midst of a historic flood, and our home was inundated by the mighty Susquehanna. Times of crisis are times of learning, and as my wife and kids were leaving me for higher ground, I handed the little man his first-ever pocket knife, in its box, wrapped with a ribbon.

“You are the little man while I am away, and you are responsible for your family tonight while I cannot be with you, OK?,” I said to him. Even as the water was washing at the bottom of my wife’s vehicle and pouring into the house, the family gathered round to congratulate him and welcome him into the society of the Big and Responsible.

Now I have regrets. The knife is a Schrade, long the standard by which other pocket knives were judged. But this knife is now made in China, and its details show it.

All other pocket knives that I give out are made in America by Case, and at weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvas, business deal closings, etc., I hand them out. It’s my way of passing along a piece of America, both symbolic and functional, as a token of our moment together. Clients and friends have pulled them out, years later, to proudly show me that they still have it, so I know it’s a meaningful tradition.

But in Sag Harbor, they were out of Case and just had this little Schrade.  And wanting to capture and enhance our family vacation moment just right, I bought it.   This Schrade knife, model 897 UH with Spey, sheepsfoot, and Turkish clipped blades, just doesn’t feel like the real deal. That Made-In-China feel is all over it, as its fit, finish, and materials all seem cheap and weak.

Which means that the little man will have to get a second knife sooner rather than later, and it’ll be a Case, something that’s really a quality product. And this second gift will introduce him to the other aspect of owning outdoors gear: You just can’t ever have too much, and once you get started collecting it, you really end up using it. Outdoors life is the best living there is, so the first and the second knives are both seeds toward something much greater. A life of adventure and accomplishment, health and clean fun…All that and more is wrapped up in this little knife in my hand.

Obama’s gaffes are fun. Jewish janitors? Intercontinental railroad? More, more!


Flood of 2011 Experiences In a Nutshell

Ladies and gentlemen, like many families along the Susquehanna Valley, our clan experienced a lot of displacement, loss, and discomfort as a result of the five feet of water in our basement.

But challenges like the flood are just a test, a test of our abilities, our faith, our ability to be a good neighbor, and our friendships.

It also tests whether or not businesses are willing to be good neighbors, or if they try to take advantage of people who are vulnerable and needy.

Here are some kudos that came out of our experience, turning the lemons into lemonade:

***Big thank you-s to Ed, Dominic, and Devon, friends who over-rode my last-minute living-in-denial mentality and simply showed up, despite my protests, and helped our family carry hundreds of pounds of things out of the basement and up to the first floor, and then from the first floor to the second, as the flood warnings changed hourly. Just in time. Without their muscle and hard work, our personal and financial losses would have been much higher.

***Big thank you to long-time friend Mark Brodsky, who selflessly dropped off a huge generator on my front porch on Friday morning, which kept the sump pumps going long after the electricity had been turned off in our city.

***Big thank you to Mark Woodland, an amazing friend and neighbor, who helped me set up sump pump after sump pump in our basement, despite the late hours, the gross water, and the hard work.  Mark is a gifted technician of anything involving mechanics.  Without Mark, I likely would have ended up with the pump hoses circling back into the house.

***Thanks to Rabbi Ron Muroff who descended like an angel to help out himself and then with other volunteers (thanks, Judge Solomon et. al.) when we needed help most.  We are not members of his house of worship, but we will be making a donation to it.

***Thanks to neighbors Steve and Dick for helping with the sump pumps and generator when I was running helter-skelter.

***Thanks to the Harrisburg City Police for putting in long hours chasing down would-be looters in our neighborhood, putting up with ridiculous answers from these guys, and for bringing comfort to me when our neighborhood was dark, abandoned, and completely vulnerable to break-ins and looting.  Officer Bobby Yost, call any time for a BBQ in our back yard.  You earned it, buddy.

***Thanks to the two very likeable Allstate adjustors, Tim and Paul, for treating us fairly and kindly. These two suuthin good ol’ boys from Louisiana are hunters, fishermen, even-keeled, and really all-American in all respects. We enjoyed their company as well as their hard work to ensure that we were treated fairly. Hey, fellow Central Pennsylvanians, these guys from the bayous are our kind of people. If you desire a vacation in a very different part of the nation but still want to feel at home, I think we can safely recommend coastal Louisiana.

***Thanks to FEMA for helping so many of our communities. We pay our taxes for this kind of service, and it’s nice to see our government provide service with alacrity and a smile. James Ferguson, our guest FEMA employee (well, a contractor) all the way from Tacoma, had an easy, caring way, and a hard work ethic.

***Thanks big time to our US Mail carrier, John, who stopped briefly to talk with me on Friday, September 9th, to strategize about the best paths for him to take to various neighborhood homes under feet of muddy water. Yeah, we know that the US Mail folks are under the gun in so many ways, but John delivered our mail despite encountering conditions that he could have easily walked away from.

***Thanks to Todd at Rainbow Cleaning. Although he made money, Todd also helped us above and beyond the call of duty. Without his dozen airplane-prop – sized fans and two industrial dehumidifiers for almost two weeks, our basement would have never really dried out. Todd provided good advice, too.

***Thanks to my parents and to the Family Boss, Viv, for keeping us all on the straight and narrow despite the strong urges I often felt to run screaming in circles.


My Flight 93 Crash Site Experience, In a Nutshell

Why We Must Protect Flight 93’s Landscape
September 6, 2011

By Josh First

From October 2001 through October 2003, I led the effort to conserve the Flight 93 crash site for an eventual national memorial. At that crucial time in its development, I was working for a national non-profit land protection group, and the National Park Service asked me to help out, just weeks after September 11, 2001.

During that formative two years, I took a lot of criticism for targeting a relatively large area that needed to be protected. It’s nice now to see the Flight 93 memorial taking shape around those boundaries, not just because I feel personally vindicated, but because it’s unquestionable that the American public expects our national monuments and memorials to be fully representative of greatness, including that of Flight 93.

People have asked me why the memorial needed to be such a large area, roughly 2,200 acres, and my response used to be “Go to Gettysburg battlefield and see what kind of an experience you would have there, standing on just six acres.”

In other words, can the importance and mechanics of something that occurred on a large scale be boiled down to its essence in a physically small area? My answer is No, it cannot, and I think that anyone who is interested in what happened at Gettysburg or at any other famous American battlefield will agree. At each location, the local story unfolded across a landscape, and in each landscape certain facts occurred. These places become important to the public because the interplay between the facts and the landscape are important. They tell a story that represents heroism, determination, American grit, qualities that we all want to recognize and immortalize. These qualities and symbols make us quintessentially American, and we are proud of them.

At Gettysburg, Antietam, Yorktown, Pearl Harbor, and Flight 93, heroes defended America. What took hours, days, or weeks at some took only seconds at Flight 93’s final resting place. Having interviewed all of the landowners at Flight 93, each one offered me a different recollection of the plane’s final seconds. We all know now that those final seconds were a frenzied battle for control of the cockpit, led by Americans who knew that their nation was under attack and who were determined not to let their plane become a missile to hit the Capitol or the White House. Phone records and the recollections of family members who spoke with their loved ones point to a truly heroic effort that the passengers knew was likely to be suicidal. Nevertheless, they broke into the cockpit and duked it out, American style.

Flight 93 landed upside down after yawing and veering wildly across the landscape. It nearly clipped a large oxygen tank that fueled hand-held torches used to dismantle junk metal, and the workers below involuntarily fell to their knees as the enormous plane roared by, just feet above their heads. We all know that the last living views of our heroic passengers was Pennsylvania’s green countryside, the bowl-shaped landscape that surrounds the crash site. That area is now mostly protected, and it gives current and future visitors the opportunity to visualize and memorialize for themselves what happened on Flight 93. No homes, motels, or theme parks will ever press against this hallowed ground.

Again, if you’ve ever been to Gettysburg battlefield, and you’ve looked from Little Round Top across to Devil’s Den, and visualized the brave soldiers who fought there, then you know why the immediate landscape around Flight 93’s resting place must be conserved. Future generations of Americans deserve the same inspiration that we now take for granted. Just as past generations protected Gettysburg’s landscape for us, long before it became a pressured commercial area, so we must also do in Shanksville for generations of Americans to come.

Something Is Rotten in Scotland

Scotland: Western Civilization’s Poster Child for Politically Correct Rot
© Josh First
August 30, 2011

Western Civilization is crumbling from within, rotting from decades of increasingly demanding sentimentalism that pushes out laws based on equal justice before the law, and replaces them with laws based on redistribution of wealth and the rewarding of purported victims, whose sole claim to victim status is that some people feel badly for them. Of all possible places, the remote, scenic, and otherwise pretty much unimportant Scotland is the ugly poster child for this rot.

Political correctness has long been antagonistic towards America’s essential institutions, core beliefs, and justice system. It has made increasing headway here, but its roots run deep in Europe, where it has removed former greatness and replaced it with enforced apathy. Recall that England was nearly destroyed by Nazi Germany because English pacifism ran so deep. Pacifism is a core element of political correctness. Pained by World War I, “The War to End All Wars,” the English were blinded by a messianic belief that all wars were wrong, and that evil must be appeased, instead of confronted. By the 1930s, England had emasculated its Imperial self beyond recognition right when Hitler’s un-emasculated and newly imperialistic Germans nearly stormed its gates.

Decades later, pacifist England rejected the lesson of World War II, and Her Majesty’s subjects in its furthest occupied territories, including Scotland, casually absorbed Britain’s forced gentility. As one of those people opposed to the forced notion of a “United Kingdom,” as the English blithely claim to be, it’s always been difficult for me to admit that England truly influenced its once-great and long independent neighbors, including Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Based on their best qualities, they should be above it.

All three nations have long histories of unique cultures and languages, inspired and fierce warriors, and proud identities. All three nations represent the high-water mark and stone wall rejection of Roman conquest, with London ironically the site of Rome’s regional capital, a kind of Quisling-English monument. England’s long, cruel tyranny over the three nations, still alive with the English occupation of Northern Ireland, eroded to bare nubbins those great characteristics of yore. One must now admit that enforced imperial unity has caused these three nations to learn the very worst that England has to offer. One nation stands above the rest in its willingness to prove it: Scotland. Sadly, “Make the world England” worked in Scotland.

True it is that peat-flavored whisky, bright Tartan cloth, Nessie, wool sweaters, and ubiquitous sheep upon scenic vales distinguish Scotland. And Scotland still provides mirth in Irish pubs enthralled by players of the Uilleann pipes, who gave the bagpipes to the Scots, who never got the joke. But fast forward six hundred and seventy five years after the Battle of Bannockburn, and Scotland became the location of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, where Pan Am flight 103 was remotely blown up in flight by Libyan Mohamed al-Megrahi, who was subsequently convicted and imprisoned in Scotland. Lockerbie is the place in Scotland where most of the bombed plane’s parts and 270 people fell to earth. It should be hallowed ground, an inspiring symbol.

Although 270 innocents were killed, in 2009 Scotland released Megrahi from a Scottish prison cell on “humanitarian grounds.” All levels of the Scots government participated in the decision to release Megrahi, who was subsequently received and feted as a hero in Libya. Megrahi remains quite alive today, and Scottish politicians remain defiant about their decision.

Despite evidence that Megrahi’s release was a decision based on falsified medical advice and appears calculated to gain favor with Libya and access for British Petroleum to Libya’s oil and gas fields, Scottish officials refuse to admit that it was un-just to release a mass-murderer from prison because he did not feel well. They were, after all, appealing to the highest of politically correct causes, “humanitarianism.”

Humanitarianism is the sentimental basis for much of the politically correct thinking now permeating western nations. It is responsible for the false notions of fairness that result in injustices like Megrahi’s release, the calls to dismantle America’s borders, the blocking and then banning of the death penalty, and the release of recidivist violent criminals from U.S. jails. Under humanitarianism, the rule of law is being up-ended.

On August 20th, 2011, Susan Cohen, mother of 20-year-old Lockerbie victim Theo, was quoted in The Scotsman News as saying “The Scottish legal system is an absolute joke. In the US, we would not be able to have one man come out with the foolish line of ‘compassionate release’ and then let him go. I want there to be more trials over this – I hope there will be – but I wouldn’t trust them to be held in Scotland after what has happened. This is going to go down in history as a terrible black mark against Scotland. You are given your new-found freedom, and these are the kinds of decisions that are made.”

CNN reported that Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am 103 support group, wrote an email to CNN on August 29th, 2011, that “blasted the report that al Megrahi was near death, saying he didn’t believe it or that the convicted felon merited any reprieve.” ‘His family is trying to make a sympathetic character out of an unrepentant, murderous monster,’ Duggan wrote.

Said English politician Iain Gray, “The sight of Megrahi last month acting as a cheerleader for a dictator indicted for war crimes [Moamar Gadafi] turned the stomach.” And yet, the Scots remain defiant. They believe that their decision making is unassailable, because they were making nice. Under it all simmers the other politically correct notion that all Muslims are automatically victims in western nations, and despite being a murderer, Megrahi is a member of that untouchable victim group. Free he must be.

Scotland’s official behavior is important because, as a former bastion of the Protestant ethic that gave us western civilization and the foundation of American democracy, what happens in Scotland indicates what might be happening elsewhere in the broader body politic of western civilization. If rotten politics are happening there, then rotten politics might be happening here. Official injustices carried out in Scotland can form the foundation for un-just decisions in America. Former U.S. senator Arlen Specter quoted Scottish law when he acquitted impeached president Bill Clinton during his trial in the Senate, so it’s not that far away.

Megrahi’s release is a painful example of how western civilization is under assault, from deep within. Greatness once infused Scotland, a greatness that created the two-handed Claymore sword, once swung by tough men defending their liberty and culture. That greatness has been frittered away, lost in its misty isles and replaced by misty thinking. If Scotland’s decision to release Megrahi is not repudiated, then the politically correct assault advances on western culture and institutions, and justice retreats.