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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Side of the times…..

I don’t suppose it’s any secret that things look differently depending upon how you look at them. I think they call that perspective. Several years ago, when I was attending Millville Grade School, our bus driver, Howard Tucker, gave each one of the students on his route a box of chocolate covered cherries when we headed home on the last day of school before our Christmas break. It was back in the day when a pound of candy weighed a pound, instead of eleven ounces.

             I was in the third grade at the time, and outside of the occasional candy bar from Kelly’s Ranch Market in Millville, or Saffer’s General Store in Mooreland, most of the candy I had consumed up until that time consisted of the Circus Peanuts that Mom got when the Jewel Tea man stopped by. And sometimes Dad would get a box of chocolate from a place called Lowery’s up in Muncie, but he always kept it hidden where us kids couldn’t find it, and rationed the pieces out like we were still caught up in the war effort.

             At any rate, a pound of chocolate covered cherries looked pretty good to a third grader, and I was fully aware that when I carried them in the house, Mom would insist that I share them with my six brothers and sisters, or Dad would confiscate them and then hand them out one at a time, just like he did with the expensive candy from Muncie, and no doubt sharing it with my siblings just as Mom suggested. I decided I had two miles to eat the contents of the box and stop that from happening.

            For as good as that box of chocolate covered cherries looked when I got on that bus, it was several years before I could stand to even look at one again. I have never thought they looked as good again as I thought they looked that fateful December afternoon.

            When I started driving, gasoline was about a quarter a gallon. The price increased slowly over the next fifteen years, until it finally reached the unimaginable plateau of a dollar a gallon. A lot of old time filling stations had to change out their pumps because the old ones weren’t capable of displaying a cost of more than ninety nine cents per gallon. And once the stations had the capability of three digit gas, all bets were off.

            Shortly after the turn of the century, gasoline reached 2 dollars a gallon, another unimaginable level. Drivers were concerned. People started carpooling. Businesses started adding fuel surcharges trying to offset the increased cost. And on and on.

            According to some reports, we are approaching two dollar a gallon gas again, and while most of us dreaded reaching that price ten years ago, we’re actually looking forward to it now.  Perspective again, I suppose. It all depends on which side you’re looking at it from.

             Aging is similar, I think. Sixty seemed pretty old when I was thirty. It doesn’t seem quite so old. Come to think of it, sixty-five doesn’t seem quite so old anymore, either. Or seventy.

             But however we feel about chocolate covered cherries, or the price of gas, or getting older, we’re right in the middle of the Christmas season now, and for some reason, people who celebrate Christmas seem to look forward to it no matter how many or how few Christmases they have had. A different perspective on things, I suppose.

            Merry Christmas.

My Main Squeeze….

         There are things I do willingly, things I do hesitantly, things I do begrudgingly, and things I won’t do at all. This morning I threw away a toothpaste tube.  I refuse to call it an empty toothpaste tube, because as we all know, a toothpaste tube is never really empty. You can always go back to the crimped end and knead and cajole enough from the tube to at least partially fill your toothbrush one more time. And after you’re sure you’ve gotten every last bit out of the tube, you can go back and do it again.

            That’s why I’m hesitant to throw the tube away. I know that someday I may find the tube I’m trying to use really is empty, and I will be haunted with the grim reality that the tube with one more brush full, or partial brush full in it, is now buried in a landfill somewhere north of Modoc. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure it could.

            I operate a small construction company, and last week we started building a new home up the road. I’m normally hesitant to start a new project like that so late in the year, with Indiana winters being what they are, or what they can be, but times being what they are, it seemed like a prudent idea to use the good weather days, and even some not so good weather days, to get the home, and ourselves, enclosed for the bad weather days that are bound to get here.

             As much as I enjoy my work, I can’t deny the outdoors part of it is a little less enjoyable when the temperature gets below 30 and the wind gets above it. And while I might tend to step out of the door in the morning a little more hesitantly, I hope I never do it begrudgingly.

            Earlier this fall, there was a lot of news coverage about a young woman in Oregon who had been diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer, and decided to end her life through an assisted suicide before the cancer could end it for her. I certainly won’t deny that she had the right to make the decision she made. The right to control our own lives is one of the most basic rights we have. But I wouldn’t have made the same decision, even begrudgingly. Admittedly, I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness, yet, but with or without an illness, I realize life itself is terminal.

            If our lives were divided into seasons, I’m probably in the late autumn or early winter stage, missing a lot of my hair, but happy to still have most of my teeth. I have a few aches and pains that come along with 62 years, and people who know have told me those aches and pains will become more numerous as more time passes. But I also have my parents, and my wife, and my children and grandchildren, and a whole bunch of family and friends that I look forward to seeing at least a few more times.

            So I’m going to get as much toothpaste as I can out of the tube, and then try for a little more. And I’m going to work every day that I can this month, so that I’ll have some place to work next month. And I’m going to do all I can to hang around as long as I can, because of all of those people I want to see again.

            And when a higher power decides it’s my time to go, I will, but not without trying to squeeze a little more out of things before I go.

Mother may I….

            One of the things I remember from my time at Millville Grade School many years ago was the system the teachers and administrators had in place for bathroom breaks. I guess when I got to Millville, I was supposed to call them restrooms instead of bathrooms, but old habits are hard to break, so it took a couple of years to make the change. Anyway, when I was in the first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Dilling, who had also been my Sunday School teacher, informed us that if we needed to use the restroom, we were to raise our hands to ask permission, and in addition to that, we should also raise one finger or two fingers in order to signify which bodily function was necessitating the break.

            I never really understood why it was any of the teacher’s business if a student needed to go number one or number two, or why they even cared, but that was the way things were done at Millville. I often suspected some students were embarrassed to announce to the entire class that a number two was imminent, and might have held up one finger as a decoy. I believed at the time, as I still believe today, that number two is best taken care of in the privacy of your own home, but when that wasn’t possible,  two fingers did seem to take a higher priority when Mrs. Dilling was selecting who would be the next to be excused. My old buddy Stinky Wilmont could be quite theatrical, waving two fingers while making grimacing facial expressions and a worrisome audible, all in hopes of gaining permission ahead of a less animated number one somewhere else in the room.

            I can’t recall the teacher ever denying permission, or even verifying if was actually a number one or a number two she dealing with. I think it was pretty well accepted that when a first grader decided he or she needed to go, it was going to happen with or without permission, and whether they made it down the hallway to the restroom or not. I don’t think anybody really wanted to take that chance, even if they suspected a number two was actually a number one, or even if they suspected it was a false alarm. I suppose it did serve to put us into the mindset of asking permission before we did anything for the next twelve years. Or fourteen, in Stinky’s case.

            I guess it also gave us the mindset most of us have carried through into our adult lives, though now, most of the time we are asking permission from the government instead of Mrs. Dilling. If you want to be a barber, or a beautician, or a member of about any trade or profession, you have to get permission and a license from the government before you can ply your trade. If you want to get married, or add a room to your house, or sell hotdogs on the corner, or even go fishing, the first thing you have to do is obtain permission from the government.

            Last March, a buddy of mine decided he wanted to build a home on some land that he owned. He had to get permission from the Department of Natural Resources, and the highway department, and the health department, and the building department. He finally received permission in October. It’s not that he couldn’t build a home on his property, but that he couldn’t build a home on his property without asking permission.

             For a supposedly free society, we sure seem to spend a lot of time asking our government for permission. Maybe it’s time for us to realize we don’t really need their permission for most of the things we do. Maybe we need to start collectively showing them one finger once in a while, but not to signify we need to go to the bathroom.

Lead us not into temptation….

            When I started this construction business forty years ago, one of the first purchases I made was a six foot step ladder from Drakes Hardware in Hagerstown. Shortly after that, my parents gave me a 16 foot Craftsman extension ladder from the Sears Roebuck store on Broad Street in New Castle, presumably because they didn’t like to see me trying to reach certain projects by standing on top of that six foot ladder. The wooden step ladder is long gone, but I still have to top half of that extension ladder, and it still comes in handy from time to time, as long as some OSHA inspector isn’t hanging around.

            Over that forty years, we’ve gone through a lot of ladders, and a couple of bucket trucks, and several combinations of each, trying to reach parts of jobs that sometimes seemed like they just weren’t meant to be reached. About twenty years ago we purchased a heavy duty forty foot ladder, because we were working on a job that just couldn’t be reached with any other means at our disposal. It was what my Dad would call a “family ladder”, because it took the whole family to set it up. We finished that job, and then hung the ladder at the back of the rack, hoping we would never run into another job that required getting it out of storage.

            Occasionally, however, we would run across a job that our thirty-two footers wouldn’t reach, and we would dig out old number forty again, wrestle it into place, and then wrestle it home again once we were finished. My brother Ross, who I’ve worked with for most of those forty years, strongly suggested that if we would get rid of that ladder, we wouldn’t be so tempted to take on jobs that couldn’t be reached with our regular guy ladders. I thought it would be a shame to get rid of it altogether, but I did agree to relinquish control to my son Jonathan, who took it to his house and hung it on the back of his ladder rack. That agreement worked out well until we took on a job that required a longer ladder than we had, and I had to convince Jonathan to get the ladder down and bring it to our job, and then convince Ross to help set it up and climb it again.

            The other day Jonathan told me he was getting rid of the ladder so he couldn’t be tempted or coerced into getting it out again. I have my suspicions that Ross was involved in that decision somehow. At any rate, now when we look at a job the ladders we have won’t reach, I won’t be tempted to think otherwise.

            I was reading a story a while back about some of the scandals politicians and lobbyists have been involved in over the years. It appeared to me that most of them occurred because we have allowed the government the ability to make too many decisions, and the politicians figured out how much their decisions could be worth to certain people. P. J. O’Rourke said something along the lines of  “When legislation is bought and sold, the first thing to be bought is the legislators.” I’m convinced P. J. is probably right.

            I’ve also noticed over the years that people don’t seem to be as upset when their party of choice is in control and awards legislation favorable to their side or point of view, but they tend to get all bent out of shape when the other party takes charge and starts enacting legislation they oppose. Rather than having half the people mad half of the time, and the other half mad the other half of the time, I often wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off once again limiting the federal and state governments to their Constitutional powers, removing the ability and temptation from our legislators at the same time.

             They can’t be tempted to sell power they don’t have, and if we would do a little bit better job of holding them accountable every election, they wouldn’t be tempted to pass legislation they don’t have authority to pass.

            Just like I can’t drag out that forty foot ladder anymore. No matter how tempted I am.

Odds are….

I’ve never been much of a gambler. That’s not to say I haven’t sat through a few poker games, or made a few trips to the river boat, or bought a few lottery tickets. I’ve even made a couple of trips to Las Vegas. I just never did a lot of winning. I think the definition of gambling is that you take a chance that you might win or you might lose, and if you are a good enough gambler, the odds come out in your favor more often than they don’t. I normally end up in the “don’t” line. But I did enjoy the scenery in Las Vegas, and they do know how to feed a person.

            I do understand a little bit about odds. I have a weather app on my cell phone so I can keep an eye on approaching rain or storms when necessary. It also predicts what the weather will be doing for the next 10 days, and even gives the percentages for the chance of rain on any of those given days. Occasionally it will give a 0% chance of rain, or a 100% chance of rain. Now, while I admire that someone has the confidence to predict something will or will not happen with absolute certainty, I wouldn’t be afraid to bet that no one can predict the weather with 0% chance of error. I suppose if they do get it right some of the time, it would tend to bolster that confidence, but I tend to fall back on the old time adage which states that weathermen are 90% correct, 10% of the time.

            From time to time, organizations will hold fundraisers, and they often build interest and excitement around the event by offering huge rewards for unlikely accomplishments, such as a $100,000.00 prize for a hole-in-one at a specific time and place during a golf tournament. There is a company called Lloyds of London which will provide an affordable insurance policy to pay off the winner should someone actually accomplish the feat. One of the things that makes the policy affordable is Lloyd’s knowledge that odds are it probably isn’t going to happen.

            On the first Tuesday of this November, we’re going to have an election. It’s a pretty safe bet there will be some close races, and there will be some races that aren’t so close. Some political districts are cut out to insure that the Republican candidate will win, and some are cut out to insure the Democratic candidate will win. Many times the odds of one of these candidates winning is so great that the other party doesn’t even bother to put a candidate in the race.

            This year the Libertarian Party has about 70 candidates on the ballot in Indiana. Odds are most of them won’t win. But they will present the case for a limited government, and they will give the people who are interested in a limited government a chance to vote for it. Certainly a few more victories would be beneficial in moving the government in that direction, but just as a trip to Las Vegas offers benefits even if you do poorly at the blackjack tables, a campaign gives a Libertarian a chance to present and discuss libertarian solutions for the problems that unlimited government has created. Increased vote totals in recent elections are showing more people are listening and agreeing, and the chances for restoring the limited government are getting better every year.

            One thing Libertarians point out during campaigns is that whenever Republicans or Democrats get elected, government gets bigger, more expensive and more intrusive, the federal debt increases, and every government program they create costs more than they said it would. There’s a 100% chance of that.

            You can bet on it.

Choosies…..

            When I graduated from high school 44 years ago, the flare-legged jeans I wore for most occasions had a 30 inch waist. It wasn’t too long after graduation until flare-legged jeans and a 30 inch waist were both merely memories from my past. I haven’t followed fashion trends enough over the last 40 years to know if that type of jeans ever came back in style, but I know that size of waist never did, at least for me, anyway.

            Over the years, for reasons of comfort and mobility, I have occasionally found the need to add an inch to the horizontal measurement of the pants I purchase. The blue jeans I’m currently wearing are straight-legged with a 34 inch waist, although I have noticed that apparently they aren’t making the 34 inch waist quite as big as they used to. Rather than complain to the manufacturer about slighting me on some fabric, I decided to simply start buying jeans with a 35 inch waist.

            It didn’t take long to come to the realization that the people who make my jeans don’t make them with a 35 inch waist. It seems that guys with a 35 inch waist are expected to suck it up enough to button the 34’s, or put on a pair of 36’s, wad the extra denim up above the hip, cinch your belt up a little tighter, and hope the people who punch the holes in belts are a little more considerate of others than the people who decide what size of blue jeans they are going to make are.

            I’m still looking for another brand of jeans that offers a pair 35’s, instead of making me choose either a size too small or a size too big. No luck so far, but I haven’t given up hope. And besides, if I don’t find them pretty soon, there’s a good chance the 36’s will become a better fit anyways.

            It did get me to thinking about all the other areas in our lives where we really aren’t given enough choices. Sure, there are a lot of stores and restaurants that might not offer exactly what we are looking for, but we always have the option of going to another store or restaurant that better suits our fancy. I was thinking more along the lines of the government, and the programs it “offers”.

            Our government, and the political parties that are currently running it, have a nasty habit of believing they can create legislation that is a good fit for everyone. In fact, they are so convinced of this, you are required to participate in the programs they create, whether you choose to or not.

 Reason Magazine recently published a study examining how Social Security works for some, and how it works for others. Reason found that if you were born in 1915, and started drawing Social Security when you reached 65, you would have paid in about $96,000.00, and would receive about $203,000.00 back in benefits. However, if you were born 50 years later, in 1965, and retired when you reached 65, you would pay $398,000.00 into the system, but only receive $336,000.00 back in benefits. These are averages of course, that depend on how much you make and how long you live, but it’s not hard to see how something that might be a good fit for one person might not be such a good fit for the next person.

Our federal government tends to extend its “one size fits all” philosophy into everything it tries to manage, which has become just about everything. It’s hard to come up with even 3 things that government doesn’t tax, regulate or control, and certainly if people want the government to make all those choices for them, they are more than welcome to have it do so. But those of us who prefer to make our own choices should be allowed to do that also.

And that’s not going to happen if we keep choosing the same old parties every election.

The choice is yours.

The ties that bind….

                Sometimes revolutions begin in the most humble of places. Last Easter my 3 year old grandson took a stand against wearing a tie to church. He was going up against his mother and father, presently accepted norms, and a couple thousand years of fashion tradition. I also believe that he was expressing the sentiments of millions of men everywhere, and especially one grandpa in Hagerstown Indiana, who has vowed to support him in his quest.

                I did a little research on the history of neckties, and discovered the earliest ties were worn by some Chinese soldiers around 250 B.C. Not to be outdone by the Chinese, ties were also worn by some of the soldiers in the early Roman Empire, and on down through history by Croatian soldiers, French aristocracy, English nobility, and eventually every man child that ever posed for a picture or went to church on Easter Sunday. But of all the information I was able to find about men wearing ties, there was one burning question that was never answered, at least to my satisfaction, which is “why are we still wearing ties?”

                I’m sure most of us do some things in our lives because we always have, maybe because it was the way we were raised, or how we were taught. And that’s not always a bad thing. Probably some of us still say “please” and “thank you” more out of habit than of actual humility and gratitude, but in my mind it’s still a good habit to have. I like to see a gentleman hold the door and practice the “ladies first” rule that the males in my generation were taught, although the definition of what constitutes a lady or a gentleman seems to have blurred over the years.

                If you’ve been around any time at all, you’ve probably buried a friend or two because of a habit they couldn’t or wouldn’t stop, or maybe stopped too late. I know I’m packing around a few extra pounds because of the times I eat out of habit instead of out of hunger. I tend to sit in the same chair down at the restaurant every morning at coffee, although that probably has more to do with Linda’s assigned seating than it does with any habit I have developed.

                I saw a report from a recent Gallup poll the other day that 42% of voters consider themselves independent, and not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. Being a Libertarian who would like to see a smaller, constitutionally limited government restored in Washington and Indianapolis, I draw quite a bit of hope from that report. But I also know that out of the half of the population that takes time to vote, 95% still vote for either Republican or Democrat candidates who, despite their occasional campaign claims, are mostly bound to vote along party lines once they are elected. Out of habit, I suppose.

                I also saw a report the other day listing the Libertarian candidates that will be on the ballot in Indiana this November at the federal, state, and local levels. There are several, and if you would like to break the habit of voting for the old parties, and the ensuing larger government, or the habit of not voting at all, I would suggest checking out your Libertarian candidates.

                Start a little revolution of your own.

And about that free lunch….

          Webster’s dictionary describes a curmudgeon as someone who is crusty and ill-tempered, and usually an old man. While I’ve long ago reached old man status, I’m doing my best not to end up crusty and ill-tempered. But as the years march on, I am developing a deeper understanding as to why old men might tend to get a little bit grumpy from time to time, and why Mr. Webster might feel compelled to give them their very own word to describe them.

            This June, I will have been in business for 40 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time.  A square of shingles that cost $11.00 and covered 100 feet in 1974 now costs $80.00 and covers 96 feet. And a 50 pound box of nails only weighs 30 pounds nowadays. It’s the kind of thing that could turn a person crusty and ill-tempered if you let it.

            A while back I received a bill from a sub-contractor who had done some work for us, and the bill included a “mobilization fee.” As near as I could tell, it’s a charge for getting ready to go to work. It reminded me of some of my buddies who used to work at the Perfect Circle factory and got paid for eating lunch. I was happy that I didn’t see anything on the bill about lunch, and I suppose I should be relieved that he didn’t charge us for getting ready to quit.

            One supplier that furnishes us with concrete started adding an “environmental charge” of $3.00 on each yard of concrete we bought from them. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, so when my curiosity got the best of me, I called their office and asked the man at the counter what an “environmental charge” was. He told me it was $3.00. I still don’t know what it is for, but at least it isn’t as much as a mobilization fee. If it was, I might tend to get a little ill-tempered.

            One day last week I went to a little restaurant for my unpaid lunch. I ordered a sandwich and some french fries, and a glass of water. The waitress asked if I wanted a large glass of water or a small glass of water. In my most non-curmudgeonly voice, I jokingly asked if there was a difference in price between the two. She proceeded to tell me yes, the large glass of water was 80 cents, and the small glass was 45 cents.

            I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing is really free, but I kind of preferred the arrangement where getting to work, and a glass of water with your meal, were just figured in as part of doing business, and not a separate line on the bill.

            I’m sure there are a lot of younger guys out there who think nothing of paying $80.00 for shingles, or 80 cents for a glass of water. And there are probably some who might be indignant or even a little bit mad about it, and the cost of things in general these days. But they can’t be a curmudgeon about it.

             That’s for us old guys.

You got a problem with that?….

            My old pal Stinky Wilmont had a few of ideas about why he spent so much time in the principal’s office all those years when we were attending Millville Grade School. He was convinced it was mostly because the teachers didn’t like him. He said that was also the reason he never made the honor roll, and probably the reason he always had to be a shepherd instead of Joseph or one of the wise men every year in the school Christmas play.

            I tried to tell him he might not have to spend quite so much time in the principal’s office if he would quit carving his and his girlfriend Rowena Lufkin’s initials in the top of the desks and cafeteria tables, and that he’d stand a better chance of making the honor roll, or at least getting a D+ once in a while if he would do his homework and study a little more when we knew we had a test coming up. I also suggested he might get a bigger role in the Christmas play if he would pay a little more attention and be a little more cooperative on the days when Miss Mullin came to Millville to teach the music class, but Stinky said he was pretty sure none of that would make any difference, since the teachers didn’t like him anyway.

            I suppose most of us spend at least a portion of our lives trying to solve problems that pop up from time to time, but it always seemed to me that problems are easier to solve if we first decide what the problem really is. And probably sometimes we know what the problem really is and how to solve it, but we dislike the solution more than we dislike the problem. I’m at the age where my waistline seems to expand a little bit every winter, and even though I know what causes that problem and how to solve it, I’m still tempted to try one of those “bacon and chocolate” diets that rolls across the internet from time to time, promising me that I can lose 30 pounds in a matter of days.

            Every couple of years we have an election in this country to choose some people to solve some of our problems. People give money to candidates they think will solve their problems, and businesses give money to candidates they think will serve their problems. The government keeps track of who gives money to which candidates, and how much they give, and sometimes it makes rules about who is allowed to give money to candidates, and how much they can give.

            Sometimes people seem to get upset if someone gives a candidate more money than they gave their candidate. The concern seems to be that the person or group that gives the most money will end up getting the best end of the deal when the candidate gets elected and starts voting on legislation to solve the problems of the people who gave him the money. While that might be a legitimate concern, I’m not convinced it addresses the real problem.

            In my mind, the problem isn’t that the people with the most money can buy legislation that will give them an advantage. Rather, the problem is that anybody can buy legislation that will give them an advantage. Legislation and rules at all levels of government should protect all people equally, and legislators really shouldn’t have the power to adopt any legislation that doesn’t. And if our elected officials would stick to the limited duties of running a limited government, it wouldn’t matter if one person gave them a million dollars, or if a million people gave them one dollar.

            You got a problem with that?

Gimme a break…..

My brother and I have a small contracting business that we’ve operated for 40 years. We’re just now finishing up building a garage. Nothing unusual, except that we started the garage last October. Sort of. What happened was that our customer wanted a garage this spring, so we juggled the schedule a little in order to get the foundation and concrete work done last fall before the weather turned off bad.

Then we had the lumberyard deliver a load of material to the job, expecting sometime in December we would have a few days of warm enough weather when we could get the building under roof. When that failed to happen, we held the same expectations for January. We had the same expectations again in February. In a normal winter, those would have been reasonable expectations. This last winter, not so much. This most recent winter didn’t seem to give us much of a break in the form of moderating temperatures or quickly receding snow piles.

So I was glad to see March get here, even if it took longer in doing so than normal, and even if it still smacked us around with a few remnants of winter after it did. I know there are people who are fond of winter, but I think those of us who don’t share that fondness, find tolerating it a bit easier if it gives us at least a few breaks along the way, along with the knowledge we’ll have a summer without it if we can just hold out a little longer.

And as usual, it got me to thinking about the government. Somewhere between the winter season and the summer season is something we call the “tax season”. If you are like many Americans, you started in January gathering information about your finances which the government probably already has anyway, and taking them to someone, or some computer, in order to figure out if you are going to have to pay the government more money, or if the government is going to give you back some of the money you already paid them, or if the government is going to give you some of the money somebody else paid them.

There are about 73,954 pages of tax code we have to sort through in order to spend billions hours filling out millions of forms at a cost of billions of dollars. It wasn’t always like that. Before the current income tax was permanently adopted in 1913, most income taxes  only hung around long enough to finance a war while it was in progress, and maybe a little longer until it was paid off. Then we got a break until the next war. The federal government, more specifically congress, was sort of in the same position. Up until 1913, unless we were at war, most people in the country had little reason or desire to interact with it. It was constitutionally limited to 20 or so specific duties, and unless you wanted to loan the country some money, or print some of your own, start or finish a war, be a pirate, or a few other activities that most people didn’t worry about anyway, the common citizen could almost forget that it even existed. Conventional wisdom was that we would deal with the federal government when we were at war, and our state government when we weren’t.

But just like taxes went from simple and occasional, to complicated and constant, so has the federal government. Those few original duties are increasing by thousands every year. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to name even 2 or 3 things the government doesn’t tax or regulate.

 And even longer since the government has given us a break.

Weather or not…

I used to drink coffee about every morning with an old guy we called Smitty, who was fond of claiming that “It thaws a little every day in February.” I think his claim was based on the fact that the sun was getting a little higher in the sky that month, and that its rays were likely to find something somewhere that it could warm, even if ever so slightly. Smitty isn’t with us anymore, but if he were, I think I’d like to have another cup of coffee with him and ask his views on this last February.

            We woke up on the last day of the month to a thermometer that read 4 degrees. We started and ended a lot of days during the month well below the zero mark. I know there were a lot of days in February when it didn’t thaw anywhere. Not even a little bit. I just wanted Smitty to know that.

             Mark Twain or Charles Dudley Warner once said “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” I think for the most part, at least among the people I have talked to about it, everybody has had about enough of this winter. It seems even most of the people who normally enjoy winter weather are hesitant to admit it in mixed company, opting instead to post blurry pictures of anonymously built snowmen on Facebook from the relative safety of their homes.

            And even though nobody does anything about the weather, we seem to come up with ways to try and cope with it. Some folks move to Florida for the winter, and some folks simply visit other folks who move to Florida in the winter. I try to arrange the work schedule so it works out that we can be inside during the winter, and I have some thermal underwear and flannel-lined jeans I keep around for times when it doesn’t work out that way.

            I guess there are a lot of things in this world we can’t do much about, but we still manage to cope with them somehow. Weather is one thing, our federal government is another. I read a report the other day that pointed out Congress has a 9% approval rating. Since every time there is an election, we send about 90% of the same people back to Congress, I’m convinced no matter how disgusted we get, or how much we talk about it, we really don’t know what to do about it. I’m also convinced that if we did manage to replace all 535 senators and representatives, the bureaucrats who are so firmly entrenched in Washington would keep things rolling along at the current pace without too much of a hitch.

            Like the weather, even if we can’t really do anything about what is happening in Washington, there are a few things we can do to make it a little more bearable. Back when the Constitution was adopted, the folks that adopted it added the Bill of Rights, including the 10th Amendment, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” That means whenever Congress passes a law or program that it doesn’t have the Constitutional authority to pass, the states can individually or collectively say “No thanks.”

            Of course, for that to happen, we need to do more than just talk about. We also need to elect people to our local governments and state legislatures who understand what the 10th Amendment really means, and really want to do something about it.

             That’s if you’re looking for something to do, of course.

Til death do us part…or not….

  Unless I pull a really bone-headed move, my wife Susan and I will have been married for 38 years come June. I realize that won’t be any kind of a record, but I also know a few people who have required multiple spouses to have been married that long. I think staying married requires some give and take, some luck, and in my case at least, a forgiving wife. I also credit some good advice on the subject from my Dad, who last September celebrated 65 years of marriage to my Mom.

  Long before I reached marrying age or met my future bride, Dad stressed the importance of being “evenly yoked” when we chose a mate. I think term originated when they used oxen to plow or pull a wagon. In the biblical sense it meant having compatible spiritual beliefs, but we also understood it to mean that partners needed to share the same goal and be pulling in the same general direction. It wasn’t that you had to agree on every little thing, or even on every big thing, but at the end of the day, you didn’t go to bed mad, and when you got up the next morning you still had some common goals.

  We’ve all had some married friends who decided they didn’t want to be headed in the same direction anymore, and ended up heading in different directions. Probably most of them still had some things they agreed on, but maybe not as many as they disagreed on. They might agree on most things, but the things they disagree on might prove irreconcilable. They might agree to live in the same town, but not in the same house. Sometimes they agree to still be friends. Sometimes they don’t agree on anything.

  However they choose to work things out, or not work things out, most ex-couples are able to get on with their lives without doing any physical harm to each other, living in the same general area of the world, looking after their offspring, and keeping any contractual obligations they made along the way.

  While it has never been quite as important that neighbors are evenly yoked, I don’t believe there is any harm in at least sharing a few common goals, and at least a small consensus on how those goals should be reached. But it’s not like it has to be required.  As of late, there seems to be a widening difference of opinion among people about which way our federal government should be headed, what its goals should be, and especially how they should be reached.

  There are a lot of people who want the federal government to oversee their health insurance needs and just as many who would prefer that the feds stay out of theirs. There’s also a big difference of opinion between folks on how much the federal government should be involved in educating our children, managing our retirement, dispensing our charity, and even deciding whether or not our milk needs to be pasteurized.

  We spend a lot of our time and money trying to convince people that they ought to agree with us about what their goals should be, and then the government spends a lot of its time and our money forcing people to go along with those goals, whether they agree with them or not.

  In a world where time and money are both limited, I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off allowing the government to use just enough force to keep us from violating each other’s rights, and otherwise let us choose freely which government programs we want to participate in and fund.

 It’s not like we’re married, and it’s not like we couldn’t all still be friends and neighbors.

 Or at least neighbors.

Resolutions and rebates…

  Its resolution time again. I try to make a couple every New Years, and if I’m lucky I keep at least one of them. Some I keep longer than others. Exercising more and eating less have never made it past January 18th of any year, but 2013 did mark my 25th year in a row without drinking any alcohol, and my second year without drinking any soda pop. For 2014 I felt that I really don’t have too much that I can or want to give up, so I’ve decided that instead of doing something less, I’m going to start doing something else more.

  While cleaning off my desk a while back, (no dear, I’m not resolving to start cleaning my desk off more often,) I found several rebate coupons from one of those big box stores where I occasionally buy building materials.  I intended to fill them out and send them in before they expired. I didn’t.

  Not being much of a shopper, I never saw the attraction of rebates anyway. I always figured that if a company was going to give me a 10% rebate on something, it would be a lot simpler to just take that 10% off when I bought the item, thereby saving both of us the paperwork and the postage. I suspected they offer rebates because there are probably a lot of people like me whose good intentions of returning them seldom make it to fruition.

  My suspicions were confirmed a couple of weeks ago when a family member who works for a company that offers rebates told me that on average, about 5% of the rebate coupons they hand out are returned with the proper paperwork and by the proper date. I suppose I should take some comfort in the fact that I’m not the only rebate procrastinator out there, but I don’t. I also suppose that if everybody, or just about everybody, started sending all of their coupons back in, the companies would probably decide it would be more economical to just discount the merchandise in the store in the first place.

  We’re sort of in the same situation with our federal government right now. When the Bill of Rights was added to the United States Constitution about 223 years ago, the founding fathers put in the 10thAmendment, which states that The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  It would no doubt be a lot simpler if the federal government would simply stick to its delegated duties right up front, but it’s becoming more and more apparent in recent years that it has no intention of doing so.

  What that means is we as people and states have to step up and nullify laws and regulations that the federal government is imposing on us without having the Constitutional authority to do so. Legislators in South Carolina and Georgia recently introduced bills to nullify federal attempts at controlling health care and firearms in those states. More states have similar bills on similar issues in the works. It takes a little more effort on our part, just like sending in for a rebate. We shouldn’t have to, but if we want our freedom and our money back, that’s what it takes.

   I’m sure the folks in Washington won’t be overly concerned about a couple of states and a few individuals exercising their 10th Amendment protections, any more than those businesses are about 5% of their customers collecting rebates. But if enough people and states do it, it might just convince them to follow the Constitution in the first place.

  So if you’re still looking for a New Year’s Resolution for 2014, why not consider mailing in those rebate coupons, and putting people in office who will actually uphold the Constitution.

  It’s not about giving something up. It’s about taking something back.

What’s in a name…

 
  I haven’t won many awards in my life. Certainly not many major awards anyway.

  I did manage to win the Thomas Paine Award from the Libertarian Party a few years back, but other than that it was mostly just a few red ribbons and such along the way.

  Back in October of 1968, I was a new member of the Hagerstown Explorer Post #3, and we went on a canoe trip  down the White River. The water was a little high and rough from some fall rains I guess, and at one point all of the canoes except the last one in the group were swirled around a giant tree and capsized.

  Never having attained my merit badge in swimming, I grabbed onto a tree limb in the raging waters and held on for dear life, convinced that the life jacket I was wearing was probably as defective as the guide that had led us into such a hazard in the first place. In a matter of seconds, my tennis shoes were swept from my feet, never to be seen, at least by me, again.

  While the rest of the troop was gather up was gathering whatever equipment and rations they could salvage from the flood waters, one of our scoutmasters, Bob Beeson, was standing on the shore, shouting “Bill! Bill! Just let go and you will float down to us!” I wasn’t sure who or where Bill was, but decided it was probably my best bet to hang onto that limb until the water receded.

  It was then that another of our leaders, Floyd Sanders, tapped Bob on the shoulder and informed him that my name was Rex. The new instructions gave me a little more confidence, and in a couple of minutes I was on dry land and ready to resume the adventure.

 At our next meeting, Floyd presented me with a name tag and this:

 He called it “The Barefoot Boy Award.” Now that was a major award. I’ve kept it for 45 years.

 Floyd passed away this morning at the age of 78. I was proud to know him, and I’m awful proud he took the time to know my name. Otherwise, I might still be hanging onto that limb down on the White River.

  Thanks Floyd, it’s been good to know you.