Photo: Autograph-seeker

Of the hundreds of photos I snapped during the U.S.S. Tennessee veterans’ final reunion last week, this one was my favorite. Cecil McLain (Orange Beach, Ala.), who served aboard the U.S.S. Tennessee during World War II (he estimates that he sailed 170,000 miles at 14 knots in the South Pacific), signs an autograph for an aspiring young sailor. You don’t typically see autograph-seekers surrounding these guys like you would Beyonce or Taylor Swift, but there are far worse heroes to have.

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USS Tennessee vets hold last reunion in Huntsville

A U.S. Navy cadet salutes during a ceremony at the U.S.S. Tennessee Battleship Remembrance Museum in Huntsville, Tenn.
A U.S. Navy cadet salutes during a ceremony at the U.S.S. Tennessee Battleship Remembrance Museum in Huntsville, Tenn.

Eleven years ago, the surviving veterans of the U.S.S. Tennessee during World War II visited Scott High School as part of their annual reunion to officially cut the ribbon on the U.S.S. Tennessee Battleship Remembrance Museum at the Museum of Scott County.

On Wednesday, May 18, they returned, for one last visit.

The veterans gather annually to fellowship and reminisce about their time aboard the U.S.S. Tennessee serving their country, and also to memorialize their fellow shipmates who died during the war. This year’s reunion was their 39th. It was also their last.

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Tennessee: the ship the Japanese couldn’t sink

With just days remaining until Memorial Day — when America pauses to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the liberties and freedoms that are unique to this nation — the timing of last week’s U.S.S. Tennessee World War II veterans’ reunion at the battleship museum in Huntsville was almost perfect.

As the number of veterans who served aboard the U.S.S. Tennessee dwindles, there’s an urgent reminder to remind the generation coming of age in today’s time of peace of the heavy toll the liberty of the free world cost those who came before them.

For the seven WWII veterans who were able to visit the museum last week — stooped with age, their numbers down significantly from 11 years earlier, when nearly 100 visited, yet still able to tell their story and relive their experiences aboard the U.S.S. Tennessee — a lot of words come to mind. Perhaps one of the most accurate is resilient.

The crew of the U.S.S. Tennessee, like the ship on which they served, were nothing if not resilient.

Several of the veterans at last week’s ceremony were wearing hats and jackets denoting their status as Pearl Harbor survivors. It was there that their resilience was first tested, and it would be tested many times over in the war that followed.

Each time, the U.S.S. Tennessee prevailed. And in so doing, she and her crew proved themselves giants in the Pacific theater of the war. Judge Jamie Cotton was not hyperbolizing when he commented that the men who served aboard that ship “saved the free world.” The 1,100 service members aboard that ship were but a few among many who fought and sacrificed to preserve freedom, but their role was an especially significant one.

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Punishment should fit crime

Did y’all hear? A bunch of seniors at Oneida High School trashed up the school — spray-painting the walls, busting glass out of the windows and destroying furniture.

Okay, they didn’t really. But if you were reading social media Thursday, that was the story making the rounds. More than one person stated as fact that the school was heavily vandalized as a senior prank.

That’s what usually happens: social media gets hold of something, and the proverbial mountain-from-a-molehill results. It’s the 21st century version of a game we used to play when I was in first grade. The students would sit in a circle, and the teacher would whisper something in the ear of the first student. That student would then repeat it to his neighbor, and that person to his neighbor, until it had gone all the way around the room. The last student in the circle would say it out loud, and it would be something completely different from what was originally said.

For the record, a group of 30 seniors at Oneida did trash the school as a senior prank — making a real mess of the place with silly string, confetti, glitter, packing peanuts and an assortment of other items. They were busted because they didn’t think — or, more likely, just didn’t care — about the school’s surveillance cameras.

The story caught traction Thursday when WBIR TV in Knoxville reported that the students have been sentenced to 16 hours of community service.

As the story was shared throughout East Tennessee, there was no shortage of folks feigning outrage that the students got off with community service.

There were also a few folks demanding to know why our newspaper didn’t do a story. One caller chastised us for not following WBIR’s lead. “Y’all are afraid of those rich Oneida parents,” he alleged.

My response? There aren’t many people I’m afraid of. In fact, when someone attempts to leverage their influence to cause us to not do a story on some particular subject, that makes me all the more likely to pursue a story, just to prove that the news can’t be influenced.

But if something isn’t news, it isn’t news. And senior pranks aren’t news. The students at Oneida High are hardly the first students to pull a prank like that, and they certainly won’t be the last. Did they go a little too far with their prank? Certainly. But there’s a pretty substantial gap between petty “vandalism” (I’m using quotes because I’m using the term very loosely here) that can be cleaned up with a broom and dustpan and vandalism that leaves lasting damage.

The latter? That’s newsworthy…well, you would think it’s newsworthy, anyway. But students at a high school not far from Oneida pulled a prank of their own recently — one that involved actual physical damage to school property — and it wasn’t reported on. Last year, another high school, even closer, saw the same thing take place. That one, too, escaped the watchful eye of news reporters.

Fact is, I learned about the incident almost as soon as teachers and administrators began arriving at school and discovered the mess Wednesday morning. I didn’t think it was newsworthy then, and don’t now. I just think it is what it was: a silly prank that went a little too far but isn’t going to shake the earth off its axis of rotation.

Then there are those who feel the students at Oneida got off too light. For what it’s worth, I’m told there were school administrators who were advocating for criminal charges to be pressed, and others who advocated for the lesser punishment. The latter won out.

My question is what sort of punishment would you think appropriate for a prank such as this? I would say make the students clean up their own mess, then let them do a little community service.

Which is exactly what happened. (And, for the record, the mess was cleaned up within a couple of hours.)

Seems appropriate to me.

You can argue “kids will be kids” — and they will, by the way — but pranks are only fun until someone gets caught. If you’re caught, there must be consequences.

But the punishment should fit the crime.

Reading some of the comments on social media, I saw several who said the kids should’ve been charged. Here’s the problem with that: these students aren’t juveniles. They’re 18 and 19 years old. Which means they would have faced those charges as adults…felony charges. If convicted, they would’ve never been able to vote, never been able to own a gun, not to mention the difficulty they would’ve had getting into college.

All that for spraying silly spring and dumping packing peanuts. Does that seem appropriate?

For some it does. In fact, some think even that wouldn’t have been enough. One woman, commenting on social media, said the students should spent at least a year in jail.

Seriously. A year in jail for dumping confetti in a school hallway. Because nothing teaches consequences for your actions like turning an honors student into a hardened convict as they’re starting their adult life.

“Today it’s vandalism at school. Tomorrow they might be robbing a gas station,” the same woman said.

Here’s the thing: I know most of those students. Was it a dumb thing to do? Of course. Would they be in even more trouble once they got home if they were my kids? You better believe it. But are they going to be knocking off a gas station next week? A lot of these hardened criminals are 4.0 GPA students who will graduate with honors…students who have never been in trouble in their lives.

Mountains out of molehills.

Closer to home, there have been a few who have argued that they got off light because of who their parents are. Or because they are “city kids,” as one woman said (read: if they were Scott High students, they would’ve been charged).

But that isn’t true, either. It’s just that there are some issues that, in the grand scheme of things, really aren’t that important, no matter how much social media blows them out of proportion. Students selling snacks at school, students dumping packing peanuts as a prank…those things aren’t important. Those things aren’t newsworthy. And those things hardly make our high school students here in Scott County a bunch of thugs or young criminals in the making.

I’m not so far removed from my own teenage years that I don’t remember doing stuff that I thought was pretty funny at the time that was really kinda dumb. And I’ll bet most of you could say the same. I remember once, as a high school student, going out and rounding up campaign signs during an election year, then taking them somewhere else and rearranging them. To my teenage self, it was good, harmless fun. In the eyes of the law, it was theft. If I had been caught, there would have been consequences to pay. But hopefully the punishment would have fit the crime.

So for those who feel that community service isn’t punishment enough, what would have been appropriate? Not allowing them to participate in graduation ceremonies? Making their parents pay a fine? Or, as some have advocated, a permanent stain on their record or even jail time?

I don’t know if cleaning up the mess was as much fun as making it was for the students, but considering that they got caught and it was them — not janitors or teachers — who had to pick it all up, it seems like the joke’s on the students.

But, then again, they made the news, and we’re all talking about it. This year’s senior class made a name for themselves that won’t soon be forgotten. So maybe the joke’s on all of us.

Either way, when these kids are off to college in a few months to begin their paths towards becoming doctors, nurse practitioners, dental hygienists and teachers–and doing so with honors–I’m pretty sure this incident isn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of things.

Well, except for the ones who go rob a convenience store because we didn’t lock them up and throw away the key for doing something stupid like dumping trash in a hallway.

THE LINE IS HIGH: Sportsbook 5Dimes has released its over/under win totals for the 2016 football season. Keep in mind, while preseason hype is pretty much worthless, the bookies want to make a profit, so these aren’t just numbers they’re pulling out of thin air. So what’s the O/U on Tennessee? 10.5 wins…and that’s based on the 12 regular season games only. That’s tied with LSU for most in the SEC.

There’s also this: ESPN’s Football Power Index sees undefeated Tennessee vs. undefeated LSU in the SEC championship game this December.

No summer in sight

If you’re waiting on summer — hot, dry weather for days on end — you’re going to have to wait until at least after the Memorial Day holiday period.

Obviously we are still several weeks away from summer. It doesn’t begin on the calendar until three weeks deep into June, and it doesn’t begin in meteorological terms until June 1. But May is the month that we typically begin to transition into summer in this part of the world, and it doesn’t look like that will be the case in 2016.

It’s been a very atypical start to this third week of May, with temperatures this morning starting out — just like yesterday morning — in the 30s across the northern Cumberland Plateau. This weekend’s late cold snap (Blackberry Winter or Whippoorwill Winter, depending on which old-timer you ask) wasn’t record-setting; our record low for yesterday’s date was 32, set back in 1972, and our record low for today’s date is 33, set in 1997. 

Nor was this weekend’s cold snap especially rare. We dipped into the 30s as late as May 20 in 2014, and May 28 in 2013. Since 1960, the average last date for temps to drop into the 30s in Oneida is May 19. 

Still, the combination of a lack of sustained heat and the off-and-on rainfall we’ve seen since the start of the month makes this a rather unusual month of May, although the numbers paint a picture of average through the first half of the month. 

And the models indicate that this pattern will continue through the rest of the month.

Currently, the GFS computer model is projecting almost 4.5 inches of rain over the next two weeks (and we could see rain every day this week with the exception of perhaps Thursday). The warmest temperature being projected by the model through next Monday is 75 degrees — which is average for this time of year, but, again, the lack of sporadic hot days is notable.

The GFS is showing a summer-like temperature pattern next week through the end of the month, with daily temperatures climbing at least into the mid 80s and some upper 80s thrown in. But the model has consistently been projecting hot temperatures in the long range, occasionally even projecting temps in the 90s. Until it begins showing these warm temperatures inside of a week out, we can assume that it’s still struggling with the pattern from 8-15 days out.

So if the current GFS is right, my headline and lede are a little misleading: we could actually see summer-like conditions during the run-up to Memorial Day. But there’s a potential storm system lurking around the entrance to Memorial Day weekend, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see drag another surge of cooler air into our region.

It’s worth noting that the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is showing a 70% chance of warmer-than-average temperatures for our region and the entire eastern U.S. for the days 8-14 period. 

While we experienced a very dry spell in April that was rather abnormal for one of the wettest months of the year, it’s obvious we aren’t going to go into a drought anytime soon with the recent rain we’ve experienced. And the CPC is forecasting that to continue, indicating wetter-than-average conditions for our region all the way through July.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING? That’s the question asked about the Chicago Cubs by ESPN’s Dan Szymborski.

So just how good are the Cubs? (And no, this isn’t a “How hot was it?” setup in which I give out a 1960s Borscht Belt punchline.) The Cubs have gotten off to a 26-8 start, in which historical comparisons become something of real interest. After all, in every season, there are some teams fighting for being the best in the league. But not every season features a team that ends up performing at a level where you need to compare them to the greatest teams of yesteryear.

I’ve been a Cubbies fan since I was old enough to know what baseball was and heard Harry Caray for the first time. So you should prepare yourself for a few Cubs posts if the Loveable Losers from the North Side continue their early-season run.

Making an issue where none exists

For the past month, the talking point of the ACLU types and their supporters in pop culture and the mainstream media has been that lawmakers in North Carolina and similar states are making a mountain out of a molehill by proposing new laws that prevent transgender people from using restrooms according to the gender they “identify” with. Their bathroom of choice hasn’t been an issue up until now, we’ve been told, so why should it be made an issue by conservative lawmakers?

But the Obama administration on Friday blew that theory straight out of the water by issuing guidance to public school systems throughout the nation on how the bathroom issue should be handled. In short, the Obama admin is advising school systems to let students decide which bathroom they want to use. Worse, it threatens to withhold federal funding from school systems that don’t comply.

Since turn-about is fair play, this has not been an issue up until now, so why should the feds wade into this issue at this point by issuing directives that aren’t needed?

This appears to be a clear case of overreach by the federal government, which is using unconstitutional powers that have been granted to it by this nation’s citizens for far too long. You’ll never hear me argue against fair taxation; it is what makes the world go round. But if it weren’t for the federal income tax, the feds would not have the power to strong-arm states into conforming to policies wished for by the White House, because there would be no funds to withhold in the first place.

Whether it’s Republicans or Democrats in Washington, the Beltway establishment has managed to build itself a foolproof enforcement tool over the years. Tax the nation’s citizens and private businesses, return those funds in the form of “aid” for things like roads and schools, then threaten to withhold those funds if mandates handed down from Washington aren’t complied with. It works, so long as states cower in the face of Washington’s threats. But when it comes to nonsensical issues such as this one, perhaps its time for states to draw a line in the stand, as Texas and North Carolina have threatened to do. If they stick to their guns, they’ll either be calling Washington’s bluff, or they’ll pay a heavy price for what could very well be the start of reform that’s long overdue.

In the meantime, you can’t help but wonder what the true motive is behind the faux outrage from politicians who are up in arms over the transgender bathroom issue.

As I’ve argued in the past, I tend to think that laws forcing people to use specific bathrooms are as pointless as laws that criminalize the carrying of guns into places like schools and banks. A pervert who intends harm isn’t going to be stopped because the symbol on the bathroom door is wearing a skirt, just as a robber isn’t going to be stopped because there’s a sign depicting a gun with a red line through it at the entrance to the bank.

I also tend to think that male pedophiles masquerading as men are just as big a threat to boys in the men’s bathroom as male pedophiles masquerading as women are to girls in the women’s bathroom.

Still, you can call me cynical if you like, but it’s hard for me to believe that there’s truly this much concern about an issue that impacts less than one-half of one percent of our nation’s population.

Perhaps, though, that’s because I don’t really understand the transgender movement to start with. Call me a bigot if you like, but why on earth is this an issue that’s being dealt with in our schools? Especially elementary or middle schools? I’ve seen stories saying that this issue will help resolve high suicide rates among school-age students who are transgendered. Again, perhaps I’m cynical, but I hardly see how the issue of which bathroom they’re using will help prevent suicides. However, I think that’s secondary to the issue of misguided parenting. I’ve read stories of kids as young as four and five who are being allowed to “choose” to act like the opposite sex. I’m sorry, but these kids need help, and instead of getting them help, parents are choosing to endorse this foolishness.

Yes, I said it. Blow up my inbox. Call me names. While I do not argue these points on religious grounds (though I could certainly craft a religious argument against transgenderism), we’re always told that science cannot be argued with. When it comes to the origin of life, science cannot be argued with. When it comes to the formation of the world, or its age, science cannot be argued with. When it comes to climate change, science cannot be argued with. When it comes to sexual preference, even, science cannot be argued with.

But on this issue, we’re told, science can be argued with. Because biology got it wrong. Jack was really supposed to be Jacquelyn, and Milly was really supposed to be Billy.

It’s foolishness at its very core. And now we’re being told that we should not only accept it but embrace it…that we should change all bathrooms to unisex bathrooms so that we can conform to a choice that is made by far less than one percent of the population. How absurd is that?

As I’ve said before, I’m quite liberal when it comes to gay rights. As a Christian, I believe that homosexuality is a sin, but as a human being, I also believe no one should be discriminated against because of their lifestyle. And while I would just as soon there be a federal law against same-sex marriage, I can’t come up with a reasonable argument against it.

But let’s stop confusing gay rights issues and transgender issues. These are not one and the same. And our rush to bend over backwards to accommodate such a tiny minority of the populous is mind-boggling.

We’ve been warned about it for years, and it appears it has finally happened: Our society has completely lost its mind.

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The dreaded ‘F’ word

The “F” word that gardeners dread yet rarely hear this time of year has crept into the forecast tonight: Frost.

Models have been trending colder with tonight’s temperatures for the past several days, and current output statistics from the trusty old GFS model suggest that we’ll drop to 34 degrees tonight here on the northern Cumberland Plateau. However, it had appeared that winds would remain “up” throughout the night, which would prevent any threat of frost formation as dawn approaches. Additionally, it looked like clouds would stick around, which would further limit frost potential.

But as the sun has set across the Cumberlands, the winds have begun to lay down and the clouds are beginning to clear somewhat. At 8 p.m., Crossville was reporting 10 mph winds, and lower-lying locations across the state were reporting winds generally between 5-8 mph. That’s enough to prevent frost formation, especially with marginal temperatures, but if winds become calm as the night progresses, that could spell at least minor problems for growers — at least in the usual cool spots that typically run a degree or three colder than most other locations. This would be especially true for sheltered locations such as valley locations along the plateau.

A bit earlier this afternoon, the two National Weather Service offices that cover the northern plateau had differing opinions on the frost potential.

NWS-Morristown, which is forecasting a low of 37 in Oneida, had this to say in its forecast discussion issued at 3 p.m.: “Appears some wind flow will persist most areas overnight, so no mention of frost in the forecast for now.” In an 8:30 p.m. update, the NWS said: “Temperature forecast looks on track with limited possibility of frost due to some cloud cover and a pressure gradient (my note: wind) that never fully relaxes overnight.”

But NWS-Nashville, which is forecasting a low of 36 in Jamestown, mentions patchy frost in its forecast, and issued a hazardous weather outlook to address the potential. It reads in part: “Patchy frost formation will be possible across the Upper Cumberland region late tonight.” In its afternoon forecast discussion, the NWS noted: “With the colder temps to the north, have lows tonight on the Plateau and northeast zones in the mid 30s, with even a few models showing lows getting near freezing. Put in mention of patchy frost as some areas may see the mid 30s long enough early Sunday morning for some frost to possibly develop in the colder prone areas.”

NWS-Jackson (Ky.), which is forecasting a low of 36 in Whitley City, has also issued a hazardous weather outlook to mention the possibility of patchy frost late tonight. It is predicting winds to become calm after midnight. In an 8:45 p.m. update, NWS-Jackson said that temperatures have already dropped into the 30s at mountain elevations above 3,500 ft., and that it is monitoring cloud cover to see if temperatures in lower-lying areas need to be adjusted downward.

For whatever it’s worth, the latest run of the GFS model has the northern plateau dropping to 30 degrees by dawn Sunday morning, although that’s likely several degrees too cold. The run preceding it dropped us to 33, and that was also most likely a couple or three degrees too cold. It’s also worth noting, though, that the GFS is easily the coldest of the major models. The NAM and the trustworthy short-term models keep us in the upper 30s to near 40 as dawn nears.

Bottom line: If you can bring in your sensitive plants, you might want to do so just to be safe. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you live in an area that is sheltered from the wind and where temps usually run a little colder than other places and you wake up to see a few burned tomato plants on Sunday morning. But all in all, it shouldn’t be too huge of a deal.

EXACTLY: A sign of how Trump would govern.

Back in February, Trump said about Amazon “if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” It was a charge he repeated this week. “He [Bezos] bought this paper for practically nothing,” said Trump, “and he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people … and we can’t let him get away with it.”

He also talked about changing libel laws to make it easier to sue newspapers. But his talk about Bezos is something else altogether. What he’s hinting at is that he would use the anti-trust division of the Justice Department to go after a newspaper publisher who writes stories that he doesn’t like.

Ed Rogers on the Obama administration’s bathroom manifesto:

The very idea that Washington has to manage how “Chris” goes to the bathroom is absurd. Period. There are some things American communities can sort out for themselves. And the colossal overreach of the letter is even worse than the headlines would have you think.

Everything about this manifesto displays a new level of know-it-all micromanagement from Washington, as self-righteous, aggrieved bureaucrats impose their worldviews on those who are otherwise trying to do important work — that is, teach our kids. Where no law exists, these two threaten good, honest people and institutions with litigation and a removal of funding if they don’t conform.

While I’ve never been a supporter of school choice, the Obama administration’s overreach on this issue is as firm an argument for vouchers as I’ve ever seen. It’s time for states to take a stand against what is little more than extortion from the federal government.

I don’t vote for a candidate I can’t support

Voting my conscience is worth more to me than voting for the lesser of two evils

I’m only old enough to have voted in four presidential elections, so I’m not exactly a seasoned voter. But it only took me a couple of those elections to decide that I will not support the “lesser of two evils” because I’m buying into the notion that a vote for an independent or third party candidate is a vote wasted, or a vote for the greater of two evils by default.

This tired old cliche resurfaces every election cycle — along with the claim that this election is the most important election of our lives; we can’t afford to get it wrong! — so it’s hardly a surprise that as spring turns to summer, we’re already debating whether we should forego pulling the lever for either the Republican or the Democrat.

In fact, considering that we’re saddled with two of the most unpopular nominees in American history in the same election, which is something of a political marvel in and of itself, it’s no surprise that we’re already hearing from the political in-crowd that we must support one candidate or the other. As surely as May followed April, the #NeverTrump movement is dissolving as conservative voters find themselves faced with the reality of a Hillary Clinton White House, and the young Bernie Sanders supporters who swore they’d never vote for Clinton are slowly migrating towards the former First Lady.

At the end of the day, I suspect liberal voters will coalesce around Clinton much more fluidly than conservatives will cozy up to Trump, which is one reason why I think Clinton is an overwhelming  favorite to win in November. It goes back to a point I’ve made in the past: the conservative movement is too badly fractured to be a favorite in any presidential election in the foreseeable future. Forget the changing demographics, which are clearly aligned against Republicans; the fact that the conservative movement consists of a social issues wing, a foreign policy wing and a fiscal conservatism wing, with single-issue voters on hot button topics like the environment and gun rights mixed in, means those who brand themselves conservatives will never be united, whereas liberals typically band themselves together. It’s why Mitt Romney couldn’t defeat a relatively weak Barack Obama in 2012, and it’s likely to be why Trump is defeated this November by perhaps the weakest candidate Democrats have fielded in 32 years.

But that isn’t stopping defenders of the support-the-lesser-evil movement from trying their hardest. GOP bosses are lecturing conservatives why they must warm up to Trump, even if they fundamentally distrust him, and now we even have leading Christians telling us why other Christians should support Trump.

Here’s the thing: I don’t blame any Christian who wants to vote for Trump. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t vote for Trump. When it comes to faith and politics, each of us much vote our own conscience. But when guys like Franklin Graham tell me that I, as a Christian, should vote for Trump — a man who is clearly not a Christian and who has expressed decidedly unChristian values — I can’t help but scratch my head.

The same goes for my conservative friends whose support for Trump has nothing to do with their faith. I’m not going to tell them they shouldn’t vote for Trump. I know a number of people who despise Trump, but they’ll vote for him because they despise Clinton even more. If that’s their choice, so be it. Far be it for me to tell them that they shouldn’t vote for their candidate of choice.

But as for me, I will not vote for someone who I cannot support. As Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro said last week: “I have certain lines I will not cross as a voter. Trump is beyond those lines, and so is Hillary.”

I’m not a party line voter to start with. I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats. My politics are hard to pigeonhole, because I’m quite conservative on some issues (gun rights, abortion), quite liberal on other issues (environment) and somewhere in between on still other issues (gay rights). Each time I go to vote, I decide which candidate best supports the values that I consider important. Most of the time, obviously, it’s an easy choice. Sometimes it isn’t.

Then, rarely, there is one of those races where neither candidate supports the values that I believe are important. This is one of those races. I’m still not sure how America came to be stuck with two presidential candidates who are so unsavory, but I know I can’t support either of them.

At face value, perhaps the single biggest issue this election — whether you’re a liberal or a conservative — is the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The balance of the court for the next generation is in the balance. Trump says he would nominate justices who would closely align themselves with my values, but Trump has said a lot and, frankly, he’s proven himself untrustworthy. Clinton has vowed to nominate justices who would certainly not align themselves with my values.

So with both those things considered, chances are that I would have to vote Trump if I were voting on the single issue of the high court. But what about foreign policy? As secretary of state, Clinton’s record was abysmal, which stands to reason that her foreign policy will be less than ideal. Trump, though, is such a loose cannon that there’s no guarantee his foreign policy won’t lead us straight into World War III. I don’t make that statement lightly.

That’s my predicament, and the predicament of millions of other Americans. When push comes to shove, though, most of those other Americans will align themselves with one candidate or the other, because we’re told at every turn that a vote for someone else is actually a vote for the greater of two evils.

My response to that? Nonsense.

We’ve heard a lot about the “establishment” in this election. Some of it is on-point and some of it is certainly not on-point. (I still chuckle every time I hear someone suggest that the establishment was supporting Ted Cruz so they could try to bring down Trump, while Cruz was sending out email blasts about the “Washington cartel” that was trying so hard to defeat him.)

But this much I’m sure of: Those claims from party insiders about how you must support the lesser of two evils…that’s nothing but the battlecry of the establishment. When a Republican tells you that a vote for a third party candidate is a vote for Hillary Clinton, or when a Democrat tells you that a vote for an independent candidate is a vote for Donald Trump, they’re employing the same tactics that they use every election cycle to maintain their power.

Millions of Americans, from either side of the political spectrum, share my view that both major political parties have failed us. Too many bigwigs care more about their stranglehold on Beltway power than they do about policy and ideology. Some of those who share this view remain committed to their party of choice, fixated on helping correct the party and turn it from its misguided ways. That’s admirable. But too many others who share this view simply continue to buy into the notion that a vote for anyone other than the lesser evil is actually a vote for the greater evil.

Here’s what I’ll do when November rolls around: I won’t stay home, because staying home is not an option for me. Too many Americans died for my right to vote, and I intend to exercise it every chance I get. But when I go to the polls, I’ll vote for someone who is not named Clinton or Trump. I don’t yet know who that candidate will be. If there is none suitable, I’ll write in a name. My conservative friends will tell me that my vote is actually a vote for Clinton, while my liberal friends will tell me that my vote is actually a vote for Trump. Both sets of friends will tell me that my vote is wasted.

On the latter point, they will only be right if enough Americans continue to be cowed by the party bosses who tell them they must pick a lesser evil and vote accordingly. But as for who my vote will really be for, it’ll be for me. It won’t be a vote for Trump, nor for Clinton. It will be a vote for Ben Garrett, for values he believes in, and for the direction he thinks his country ought to take.

The truth is this: America is more primed for the rise of a third party right now than at any point since Teddy Roosevelt’s day, a hundred years ago. In fact, it isn’t inconceivable that a third party or independent candidate could win the presidential election this year, when you consider the high unfavorable ratings that Trump and Clinton are both shouldered with. I don’t think that will happen, because we’re heading into June and no potential independent candidate has risen up. And because all of those voters like me, who refuse to vote for either major party candidate, have split ideologies and there’s no way they can all unite around a single candidate.

But there could be enough people thumb their nose at both the Republican and Democrat nominees that it sends a real wakeup call to both parties. Which might make a real difference in 2020, when we play this game again.

Maybe my vote won’t make a difference. Maybe it will be wasted. But I’ll vote my conscience. And that’s worth more to me than voting for the lesser of two evils.

RUSSIA SAYS ‘WE DOPED’: From the New York Times:

Dozens of Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, including at least 15 medal winners, were part of a state-run doping program, meticulously planned for years to ensure dominance at the Games, according to the director of the country’s antidoping laboratory at the time.

The director, Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran the laboratory that handled testing for thousands of Olympians, said he developed a three-drug cocktail of banned substances that he mixed with liquor and provided to dozens of Russian athletes, helping to facilitate one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in sports history.

In a related story, there are unconfirmed reports that Alabama’s Nick Saban has offered Rodchenkov a position on his coaching staff.

Better things to do

In Scott County, police allege that a couple left their 6-year-old child at the park while they were at home shooting up drugs:

Hawkins drove the child to his home at Slaven’s Trailer Park, and had him knock on the door. According to the warrant, a man yelled, “Shut up, son!” After having him knock again, Hawkins wrote, the man yelled, “I said shut up didn’t I?” Hawkins then knocked on the door himself, to which the man allegedly responded by yelling, “Damnit, stop!”

Whippoorwill winter?

If you’re keeping score at home, we had blackberry winter last week. So we’re up to whippoorwill winter, and that’s what appears to be headed our way for the weekend.

After a cold front passes through the region to end the week (we’ll experience rain and thunderstorms associated with that frontal boundary tomorrow), the GFS is currently projecting high temperatures of only 63 Saturday and 62 Sunday, with low temperatures dropping into the 30s Sunday morning.

That’s close to 15 degrees below normal for this time of year.

As is usually the case this time of year, the cool snap will be short-lived. But after some very warm weather (relative to average) in the middle of April, the theme of this spring is quickly becoming mild — if not a bit cool — temps. The GFS model is currently bringing the heat in quite strong as we close in on Memorial Day, with temps approaching 90 degrees. But the GFS has consistently over-estimated temperatures more than a week out this spring, so the current projection could be a continuation of the same.

I’M WITH BEN: The conundrum for #NeverTrump supporters:

Though others didn’t suggest they’d ever vote Clinton, they did make it clear they would remain steadfast against Trump. Conservative columnist and Daily Wire Editor-In-Chief Ben Shapiro told TheBlaze he will either vote third party or not vote at all.

“I have certain lines I will not cross as a voter,” he told TheBlaze. “Trump is beyond those lines, and so is Hillary.”

Snakes need loving, too

Whenever I suggest to someone that snakes should be left alone and allowed to slither on their merry way, they generally look at me like I have a third eye in the middle of my forehead.
It’s not unlike the look I get when I tell folks that it’s actually against the law to kill snakes in Tennessee.
As a child of the rural South, where slamming on the brakes and sliding one’s truck tires over a snake that is sunning itself on a gravel road is almost a sanctioned sporting event, my kindness towards snakes has been a lifelong evolution.
And as an adult who has had more than his fair share of close encounters with copperheads, it isn’t that I’m fearless of snakes. In fact, given my penchant for stomping through briar patches and rhododendron thickets to explore the backwoods, I will not be surprised when my luck finally runs out. I guess you could say that when it comes to me and snakes, there’s a healthy dose of respect involved.
The fact is, the practice of “the only good snake is a dead one” approach does more harm than good. More than 90 percent of snakes encountered by the average person are non-venomous. And all snakes — even the kind that can send you to the emergency room — serve a purpose, which makes them perhaps the most misunderstood critter that walks, hops, flops or slithers among us. And they are illegal to kill — which doesn’t matter to many folks, but it does make it hard to complain if the game warden writes you a ticket when he catches you cutting the rattles off a freshly-deceased snake in the middle of the roadway.

 

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DOLLYWOOD TURNS 30: Dolly Parton’s Sevier County theme park turns 30 today. And I remember — though vaguely — when it was Silver Dollar City. What does that say about me?