Monday, August 03, 2015

The Great Pretenders...

            When we were back at Millville Grade School, my old buddy Stinky Wilmont and I spent a lot of time pretending. During recess we pretended to be something we weren’t, and a lot of time when we were in class we pretended we were someplace else. Wherever we were, we spent a lot of time pretending we were cowboys. At that time they didn’t have astronauts, so we couldn’t pretend to be one of those. Fact was, our world view from Millville was somewhat limited, so there just weren’t a lot of options on what you could pretend to be.

          Our classmate Bernice Hawkins was insufferable when she pretended to be a princess, so most of the time Stinky and I just pretended we didn’t even know she was around. And like most kids, we were pretty good at it. We could pretend that a little stick was a six-shooter, and that a bigger stick was a rifle, and that an even bigger stick was a horse. I don’t think they make sticks like they used to. Or maybe I’m just not as good at pretending as I used to be.

          I don’t pretend nearly as much as I used to, and most of my pretending now amounts to pretending I can still do some things I used to do when I was younger, and usually ends up giving me an aching back, which I try to pretend doesn’t hurt.

          I think most adults pretend something occasionally, but some pretend more than others. A couple of months ago, I read a story about Rachel Dolezal, a woman who pretended to be black in order to get a position with the NAACP. I’m not sure if being black was a requirement for the job, but apparently pretending to be black was a disqualifier, and she lost her job. About 55 years ago, John Howard Griffin pretended to be black and wrote a book about it entitled “Black like me.” It sold over ten million copies. I guess pretending works out better for some than it does for others.

          Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner recently decided that he didn’t want to be a man anymore, and is pretending to be a girl. He now has a girl’s name, and some other things that girls usually have, so I think the pretending is easier, but he also has some things that guys have, which makes the pretending still necessary. The way I see it, he didn’t care when I was pretending to be a cowboy, so I don’t really care if he wants to pretend to be a girl.

          Last week I heard about a planet out there in the universe somewhere named Kepler 425b that NASA says is a lot like the earth. It could be, I guess. The problem is it’s 1400 light years away. Since a light year is about 6 trillion miles, that makes the planet about 8.4 quadrillion miles from here. A little farther if you live in New York. I won’t pretend that I have any idea what all exists in the vastness of space. Maybe there are some other planets a lot like earth. But I do think if you start telling me about what something is like 8.4 quadrillion miles away, we’re both going to have to do some pretending. I feel the same way about NASA as I do about Mr. Jenner when it comes to pretending, in that I don’t really care, except that NASA spent about $600 million of our tax money pretending to find 452b. I’m sure they could have pretended to find something a little closer to home for a little less money.

          Speaking of pretending and taxes, it takes a big portion of our taxes just to pay the interest on $18 trillion plus federal debt we now owe, and it will take a little more when it hits $19 trillion next year. Our elected officials like to pretend, and would like us to pretend, that it doesn’t really matter. But when we realize there is another $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities from the governments promised social programs, and when we see other nations like Greece and Argentina floundering under the weight of debt and out of control government spending, it’s getting harder and harder to pretend it can’t happen here.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Decisions, decisions, decisions....

I guess there are times when we need a decider. Like when we take one of our Granddaughters out for breakfast on Sunday morning, and ask her what she wants to order. We can start discussing it as soon as we get into the car and head to the restaurant, and we can keep discussing it while we make our way to our table, but invariably, when Jackie the waitress asks what she wants to eat, she freezes like a deer in the headlights, while the rest of us offer suggestions and reminders of what was discussed earlier. Her brother also has a little difficulty making up his mind about what he wants, but his solution is to order five or six different items just to make sure he gets something he wants.

            As it ends up, most of the time Grandma gets to decide, so that we won’t be late for church, or so that breakfast doesn’t end up costing more than Grandpa made last week. I don’t think it’s a new development by any means. Parents and grandparents have been deciding what children will eat since the beginning of time. As we get a little older, we get to make a few more restaurant decisions on our own. Even at home, sometimes my wife asks for my input concerning what I want packed in my lunch, or what I would like for supper.  I’ve reached the age where I can decide not to eat something I didn’t ask for,  but after nearly 40 years of marriage I’ve decided that if it doesn’t involve broccoli or raw peas, things will probably go smoother if I simply trust her decision.

            The fact that we are able to make more of our own decisions as we get older doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to always make good decisions. Last week I decided to eat an entire cherry strudel in one sitting. While it seemed like a good decision at the time, I decided that a pound of cherry strudel weighs a lot more than a pound if consumed right before bedtime. 45 years ago I made the decision to start smoking. A few years later I decided it was a lot easier to start than it was when I decided to stop.

            Still, good decisions or bad, I appreciate the fact that as adults in a free society, we should be able to make our own decisions, as long as those decisions don’t require us to initiate force against someone else. I’m glad that I can decide to go to church even if my neighbor decides not to. And while I wish more of my friends would stop smoking, I think it’s more important that they have the right to make their own decision.

            For a long time, our government has been making a lot of decisions for us that we ought to be making for ourselves, and in the last couple of weeks, the Supreme Court has been in the spotlight for making decisions about some of decisions other parts of the government have made. It’s disappointing that 535 elected people in Washington, or a couple hundred in each state, are making decisions about what we must or must not do in our private lives and affairs, without any Constitutional authority to do so. It is even more disappointing that we allow nine appointed judges, most of whom few Americans can name, to do the same.

            We will be a freer, as a people and as a nation, when we decide to limit the government and the courts to their rightful duties of protecting us from force and fraud, and start making our own personal decisions again.

             Now, what’s for supper?


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Down the rabbit hole....

      I’ve heard many times the Lord helps those who help themselves. I think that’s probably true most of the time, depending, of course, on what we decide to help ourselves to. Regardless, things usually work out better if we put forth a little more effort.  

     Last week, when I opened the shop door one morning to load the truck and get ready for work, a young rabbit decided he wanted to hop into the shop for some reason. I’m not sure why, since there isn’t anything in there to eat that would appeal to a rabbit that I know of, and it isn’t any warmer inside than it is outside. But he came in anyway, and despite my excited instructions to vacate the premises, made his way under or behind some workbenches and tool boxes, out of sight, but not out of mind.

     I picked up a 2 x 4 and banged on a workbench and an empty 5 gallon bucket while whistling my shrillest whistle, and then put a Slim Whitman album on the old shop stereo with the volume turned up while I retreated to the office to finish the morning’s paperwork. While I hadn’t seen the rabbit slip out the open door during my whistling fit, I was convinced few of God’s creatures, least of all a young woodland variety, would be able to weather an entire album side of Slim.

     So I closed the door and went to work, secure in the notion that fuzzy little buddy had made good on his escape, and was back in the great outdoors eating clover and avoiding coyotes. Confident I was, but not so confident that I didn’t open the door, pick up a 2 x 4, and give that bucket a couple of good whacks when I returned home that evening. I figured on the outside chance that the rabbit was deaf, or had really bad taste in music, and had stayed in hiding during the morning’s audio onslaught, he would surely be hungry enough by now to come out of hiding and make a dash for the open door.

     While I was convinced the problem had resolved itself when I left the shop that evening, I’m sorry to report that when I went to the shop the next morning, I was greeted by a dead rabbit lying in the middle of the floor. While I was relieved he had the decency not to pass in some obscure hiding spot where his rotting corpse would have been tougher to deal with in a few days, I was also disappointed that he hadn’t taken one of the many opportunities he had been given to live a fuller and longer life. But I also remembered he was a rabbit, and probably not prone to thinking of things beyond the moment.

     Speaking of the moment, at this particular one we’re 16 months or so away from the next Presidential election. We have about that many candidates who have thrown their hats into the presidential ring, waiting on some of us to weed them down to just one survivor. If recent history is any indicator, that survivor will be the one that convinces the most people he or she can help them out of whatever problem they currently find themselves in. And again, if recent history is any indicator, what actually will happen is that survivor will help maintain policies that take from one group of people and give to another group of people, making one group more angry and one group more dependent, all the time adding to a multi-trillion dollar debt that another group down the proverbial road will be expected to pay.

     I can’t help but believe that if the federal government was capable of helping us out, it would have done so already. While it might have a few legitimate and Constitutional duties and obligations, most of what it does nowadays simply puts us deeper in the hole. Fortunately, the Constitution also contains the 10th Amendment, which states that anytime the federal government oversteps its authority, the people and states can nullify its actions and decide how to best help themselves. 

     It’s something we need to seriously consider, before the door closes for good.


Saturday, March 07, 2015

More shades of gray...

     I'm going to be 63 years old in a couple of weeks, and I don't suppose it's uncommon for people my age to reminisce about how things have changed over the years. There isn't much that hasn't changed. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. And probably sometimes, it just all depends how you look at it.
We went for a drive last weekend, and saw three bald eagles in various locations along the way. Eagles are a lot like white-tailed deer in this area, in that 50 years ago there were hardly any of them around.

     A few years ago the deer started making a comeback, and a few years later the eagles did the same, although it seems the deer are still more plentiful than the eagles. I do enjoy seeing them both, probably more so the eagles because they aren't quite as common yet.One of the raptors we saw last weekend was rising out of a cornfield along the road, with a thrashing rabbit clutched in its talons. The scene made me think that as much as I enjoy the growing population of the stately birds, a lot of rabbits, this one in particular, probably don't share my enthusiasm. I imagine anybody who has lost a fender or a few bushels of soybeans to the increasing deer herds probably doesn't share my enjoyment of them, either.

     I'm convinced most things in our lives don't qualify as either completely good or completely bad. While there might be a few items or ideas in the world that have absolutely no redeeming qualities at all, I realize something I find repulsive might appear totally different to another person. Broccoli, for instance, comes to mind.

     Over the last couple of months, the discussion of school funding, and particularly the funding of public and charter schools, has been receiving a lot of airtime. It seemed to come up at least partly because our governor doesn't get along that well with our superintendent of public instruction. It's not my intention to question how Mike Pence and Glenda Ritz have gone about resolving their differences. Most of you likely have enough questions and answers of your own already.

     I have, however, noticed a great deal of animosity toward charter and private schools by many supporters of public schools, and I think we all need to question that animosity. Alternate forms of education are not being created and tested as a means to end public schools, as many would have us believe. They are instead expanding educational opportunities and choices for students and parents, along with new opportunities in home schooling co-operatives and online institutions.

     I'm a longtime supporter of educational choice, and I realize that doesn't mean we will all make the same choice. I wouldn't necessarily expect someone who is heavily involved in the public school system to share the same enthusiasm for school choice, but we shouldn't attempt to cast aspersions on one type of schooling in order to gain funding for another.

     In the end, we should be about seeing that each child gets the education that fits their needs best, and consider that different types of school might be what it takes to make that happen.

     And then maybe after that, in our spare time, we could teach some of these deer to leave the soybeans alone and start eating broccoli.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Getting used to it...

      The other day I was listening to a friend describe a truck/train accident that he had once witnessed. Apparently the semi was crossing the railroad track, but before the attached trailer could make it across, the train hit it, tearing it loose from the tractor and pushing it sideways down the track. He told how the trailer continued down the track, clipping off telegraph poles as it went along. I suppose referencing telegraph poles is a telltale sign as to which generation you belong too. My generation would probably have called them telephone poles if one of us had been telling the story. I suspect that one day my grandchildren will have no recollection whatsoever of telegraph or telephone poles, or the wires that connected the poles, along with the people that used them. Probably when I try to tell them about the poles and wires, they’ll look at me the way they do when I tell them about walking across the room to turn channels on the television.

     We had a similar situation last week with a doctor in the hospital. Dad was in for a few days, and the young doctor was explaining a test they were going to do on Dad’s heart. He told Dad they were going to perform an ultrasound, which would give them the same type of image he could see of his children when Mom was expecting. As I said, he was a young doctor. I guessed around 12 or 13, but my wife assured me he was at least in his early 20’s. I suppose he thought ultrasounds had always been around, and I’m sure they have been around as long as he has been a doctor, and probably as long as he has been alive. But when my brothers and sisters and I were born, the closest thing we had to an ultrasound was when the doctor would draw a stick person picture on the chalkboard in the waiting room.

      I think we have the tendency to accept what we are most familiar with as being normal. Another friend mentioned the other day that he thought it was rude of people to use their smartphones or kindles when they were in a social setting, but thought it would be more acceptable if they chose to read a book or newspaper in the same setting.  Another generational “tell”, I think. And while I have the tendency to agree with him, I also realize that many of the taboos my and previous generations think should remain in place will fall by the wayside like telegraph poles when the next couple of generations reach the “previous” status, and the new normal takes ahold.

     Truth be told, as individuals, we probably don’t have a lot of control over what is normal for society. We might have some control over what is normal for ourselves, and maybe some but not quite as much control over what is normal for our families. I think most of the time we have even less control over what is normal for the government.

     Last week, after a big snow storm out east, a report came out of Bridgewater, New Jersey, about a couple of young men who were walking around the neighborhood offering to shovel the snow from the sidewalks of homeowners. A couple of policemen stopped them and informed them that they were in violation of an ordinance that required them to obtain a permit from the town hall before doing any soliciting. I was happy that there was so much public outcry over the action that the police chief and councilmen in Bridgewater felt it necessary to apologize, trying to explain that there was a misunderstanding over both the intention and implementation of the ordinance.
     But it made me think again of how normal it is for the government to regulate so many things that they didn’t used to regulate, and wonder how many generations it will take before we accept that requiring permits for shoveling snow is normal, and the politicians won’t even apologize for it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Death and taxes...and government...

     I've heard it said that nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes. I always thought that was a pretty broad statement, because while everybody is going to die, not everybody is going to pay taxes. And there are a few other things that I know for certain, but it would take more space than I'm giving this post to list them, and besides, I just wanted to address one of the certainties of the afore mentioned taxes.

     The Department of Revenue shut down a business in Hagerstown this week because it didn't pay its taxes. Whatever the circumstances were leading up to the closure, one thing is certain. If you own a business, the government has first dibs on your money. What ever type of taxes you were supposed to be collecting for them, they want. If you haven't been paid by a customer, or if you had some unexpected expenses in your business and come up a little short, the government still wants to be first. Even if your kids have to go hungry, or you miss a payment to a supplier or the bank, the government still gets its share first.

     If you own a business, that's just the way it is.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Of all the luck...

            I’m not exactly sure what constitutes luck, but I feel I’ve had my share of it in my life. Some of it was good luck, and some of it was bad luck, and probably some of it wasn’t really luck at all, but instead just the result of some choices I have made along the way, both good and bad.

            I remember a time several years ago when I was helping my cousin put an engine back in his car. I use the term “helping” loosely, because I didn’t really know much about putting engines in cars, but I was there offering encouragement when it looked like things were going good, and pushing things that needed to be pushed, and pulling things that needed to be pulled, when they weren’t.

            The car was a big Oldsmobile of some kind, and the hood alone was bigger than a lot of the cars that are on the road today. The hinges for the hood were big pieces of angle iron fastened to big springs to help lift the hood when you wanted to look at the engine.  It was a lot easier to take the engine out and then put it back in if the hood was out of the way, so we had taken it loose from the hinges and put it over in the corner of the barn so it wouldn’t get stepped on.

            It was also a lot easier to get around the engine compartment if the hinges weren’t sticking up in the way, but they were welded to the firewall so you couldn’t really take them out very easily. You could get them out of the way a little bit if you were strong enough to push them down on the springs in the closed position, and once they reached the closed position, they would stay down on their own, until someone jarred them loose, at which time they would snap open with enough power and speed to lift the giant hood. They developed a lot more speed when the hood was over in the corner of the barn.

             As luck would have it, I wasn’t paying much attention to my proximity to the driver side hinge when it took a notion to snap to attention, and the end of the angle iron opened a jagged cut beside my right eye that required 13 stitches to close. Dr. Hollenberg, who sewed me up, and a lot of other people who didn’t, told me I was lucky, because if the hinge had been another inch to the left, I would have lost my eye. I figured if I had really been lucky, it would have been another inch to the right and thereby would have missed me altogether. Different perspectives on luck, I suppose.

            A businessman who I considered successful once told me that the harder he worked, the luckier he got. I thought he was confusing work and success with luck, but then again I thought maybe they were all inter-connected, so I never argued the point with him. I think most of us usually make our own luck and success, good and bad, and sometimes it just depends on how hard we are willing to work, and where we are standing at the time. And sometimes it just depends on whether or not we are paying attention.

Anyway, as we enter the new year, I hope we all have a chance to work for the success we want, and that we all have enough good luck to keep us encouraged, and just enough bad luck to keep us paying attention. Oh, and Happy New Year. And for what it’s worth, good luck.