It Oughta Be Free

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I have a major gripe. I think if the taxpayers pay for something to be built, and they pay to maintain it, they should get to use it free.

Sounds fair, right? And some things are free, like city parks, libraries, schools, police, and most streets and highways. But there’s also a bunch of stuff you have to pay to use, even though it was built with your money. The justification for charging for the use of these publicly financed and owned facilities is that it takes a continuing revenue stream to maintain them. But here’s the thing. The government already has a continuing revenue stream. It’s the taxes you continue paying all the time. But that’s not enough for the greedy bastards in the government. They want to in effect double dip, and charge you twice. That’s just wrong.

Here’s what I think you should get for free:

Free entrance to all national parks. You own it, you pay to care for it, you should get in free. Camping should also be free. And though they didn’t pay for it, I think it would be a great public relations move and would create a lot of goodwill to allow visitors from all over the world in for free also.16573646931_22fc928bf9_o

Free entrance to all state parks. Free camping also.

Free entrance and camping at U.S. Corps of Engineers lakes You forced Americans off their land, used public money to build a big dam lake, and now you want to charge for it like it’s your private resort? Really?

Abolition of tolls on all roads, highways and bridges. Your taxes built it. Gas taxes maintain it. Asking for more is highway robbery.

Free entrance to public monuments and museums. Same arguments as above.the-104-smartest-public-colleges-in-america

Free tuition at all public colleges and universities. No government should be in the business of selling education. The benefits of providing a free education will far outweigh the outrageous tuition and fees received from students who are struggling with the spiraling costs of  public colleges. Many advanced countries already have this.

Free health care. This one is different, because it’s mostly not funded by taxes. But it should be. In countries that have universal health care, it’s not a for profit business. It’s a free government program. If the Brits and the French can do it, so can we.

Americans are too easy to exploit. The government sticks out its hand, and usually we just give them our money. That needs to stop. It’s hurting people. There are poor families who can’t afford to go to the lake or state park because they can’t afford the entrance and camping fees. There are kids who don’t get to go to the public pool in the summer because there’s a fee to go swimming. College students’ families are being drained by public colleges and young people often are forced under a mountain of debt which marginalizes their life for decades after they graduate. To sum it up, these unfair fees are lowering the quality of life in America.

The critics will cry the government can’t afford to get rid of all these charges. That’s a fallacious argument. There didn’t used to be fees to visit the lake, public tuition was free or affordable, and health care didn’t cost an arm and a leg (pardon the pun.) But somehow, back then, the government was able to operate without imposing an addition burden.

The government doesn’t own all this stuff. We do. Should you be charged to live in your house, drive your car, or sit on your couch? Of course not. You own that stuff. You paid for it. You should get to use it for gratis, zip, free.

 

Rebel Legacy

 

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Old Courthouse Caswell County North Carolina

 

Today has been an auspicious Memorial Day.

When I checked my email this morning I found I had a message from a second cousin. My DNA was  analyzed by Ancestry last year and they link you up with people who share your genetics. But I hadn’t received any messages through Ancestry for months. My second cousin wanted to know from where our ancestors emigrated, so I looked at  my genealogy research and found that my oldest ancestor in that line was a woman named Mourning Wilky, b. 1780 in North Carolina. I haven’t done much genealogy research for the past few years so I decided to see if I could find anything new. I did, and that’s the auspicious part.

I had thought that Mourning was an unusual name and I got lucky and found a family story that explained how she came to be called Mourning. It seems her mother was pregnant when her father John Wilky enlisted in the Revolutionary Army in Caswell County, North Carolina. Her mother  decided if he returned safe, the baby would be named Rejoica, but if he didn’t come back, her name would be Mourning.

So I went in search of John Wilky’s military records. I found his enlistment roster, serving in a company under Capt. Robert Moore and I also found a muster roll which had the comment “died in hospital.” The date of his death and any battles in which he fought I have not been able to find.

Mourning “Mourna” Wilky married Robert Barnabus “Robin” Sisk and they moved to Madisonville, Kentucky where they lived for the remainder of their lives. Their daughter Mary Ellen was my great-great-grandmother.

So this Memorial Day I have confirmed that I have an ancestor who fought and died in the Revolutionary War. Rest in peace John Wilky, and I wish I knew you better.

Just Say What You Mean

I read a story recently about the perception of Americans by Europeans. One of the things they said was that Americans are always trying to put a positive spin on everything. I think they’re right. We’ve softened our language, deflated it, and taken it to the point that Americans no longer say what they mean. It’s gone so far in some cases that we say the opposite of what we mean. We now often talk in code, the real meaning screened because, after all, it’s not trendy to make negative comments.

An old joke captures the phony optimism of  many Americans. A little  boy and girl came down the stairs on Christmas morning and ran to the tree to open their presents, but the only  thing under  the tree was a pile  of horse poop. The little boy was disappointed but the little girl started  running around  excitedly. The little boy  asked her why she was acting so crazy. “If there’s  horse poop, there must  be a pony  around here somewhere,” she said. It seems like Americans often try to find a positive in any situation, even if the  possibility is remote  and unrealistic.

Here’s another example: On the house hunting shows on HG tv, prospective home buyers doing a walk-through often say something like, “I’m not sure I love the wallpaper.” I’ve heard some variation on that kind of statement over and over. Translation: “I don’t like the wallpaper.” Simple, straightforward, and there’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t like wallpaper. Saying you don’t know if you  love it is dishonest. You know you don’t love it. You don’t even like it and that’s not even the issue. Love doesn’t come into it at all. It’s about your personal taste., what you want to live with every day, and you have every right to have things the way you want. You’re not hurting anybody’s feelings by saying you don’t like the paint color, or even if you say you hate it. Nobody will cry.  Just say what you mean.

Here’s another one I’ve seen ad nauseum  in movies, tv shows and even in commercials. Two people are on a date and maybe it’s not going so well, One of them mentions he or she has an early day tomorrow. Translation: This isn’t going well and I want to leave now.  My wife told me when guys used to ask her out on dates, she would tell them she couldn’t because she had to wash her hair. I know what’s going on in these interpersonal spaces. People are trying to let each other down easy, to not cause hurt feelings. But you think when anyone utters those code words about having an early day tomorrow, the other person knows exactly what they’re saying? Wouldn’t it be more honest to just say something like, I don’t think this is going to work out, which is what you’re really thinking. Everybody who’s been out there on the first date battlefield has been rejected and knows that’s just how it goes. Just say what you mean.

A man from the deep south told me an old story that illustrates my point perfectly. He and his family had gone to town on a Saturday to shop and recreate. While in town, they somehow met and got involved with a young guy they’d never known before. The young man spent the day with the family.  In a fashion typical of southern hospitality, when the family was ready to go home, they  said to the young guy,  “Come home  with us.” This invitation is about as insincere as they come,  and  the correct response in the south is “No, you come home with me.” But that’s not how this young man replied. He said, “I  think I  will,”  and did go home with  them  and spent  several  days.  That’s the kind of boondoggle you can get  in when you say things  you don’t  mean.

Of course, there are times you shouldn’t be honest or direct. When your mate has spent lots of time getting ready for a big event and asks you how he or she looks, you better say they look good, even when they don’t.  If a child asks you if he or she could be president of the U.S., or an astronaut, or a princess. you should say yes. If your wife, girlfriend, daughter, or really any woman asks you if you think she’s pretty, find a way to answer in the affirmative. The key is to sort out the issues that are so sensitive, others really want you to tell them what they want to hear. In these situations, unless the person demands you tell them what you really think, don’t.

But most of the time, whenever you can, put it right out there and say what you mean.

Something Yule Celebrate

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December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the day that should be the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus,  or whatever your cultural year-end holiday happens to be. Why? Because the solstice is a natural astronomical event, the first day of a new season, not an arbitrarily chosen date with no connection to the cycle of the planet.

The Celtic holiday was called Yule. Sound familiar?  The Christmas tradition borrowed heavily from the pagan Celts, though the timing was displaced by four days. The Celts believed you should lay a yule log and warm yourself and yours by a bonfire. If you saved an unburned piece of the yule log, it would protect you through the winter. The Celtic fire festival was called Alban Arthuan, so named because the legend was that King Arthur was born on December 21.

The ritual of the Christmas tree goes back to the Celts, who decorated a tree, usually a pine, with brightly colored ribbons. The Celts also used holly branches and mistletoe to decorate their homes.

Even the Santa Claus tradition is connected to the Celts, and Santa’s elves were called the “nature people” in ancient times.

One Celtic tradition that didn’t get picked up as part of the Christmas festivities is this: Write on a piece of paper something you would like to eliminate from your life and burn it in the flame of a candle and watch your troubles go up in smoke.

 

 

America Under Trump

 

Hang on, America. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Here’s what to expect with Donald Trump as President.

Racists Will Be Emboldened

Eight years ago when we elected the first Black President, there was reason to hope that racism was on the decline. Wrong. Sure, there were enough Americans to elect Obama, but what was hidden was that a significant portion of the population hated having a Black President and they’ve been seething with anger for eight years. When the Donald started his race-hating rhetoric, it turned them on. His continued racial slurs during the campaign, combined with his history of being the leader of the birther movement, strongly suggests Trump will set a racist agenda and the racists in the country will be encouraged to attack minorities.

Brandon Miles, Brandon Partin and Michael Miles cheer before Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida

Another indication that we will face a racist divide in the U.S. is the appointment of Steve Bannon, an avowed White Nationalist, to the top of Trump’s staff. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, also came from the Alt-Right.

A spike in racial attacks happened right after Trump was elected. Apparently, his followers couldn’t contain themselves any longer.

I live about ten miles from Springdale, Arkansas, which has a large population of Latinos. The day after the election, printed  deportation notices were being handed out to Mexican-American students at the high school by white students. Latino students were also being told they were going back to Mexico, even though many of them had never been to Mexico. The significant thing is that the election of Trump has allowed racial tensions previously just under the surface to emerge in all their ugliness.

Things Will Get Even Worse For the Middle and Lower Classes

I understand why many people are angry. For the past twenty years, business profits have been hogged up by the business owners, and almost nothing was shared with the workers. The price of nearly everything has risen, but wages have not kept up. The members of the middle and lower classes have been squeezed financially, and their lifestyle has suffered. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans did anything to protect workers. No wonder they are furious.

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But maybe the saddest thing about the election is this: Voters put in charge the very people who are most likely to continue this oppression. Billionaire Trump has benefited from the funneling of cash to the wealthy. His plan to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Ameridcans  will only make the situation worse. Also, his party, the Republicans, have blocked any increase in the minimum wage,  and Trump has said he supports that position. The moral is this. If you’re a chicken, don’t choose a champion from among the foxes.

Medical Costs Will Spiral Upward

Why, because when the Affordable Care Act is repealed and tens of millions of Americans have their health care taken away, what will they do when they’re sick? Show up at the hospital emergency ward for care. These are poor people, so many of them will not pay for the care they receive. The hospital will then pass on those costs to consumers, and medical costs will soar. Same old deal we had before. Trump’s promise of a “terrific” new health care proposal will turn out to be all hot air.

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Protests In the Streets

About half of all Americans didn’t vote. They no longer believe in the system. About one-fourth of Americans voted for Trump and about one-fourth voted for Clinton. The Clinton supporters are convinced Trump is dangerous and the country is in peril. Their only recourse is to hit the streets and send a warning that disaster looms. If Trump goes ahead with the things he promised, we may be entering a new era of continued protests, much like the protests during the civil rights era and during the Vietnam War. You can dismiss the protesters as a bunch of loud, rude rabble. But remember, it was protests in the streets that finally swayed the public against the Vietnam War. It only takes a  relatively small, vocal group to stage huge protests and there is plenty of anger to fuel their cause.

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Mass Deportations

Trump is backing off his campaign pledge to deport all  illegals, but now he says he’d like to deport two to three million “criminals.”  The logistics of rounding up and transporting millions of people back to their country of origin are staggering. One has to wonder if the only way Trump could do this would be to order the military into the purge creating an American gulag. Trump’s followers are going to expect him to do what he promised during the campaign.  Meanwhile, immigrants are going to surge into the U.S. to get in before Trump builds his promised wall.

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Unnecessary Wars

Every President since Jimmy Carter has sent U.S. soldiers into some country and Jimmy Carter was a one-term President. Flexing with the power of the U.S. military has been a popular move for nearly every President. In the best cases, loss of life has been minimal, as when troops went into places like Panama and Dominica. But other military incursions have been costly, both in lives and dollars. Bush the elder ordered the Persian Gulf War and Bush the younger started major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars cost an estimated one trillion dollars and combined with Republican tax cuts crashed the U.S. economy.

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Trump said he will quickly wipe out ISIS. The only way that seems likely is if a large American military force is sent into Syria and Iraq. Thousands could die in such a war. But it’s hard to imagine that a “strongman” like Trump wouldn’t use the military somewhere in some unnecessary war.

Reversal On Climate Change

Trump said climate change is a hoax created by and for the Chinese. Usually, new Presidents honor the treaty agreements made by their predecessor, but Trump has said he will pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. If the major powers fail to act soon to control climate change, it may become too late, and the planet will go into a  unstoppable death spiral. Maybe not, but is the death of human life on the planet something we should risk? Trump already has a climate change denier picked out to head the EPA. At least until Trump gets rid of the EPA altogether, if he does what he promised. In the long run, this may be Trump’s most dangerous policy, endangering not just Americans, but everyone on earth.

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Impeachment

This may seem like a long shot, but some pundits are already predicting Trump will be impeached. Given Trump’s long record of clashing with authority, his thousands of lawsuits, and the likelihood that he will continue to cross the line, this isn’t that farfetched. It’s already clear that he will be battling in courts against fraud for Trump University and a rape accusation. Given the character of this egotistical mogul, he may not last.

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Fire and Ice

 

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice,

From what I’ve tasted of desire,

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To know that for destruction ice

Is also great, and would suffice

-Robert Frost

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Six days until the presidential election, and there’s so much hate and anger, I wonder if our country is now a divided house that can no longer unite. I don’t think any candidates have ever been more despised than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I’ve never seen Americans be so spiteful and vindictive, and this election is being driven by hate more than by issues.

So I’m wondering what is going to happen next week after one of these two becomes the President-elect. No  matter who wins, there will be loads of unhappiness for about half of all Americans who will see the election as a disaster. What might happen after that is scary.

I believe the rancor is at a new level, perhaps a dangerous level. I remember how fearful I was when George W. Bush was elected, and many of my fears proved correct when Bush started a war based on lies and hundreds of thousands died, and again when he crashed the U.S. economy at the end of his eight years of mismanagement. But America survived Bush, and moved on.

As unhappy as I was with Bush, I never advocated for him to be violently removed from office the way some voices are already promoting. Yes, those may be radical voices, but the cries of “lock her up” and the seething  panic that Trump could use nukes are both the kind of extreme thinking that could lead to post-election tragedy.

In the past, whoever won the presidency was accepted. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case this time. At the minimum, I think whoever wins will be hounded, attacked, accused and harassed for the next four years. At the maximum, what could happen is grim, insurrection, “second amendment solutions,” and blood in the streets all seem possible.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope there is enough civility and order left in our country to accept whoever is elected. For tens of millions of Americans, it won’t be easy, and I am one of those. I am ashamed to be a member of the same species as Donald Trump. I think he is an embarrassment to our country. I cringe to think  what he might do if elected.

But if is he is elected, I will accept the decision of voters and hope for the best. I will hope  he will rise to the occasion and be a better president than he is a person. I will hope that somehow the country will get through four years without suffering too much damage. I don’t want Trump to be shot or even thrown in jail. If he is elected, he is our leader, and I believe the country will endure his presidency.

If you hate Hillary Clinton as much as I hate Donald Trump, I hope you will accept the election results. You don’t ever have to support her, but don’t  believe her election is the end of the country. Don’t get sucked into thinking only radical  solutions can now save us. Whoever becomes president,  and however wrong it seems, we must guarantee that in the next four years our system of peaceful transition of power survives. That is far more important than the hatred for any one person.

 

 

Going Postal

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Sometimes life sneaks up on you and blindsides you in little frustrating and absurd ways that test your patience and civility. Recently, I almost went postal over the Post Office.

It started simply enough at a yard sale where I bought an artsy looking piece of glass, covered in dust, for fifty cents. I took it home, cleaned it up, looked it up and found it was made in Poland and was worth about fifty times what I paid for it. So I put it on ebay and sold it. So far, so good.  A few more bucks in paypal.

A piece of art glass is fragile, and I didn’t want it to get broken in transit, so I packed it with lots of padding in a box that had held a case of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. No, I didn’t drink the rum.

So I’m in line at the post office in Rogers, Arkansas. The post office is one of the places where you still have to stand in line and wait because the clerks are still filling our forms by hand, just like they did in the 1800s,  and some transactions  take about as long as a home mortgage.

But finally, I crawl to the front of the line and heft the package onto the counter in front of the middle-aged woman clerk. She stares at the package for a while, with the same face she’d make if I’d have heaved a live poisonous snake in front of her.

She tapped her nails on the counter and says. “I’m very sorry, sir, but we can’t accept this package because it’s packed in a liquor box.”

Rules. Especially stupid rules. Why did the post office care if I used a box I’d gotten at the liquor store?  I quickly assured the clerk that I wasn’t actually shipping  liquor, just art glass.

“We can’t accept packages that have liquor logos. Sorry.” She shoved the package toward me. I walked back to the car irritated. What the hell?  Was the post office worried I was going to corrupt their  sober employees? It just seemed ridiculous, officious and prudish.

But I still had to get the damn thing shipped somehow, so I went home and took  typing paper and pasted it over every liquor reference on the box. I sanitized it, de-boozled it, abolitioned it.

So after another  fun wait in line, I’m back face-to-face  with the very same woman clerk at the post office in Rogers, Arkansas. I proudly display my handiwork, my extensive pasting of white paper on every side of that box.

“You did a good job,” said the clerk. “But I can still tell it’s a liquor box. I still can’t take it. Sorry.”  The first time, I was irritated. Now I’m getting a little pissed. I felt like saying, of course you can tell it’s a liquor box, because you know it’s a liquor box from my first visit. Then I repeated to myself all the reasons this whole thing was so stupid. I felt like going and getting a bottle of rum and drinking until I passed out. But I didn’t, because when it comes to duels with unreasonable idiots, the only thing that matters is that you find a way to outwit them.

But I still had to get the damn thing shipped. It was obvious to me that the faintest hint or whiff of the devil’s brew would just get me sent home again with my tail between my legs. So I took a big old piece of brown butcher paper  and wrapped up the whole box. I didn’t go back to the clerk in Rogers, Arkansas, because I could just imagine her saying she could tell it was a liquor box because of its shape or because she had X-ray vision, or that she suspected I was a serial pervert shipper.

No, I took the wrapped package to the post office in Farmington, Arkansas, where a woman who could have been the sister of the woman in Rogers actually accepted the package for shipment. I paid her, trying hard not to smirk.  Apparently she lacked the psychic ability of her sister. I walked out to the car with the same kind of pride and swagger George Bush must have had when he landed that plane on the aircraft carrier and declared mission accomplished.

But the post office wasn’t quite done  with me yet. I received an email from the buyer a few days later. The package had arrived postage due, and he’d had to pay the post office to get it, even though he’d paid me in advance for shipping. He asked for a refund. I sent it to him, but I went back to the post office to try to find out what the hell had happened.

A third woman clerk, younger but still a Stepford clerk, told me it shouldn’t have happened. I knew that. Can you pull up the transaction and see why it happened, I asked. No way to do that, she said, and I don’t know much about computers. Yes, she actually said that. You see, the post office is like the Special Olympics. They don’t have a clue, but they always win,  every time.

After four trips to the post office, I was ready to spontaneously  combust over the absurdity of human existence. But I didn’t. I drove to the liquor store, bought a big bottle of rum and tried to forget the whole thing. Yo, ho, ho.