Hope springs eternal…

I don’t know when Grandpa Bowman’s hair fell out. He was bald as long as I could remember, and even in his wedding picture. When I became old enough to think about such things, and when somebody told me that baldness is inherited from your Mother’s side of the family, I realized that someday I might be follicly challenged myself. Grandpa had spent almost his entire life not knowing where to stop washing his face. I hoped the same fate wouldn’t befall me. And even though I hoped that it wouldn’t, I always expected that it would, and it did.

I buy a couple of lottery tickets almost every week, hoping they will draw my numbers on Saturday night, and I will wake up a millionaire on Sunday morning. Truth be known, even though I hope I will win, I don’t really expect it, and so I always keep my alternative plan, which involves getting up and going to work in order to keep us fed, clothed, and housed.

I imagine we all hope for some things with a reasonable expectation that they will come true. If you have children, you hope they will be successful and happy. We hope it doesn’t rain everyday of our vacation, and we hope our plane lands safely. We hope we have enough money to get through our retirement. With a little forethought and planning, none of these hopes seem to be out of reach. Except for the plane. Most of us don’t have any control over that. And the rain.

And we probably all hope for some things we don’t really expect to happen, much like I hoped my hair wouldn’t fall out, or like my hopes of winning the lottery.

The other day, I was chastised when I admitted that I didn’t have much hope of anything good coming out of the new administration in Washington. The only semi-reasonable expectation I have is that perhaps the anti-war left will awaken from its 8 year slumber. I had a brief but fleeting thought the left might come to a better and fonder understanding of the Tenth Amendment in light of some of the new president’s executive orders, but it passed quickly when I realized they probably realized they would be back in power in a few years, and they wouldn’t want that hanging over their heads when they were.

I know I could be an optimist and hope our current administration would reduce the federal debt, champion individual rights, bring our troops home, and reduce the role the federal government has in our lives, but I don’t really have any expectation any of that will happen. I’m convinced my hopes would be better spent on lottery tickets and hair restorers.

Just like when we buy lottery tickets, and hope doesn’t seem to be enough, we need an alternate plan when Washington gets out of control, which over last few years, seems to be all of the time.

In his book, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein wrote “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

We have reached the point where can’t expect much out of Washington, and we need to stop pinning our hopes on the federal government fixing anything. We need to take control of our lives, our hopes, and our expectations.

I hope people understand that.

Happy New Year, I hope…

My wife’s uncle Fred owned a bar in Hagerstown years ago, and up against the front wall sat a juke box. I don’t know if anyone has a juke box anymore, since you can listen to about anything you want to hear on your cell phone, but back then you could put a quarter in the slot and listen to three songs. I think towards the end of the juke box era, (and probably one of the things that contributed to people listening to music on their cell phones,) they raised the price to a quarter for one song. I also think when you had to pay a quarter for one people paid a little more attention to their selections.

A man came in about once a week and took out the quarters and split them with Fred, and sometimes he would put a new record or two in the line-up. The juke box had a mixture of some old and new country, and some old and new rock and roll. I thought it needed more rock and roll, but a lot of the more mature patrons thought it needed more country. Fred didn’t really care, as long as somebody kept putting quarters in the machine. He used to say “Different strokes for different folks,” which helped explain why he kept different brands of beer in the cooler and different brands of cigarettes in the cigarette machine.

Since I worked as a bartender, and spent some leisure time on the other side of the bar, I learned to enjoy some of the old country music, but I’m not sure some of the patrons ever came to appreciate the new rock and roll.

I’m sure different people still enjoy different things. Take 2016, for instance. I imagine Donald Trump will have fonder memories of it than will Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. The people that hit the $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot probably thought it turned out okay, as did Bill Gates, who was the year’s and the world’s richest man with $75 billion.

It turned out to be a pretty good year for Cubs fans, but not so good for Harambe, who discovered that just sitting in a pen minding your own business can be fatal under some circumstances. I’ve heard people say the election in 2016 was the best we’ve ever had, and I’ve also heard people who are convinced it was the worst we’ve ever had. Whether it was the best or the worst, or somewhere in between remains to be seen. I prefer to think that while our choices were the worst ever, I’m more afraid they may only turn out to be the worst so far.

From a personal standpoint, I’ve had better years. I met my wife and started my business in 1974. That was a pretty good year. There have been years along the way when I got married, had children, had grandchildren, bought a home, made a profit, and wrote a book.

But in 2016, we lost a sister and a sister-in-law to cancer. Our brother’s cancer reoccurred, and my wife lost 3 months to an illness the doctors couldn’t diagnose. I had a stroke, and Roy Johnson’s service station on Main Street in Hagerstown closed.

Trying to look on the brighter side, I googled “good things that happened in 2016.” My best advice to everyone would be “don’t do it.” Sure, the wild tiger population increased, and the Juno spacecraft made it to Jupiter, but other than that, it’s pretty slim pickings.

I don’t doubt that some people will look back on 2016 with great fondness, and on a personal level, some people may have had a good year, but overall, I’m ready to say goodbye to 2016, and good riddance.

Happy New Year 2017, and welcome.

The Wish Book…

Back in my Millville Grade School days, before there was an internet or cyber Monday, we had something called the Sears Roebuck catalog. Every December, my old buddy Stinky Wilmont and I, along with my brothers and sisters, spent hours going through that catalog circling what we wanted for Christmas. Since there were 8 of us kids, we also wrote our names by the items so there wouldn’t be any confusion about who wanted what. The really popular items usually ended up with several names beside them.

Since we only had one catalog, we all had to take turns looking at it, and we couldn’t look at it while we were eating, since it also served as a booster seat for one of my little brothers or sisters then, or while we were getting a haircut. Still, by the time Christmas rolled around, there were names on something on about every page. I don’t know if they still make those giant catalogs. I haven’t seen one for a while. I think nowadays instead of writing your name by something you go on line and click “Add to wish list” or “Add to cart”. I don’t know what you sit on if you can’t reach the table.

I know at the Bell household, and I’m pretty sure at the Wilmont household, nobody ever got everything they marked in the catalog. I don’t think any of us thought we would. But, there was a period of time, from Thanksgiving dinner until Christmas morning, when, much like Schrödinger’s cat, anything was possible. I never received a Mister Machine, although I wrote my name in great big letters by it every year. But one year I got a gas powered BB gun with a wooden stock. I had written my name by it, and even drawn a circle around it just to make sure Mom saw it, but I never really thought I’d get it. One of my little brothers wrote his name by it to, but I always figured he did it just to aggravate me, because I’m pretty sure he didn’t have any more idea he’d get it than I did. It remains to this day the best Christmas gift I ever got.

There were 8 of us kids, and it seems like we always received at least one thing we had marked in the book, along with a couple things we hadn’t. And then there were always those socks, but what are you going to do?

We just went through a contentious election, where it seemed few people were overly happy with the choices we had for president. I think a lot of people voted against a candidate instead of for a candidate, and we’ve seen some evidence that some voters chose a candidate just to aggravate the people who chose the other candidate.

We’ve all heard predictions about how bad it’s going to be or how great it’s going to be when the new president takes office. I don’t believe it’s going to be all that bad or all that great. I think that like after every election before, everybody’s going to get something they want and something they don’t want, except for us Libertarians, who always get a whole lot more government than we want.

So between now and inauguration day, just like at Christmas, we don’t know for sure what we’re going to get, but we can wish for anything, and it might come true.

No matter what happens, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, even if all your wishes didn’t, or don’t, come true.

I left my modesty in Richmond Indiana…

November got off to a bad start at our house. I was on my way to Richmond when I got a funny feeling in the left side of my face. I found out later it was what they call a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. It’s a type of mini-stroke, I’m told. I’d heard of them before, but I’m pretty sure I’d never had one before.

At any rate, I wound up feeling better in a short while, and continued on to my scheduled interview with a local reporter. In the course of our meeting, I had a couple more TIA’s, at least that’s what the doctor said, culminating with a full blown stroke as the grand finale.

I kind of lost track of things after that. I regained consciousness long enough to realize that a bunch of guys had removed my pants and boots, and were in the process of cutting my shirt off. I also noticed Rachel the reporter had turned her back on the proceedings. I’m not sure if she did it for my benefit or her own, but I remember thinking I sure was proud that I had taken Mom’s long standing advice and taken the time to put on clean underwear before I left home.

I came to again with somebody yelling “Stay with me buddy” in my face. I couldn’t really answer him, but I do remember thinking “Hey, you took my pants and my wallet, you cut off my shirt, and I’m strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance in my underwear somewhere in Richmond. Just where would I be going?”

When I arrived at Reid Hospital, they ran some tests, and called a helicopter to take me to another hospital in Indianapolis. When the pilot asked me if I had ever ridden in a helicopter before, I told him 50 years ago I rode in one at Canal Days in Cambridge City for 10 bucks. He said this ride would probably cost a little more than that. I hoped the reason it was going to be more expensive would be because this helicopter was a little bigger and had a heater, because it was becoming apparent to me that I was going to fly from Richmond to Indianapolis on November 3rd in my underwear.

The hospital I landed in was IU Methodist close to downtown Indy. When we arrived there they put me in the intensive care unit, and cut off the rest of my underwear. I tried to tell them it was probably my best pair, and that I had put on special for today, but I had lost my voice by that time, and besides, everybody seemed to busy sticking stickers on me and hooking wires to them to be concerned about my underwear. I was later able to get a note from one of the nurses verifying the condition of my late briefs, so at least I have that for Mom, even if I am short a pair of shorts.

They had a lot of doctors in that hospital. They came into my room a lot. There were brain doctors and brain surgeons, heart doctors and heart surgeons. They all seemed to know what they were doing, but I was awfully disappointed that none of them knew where they were, or even what day it was. They asked me every time they came in. I didn’t really mind telling them every day (some of them I had to tell twice a day), but I thought surely somebody would remember at least once in a while, them being doctors and all. I think they appreciated my help, because they asked me when my birthday was. I told them it was March 12th, and figured they would probably get me something nice, but then I realized they probably wouldn’t remember when my birthday was either.

I guess a hospital is a good place to be if you need to be there, but I wasn’t overly happy about all the tubes and hoses sticking out of places that weren’t really meant to have tubes and hoses sticking out of them. It was flattering, though, to have so many people suddenly interested in my bodily functions. Even passing gas brought reactions of encouragement and approval, although now that I am home, my wife Susan’s enthusiasm for it seems to have waned a bit.

Still, I think there were some good things that have come out of this experience so far. I was lucky or blessed to be where I was when it happened. If I had been at home alone I probably would just have laid down to let it pass. I rediscovered how wonderful our community, my friends and family are when you need them. My sister-in-law reflected on my incident, and went out and bought my brother-in-law all new underwear, just in case. So we have that.

I think I’m getting along pretty well now, doing therapy at home and at the therapy place. I still don’t have very good balance, and I can’t swallow or talk very well, and I missed out on two Thanksgiving dinners, but other than that, I think it’s going to work out.

So thanks for all the thoughts and prayers, and to all of you who manage to keep society rolling along when some of us take a break. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I can come back and tell you that everything worked out fine.

Running on Empty…

A couple of weeks ago I was running a business, running for governor, and running over to Richmond for an interview with Rachel at one of our local newspapers, the Palladium-Item. In the midst of all of that, I could swear that I was also run over by a large truck. As it turns out, what actually ran over me was a stroke.

Thanks to some quick action by Rachel, the Richmond Fire Department, Reid Health and countless others, I am well on my way to running as well as I ever did, which may or may not have been as well as I hoped, or even as well as I remember.

The business I run is a contracting company, and we were just finishing up one job and getting ready to start on another. Thanks to my brother Ross, who has been with me for 42 years, and some understanding customers who are also our friends, it looks like continuing to run the business may come off without a hitch.

I spent election day and week flat on my back in a hospital bed in Indianapolis. It’s the first time in nine elections that I wasn’t standing at the polls asking for votes all day. And while I would have preferred to spend the day at the polls, it turns out the results were about the same wherever I spent the day. Much as I suspected, I didn’t win the election, just as most Libertarian candidates on the ballot didn’t win the election.

Libertarians are running on a platform that most people don’t want to deal with. We advocate for a constitutionally limited government. I attended a lot of forums and meetings in my campaign for governor, and I found most people who want limited government only want to limit it in ways that benefit them. The general consensus seems to be “it’s only pork if someone else is getting it.” Believe me, I understand how seductive that line of reasoning can be when it goes up against the personal responsibility that is necessary for a limited government to succeed.

Libertarians run for office because every election, more and more people understand why we run. More than 86,000 voters cast their ballot for me this year, and more than 4 million voters gave Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson the nod. Some because they value personal freedom and responsibility over the stifling nanny state, and some because they recognize the unsustainability of a system where more people want to ride the wagon than want to pull it, and the fallacy of a government that rewards sloth and punishes initiative.

At one of the forums I attended, a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives expressed his concern that people were being released from prison, and were then being forced to wait up to four weeks before they started receiving their government checks again. He promised to do something about it.

I hope one of these elections you will promise to do something about it also. I know I have.

Thank you all for your prayers and support.

I’ll see you when I’m up and running again.

Orders of the day

I buy a Powerball ticket every week, unless I forget. I know the odds of winning the jackpot are about 292 million to 1, but I also know if I don’t buy a ticket, the odds are even higher. I also buy a Hoosier Lotto ticket while I’m at the counter. The odds of winning the jackpot on that one are only 12 million to 1, so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my $2.00 quite as much.

Last week when I stopped to get my tickets, the cashier accidently printed off a Mega Millions ticket instead of a Lotto ticket. The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are about 176 million to 1, so I thought about telling the clerk about his mistake and exchanging for the ticket with better odds, but then I thought about how bad I’d feel if he had to buy the mistake himself, and about how much worse I would feel if he would have won with that ticket. Especially if both of mine lost. Which they did.

Sometimes things don’t work out, but I figure most of the time we ought to ask for what we want, and get what we ask for. I usually don’t complain if I order my eggs over medium and they come out over easy. But if I order a hamburger and it comes out fish, I’ll probably point that out to the server. And I’ll probably take a little more time and make sure they understand what I want the next time I stop in.

In my younger days, Mom and Dad used to load all of us kids in the car occasionally and take us down to Miller’s Dairy in Cambridge City for an ice cream cone. It was the only place in the area where I could get my favorite, pistachio ice cream. Unfortunately for me in my younger days, I also had a difficult time pronouncing pistachio. Even if I practiced saying pistachio all the way from Millville to Cambridge City, I invariably butchered the pronunciation when I ordered, much to the delight of the ice cream dipper, my brothers and sisters, and everybody in line behind me. I eventually decided it was easier to just order strawberry.

This November, voters get a chance to order the type of government they want. And a lot of people aren’t too happy about what’s on the regular menu. I’ve heard a lot of people say they are voting for a presidential candidate they don’t like in order to make sure a candidate they like less doesn’t win. I guess that’s one way to look at it, but to me it sounds a lot like eating a fish sandwich when you could have had a hamburger. Or strawberry ice cream when you really wanted pistachio.

I certainly understand the disappointment people are feeling with the choices the two old parties are offering this year. I’ve felt that way for a long time. I’m also happy that there is a third option, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. He hasn’t received as much attention as the other two, but if he does, I think most folks will find the other two a little harder to swallow.

Admittedly, it’s not what most people are used to, but if you want to ask for a constitutionally limited government, you’re going to have to order off the menu.

Independence Day

Whether you call it Independence Day or simply the 4th of July, it’s a day most Americans acknowledge and celebrate. When I was a kid at Millville, we looked forward to the fireworks that were launched at Memorial Park in New Castle. We seldom got to go to the park, but we discovered that if we watched out of the attic window on the west side of the house, we could at least see the rockets that made it past the tree line. I found out in later years there were also some ground displays involved in the show, but Dad never mentioned those to us, so we didn’t know we were missing anything.

It was a little more exciting whenever I got together with my old buddy Stinky Wilmont around the 4th. Stinky’s Uncle Wilmer lived in Tennessee, and sometimes when he came up for a visit he would bring a trunk load of firecrackers with him. Firecrackers weren’t legal in Indiana back then, unless you had a permit and were putting on a show for everybody at Memorial Park or someplace like that. Later on I think you could buy them in Indiana if you promised you wouldn’t light them here, but I think a lot of people forgot what they had promised when they got home and it got dark.

Anyway, Stinky always had some little firecrackers called Black Cats with the fuses all woven together, and sometimes we took them apart so we could light them one at a time and make them last all night. You could also light them all at once, and it made a lot of noise, and everybody hollered and ran away, but it didn’t last very long that way. He also had some bigger firecrackers called Cherry Bombs and M-80s, but I didn’t like them as much because they were awfully loud, and Uncle Wilmer was missing part of two fingers.

I think you can buy a lot of different types of firecrackers in Indiana now, at least that is what it sounds like over at the neighbors. I kind of lost interest in them as I got older, and since we switched to Daylight Savings Time I’m usually asleep before it gets dark enough to appreciate them anyway.

I did think it was kind of ironic that we celebrated our freedom with items our government told us we couldn’t have. And I guess I’m glad I’ll be able to buy them in Indiana if I want to, and that I won’t have to make up a story about where I’m going to set them off.

Even though we’re allowed to buy firecrackers now, there are a lot of things we’re not allowed to buy. I was informed the other day at the county fair that I couldn’t buy raw milk. I learned if I wanted raw milk, I had to buy part interest in a cow. Then I could pay someone to feed her and milk her, and put the milk in a jar, and I could have a gallon a week. If I wanted more than that, I would have to buy more of the cow. I thought it would be a lot simpler if the government would just let me buy the milk in the first place, but that’s not how the government works.

It all reminded me once again how difficult it is to name three things that our government doesn’t tax or regulate, and it made me wonder if maybe I ought to buy a few firecrackers while I still can, and before the government changes its mind again.

It’s all well and good that we get to celebrate our freedoms on the 4th, but we might want to spend a little more time protecting those we still have, and maybe reclaiming some of those we don’t.

Just because…

I started a construction business 42 years ago, and I’m still running it today. A couple of years ago, a woman called us about having some work done on her house. It was an extensive job, so I set up an appointment and met her one evening to discuss the project. About 15 minutes into the process, after listening to her complain about everybody who had ever worked on her house before, I silently decided that we weren’t going to do this job.

I’ve opted out of more than one job in 42 years, sometimes because it didn’t fit into our schedule, sometimes because I didn’t believe the project was feasible, sometimes because of questionable finances, and sometimes, like the woman’s project I was telling you about, just because I had a bad feeling about it.

Like most people who are in business for themselves, I hated to turn down a job, but I was happy there wasn’t anybody telling me I had to do a job I didn’t feel was in our best interest. I was also happy that a simple “No, thanks” on my part was all that was needed. No long winded explanation or excuse was necessary.

Of course, on the other hand, I have figured on some jobs over the years that I would have loved to have done, but we didn’t get hired. Maybe because we couldn’t get there when the potential customer wanted, or maybe because our price was too high, or maybe because the customer thought we would be too hard to get along with. And whatever the reason, and whether they chose to tell us the reason or not, I knew I didn’t have the right to force them to hire us.
It’s one of the rights we all share. It’s called voluntary association. Certainly people of every race, religion, and sexual orientation have the same rights. If the government offers a service or program to one person, it must offer the same consideration to all persons. Once we remove ourselves from the government’s realm, we get to choose who we will associate with, provided that person wants to associate with us. It has to be a 2 way street.

I realize there are people who believe that government should reach into the private realm and replace voluntary association with forced association, out of fear that some people, or groups of people, wouldn’t associate voluntarily . There are a couple of reasons I believe those people are wrong. One of those reasons is that I have owned my own business for 42 years, and it ain’t easy. Most businesses need every viable customer they can get. Think about the businesses you patronize, and look around the next time you go into your favorite store or restaurant. Then ask yourself if you would patronize a business that practiced discrimination. If you would, you’re in the minority.

Another reason I believe forced association is unnecessary and wrong is that I am 64 years old. I’ve been around long enough to see how the level of acceptance existed and changed from my grandparent’s generation, to my parent’s generation, to my generation, to my children’s generation, and now to my grandchildren’s generation.

People who don’t believe it has changed should spend some time studying extended family pictures. Mine, like so many nowadays, are multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-sexually oriented.

What government wants to accomplish by using force, we are already accomplishing as a society voluntarily. Our goal should be to be as free as we can be, and in matters of private association we should say “Hey big government, we’ve got this!”

Prince of thieves…

Having operated a construction and home building business for 42 years, I’ve seen and tried a few things that worked and a few things that didn’t work, and tried to abandon or make adjustments to the things that didn’t, and tweak the things that did. A few years ago, some ne’er-do-well cut the lock on our job trailer that was parked at a project we were involved with, and made off with several of our tools.

In an effort to discourage such behavior in the future, we bolted and welded some larger and stronger hasps on the trailer and purchased some larger and stronger padlocks for the new and improved hardware. That all worked out well for a few years, until last spring when we arrived at a job site one to find the entire trailer had been stolen. When the trailer was later recovered in a cornfield 10 miles up the road, (in part because the mastermind behind the theft had apparently attempted to make the getaway with a 2- 5/16” coupler attached to a 1-7/8” ball hitch while speeding over a railroad crossing,) we discovered that the locks had been sawed on, pried on, and possibly chewed on to no avail.

I couldn’t help but think if the crook had just slowed down a little for that railroad crossing, or had a deeper understanding of the mechanics of a ball hitch, our efforts at beefing up security would simply have resulted in losing more of our property instead of less. It also reminded me of our current tax system in this country.

Last week, a songwriter and singer by the name of Prince Rogers Nelson passed away. While I don’t know much about the man or his music, I suspect he was popular with a significant portion of the population, since his estate is estimated to be worth $300 million. You about have to figure a person with that kind of wealth is in the upper tax bracket, so he probably paid the federal government about $200 million in income taxes so they would let him keep the rest for a while. And depending on which state he lived in and where he made his money, he’s probably paid a few million in various state and local taxes along the way.

While it might be hard to fathom that any one person would have over $200 million taken from them by the government, especially when they receive exactly the same services from the government that people who pay $2000.00, or even $200.00 receive, we also need to remember that the government isn’t finished with Mr. Nelson yet. Currently the government is licking its chops, and preparing to take another bite his earnings. Federal and state taxes will get another $150 million from the money he already paid over $200 million on to keep.

As I said earlier, I don’t know much about the man, but apparently he worked hard enough and smart enough to provide a product that a lot of people wanted. In a free society, that is how it is supposed to work.

Our current tax system punishes hard work and success, and rewards sloth and failure. We can do better with a system of sales taxes and user fees to fund essential government services, and spread the cost to everyone that uses those services.

I’ve heard some people say that as a nation we have lost our work ethic. I wonder if in fact, we have just allowed it to be taken from us.

A place for everything……

     When I traded trucks a couple of years ago, I opted for an extended cab model, so I could keep some of my daily use tools in the back seat. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since lifting them out of the cross-over tool box on my old truck was getting a little more difficult with each advancing year. It still seemed like a good idea when I organized them and loaded them into the bags, boxes, and racks on the floor and seat behind me.

      It didn’t seem like such a good idea after a couple of years of taking tools out and putting them back in an unassigned bag, box or rack, or in a different truck or trailer. It finally reached the point where I had to unload the tools, sort out what didn’t belong there, gather up what did, and start the re-loading process again. Afterwards, I made a solemn vow that I would be more diligent about putting and keeping things where they belong.

      I know this isn’t a new problem. When I was a young lad my Dad had some boards nailed up on the wall behind his work bench in the garage. It was before the days of pegboard, or at least before I had seen pegboard, so Dad would drive 2 or 3 strategically placed nails in the board, and hang his hammer, or pliers, or wrenches, or whatever other tools he had on the nails. Then he took a big pencil and traced around each tool so there wasn’t any question where each tool belonged. In the meantime Mom and Dad had 8 children, including 4 boys, and before too long Dad’s tool organizer simply became a display of what tools were missing, and where they were supposed to be. Although he hasn’t mentioned it to me, I’m sure Dad gets some well-deserved vengeful pleasure when I rummage through my back seat grumbling about missing tools.

       I read the other day that President Obama had submitted his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. It bumps federal spending up $223 billion over the current budget, to $4.15 trillion. (That’s $4,150,000,000,000.00 if you’re counting zeros.) I’m confident his opposition in congress will fight to limit the increase in spending to $221 billion or so, and then they’ll pat themselves on the back and expect the taxpayers to be thankful for saving us so much money.

       It kind of makes you wonder how the government ended up where it is nowadays. Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution was put in place to keep the government in its place. It lists the limited powers the people granted to the government, and all of them combined wouldn’t cost $4.15 trillion since the country was founded, let alone per year. And it wouldn’t have us $19 trillion in debt.

       Somewhere along the line, sometimes a little bit at a time, we forgot where government belonged. We stopped expecting it to simply protect us from force and fraud, and started using it to force our neighbors to provide for our retirement and health care. We stood by as it took our money and gave it to businesses that couldn’t or wouldn’t support themselves, and even when it taxed us for things it was granted the authority to do, it spent the money on things it wasn’t granted the authority to do.

         The good news is every once in a while we have the chance to clean things up and put things back where they belong. Our next chance will come along in November. Right now things are in such a mess it’s going to take a lot of effort to put things back in place. It’s probably not something we can do in one election, but it’s something we need to get started on right away.

          My Dad used to say those tools didn’t just walk away on their own, and they’re not going to put themselves back where they belong on their own, either.

          Dad was right.

Plan B….

I didn’t win the Powerball jackpot a couple of weeks ago when it was over a billion dollars. I honestly didn’t believe I would, knowing the odds of that happening were about 292,000,000 to 1.  But I also knew if I didn’t buy a ticket, the odds would be even higher. And since winning the lottery is part of my retirement plan, I thought I better give it a shot. I buy a ticket every week as part of that plan. I call it “Plan B.” But I also put a little money in the bank, and invest a little in the stock market. So far saving and investing have worked out a little better than the lottery plan, but I still think it’s a good idea to have some diversity in accomplishing your long range goals, even if the odds of some of those plans working out are a little longer than others.

            I felt the same way when I started a construction business 42 years ago. While I stopped short of naming it the “We’ll Do Anything For A Buck Construction Company,” we did offer a wide range of services to keep us busy in case the public decided paneling and ceiling tile were no longer in vogue. While that philosophy has managed to keep the family clothed and fed for 42 years, I’m still buying that lottery ticket every Saturday. And keeping my options open.

            227 years ago some people got together and came up with a Constitution that spelled out what our newly formed federal government should be allowed to do. They started out granting it about 17duties in Article 1, Section 8 of that Constitution, and then the citizens added a few more over the years whenever they felt the need for one.

            I think a lot of them also knew, as Thomas Jefferson warned, that “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” And being aware of that, they also came up with a “Plan B.” They put it in the Bill of Rights, and called it the Tenth Amendment. It states “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.”  So that when the federal government started making laws it wasn’t authorized to make, like maybe about education or healthcare, the states and the people could nullify those unauthorized laws.

            While we may not all agree on exactly what the federal government is allowed to do, just about everybody agrees it’s doing some things it shouldn’t be doing. And a growing number of us think it’s doing a lot of things it shouldn’t be doing. And there’s a better than average chance that after the next election, it’s going to be doing a lot more things that a lot more of us don’t think it should be doing.

            It’s a pretty safe bet the federal government isn’t going to limit itself. That’s why it is so important that the states and the people understand the power they have in the Tenth Amendment, and use it to nullify the federal government back within the confines of the Constitution.

            After all, what do we have to lose?

                         

Happy New Year,Again…

“Happy New Year!” That seems to be the popular greeting for the next couple of weeks. It replaces “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!”, which replaced “Happy Thanksgiving!” a month or so before.  After the New Year’s euphoria is over, we’ll probably go back to the more generic “hello” and “how’s it going?” until Thanksgiving rolls around again. I don’t know why “Happy Valentine’s Day!” never really caught on outside of our most intimate friends, and I don’t recall anyone ever wishing me a “Happy Memorial Day!” or a “Happy Arbor Day!”   I wonder if it’s because we have so many holidays, or maybe it’s because a simple “hello” doesn’t seem to require the obligatory smile the seasonal greetings do.

One of the many greetings I’ve heard in these parts for most of my life is “Are you staying out of trouble?”  I suppose, like most people, my answer to that particular question has changed over the years. In my younger days the answer most of the time would have been “no”.  As I grew a little older the answer changed to “I’m trying”, and eventually ended up as a “yes”, partially, I think, because I just don’t have the energy to get into trouble anymore.

I’ve also made a few adjustments in my lifestyle over the last 63 years, many times in the form of New Year’s resolutions, hoping to avoid different types of trouble. I gave up cigarettes and alcohol about 30 years ago. I replaced the cigarettes with chewing tobacco, and the alcohol with Mountain Dew, for a while, but eventually decided I could probably get by just fine without either of those vices as well. I read somewhere that if people who smoked and drank would add up all the money they spent on beer and cigarettes, it would be enough to buy a Mercedes-Benz. When I started they both cost 45 cents, so I probably would have to settle for a pre-owned model.

I don’t drive faster than the speed limit for the most part, and I try to obey most of the stop signs that I see. I got rid of our 40 foot extension ladder a few years ago, and last fall I decided our second story gutters on the house probably didn’t absolutely need to be cleaned out just because the first story gutters were full.

I don’t watch much television anymore, not necessarily because I made a conscious effort to stop watching, but more because it kept getting harder to find anything worth watching. Sometimes I still listen to it, but that’s not usually my choice or fault.

I decided to lose 30 pounds a few months back. I lost 20, but found 4 of them again after too many “Happy Holidays!” I think it will be easier to lose them again now that I don’t have to smile as much.

Last year my wife made a New Year’s resolution for me that I would see a doctor at least once a year. She also made an appointment with a doctor for me, and before it was all over I ended up seeing two doctors three times, and taking some pills almost every morning that are supposed to keep my heart beat up and my blood pressure down. I always thought one would just take care of the other, but everybody involved told me I wasn’t a doctor, and that I should just shut up and take my medicine, which I mostly do.

I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to give up or take up this year. There’s a distinct possibility I’ve reached the age where I just don’t have that much to give up. And I guess I’m just a little disappointed that with everything I’ve already given up, I don’t feel any better or have more money than I do. Or that I’m not driving a Mercedes.

At any rate, whatever New Year’s resolution you decide to undertake, I hope it all works out for you, and that you end feeling better or saving money, or both.

 And good luck with your Mercedes.

A Christmas Miracle…

So I stopped in to visit with Mom and Dad a few nights ago to get Mom’s Christmas decorations down out of the attic so that she wouldn’t try to climb the ladder and get them down herself, and Dad was still wearing his new pants and a new shirt that he had put on that morning because he had two doctor appointments that day and Mom won’t let him wear his comfortable sweat pants when he has a doctor appointment. But after we got the decorations down and while we were talking Dad decided he had to go to the bathroom, so he grabbed his walker and headed back to the bathroom, and while he was in the bathroom he decided he might as well go on back to the bedroom and change in to his sweat pants since he didn’t have any more doctor appointments that day.

            So I was still in the front room talking to Mom when we heard Dad call “Phyllis!, Phyllis!” from the bedroom. So Mom gets up and hurries back to the bedroom, and in a few minutes she hurries back to the front room, past me, and out in to the garage where she gets a pair of pliers and then hurries back to the bedroom again.

            So I think I’m probably better off to just sit still and mind my own business, which I did, until I heard Mom and Dad holler “Rex!, Rex!” from the bedroom, so I hurried back and saw Dad lying on the bed and Mom standing over him with a pair of pliers in her hand, and Dad explained that after he went to the bathroom he tried to zip up his new pants and got his new shirt caught in the zipper, but he managed to hold his pants up with one hand and push his walker with his other hand until he made it to the bedroom where he sat down on the bed and continued to pull on the zipper until he gave up and called to Mom to come help, which she did, but she couldn’t budge the zipper either, so she went and got some pliers, and I told them I already knew that part.

            So Dad asked if I could get the zipper unstuck, which I tried to do, but couldn’t, so I tried with the pliers, but I still couldn’t, and Dad said it would be a miracle if we ever got it unstuck, so Mom tried to help again, holding on to the pliers with both hands and her feet propped against the footboard of the bed, and I was holding on the pliers with one hand and the knob on the Grandma’s big dresser drawer that they hadn’t been able to open for years with the other, and Dad was holding on to the headboard like grim death, and we jerked and pulled until Dad lost his grip and ended up on the floor with the drawer that hadn’t been opened for years on the floor beside him, but not before we managed to tear off the little hangy-down part of the zipper, but it was still stuck on his new shirt.

            So we helped Dad back up on the bed, and picked up Grandpa’s false teeth that fell out of the drawer when it came open that nobody had seen for 40 years, and Mom went over to her sewing basket and brought out a great big pair of scissors, and I asked Dad if he had done anything to upset Mom in the last few days, and he said not to the best of his recollection, so he decided it would be alright for her to use the scissors around the zipper area, which she did, and cut a hole in Dad’s new shirt, so he could get his sweat pants on.

            Mom thinks she can fix the shirt, since the part she cut on will be tucked inside of Dad’s new pants as soon as he gets them, but I don’t think anybody wants to try to save those pants. But Dad thought it was indeed a miracle that we got the shirt loose from the zipper, and Mom said it was a miracle that we got the drawer on the dresser open, and I thought it was a miracle that we found Grandpa’s teeth, and we all agreed that was exactly what it was, a Christmas miracle!

            So Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone.

And I promised Dad I wouldn’t tell anybody about any of this, so I’m trusting that none of you will mention it to him. Thanks.

I believe we ought to be a little worried….

          Santa Claus is coming to town! Maybe. My wife and I have seven grandchildren, and some of the older ones have been influenced by the naysayers at school, to the point that a mention of Santa by the younger ones brings on winks and rolled eyes. I knew it would happen sooner or later, although I must admit I was pulling for later, and grandchildren certainly make Christmas a lot more fun, regardless of what they believe.

            I know we don’t all believe the same things, and I know sometimes we change what we believe. Back at Millville Grade School, my old Buddy Stinky Wilmont believed he could predict the severity of the upcoming winter by the amount of black hair on a wooly worm. Of course, we all knew how silly that was. Max Hiatt up north of Mooreland was about the only guy around who could do that. But nobody said too much to Stinky about it, because it didn’t really matter what he thought, and we knew how to get ahold of Max if we needed to.

            Stinky also believed you could ward off arthritis if you carried a buckeye around in your left pants pocket. We had some buckeye trees in our woods, so I always gathered some up in the fall, both to pass out as gifts, and to make sure I always had one to carry myself. I believe it worked for 60 years or so, but here lately my knees have started aching pretty bad. I don’t believe buckeyes nowadays are as good as they used to be.

            Sometimes people worry about what some people believe more than they worry about what other people believe at other times. Most of the time I don’t worry about what other people believe, as long as they don’t try to force their beliefs on me, and as long as they let me believe what I want to believe, even if they don’t believe it.

            Right now, there’s a bunch of people who are trying to get nominated so one of them can get elected to be our president. Most of them are practicing Christians, (although some may be practicing more than others), which historically is a good thing if you want to get elected. A report from Pew Research last year showed that a majority of Americans would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who doesn’t believe in God. But one of the candidates found himself on the hot seat when he stated he believed in Creationism. Apparently there is a limit on what you’re allowed to believe, even if you’re a Christian.

            Now, like I said, I don’t really worry about what people believe, as long as they leave other people alone. I do tend to worry about what they believe if they won’t leave other people alone. So far, every candidate out there believes they have some pre-existing claim to your income and property. They believe they know better than you how you should handle your retirement and your healthcare, and they believe they know better than you which people and what nations are worthy of your charity. They also believe it’s alright to use the force of government to take whatever they want and to make sure you do what they believe.

            That worries me.  

Time and time again…………..

Years ago, when I was still a kid on the farm near Millville Grade School, we raised a lot of our own food. While Mom was able to process about everything that came out of the garden or the chicken house, Dad would normally take the cows up to Willy Johnson’s packing house in Dalton where Willy would cut it up and write what it was on the white paper he wrapped around each piece. Then we would put some bushel baskets in the station wagon, and haul the meat home so Mom could arrange it in the freezer next to the hog meat that was already there.

            Dad took the hogs to the Knightstown locker plant when we had one butchered. I never knew why for sure, but I just figured Willy was busy enough butchering cows that he didn’t want to mess with hogs. Anyway, we picked up the meat from Knightstown the same as we did from Dalton, except that they put the meat in some cardboard boxes that had the name of the locker plant on it, so we didn’t have to take any bushel baskets with us. They also sent some cracklins back. Those were the pieces of hide that were left after the people at the locker plant had rendered the lard out of it and poured it into a big metal bucket. Even after they were fried and pressed, there was still enough lard left in the cracklins to seep through the sides of the brown paper bag that held them.

            As greasy as they looked, and as awful as they sounded, they were some pretty good eating, especially the crunchy ones, so we never paid much attention to Mom’s warning that if we ate too many they would make us sick. Besides, there were ten of us, so the chance that one of us would get too many was pretty slim.

            I’ve bought some stuff from stores over the years since then that claimed to be cracklins, but it didn’t have any lard leaking out of the bag, and I suspect they probably never had any lard in them to begin with. And I’m pretty sure they were never wrapped around a pig.  It’s one of those deals where, no matter what they call them, I may not know what they are, but I sure know what they aren’t.

            Speaking of cracklins, last Saturday night or Sunday morning, after I went to bed and was dreaming about them, the time changed again. I’m not sure if we went off of Daylight Savings Time or onto it, but according to my wife, we got an extra hour of sleep because of it. Hopefully it will make up for the one she told me we lost last March.

            People have a lot of different opinions about why we should or shouldn’t change time twice a year. During the Second World War it was supposed to save energy. The last time Indiana decided to do it was so it would be easier to do business with other states. I’ve never noticed that I have any more energy one way or the other, and I try to do most of my trading in Indiana anyway, so that never made much difference to me. I did read a study which claimed that while there are more car crashes after we move our clocks back an hour, there are also fewer heart attacks. Pick your poison, I guess.

            Long before people started inventing different ways to keep time, there was something called sun time. The way it worked was that when the sun was directly overhead, it 12:00 noon. When people decided it got daylight to early and dark to early, they moved the clocks forward an hour, and when they decided they wanted to sleep a little longer in the morning and play a little longer at night, they moved them forward again.  So now, even when we move our clocks back, we never really move them back where they belong.

             I know some people adjust to the time change better than others, but we’ve changed so many times I don’t know what time it really is. But I know what time it isn’t.

The Shutdown, 2013….

I kept a journal on facebook when the government “shut down” in October of 2013. I had a few requests to put it together in one location, and this was the easiest place, so here it is.



Government Shutdown, 2013

Rex Bell’s Journal

Update, day 5 of shutdown.

 

Found a small group of citizens huddled around table at Early Bird Cafe. Some seemed sleepy and confused, as if they didn’t know what to order for breakfast. Ben the waiter snapped at Larry when he tried to order blueberry crepes`. Coffee and bacon still in supply, but who knows for how long.

 

Road back to Hagerstown still open, but noticed some leaves are starting to turn different colors, and some are even falling on ground. Rain continues, and birds seem to be gathering on light wires.

 

Can’t help but wonder what fresh hell the day will bring.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

 

Shutdown Journal, day 8:

 

Entering second week of shutdown. Amazed at the number of people who go on like they don’t know what’s happening. Don’t know if they are just being brave, or if they really don’t know. I’ll try to warn them.

 

Our table was down to nothing but apple jelly at the diner this morning. Evelyn looked around for grape but couldn’t find any. A stranger came in. Nobody knew who he was, but he seemed awfully interested in what was on the menu. Maybe too interested.

 

Heard from Rick Culberson yesterday that a couple of guys were taking his trash and throwing it in a big truck in Hagerstown. Someone got ours last night. Need to be more careful what we put in it.

 

Hoping to start room addition today if delivery truck can get through.

 

Will try to change oil in truck today, although it now seems pointless, much like haircuts.

 

Stranger found grape jelly. How?

 

————————————————————————————————————————————

 

Shutdown Journal, Day 12:

 

Conditions worsening. Tried to show people pictures of the difference in Susan’s flowers before the shutdown and after the shutdown. They look at me in disbelief, almost like they are in denial.

 

Crops appear to be dying in the fields. Many are turning brown. Some farmers have already given up on them and are mowing them down with giant machines. Heartbreaking.

 

Desolation everywhere. Trees appear to be dying even in town, as more and more leaves continue to fall. Saw people trying to save them by gathering them up with giant rakes. I wanted to tell them to just give up, that the leaves are already dead, that there was nothing they could do for them, and that they might as well just burn them. Decided it was maybe better to just let them have their fantasies in these last few days.

 

Going to look for coffee and jelly. Grape I hope.

 

 

 

Shutdown Journal, day 14, or maybe not.

 

Nights seem to be getting longer. Awakened by a distant train whistle at 3:00 A.M. Possibly it might be bringing in supplies. Jelly maybe. Grape.

 

As the train passes, coyotes are howling in the field behind our house. They sound hungry. Relieved that I parked close to the door last night.

 

Made it to the truck and went to the diner. Parking lot was dark, and none of the regulars were there. Nobody was there, not even Linda. Feared the worst. Maybe coyotes had been here. Realized it was 3:30. Never mind. Went back home and parked close to the door.

 

No rain for 5 days now. Constant worry about how long the water will hold out. Skipped bath last two days just in case.

 

School in Hagerstown has been strangely quiet this week. No sign of children. Not sure why. Drove by another school yesterday afternoon about 3:00. Children were being loaded onto big yellow buses. Don’t know where they were being taken, or what will be there when they come back. If they come back. Wonder how much people will take before they cry out.

 

Susan made me sleep on the couch.

 

May have to take bath today.

 

 

 

Shutdown journal, day 13 or 15:

 

Coyotes in field eerily quiet this morning, like maybe their bellies are full. Probably full of raccoon and grape jelly. Despicable creatures. I hate coyotes.

 

Waited over an hour for Sunday School and Church to start this morning. Nobody showed up, not even preacher. Afraid people have given up because of this shutdown. Found really nice coat on coat rack.

 

Cars are still driving back and forth in front of house. Even saw trains going both directions on Hagerstown track this morning. Seems like people just don’t know where to go. Stood in front yard and yelled encouragement.

 

Still no rain, but heavy dew this morning. Afraid not enough to save dying leaves, though.

 

Someone just yelled something back at me from the road. That was uncalled for. Tempers must be getting short.

 

 

 

Shutdown journal, somewhere in central Indiana:

 

More dark, more fog. Things even seem blurry inside this morning. Worst part is not knowing what might happen next.

 

Grandkids won 2 goldfish at fall festival yesterday. One didn’t make it through the night. Second holding on, but doesn’t smell very good.

 

Found glasses. Things looking a little better.

 

Went to a bacon party last. Quite a bit of bacon, but some people brought salads. Some people were even eating salads. Wondered to myself what would cause people to eat salad when there was bacon on the table. Must have been scared and confused.

 

Saw several people at party off to the side talking privately. Wonder what they were talking about. Probably about the people eating salad.

 

Surviving fish looks confused also.

 

So much confusion. When will it end?

 

 

 

Shutdown journal, sometime in week 3:

 

Losing track of days as shutdown continues and conditions continue to deteriorate.

 

Last goldfish passed. Would like to believe by natural causes, but seems odd that 2 would die in 2 days. Did they know something?

 

Coyotes are getting closer to the house. Found signs in yard this morning.

 

Delivery truck managed to get through with load of material for room addition. 2 x 4’s only measure 1 1/2 x 3 1/2. Wonder what happened to the rest of them.

 

House smells of dead fish.

 

Tomato plants completely dead now. Eating plain peanut butter sandwiches now. Hope to make contact with Rick Culberson or Jeremiah Morrell sometime today about grape jelly.

 

 

 

Shutdown journal, still third week, Tuesday maybe:

 

Shutdown seems to be spreading. Two days in a row without mail. Even banks closed yesterday.

 

Awakened early by sound of people rummaging through trash again. Seems like it is becoming a weekly thing. Slim pickings this week, I’m afraid. Poor bastards. Looks like they took it all. I’ll try to leave a sandwich next week.

 

Leaves and crops continue to turn brown. Hard to stay optimistic that any will survive. Try not to look, but seems like I’m surrounded by them.

 

Accidently tore tag off of mattress while making bed. At least I’m safe for now.

 

Found rebate check from Betty Crocker while looking for tomatoes in refrigerator. Hope bank reopens soon.

 

Neighbor Liz brought by some grape jelly. smile emoticon Tried to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but couldn’t find the peanut butter. Or bread.

 

Looks bad for the trash guys.

 

 

 

Shutdown journal, October 2013:

 

Rained last night. Not a warm, nurturing rain. A cold, heartless rain. The kind of rain you get when the government shuts down.

 

Mail beginning to trickle in. Received advertising ink pen and gift certificate for Bath and Body Works yesterday. Good start on Christmas.

 

Drove by Amish market yesterday. Still had a lot of tomatoes. Must not know about shutdown. Somebody needs to tell them. Just can’t bring myself to do it.

 

Somebody at coffee said tomorrow was final day. Might as well eat that jar of grape jelly, I guess.

 

Ink pen doesn’t work. Drat.

 

A couple of women in my literature class seemed particularly testy last night. Probably didn’t get any mail. May stop today and get them some tomatoes.

 

 

 

Shutdown journal, final entry:

 

As best I can tell, this is October 17th, the day the shutdown becomes complete. Could hardly force myself to get out of bed.

 

Sad to see everything end, but it was getting harder and harder to go on knowing total collapse was inevitable.

 

A car just drove by. Where could anybody be going now? Poor fool.

 

Finishing off last of grape jelly today, and then nailing plywood over windows.

 

Hope to see most of my family and some of my friends on the other side when

 

Huh? What? They did what? Oh.

 

Never mind.

Any way you look at it….

            I’ve never really been a big fan of “last chance” or “going out of business” sales. Even after the last chance ends, there’s a good chance you’ll have another chance to get the same item at another store the next time you’re in town. And most of the time, if a store that has something people really want goes out of business, another business will start handling that item. Barring that, I can always have one of my grandchildren get on the computer and order it online.

            Last week there was an event they called a “blood moon eclipse”, where the moon was supposed to glow red and have an eclipse at the same time. While blood moons and eclipses are fairly common, the conditions for both to occur at the same time hadn’t happened for 33 years, and according to some reports won’t happen again for another 18. I did a little figuring in my head, and decided that if I wanted to see a blood moon eclipse for myself, this might very well be a real last chance, so I made a conscious effort to stay awake long enough to go outside after it got dark and check it out for myself.

            As luck would have it, it was pretty cloudy over our house that night, and while I could see the outline of the moon and the eclipse as it moved across it, it didn’t really look any more red to me than it did on any other night. I did see some pictures people had taken from other locations, and the moon looked a lot bigger and redder, and the eclipse looked a lot sharper than it did from Hagerstown. I guess it all depended on where you were standing when you looked at it.

            Of course, when it comes right down to it, the moon didn’t really change at all. It’s still just a big ball of dirt and rocks orbiting around the earth, and it doesn’t change color or shape, unless a meteor slams into it and shoves some dirt and rocks around a little bit. But people have been watching it for a long time, and even staying up past their bedtime to check it out when the light and the shadows hit it just right, and make it look different than it looked the last time they looked at it.

            I suppose where you are has a lot of bearing on how you look at a lot of things. I’m sure the 18 years until the next blood moon eclipse looks a lot longer to my grandchildren than it does to me. I think where you are has a lot of bearing on how you look at government, also.

            George Washington said that “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” While a lot of things have changed since George made that observation, the fact that government uses force, or the threat of force, to carry out its policies, hasn’t.

             Part of that government force is used for transfer payments, where it takes money from one group of people and gives it to another group of people without any goods or services changing hands. That practice now consumes the bulk of the federal budget. If a person is on the receiving end of the transfer, they tend to see government a little differently than if they are on the paying end of the transfer. And no doubt a lot of people who are standing in the paying line are looking forward to the day they will be standing in the receiving line.

            It might be a good time to start looking at ways to involve government a little less in our daily lives, because the more people we have in the receiving line, the more force will be required to keep everyone else in line.

             That’s how it works, no matter how you look at it.

Losing it….

         Several members of my family are wearing something called a fitbit. It’s a little electronic gadget that tells you, at the push of a button, how many steps you have taken and how far you have walked on a given day. If you push another button, it will tell you how many calories you have burned while you were taking all of those steps. Sometimes the gadget is connected to another gadget that tells you how many more calories you would burn if you walked a little faster, and sometimes it will even tell everybody else, via Facebook, how many steps you have taken, how many calories you have burned, and how long it took you to burn them.

            Now, I don’t have a fitbit, so I just have to guess about my steps and calories. I did notice on a Facebook post the other day that one of my friends had walked five miles and burned 728 calories in 43 minutes. While I was impressed that my friend was able to walk 5 miles in 43 minutes, I did some quick calculations and discovered that in order for me to burn up the calories contained in that 4 pound bag of Tootsie Rolls I would have to walk a little over 46 miles in about 4 ½ hours.

            It helped me realize that sometimes there just isn’t enough time or energy today to burn off all of the calories I consumed yesterday. Especially after I find a really good deal on a really big bag of Tootsie Rolls.

There are a lot of things in this world that have gone so far over the edge that they just can’t be fixed. Sometimes we get really attached to things, and hold onto them longer than we should. I kept my 1978 Chevy pickup until it rusted into 3 pieces. I kept thinking with a little more body putty, rabbit wire and tar paper I could keep it together, but the time finally came when I realized that positive thinking wasn’t enough to hold the truck together, any more than it could burn up calories as fast as I could consume them.

We are currently being subjected to the early stages of a Presidential campaign, where an ever-changing number of candidates from various political parties are offering up various solutions to change, or maintain, whatever people who pay attention to such things, think is right or wrong in Washington. I’m sure most of the candidates are sincere in their intentions to change or maintain how things are done, but as voters, perhaps we need to pay a little less attention to what the candidates tell us they are going to do, and a little more attention to how things really work with the federal government.

We elect some representatives and senators to represent us every couple of years, and like current crop of presidential candidates, I’m sure they have good intentions about doing whatever they told us they would do while they were trying to convince us to vote for them. In reality, there is a myriad of government agencies in Washington that have taken on a life of their own, and along with the Supreme Court, pretty well control every aspect of our lives.

Seldom a day goes by that we don’t read a story about IRS, the EPA, the DEA, the NEA, or one of the other countless government agencies imposing some new rule or enforcing an obscure old one, visiting misery on any person that happens to be in the crosshairs. (I say “countless government agencies” because after a little research, I found that even the federal government doesn’t know how many agencies it has.)

People who want to maintain a big government certainly have the advantage for now. The natural tendency of government to expand pretty well guarantees that.  And I don’t fault people who still believe they can trim the fat in Washington by electing more of the same people we have been sending there for years, but in reality, our best chance of restoring limited government and individual freedom will happen when enough people realize the federal government is out of control, and start exercising our right to control our own lives a little closer to home.

The Great Pretenders…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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