Monthly Archives: October 2009

Journey’s End

Just arrived in Clearwater, FL. Left home at 5:30 this morning, took 15 hours to drive 950 miles. Here are a few highlights:

  • Weathermen are not to be trusted. Over the past few days we checked the forecast several times, and all said variations on the theme of “clear weather with a 20% chance or precipitation at worst”. They were horribly wrong: it rained through all of Kentucky, most of Tennessee, and parts of Georgia had such heavy rain that I was hanging on for dear life and nearly had to pull over. The rain only really stopped at Valdosta, near the Florida state line. Old-testament prophets who were this spectacularly wrong were removed from the gene pool permanently, and yet we suffer incompetence from Meteorologists (along with traffic planners and financial advisers) with inexplicable equanimity.
  • While driving through the hills of Tennessee I saw a sign that said “Ruby Falls, Lookout Mtn.” I remember wondering which one I should feel sorrier for. Poor Ruby; Poor Mountain.
  • There are too many trucks on America’s roads. While I am against government involvement in private industry, it is a moot point; the government is already subsidizing the roads (by building them), so why not subsidize the railways and take some of that cargo off the freeway system? Ignore the yammering from the Teamsters; every trade guild does that when their power is threatened.
  • My three year old Godson rocks! He slept from Louisville to Atlanta, woke up, played at MacDonald’s, ate fries, watched some movies on Milady’s iPod, slept again, watched a couple more movies, and then, when we got to Florida, slept through the night. I could not have asked for better.
  • Atlanta drivers are maniacs. Nuff Said
  • MacDonald’s in Locust Grove, Ga, is a dump. Avoid at all costs.
  • There are some lazy bozos who believe that the left-hand lane belongs to them. They will stubbornly defend their right to camp out in the passing lane… until a cop shows up in their rear-view mirror, at which point they smartly move over…
  • Then there are the other lazy bozos who like to have a nap in the middle lane. While it is good to leave room for others at junctions, if someone is passing you on the right, it usually means you are in the wrong lane.
  • I did this run on only five hours’ of sleep, but I reached our destination in better shape than I thought I would, given my current fitness level. It seemed something of a mystery to me until milady informed me that she had been fasting and praying for me. Mystery solved.

It doesn’t add up

Or: Why Kroger’s can’t do math

Stopped at my local Kroger’s to pick up a back of spuds. A 5lb bag of red potatoes cost $4.29 (which is daylight robbery, but if you shop at Krogers, you don’t expect cheap). As usual, there were so few cashiers on duty and so many people in line that I thought that I was in Wal-Mart, so I decided to use the self check-out.

Bad move:

  • Scanned the spuds – $4.29
  • Put in four dollar bills.
  • Put in two quarters.
  • Waited for my receipt, none came.
  • Looked at the screen. It apparently wanted another money.
  • Looked more closely. Total goods, $4.29. Amount tendered. $4.50. Cash needed: 79c. What the Hell..?
  • Tried to get the attention of the already-overburdened cashier. Finally got him to come and look at the machine. He prodded the refund buttons and tried to get the machine to cooperate.
  • I drew his attention to the fact that it had counted the cost and the cash correctly, but could not figure out the subtraction part correctly.
  • He returned to his supervisor station, weaved an incantation and sacrificed a fresh-frozen chicken to the silicon gods, and the machine finally decided that I was not a thief and let me go.
  • The Dude handed me some change and a ridiculously long receipt showing several corrections he had to make in order to complete the simplest transaction imaginable.

I have already established in the past that I do not like shopping at Kroger’s. In a world that forces you choose between cheap and good, they are not particularly either. I have never liked their prices, their silly shopper’s card and their not-particularly-competitive gas prices – and I loathe their misleading “everyday low price” yellow tags – a bad idea that Meijers has unfortunately copied.

The only reason I shop there at all is because they are the closest store to my house. In spite of this being a new store, they never seem to have enough cashiers and their self-scan checkouts have been troublesome from day one. I have complained to them about this several times, and they have replied with meaningless apologies.

My one regret was that I did not take a picture of the screen with my phone. That is an error I hope to correct.

Hearing Aid

I’ve been having a problem with wax buildup in one of my ears. When it started to hurt I went to the Doc. She said that the wax was too close to my eardrum for her to get it out safely, and recommended that I see an ENT specialist.

Last week I went to see the ENT guy. It took less than ten minutes to get the wax out, and I was on my merry way.

So what makes this blogworthy?

Simple. The bill came to $334. For ten minutes’ work. That’s more than I make in a day.

The good news is that insurance company whittled it down to $213, then paid $146, leaving me with the remaining $67.

I wonder what the bill would have been if I was negotiating directly with them? A lot less, I suspect.

Church and State

Before coming to live in this great nation, I read through the Constitution, in an attempt to make sense of what makes this country tick.

Recently, however, I have come to the conclusion that many – if not most – Americans – have not read their founding documents, and don’t know what they say. Apparently too many of us rely on the talking heads at CNN to be our interpreters of Constitutional law.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the “Constitutional Separation of Church and State” that I hear bandied about on a weekly basis. The phrase is normally used to justify the removal of some religious reference or practice from our Government.

There is only one thing wrong with the “Separation of Church and State” in the Constitution: There is no such thing. Really. Check the constitution for yourself. The phrase is not found anywhere in there. The only place where religion is even mentioned is in the First Amendment, which says: “Congress will make no law regarding the establishment of Religion, and the free exercise thereof“.

There. That’s it.

So where does the term “Separation of Church and State” originally come from? I’m glad you asked. The phrase was used by Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a Baptist Preacher. The Preacher was worried about had Governmental interfering in the Church, and Jefferson used the famous phrase in his reply, to settle the Preacher’s doubts and fears.

This nation was founded on a premise of Religious freedom (which is not the same as freedom from religion – all of the founders, without exception, were churchmen), and the purpose of the First Amendment was to enshrine that freedom in to law.

One of the big worries at the time of the birth of the Republic was that the Government would start a “State Religion”, emulating the British Monarch, who was also head of the Church of England. To counter this, a simple and explicit idea was put into the Constitution – an enjoinder for the Government to stay “out of the Religion Business”. It was never intended to be used to keep religion or religious ideas out of Government, even though the Supreme Court has interpreted it to mean precisely that on several occasions.

So what does this have to do with displaying the Ten Commandments on Government Property? Absolutely nothing. And yet this phrase is used in an attempt to “keep religion out of Government”, even though there is not evidence that this was the view if the Founders – and plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Think about it; the framers of the Constitution were, to a man, churchmen, if not Christians. Every last one of them claimed to believe in a Creator of the Universe and everything in it. The most irreligious of the lot of them was probably Benjamin Franklin, who summed up his beliefs with the following words:

Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped… that the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.”

By our definition, he is hardly what one would call a Christian (after all, he considered Jesus to me a great moral leader, and not the Son of God – an attitude he shares with Muslims), but can hardly be considered an atheist by any stretch of the imagination. Like many of us, he believed in God, but preferred to reserve judgment as to which particular group of his followers were right.

So where does this leave us? There are some who would prefer the removal of any item of religious significance from all government property and practice.

Those well-meaning folks seem blissfully unaware that the “inalienable rights” that we enjoy are “endowed” to us by our creator. Remove the possibility of a creator and your rights disappear in a puff of logic.

They do not want freedom of religion; they want freedom from religion, or at least freedom from Christian influences.

Whether they would treat a Muslim or a Hindu in the same way is debatable.

On Capitalism

Over the past few months, I have heard a lot of pontification from the media, the web and from friends on the subject of capitalism.

Sadly, most of is was wrong, or at least misinformed.

Most of the stuff you hear about Capitalism is negative, and centers on greed, corruption and exploitation. It’s time to put the record straight.

Capitalism is not about money: It is about attitude.

Capitalism is not greed: You can be a communist or a socialist and still be greedy.

Capitalism is not exploitation: Andrew Carnegie made millions, and then he turned around and created the Public Library system that we still enjoy today. Bill Gates is no longer the richest man; he is giving his money away, and as a result is improving the lives of millions of people. Sound like exploitation to you? Yes, many rich people are mean – and so are many poor people. The problem is not capitalism, it’s human nature.

If you want to see a good example Capitalism in action, go out to eat; the servers are usually paid a pitiful salary and reply on tips to make their money. The servers who are good at what they do make good money. If you’re a slacker, or your heart isn’t in it, or you are just in it for the money, you probably won’t do very well. But if you have a heart for service and a passion for excellence, you will do well. It’s heartless, but it’s fair.

Those of you who believe that the universe should be “fair” will probably take exception to Capitalism. I take exception to “fairness” on the simple premise that life isn’t fair. “Fairness” is like a four-way stop sign that slows everybody down. “Fairness” is the essence of socialism.

Winston Churchill once said: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries

Yes, I believe in Capitalism. I also believe in tipping well for good service. That is Capitalism, too.