Friday, January 20, 2017

The Presidential Medal of Freedom. Really?

A more humbled man I've never seen.
President John F. Kennedy created the award to be the civilian version of our military’s Medal of Honor.  It is to recognize going miles above and beyond anything resembling typical accomplishments and is an incredible honor and should only be awarded when truly merited.  Otherwise, it is like an actor winning an Oscar for being an actor.

According to Wikipedia, The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is the highest civilian award of the United States. It recognizes those people who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

The average annual incidence of award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is approximately 1 per every 20,500,000 adult U.S. citizens and those awarded with distinction are even rarer.

People who have been awarded the lesser award (without distinction) include Mother Teresa, civil rights leader Philip Randolph, the crew of the Apollo 13 mission, Margaret Thatcher, T.S. Elliot, John Steinbeck, Michael DeBacky, Tony Blair, Chuck Yeager, Norman Rockwell, and Stephen Hawking.

Barack Obama leads all presidents in awarding one of these medals with 123 recipients, including 16 activists, 8 Hollywood actors, 13 singers, Oprah and Ellen, Bill and Melinda Gates, 11 politicians plus Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, 12 athletes, and now smiling VP Joe Biden with the added bonus of “with distinction”.

I watched the ceremony and have never seen a more humble public servant than Ol Joe as he bowed his head.  It was a performance worthy of – well, an award for acting. I immediately tried to remember one thing Joe Biden has done in the last eight years that would make me say, “Well, he certainly has went above and beyond! Well done, Joe! So being me, I did research.

Well, he was a US Senator for 36 years. He voted to use force in Iraq when G.W. Bush was president. In his second attempt to run for president, he dropped out after securing only 1% of the Iowa delegates. He is the first Roman Catholic and Delawarean to be VP. (Note: I am scratching around including my bald head) He spearheaded the anti-drug use Czar program and we all know how successful that’s been. No, it appears Joe’s one characteristic that makes him special is his ability to talk himself in or out of almost anything. Add in the world class toothy grin and you have an exceptional candidate – evidently.

It was no surprise to me when I discovered his dad was a used car salesman. Like father like son. I am following my gut feelings after researching the man and that in this case the award is a total sham and adding in the extra bonus of distinction is a slap in the face of every deserving individual who was ever given this award. It reminds me of when Barack Obama was given the Nobel Peace prize for nothing more than a promise that he was going to change things for the better. Heckfire, Mr. Rogers had more of an impact on millions of Americans than these two self-serving representatives, yet did not receive either award.  I am surprised the president didn’t award Joe with a 9th degree black belt seeing he was feeling so generous.

Along with the most Presidential Medal of Freedom awards given by any president, Mr. Obama is also the guy who has commuted the most criminal sentences, which will put drug dealers right back on the streets.  As of today, he has lessened the sentences of 774 convicted felons, which is more than the last 11 presidents together. I wonder how this is going to benefit the average American.  The real kicker here is over 10% of these people used a firearm when they committed their crime.

It won’t affect his family though with his squad of secret service agents guarding them 24 hours a day while staying tucked away behind his new walled-off compound. He blasted Trump for wanting to stop illegal’s from coming across our borders and then turns right around and has a wall put up at his new digs. If you think I am making any of this up, check it out for yourself. On January 10th, 2013 he signed a bill into law guaranteeing SS protection for life.

This is just another display of Washington politics at odds with the voters. They heap awards and special benefits on each other and sip from the fountains of luxury vacations while working class America struggles to spend a few nights a year in a motel with their mate. The saddest note is they don’t even realize it. Fat cat politicians deserve what they got when Trump was elected.  Now both sides can lick their wounds and wonder if their job is secure. We, the people have had enough of their double standard.

The news reports every day that more and more company CEO’s are pledging to rebuild right here in the US of A and jobs are going to be created. I cannot see how anyone can see this in a negative light. Washington needs to quit awarding themselves with diluted medals for fictitious accomplishments and return to their roots and the people’s wishes. Kicking and screaming and threatening to cause disruption at the inauguration and afterward reminds me of the spoiled kid whose mom told him he can’t have a candy bar.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The folly of youth? Maybe not.

 Using little more than their imagination, do children still play in the make believe world that was so dear to my generation? Our imagination was so finely tuned that Peter Pan had nothing on us. Of course there were no electronics available or we might have fallen into the same trap our kids now accept as normal childhood development.

Not to be indelicate, but we grew up post-World War II and the forgotten Korean conflict and even though I cannot remember ever fighting an imaginary Korean Commie, my 3 brothers and I sent a lot of “Japs” and multiple thousands of “Krauts” to an early demise and we went to war with them very often and for a good number of victorious campaigns.

Our favorite rifle was quite often a stick and not just any stick, but a hand-hewn stick that each of us took pride in selecting. On a daily basis, we would watch Sergeant Saunders of the TV series Combat and this would recharge our imaginary fantasy batteries.

While we lived on the corn farm in Michigan, we spent hours in the high cornrows patrolling and often sustained heavy casualties that we rapidly recovered from. Now I don’t know what you imagine when I say playing in growing corn, but it can be a very scary place. A lot of animals and reptiles live in a corn field, including snakes, turtles, fox, deer, raccoons, and coyotes and besides all that, it is very easy to get turned around and lost. Needless to say, it was the perfect place to play army and fight the crafty Huns.

Moving to the suburbs of Toledo, Ohio, we found ourselves immersed in deadly urban warfare which pitted a good number of soldiers to help us along with the same number to be “the enemy”.  In the city we all carried plastic guns or Cadet Rifles and the evening war began each night when it was too late to play baseball and lasted until about 8:30 pm when our Mom’s would call us home. I can say without bragging that these city boys didn’t have much of a chance against the band of brothers who cut their chops in the corn rows of south Michigan.

By the time Junior high rolled around, we were still hard at it and spent hours upon hours in the piney woods of North Georgia hunting the Boche and believe it or not there was still evidence of the Civil War battles in those hills. We would run commando style from pot hole to pot hole, where either cannon balls had blown a hole, or soldiers had dug down for cover.

We knew every crook and nanny on the trails through the bushes and dense thickets like we were on a sidewalk and where exactly the ambush we be so it didn’t catch us by surprise. If it did, we would all make gun fire noises in the true style of a cross between the monkey house and the blistering gunfire of the Jeep mounted machine guns of the TV series Rat Patrol. What I’ve described thus far is only a small portion of the games we played that took us outside the house and didn’t cost a dime.

When we lived in Ogden, Utah it was very hot and there were cactus and succulent type plants, as a lot of other vegetation would not grow. Our house set on a hill and abruptly behind it was a 60 degree slope that dropped down about 20 feet. My 3 brothers and I would take off our shoes and basically slide down this sandy hard-packed slope onto the desert floor and lifting each foot to keep from burning it, attempt to run up that 60 degree slope. Sometimes it took 4 attempts and we would grab the brother and help him up. It hurt like the dickens… but what fun! We would then dip our feet in cool water and do it again. Now that I think of it, the sand was probably about a 120 degrees.

Did I mention Wiffle ball? Does the Wiffle ball still exist? We played it whenever there were too few of us to play regular baseball or on the suburb streets under the street light (when Fritz wasn’t around to shoot at us). What a great game and at my present advanced age, I could probably still be a contender (as long as Jim Finley wasn’t on the other team.) I imagine Ol Jimbo has played his fair share of the tricky game and would snuff out my attempts at personal glory.

Mom’s and Dad’s back in the day didn’t feel obligated to provide every luxury under the sky for us and for the most part, couldn’t afford it if they did. We found ways to entertain ourselves and everything worked out just fine. The trophies we got, we actually earned. The money we had come from recycling soda bottles, or mowing lawns. Most of us grew up with rich imaginations ready to move out when the time was right and make our own way and most of us have prospered… after 30 or more years.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Regrets? Yea, I have some.

It was once said of Vince Lombardi: "He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation." Lombardi would later write, "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get back up."

According to Wikipedia, "He is best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s, where he led the team to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years, in addition to winning the first two Super Bowls following the 1966 and 1967 NFL seasons. Lombardi is considered by many to be the greatest coach in football history."

I’ve written about it before that I actually met Mr. Lombardi’s granddaughter while I was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force base. A few days after I processed into the squadron, a fellow airman asked me if I had met Airman First Class Lombardi and I replied “No.”  He went on to describe her as a snooty-tootie who loved to throw that amazing pedigree around and like the idiot I sometimes was, I bought into it. Well, it turned out to be true to a certain extent and sure enough, the second sentence out of her mouth after she boastfully introduced herself as “I am Vince Lombardi’s niece.”

The next sentence out of my mouth, I regret to this day with no possible way to make it right and it was rude and profane and something along the lines of I had no idea who that person was.  Now, she was very cute, with a pixie blond hair-do and possibly, if I had been properly amazed, I might have dated her, but that is beside the point. Needless to say, I don’t believe we ever talked again.

I knew danged well who the great coach was and I let some dimwit Airman prep me to be obnoxious. Thinking back, if I wouldn’t of had that first conversation, the second would have went something along the lines of, “Cool!  That’s amazing!” and I wouldn’t regret that stupid sentence.

Again looking back over my life I want to try and make up for some of these blunders and social mistakes I’ve committed and that brings me to the real gist of this column – doing good and righteous acts. It is a brand new year and I guess this could be considered a resolution, but I’m going to call it a challenge instead. For starters, I donated blood on January 2nd and double-red blood cells at that. I have a rare antigen in my blood called CMV- and my blood often is used the same day I donate. It goes to babies and people with a challenged immune system, so big points for me on the good scale, right?

My personal challenge for 2017 is to once a week commit a totally unselfish act that makes a positive impact on mankind in general. Now I am not talking about holding a door at Macy’s, as I already do that kind of stuff. I’m thinking bigger, like paying for someone’s order in the line behind you, or having flowers delivered to someone who is depressed.

At an indoor cycling spin class I taught in Meyerland on Wednesday, I challenged the class to do this very thing and I will continue this practice every time I instruct a class for the rest of the year. Like the boy in the movie Pay it Forward, I realize if I can enlist help, it could make a real difference in those around us. Exercise your body and enrich your life by promoting mental and physical well being, right? That’s the idea anyway.

When I say bigger things, I don’t mean they have to be, as DT says, “Huuuuge!” It just needs to have an impact on the person who receives it. A measure of this is if they get your “gift” in the morning, they are still basking in it later in the day. It could be a 2 dollar tip to the lady in the 15 items or less check-out who makes 8 bucks an hour for her thankless job. She goes home everyday and her feet hurt. You helped her make 10 dollars for that hour and she remembers it and tells her husband.

I have some inexpensive cotton gloves and the other day when we had a cold snap, it was also garbage day. I noticed one guy had no gloves and the other had a pair that had seen better days. I gave them both a pair and they called me sir and thanked me. I like to bring bottles of water to them in the heat of summer too, so it is these little things that truly make the difference in a person’s day.

What say you? You want to join me in making a better world?

Friday, December 30, 2016

The honeymoon is probably over

If you have been married for any real length of time, you have learned to live harmoniously for the most part, right? If you haven’t then, stop reading right now, as you have a lot to learn about long term relationships and this will not help you with that.

As a certified spouse, I probably would describe myself as handsome, fairly predictable, and not all that hard to live with and would get “that look” from my bride, especially if I rendered this buffoonish (baboonish?) depiction of myself in her favorite company, namely her BFF’s, known as her Yah yah’s.

They are a close knit group and once a quarter they meet for inspirational devotions and fellowship and to pray for their spouses and friends – her words, not mine.  I suspect their friends get a free pass (read Indulgences) and their mates the real scrutiny (again, I am simply speculating here).

I call it a surfeiting food fest with copious amounts of profoundly righteous gossip, but that I guess is open for interpretation (read downright objection). I reckon they tell their Yah yah’s everything about their husbands that needs correcting and after an intoxicating amount of fattening foods and homemade sweets; they get down to the serious business of interceding for their hell-bound spouse’s aberrant souls, especially me most likely. Now here’s the coup de grĂ¢ce, they then exchange gifts, consisting of interesting junk none of them would personally buy. Like the kings visiting the baby Jesus, I presume, but I may be off on that aspect, like all my other observations of the married fairer sex.

Now I must assert that I have hundreds of good points, but usually am in the dog house over something and that may have happened three days ago or longer. Who knows? I surely don’t and that’s the truth. I generate fodder for the quarterly Sabbatical like a spewing wood chipper at the hands of the people who trim trees for the power company. The truth is it is because I am a man. There. I said it. Those of us that enter into a contract of blissful holy matrimony are doomed from that unspecified time following the honeymoon until death do us part or the wife finally has had enough and kicks us to the curb.

Thank the good Lord we may possibly be redeemed by our devote Yah yah’s through much caloric intersession and well-meaning scrutiny and exhaustive confession.

The intricate female brain’s upward spiral in matrimony starts shortly after the honeymoon with her barren wardrobe and it will never get truly stocked. The honey-do list is four leagues long and after each laborious task is checked off, two more are penciled in after it. This is not only one of the hidden and sacrosanct statutes buried in the sacred vows, but a heinous conundrum that after nearly 40 years of marriage, still perplexes me. Why is it women feel compelled to make lists of things for their husband to accomplish, but the husband never has a single item on their list for the wife? Not a single one.

The bathing area, tub, shower, and cabinets have forty-seven thousand little bottles of various solutions and scents and I have a bar of soap, a single container of shampoo and what us Southern boys call a warshrag. I can deal with it until my tiny space get buried by all that stuff she simply has to have! I was informed one day after making a mild and meek suggestion that there may just be a possibility that there could be a little bit too much there. “I am a woman and I need that stuff and besides, most of it was given to me by my Yah-yah’s and you wouldn’t understand!”

Blam! She threw down the Yah-yah trump card, which incidentally weighs close to an Armenian metric ton in reasoning and finality. Like I’ve said, I’ve been married long enough to know when to yell calf-rope and I backed away with both hands held high, but this brings us to the gist of this column. I also know (believe) when to draw the line and I’ll explain.

I always have insisted that I have a green toothbrush and she was free to explore the many colors of other teeth-cleaning color combinations, but what do I find when I open the drawer?  Two green toothbrushes and the second one is hers!  Blasphemy and by golly I threw up the red flag (not literally mind you).

I marched right into the living room and demanded an explanation.  I mean this is an open travesty of a written in stone rule that has been in place for almost 4 decades.  “Oh, I got that free at Doctor Platt’s office the other day, mine is in the other drawer.  Rats, out-foxed again. Oh Lord, is there still hope for us married men?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Brrrr to me is not Grrrreat!

When I came into existence we lived in what is now frigid Michigan and the nearest hospital was in northern Ohio, so the city of Toledo got to witness my entrance. It was the beginning of summer and sunny and to this day, that is how I prefer my weather.

In the past we have enjoyed two months of near-perfect weather; October and April. Our usual rain or high humidly has been negated by dry air from the north and facilitates outdoor activity unmatched the rest of the year. This year it didn’t play out like that and last year wasn’t much of a match either. This brings us around to the recent 38ish cool front and my intolerance for cold temperatures.

I have been cold a good number of times in my life and quite frankly, experienced life threatening plunges in my body temperature. Sounds melodramatic doesn’t it, but I’m not exaggerating. To those of us who have never experienced the inability to maintain our 98.6 degree body temperature, it is extremely painful and even worse when you try to warm back up. You will literally cry from the pain. This condition becomes life-threatening when your inner body goes below 95 degrees. On the other end of the scale, being hot is simply uncomfortable and like you, I have experienced my fair share of that.

My three brothers and I ice skated with our backs to the wind up the Little Raisin river in the early 60’s until we were miles from home. We skated so far that we ran out of river and when we tried to turn back, the wind was too fierce. We were frozen and disoriented and crying. We finally abandoned the sliver of iced-over river and got up on the farm road where a passing motorist loaded the four of us and drove for about 30 minutes to get us home.

My mom, having no idea where we got off too, was too relieved to be angry, but wisely ran a tub of tepid water and began the process of thawing us out. Now before you judge her, understand that back in those days, farm kids played outdoors all day unsupervised and only came home to eat. The water felt scalding hot and we suffered through the process of getting our body temperatures back to normal.

Roll forward a few years and this was repeated when we lived in Morgan, Utah and the temp dropped below zero while we went off owl hunting with a neighbor boy. I vividly remember screaming in pain and crying as I thawed out. I also remember how angry my mom was at that neighbor boy. Another thing to note is that any kid growing up in snow country can tell their own horror stories about being cold.

Moving back to Ohio, the 4 of us skated far out on the frozen Ottawa River and once again the wind blew us so far away that my third brother just gave up and lay down on the ice to die. Again this sounds melodramatic, but I assure you under those conditions of hypothermia, you do not think straight. My other brothers and I struggled with him to get to shore and then walked in our skates the 5 blocks to our street with our skates on.  We were too cold to change into our shoes and the painful warming up process was repeated.

While serving in the US Air Force in Great Falls, Montana I was subjected to 5 twelve-hour nights of shoveling snow around the missile silos under the night sky, only to repeat it one day after returning. Understand that there are no trees to stop the constant wind on the Great Plains. We were under blizzard conditions and the fear of a sudden thaw meant water could drain down around the hundreds of Intercontinental Missiles and possibly flood them.  The decision was made to load up airmen and give them snow shovels and remove the snow that had drifted around the giant cement pads that covered each and every missile silo. Each pad covered 1 missile and each pad was miles from the next.

Now I had seen the map on the commanding General’s office wall and there were about 1500 Minuteman missiles under his command and by golly, I think we got every one of them. Initially we flew out in the middle of the night in helicopters and were dropped off on the Great Plains and it was so cold, we all thought we would die before morning. We would dig one out and low and behold, a stake bed deuce and a half truck would roll up and load us like cattle to drive to another silo. We were shoulder to shoulder in the back of that freezing open air truck bed only to dismount and dig out another.

My geocaching/kayaking friends make fun of me when I don’t want to go out on the water if the temp drops below 70 degrees, but I simply do not like being cold.  I have been elk hunting and fallen asleep in my mummy bag, only to awaken and the entire sleeping bag would be under an inch of snow. The goose down inside the bag kept me fairly warm, but that is one sight I don’t care to see again.

The word is that this Christmas, our temperature will be around 70 degrees and most likely sunny and I couldn’t be happier.  I think it was right after Christmas in 1976 that 2 of my 3 brothers and I worked a shutdown in Pasadena and it was 14 degrees. I would have burned a Yule log for warmth if I could have. Merry Christmas my friends, remember the reason for the season, and stay toasty and comfy.

Friday, December 16, 2016

I ain’t giving you a dollar

 At least once a week I am reminded by a news story or online video about a subject that has become a daily occurrence in every city, school, or neighborhood in the US of A. It’s one that parents fear, kids hate, and no one seems to be able to get a grip on what exactly we need to do to stop it. Yup, its violent coercion and we simplify it by calling it bullying.

The cruelty of harassment has been around since the Garden of Eden and it would be a fantasy to believe it will ever stop. Intimidation is a deviant art form that is developed by trial and error and finally success until the perpetrator has it down pat. Like the professional football player, by the time they come into their twenties, they’ve been playing this game for many years. There is only one action that can put an abrupt kink it its development and it is a most effective tool. Resistance.

“Sorry I ain’t got no money.
I’m not trying to be funny, but I left it all at home today.
You can call me what you wanna I ain’t giving you a dollar.
This time I ain’t gonna run away.”

According to the King James Bible, it even works on Lucifer. “…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” I’ve written on this subject before, but please bear with me, as this is a subject that screams to be repeated and the intended audience is every person reading this column. Bullying goes on in every country and every stratum of the social world; from powerful politicians and world leaders to the street urchins living in the sewers of a Third World country.

Children learn at a very young age to force their will upon others and most of us learn along the way, that there might just be a better method of getting what we want – some don’t. They continue to hone their compulsive skills throughout adolescence and enter adulthood seasoned veterans of maltreatment of those they believe are weak. Often they carry this philosophy into the workplace and through deceit and subtlety, arrive in prime positions to practice their skill. You know exactly what I am talking about and know many instances of people just like this.

“You might knock me down, you might knock me down.
But I will get back up again.
You can call it how you wanna, I ain’t giving you a dollar.
This time I ain’t gonna run away, run away, run away.”

This perception of weakness draws them out like a vulture to carrion. It is as irresistible to them as a delicious treat to a child. They lust and feed on it and this is the same behavior criminals feed on when they rob a clerk or an unsuspecting person at an ATM or a parking lot. When a person appears unaware or timid, it sparks this deviant fire inside them and they compulsively attack to feed.

When a shopper returns to their car with their keys in their hand and are visually scanning the parking lot, the bully dismisses them for wont of an easier target. The same goes in the school hall when they butt up against someone and that person straightens their back and loudly confronts them. The difference here is the school bully hasn’t developed their skill enough to know when to stop and this is why you may just take a beating when you resist – the first time. If you continue to resist, they will find someone who they believe won’t and leave you alone and that is the gist of the song I am quoting.

Resistance to bullying is the only answer and compliance to their wishes more times than not will only result in something negative for you. Am I saying if a person sticks a gun in your face you should fight them? No, I am not, but try and put yourself in a position where this scenario doesn’t happen. Don’t be caught unaware due to your cell phone, or blindly putting yourself at risk. Remember, the school bully philosophy is the same as the gun-toting criminal; it has just violently evolved to this level.

“This time, this time.
This time, this time I ain’t gonna run, run, run, run, run.
Not this time, not this time.
Not this time.
Not this time.”

With the Christmas season upon us, be a smart shopper and if at any time you feel like you have been targeted, turn around and go back to your car or into the store and call for assistance. Educate your children, as they are more distracted than at any time in our history. Don’t be a target and if you are, by all means resist.

Lyrics No money - Galantis

Friday, December 09, 2016

Buying American will not be an easy path

 American consumers have both poor memories and the ability to quickly adapt to inferior “improved” products. We express our displeasure to each other, but continue to purchase the less than improved items and before long, they become the new standard. We adapt and move on. A good example is the plastic bag inside a box of cereal. At one time it was easy open wax paper or a plastic product that came apart with an ease a 5 year old could accomplish.

Try to open one of these bags now without a pair of scissors and you will need a broom and dustpan. A personal trainer friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a perfect example of this phenomenon. “Evidently my muscles are only good for lifting weights, as I cannot get the wrapper open on my protein bar.”

Aside from a boycott, competition is the best way to keep any one company or country from making too much money. The biggest richest company in the world right now is the Communist government of China. They finance, oversee, control, subsidize, and back everything made in China.  Like Disneyworld in Orlando, all roads lead to their coffers. They dump their goods on the USA while taking very little back except maybe our cigarettes. We do have the best tobacco and they haven’t yet learned how devastating smoking is to their health. Another truth is a lot of the products brought here do not translate well from their perspective to ours.

Here is what I think will happen if Donald Trump effectively levels the trade playing field with foreign countries and forces American companies to build American only and be warned, it will get very ugly. I say ugly not because I think it is the wrong thing to do, but because our country lives on instant gratification and perceived deals. I’ve already pointed out that quality can be compromised, as it interferes with our gluttonous need for instant gratification. “We want what we want and we want it now”, said Jim Morrison and he couldn’t have been more right.

Initially we will see a sharp rise in prices on imported goods, which will generate a lot of negative feelings with the press and the consumer. The replacement American produced products will cost more for basically the same stuff as we were getting from China and other mass-producing countries as American companies scrabble to meet the customer demands.  There may be quality issues involved, which will be eliminated when competitors enter the fray. There will be 3-4 year period of time where almost anything we bought from these countries costs more. As we agonizingly adjust, Trump’s policies will be hammered ad nauseum, but there is a silver lining awaiting us.

The first business to collapse will be the dollar stores. Wal-Mart, the once all American store will take a giant hit, as will other import-heavy businesses.

Competing American companies will be the logical answer to prices dropping and this could take every bit of 4-5 years. In the meantime, we will see a more balanced distribution of monies to the workers and company profits will peak, and then level out as the world market adjusts. It goes without saying that countries like China will scream foul as the elephant riding the bicycle can no longer keep moving forward. Heck, they’ve already started crying foul. They may even threaten to go to war with us.

American entrepeneurialship and creativity will result in innovative products we long forgot were even available, like an actual vent on a gas can, so it doesn't burp out all over the place when fueling the lawn mower. Instead of cheap junk that only adds to the other substandard stuff we accept as quality, we will see pioneered and competitive products offered and if they can’t live up to expectations, another company will build a better one.

I once again go back to the current Chinese-made gas can. The spout is not built to pour. It is a flexible piece of tubing that degrades in about a year and spills gas all over everything when pouring. The crux of the matter is, this is all that is available, because all of them come from China. American companies don’t even try to compete, because you can just go buy another cheaply made one.

Now mind you, this American innovative change will not happen overnight and there will be a lot of perceived pain, suffering, and sacrifice as we adjust to not getting our cheaply-made baubles when we want them. In some areas we will see a price reduction as we become less dependent on foreign products, namely fossil fuel derivatives. Possibly agricultural products will also see a reduction in prices as farmer’s markets will compete with grocery stores. We have made other countries and governments rich beyond all reason by purchasing or outsourcing so many products and I do believe Donald Trump is on the right track. I may have to cinch up my belt a notch or two while it all comes about, but I understand the need for it.

Lop-sided trade deals that favor every country but ours, needs to stop and the sooner we renegotiate these contracts the better. To sum up one logical person, “This ain’t no way to run a business.”

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Wild Wild West

My Bride and I were on our way to the gym the other day and had stopped behind a car in the center lane at North Main and Massey Tompkins. The car in the right lane was evidently going to go straight and when the green arrow came on signaling opposing lanes could turn, the car in front of us blasted off and turned right in front of the stopped car beside it.

Now mind you, a car was making the turn from the opposing lane and they nearly collided. My Bride and I both made loud exclamations of disbelief, not having seen such reckless driving in recent times. The very next day, I am on the opposite side of the road, wanting to drive north and get a sub sandwich. I had missed the green arrow and came to halt as the cars beside me crossed North Main and moved onto Massey Tompkins.

The light turned yellow, then red and about 5 seconds later, a small blue car blew through the intersection at about 40 miles per hour, stopping the flow of traffic from both directions. In the Chemical Plant vernacular, this would be cited as a “near miss” incident. The reality of both acts of careless driving is at the very least there would have been a terrific accident with major vehicle damage.

I’ve written about the obvious distracted driver issue before, but both of these incidents involved impatience and most likely really crappy driving decisions some idiots are making. I could use better words than crappy and idiots here, but they cover both sentiments quite well. On my way back from teaching a 0530 Spin class in Meyerland the other morning, I witnessed a wreck on the 610 Loop.

The road was heavily congested heading into town and I was in the free-flowing east bound side, when a car tapped their brakes on the west bound side. This started a chain-reaction, as all of the cars were tail-gating each other, until one slammed into the back of the one in front of it.  They were out in front of me a bit and I watched in amazement as the whole west bound side began to come to a stop and I am talking about every lane. Of course we all slowed down, because people have to rubber neck, but before we got back up to full speed the amount of stopped cars began to expand.

This careless act of tail-gaiting most likely stopped or slowed traffic for over an hour. Months ago, I did quite a bit of research on this phenomenon and posted 2 videos on my web page: with the hopes that drivers would watch them and learn how they can help stop this aberrant and dangerous behavior. Back in the day when pushing the brake peddle may or may not stop you, drivers didn’t rely so heavily on them and I often think that people don’t connect the dots on the fact that they are hurtling down the road in a 2 ton missile.

One of my brothers asked me if I had changed out my brake pads, as he planned to repair his own Jeep Wrangler’s brakes. I told him I had no need, “as I don’t use my brakes very often”. I coast a lot, keep my distance, and allow the Jeep’s drive train to auto-slow me down. I am also old school enough to actually watch the road a quarter of a mile ahead as I drive. Am I perfect?  Nope, but I’ve never caused a wreck in 49 years of driving. To take this one step further, I watched another video, which is also on my website, about how one driver can decongest a traffic jam on the freeway.

I was skeptical at first, but low and behold, it actually works. I made it part of my driving strategy and I no longer feel the angst that is common in these situations. I maintain my distance between me and the vehicle in front of me. If someone wants in, I let them in and adjust my distance. It doesn’t sound like it works, but it does. People wait until the last second to get over to their turn-off and no one will let them in and this starts the chain reaction of braking. I let them in and there are no brake lights flashing.

The simplest way to describe the solution is for people to follow the basic rules of the road. If everyone kept their proper distance, actually paid attention, and kept the speed limit, there would be few traffic accidents and road congestion. The whole speed up and stop scenario we see on Garth Road and our freeways would all but disappear. The need to constantly change lanes to move up one car mentality would be gone also.

Stay safe out there folks. I have a feeling it is only going to get worse. People just won’t take time to do a little research and then there is the me, me, me mentality that would prevent them from changing anyway. Oh!  One more thing.  That green light doesn’t mean that you don’t need to look both ways.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The smallest amount of kindness

Recently I was helping another Group X fitness instructor add an entry into the work order system at the gym.  For the longest time when a piece of equipment was in need of repair, it was pushed to the side, only to be discovered later that it was broken. The reason for this was word of mouth simply wasn’t getting the equipment repaired. The solution was to write a work request and create a digital paper trail and the instructors were unaware they were the first cog in this process.

I hired in as an instructor at the beginning of the year and with my background in logistics and computers, I rapidly latched on to this maintenance system and decided to share this knowledge. Along the way, we saw a marked improvement in functioning equipment. As I pointed at the computer screen, I told the other instructor what went where and then “in this box, write exactly what is wrong and then add the words thank you.”

“Why do I need to do that?” they asked, referring to the last two words.

“Because you want them to know their work is appreciated?” I queried and I saw the light go on. Now mind you, this person is smart, a quick thinker, a devoted parent, and an overall good person with real values, but for some reason, they missed a simple common courtesy that would turn a demand into a request. The repair person will surely notice and look to see who wrote the request and it will add up in that person’s favor.

I am an aggressive alpha personality who sometimes feels like a coiled spring – well, pretty much all of the time. At red lights, I watch the light and am ready to explode out of the gate and have to slow myself down to the normal response time of people around me. At times it is agonizing and only my advanced age helps me cope with how slowly people react. If I were in ten cars at a left turn lane and the light turned green, on any given day I could most likely get all of them through it before it turned a good yellow. By good, I mean it hasn’t turned red mid-intersection.

But as a victim of other people’s sluggish reaction, I risk running the red light after 3 cars. This is life in a world with so many distractions, it’s a danged wonder we can safely drive at all.  There is nothing I can do to change this behavior, so this is how I give back. I allow traffic to keep moving.

I routinely drive on Massey Tompkins Road and often turn left onto Barkuloo Road. By turning deep into the turn lane, it will trigger the magnetic strip under the road and stop westbound traffic. I doubt if oncoming traffic realizes what I am doing, but if no one is behind me, I’ll deliberately hang back and let all those cars pass before I trigger the light. It’s my way of giving back. Knowing I do it is reward enough for me. I feel good about myself afterward.

I like to shop at Food Town on North Main Street. I routinely push a shopping cart into the store instead of walking past the many that litter the parking lot. I usually pick up a little trash on my way in too and drop it in the cans at the door. Sometimes I push in 2 or more carts. When I push my cart out to my Jeep, I leave it there. I could push it across the lot I guess and put it in one of the spots dedicated for temporary storage, but because I pushed one in, I don’t feel bad about leaving it where I parked. And then there is the trash I picked up as an extra bonus to the store. This also makes me feel good.

What does the Bible say about the little foxes?  Aren’t they the ones who spoil the vines? Yup and inversely, it’s the little acts of kindness that reap the largest overall rewards. Implementing them is the hardest or easiest part. It takes a plan for those of us who are flying through life at a breakneck speed. For others who are so naturally inclined to be a nice person, it is the way they ease through life that makes everything they do a blessing to those around them. I wish I was one of those people, but I’m not. I have to be very deliberate to be mister nice guy. I have to have a plan and make it part of my life to be considerate. One way or the other, we all need to think about our fellow citizens and attempt to stem the tide of anxiety, fear, and hatred.

I think it all starts with being thankful and considerate. If we can keep those two attitudes in front of us, we simply cannot go wrong.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Being generous should be your decision.

Years ago I watched a black and white movie about a very rich man who took compassion for the homeless in his town. Back then they were simply called bums, but that would be insensitive of me to point that fact out, so maybe I won’t. It implies they don’t or didn’t want to earn something and hence the term “bum something” came about. “Hey, buddy, can I bum a smoke?” or “May I bum a ride?” The implication of the term meant it was a temporary situation, while most times it was perpetual and everyone knew it.

“What do you want to do today?” was a common catchphrase and usually answered like this: “Let’s just bum around.” Or maybe this variation, “I’m just going to sit on my bum all day.” Anyway, back to the movie. It was close to Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas and very cold with snow on the ground. The rich man had a pocket full of hundred dollar bills and began circulating among the downtrodden transients and handing each one, one Benjamin. Now back in the 1920’s, this was a lot of money, enough to get these people off the streets for maybe a couple of months.

This went well for a few moments until they attacked him and after beating him senseless, they relieved him of not only his money, but most of his warm clothing. Were they inherently criminal? Nope; greed took them over and they became a school of sharks and instead of simply feeding, they devoured their savior. Now imagine if this happened once a week. They would never have to work, because a good Samaritan would always rescue them.

Now imagine this scenario; you’ve been working all your life to get ahead and better your family’s well being. You pay taxes and make the monthly mortgage note on your 2-story house with 4 bedrooms. You struggle at times to have 2 extra cents for entertainment, but manage to pay your insurance, utility bills, and the myriad of other charges that come with owning a home and keeping groceries on the table.

Seeing that you and your mate both work and the kids are busy with extra curricular activities, you don’t realize an uninvited family has moved into your spare bedroom. They live off your lavish abundance, consume your groceries, and pay no utilities or taxes and come to find out; they are getting a stipend each month from your bank account! The sad thing is, you probably would have helped them if it would have been your choice to make.

So, you call a family meeting and bring in your parents and brothers and sisters and their spouses, to help you “rid yourself of these parasites”, as you call them. Imagine your surprise and disgust when half of your family decides the problem is too big and as a solution actually side with the intruders. The other half wants to physically remove them regardless if there is a fight or not. So, a stalemate is reached and you are forced to do nothing and let them stay for the time being. However, the side effect of this is a deep division in your family and you are stuck with the bill as the intruding family keeps growing. On top of everything else, one of the women has a baby and claims it is now part of your family and has legal rights to be there.

Being generous should be a choice we make, not something that should be taken for granted.  The rich man had no idea he was walking into the jaws of a tiger and the homeowner was equally oblivious that his apparent abundance would be taken advantage of. I think both examples are quite obvious that generosity and accumulation can be misconstrued to be a pot of gold there for the taking. However, is it? Of course it is not. How many times have we said that we will give the shirt off our back to those in need, but danged if I will let them steal, rob, or take it without my permission? Generosity is a one way street with a fortunate soul at the end. It is not a slippery slope where those of us with a few pleasures are stripped as we slide past those who don’t.

On the other hand, trolling people for a handout when you can work simply makes you, yes, a bum and in the old sense of the word. We cannot save the world and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have programs to help the down trodden or people seeking a better way of life. They need to come to the front door instead of the back entrance and stand in line. Civilized people stand in lines. Then at this time, we can decide just how generous we can afford to be. There is no other way.

Friday, November 11, 2016

For those who served

Sgt. Bert Marshall  6280th CSG/366th Gunfighter Squadron, Takhli RTAFB
I graduated high school in late May of 1970 and the Vietnam War was still very much in the news. 1968 was the year of the most killed in action, but 1970 recorded over 6000 servicemen KIA. Like most students, Vietnam was as close as Jupiter and I knew about the same amount about both places. It was a time when if you wanted to know anything about anything, you pretty much went to the library to learn about it. At 17 years of age, I was more interested in living day to day then worrying about Vietnam.

I moved down to Pasadena with a friend from St. Louis until my family could relocate here and stayed in an apartment near Southmore Street. A few months later, my parents relocated on Red Bluff and I floated around a bit, like flotsam in the bay. That pretty much describes me too. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a job and was basically extra baggage for my parents. I decided I had better enlist in the Air Force, but I would check out the other branches before I signed my life away.  Did you know the military is the one job that they can ask you to sacrifice your life?

The recruiters were pretty busy back in those days, as the war was raging and they needed new talent. I walked right past the Navy recruiters, even though my dad was a sailor and we have a history of the sea in our bloodline. I just couldn’t see the shore from a boat and that made me uneasy. The Army was going to make me what was called a ground-pounder and even I knew that, so why enlist for 3 years when I could simply be drafted for 2? Well, I did not want to be drafted, that is for sure. That was a guaranteed ticket to Vietnam.

Then I saw it!  The standing full-sized Marine display and they were looking for a few good men. Well, I smoked cigarettes and talked like a man, so I stepped inside. There before me were two Marines; a huge black man and a smaller white one and both of them looked at me like they were cannibals and I was a pot-roast. “What do you want?” the shorter one bellowed.

“I, I, uh, I was thinking of joining the Marines and I wondered what they had to offer…sir?” Wrong question, as they both started screaming, foaming at the mouth, and clenching their fists while saying something about what I had to offer the Marine Corps. I barely made it out the door alive.

I pushed open the door of the Air Force recruiter in a cold sweat, which in itself was amazing as it was August and about 100 degrees outside.  “Back here!” I heard a friendly voice call out. The room was empty and I walked down to the first office and there behind the desk, eating a donut and drinking coffee was an Air Force Staff Sergeant in what I would later learn was a 1505 Tropical grade uniform. “Have a seat fella, what can we do for you?” he said and offered me the same fare as he was enjoying. It was love at first sight!

There was a made for TV movie called “Tribes” that I watched and it was informative in one area that I was totally ignorant about. It is or was known as “Recycling” or “getting set back”. In the movie, the main character never assimilates into the Marine Corps mentality and is not graduated with his class.  He is recycled to a motivational platoon to do it all over again. In Boot Camp, this became our greatest fear and one that none of us knew anything about prior to entering the service, despite the movie.

Out of 60 airman basics, or “Rainbows” as we were called, we lost an easy 1/3 to this practice. We picked up that third from other squadrons that were set back. The funny thing is, in the remaining 4 years I was in the Air Force, no one ever admitted to being set back. Now our TI’s or Technical Instructors as the Air Force called them were meaner than rabid Tasmanian Devils and most of them had been to war in the Army or Marine Corps. They were preparing us for war and dangnabit, they were serious as cancer about it. Somehow I graduated to join the war. I do not regret my time in the armed forces and these men helped mold me to the man I am today.

Some of my brothers and sisters went from boot camp to a lifetime of pain and suffering, while I walked away unscathed. The excellent VA hospital in Houston is a testament to their physical and mental suffering and that old demon Agent Orange is still working its poisonous treachery. I was around the stuff for almost 2 years and yet?  Nothing so far.

Friends, November 11th is a day set aside to thank Veterans for their service. The best you can say is a simple, "Thank you for your service," and remember there are thousands of women who served in the armed forces too. Fly your American flag and if you can, attend a Veteran's Day service. As a Veteran, I know that behind each Vet is a whole multitude of people who were affected by their time away while serving and for that, I say thank you!