Monday, December 29, 2008

Not Even Close

I don't think anybody would ever accuse me of wearing rose colored glasses with regard to my views on the world today, and I know that my opinions probably give me the label of being one of those "doom & gloom" types. I don't see it that way, of course; I'm really a very optimistic person. But I try not to slant, sugarcoat, or plant the seeds of false hope either.

Here's the priceless aftermath of some who did:

"I think this is a case where Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are fundamentally sound. They're not in danger of going under I think they are in good shape going forward." -- Barney Frank (D-Mass.), House Financial Services Committee chairman, July 14, 2008. Two months later, the government forced the mortgage giants into conservatorships and pledged to invest up to $100 billion in each.

"No! No! No! Bear Stearns is not in trouble." -- Jim Cramer, CNBC commentator, Mar. 11, 2008. Five days later, JPMorgan Chase took over Bear Stearns with government help, nearly wiping out shareholders.

"Existing-Home Sales to Trend Up in 2008" -- Headline of a National Association of Realtors press release, Dec. 9, 2007. On Dec. 23, 2008, the group said November sales were running at an annual rate of 4.5 million -- down 11% from a year earlier -- in the worst housing slump since the Depression.

Seven more where these came from: The Worst Predictions About 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And Yet . . . There It Is

Take a step back in time for a moment. Close your eyes and travel back over 2,000 years. What does your mind conjure up?

What were the people like back then? What type of things did they think about? What concepts did they understand and what technology was available to them?

Remember, this is a time centuries before the great sailing ships of England, Spain, Portugal, and France. The telescope had not been invented yet, steam & combustion engines were unknown, flight was impossible by any means, and the industrial revolution was not even a faint spark on a distant horizon. Even the Black Plague was still centuries away.

What do you see in your mind as you think about this time period? What were the people who lived in this period really capable of doing?

Now watch this 3 minute video: 2000-year-old computer recreated

Does it shake up your existing perceptions a little? The device is called the Antikythera mechanism, and it’s fascinating because it was made about 1,800 years before the technology & knowledge to build it were known. Think about that for a second; It’s not even supposed to exist.

And yet . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saturdays With Sarah

From the book "Finding Liberty":

When my daughter Sarah was a baby, she had just enough energy to make it to lunchtime. There was no “gentle warning tone” when her gas gauge neared empty, just a predictable yet sudden moment - somewhere between noon and 1 o’clock - when her eyes would screw shut, her mouth would open wide, and a piercing wail of fatigue would start to vent from deep within her.

On Saturdays, this was my call to action. I would dutifully scoop up my baby girl into my arms, retire to the darkened bedroom, and begin the ritual of her nap.

Holding her little body to my chest, I would pace the confines of the bedroom with a slow, rocking gait. I would quietly sing her a lullaby - usually the same one over and over – until her insistent crying gradually abated to the gentle hitches of soft, muffled sobs. As the fight continued to leave her body, I would stop singing the lullaby and begin humming it instead, the vibrations from my chest adding their own chorus to an already sleepy symphony.

When I sensed that she was all but played out, I would lay her on the bed. She would wake up, of course, but that was expected, so just as soon as her head was on the pillow I would quickly lie down beside her. At this point, she would no longer have the energy to actively contest the inevitable, but her droopy eyelids would continue to battle gravity and resist the siren song of sleep for as long as they were able.

I knew from experience that if I just remained there with her, she would be fast asleep in 10 or 15 minutes. I also knew that after those same 10 or 15 minutes of lying next to her warm little body and breathing in her sweet baby perfume, I would be asleep too, and my Saturday would suddenly have a great big hole in it.

I really couldn’t complain. For 5 days each week I was not there at all to assist my wife with the children, and during every night of the week I simply was not endowed with the necessary equipment to help out even if I had wanted to (and I can promise you that during those nights I had absolutely no desire to be of any assistance whatsoever). So if the weekend gave me the opportunity to provide my wife with a little relief, it should not have bothered me at all. But it still did. Especially on Saturdays.

Sundays were already kind of a “scratch” anyway. Church in the morning, lunch, maybe a football game in the afternoon; then dinner, baths, and everyone to bed early in preparation for Monday morning. But Saturdays . . . well, those hurt a little.

Saturday was the one day that was open to all possibilities, and it was the one day that I had available to get accomplished whatever it was that I needed to do. And there was always so much to do. The grass needed to be cut. The cars needed to be washed. I needed to make some headway into the pile of things that had broken during the week. Half a dozen unfinished projects begged for attention. The list seemed almost endless, and that was just the “preventive maintenance” I needed to do to keep from falling behind further than I already was. New projects? Something just for fun? Forget it.

So when I would hear Sarah get fussy on Saturday afternoon I would almost always feel a touch of frustration coupled with a vague sense of loss. I would think of those things that I would not be able to do simply because my daughter needed to take a nap, and who, in doing so, would inadvertently pull her daddy into the same land of blissful slumber regardless of how hard he tried not to go. Once again, a Saturday with almost unlimited potential would be gutted.

Some things will always be, but some things will never be again. 10 years have now passed. The grass still needs to be cut, the cars still need to be washed, and I still have a half dozen projects that need my attention, but my little girl doesn’t take naps with her daddy anymore.

Sarah is 11 now, and the vague sense of loss that I feel at this point in my life is one of knowing that my baby girl will never be a baby again. She has girlfriends that occupy her time now. She has private talks with her mother that I am not privy to. She still loves her daddy, but she isn’t quite as dependant on him as she used to be.

My little girl plays softball now, and through some twist of fate I somehow got roped into being an assistant coach for her team, even though I know nothing about coaching. It’s been a rude awakening for me to learn how much time being a coach will carve out of each week. For 3 months now we’ve had practice after practice and game after game in a seemingly endless buffet of sweat, dust, sunburn, bruises, and sore muscles. Sometimes it seems as if every time I turn around I’m getting ready to head back out to the ballpark. I admit, it’s been a little frustrating at times.

But then I look at my daughter; so excited as she runs out onto the field, so determined as she stands in the batter’s box, so happy as she chants with her teammates in the dugout. And I am here with her. Suddenly, my heart swells with joy as any & all regrets of what will not be are washed away by the realization of what is, and I am able to fully appreciate these fleeting moments in time simply for what they are.

There are some things I can no longer do with my daughter, but this is something that I can do with her - today - and I intend to soak up every single minute of it while I still have the chance.

Because some things will never be again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How I Gave Myself a $3,200 Raise

The economy’s down and money is tight. Food prices went up with gasoline prices, but didn’t come back down with them. The stock market’s tanking, 401k’s are devalued, and the easy money has dried up. With well over a million jobs cut this year alone – and more on the way – it’s a good time just to be thankful that you have a job; certainly not the environment to ask for a raise.

So don’t ask. Just take one. It’s not that hard, and you can make it as big or small as you decide. Here’s what we did:

Cell phone: Cat & I were paying $89 a month to have our 2 phones. We actually got rid of them 3 years ago, but I include them here because for most people the money is there to be had. But oh my! How can you live without a cell phone! Easy; the same way you used to live before you had one.

AOL: Why we ever used AOL in the first place I’m not sure, but we did for years. It’s completely unnecessary, unlike the $24.95 a month we used to pay for it.

DSL: In for a penny, in for a pound. That’s right, we no longer have internet service at any speed in our house. Still have it at work. Still have it at the library. Like the cell phone, you may shudder at the thought of giving it up. Have you ever asked yourself why? Do you realize how much time you waste surfing the internet? Do you realize how little value it actually brings you? Do you know how much money you could save without it? I do: $29.99 a month.

Cable/Satellite TV: Honestly, how much value does this bring into your home? “Deal or No Deal”? “Dancing With the Stars”? “The Biggest Loser”? You’re kidding me, right? The only thing I have missed at all is watching college football, but you know what? I’m still alive. Turns out I really don’t miss it that much after all. Don’t miss the $31.88 a month we used to pay for it either, because we’re keeping that now.

Long Distance: Is there really a reason to pay for a long distance plan when you don’t need to? Isn’t it nice to get a real letter in the mail every now and then? It doesn’t affect incoming long distance calls, and we can still “10-10-xxx” if we need to make one ourselves. In the meantime, we’ll use the $28 that we used to spend on long distance each month for something else.

Here’s how it all stacks up:

Item Monthly
Cell Phone: $ 89.00
AOL: $ 24.95
DSL: $ 29.99
Cable: $ 31.88
Long Dist: $ 28.60 (avg)
Total: $ 204.42

That comes out to $2,453 annually, and that’s conservative, because it does not include associated taxes, fees, surcharges, etc., associated with any of the above, nor does it include money spent for new phones, accessories, and the like.

But it’s important to remember that that $2,453 is post-tax money; raises are pre-tax. Assuming a 20% tax bracket (state & federal combined), my boss would have to give me a raise of $3,200 in order for my take home pay to go up by that much.

My boss can’t do that; so I did.

You may wonder, “What do we do without cell phones, TV, or the internet?” Well, interestingly, we do all of those things that we didn’t do when we did. We play games. We have conversations. We play (or learn to play) instruments. We do things outside. We read books. We go for walks. We watch movies from the library (free) or from Netflix (about $1 each over the course of the month). We get involved in community events. We fix, improve, repair, or replace all of those things that we didn’t have time to before. We . . . . well, you get the idea.

It’s really kind of nice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bought & Paid For

Below are some key excerpts from an article about a current issue in Australia:

Babies with a severe form of epilepsy risk having their diagnosis delayed and their treatment compromised because of a company's patent on a key gene. It is the first evidence that private intellectual property rights over human DNA are adversely affecting medical care.

The situation comes amid growing concern among doctors and medical researchers over the ethics of granting private ownership to human DNA. A Senate inquiry announced this month will investigate the effects of gene patenting on health-care.

Mervyn Jacobson, a founding director of [Genetic Technologies], said, "The question is, are public hospitals allowed to break the law and breach patents granted by the Australian Government?"

While in principle the company would insist on its rights, in practice it would be prepared to negotiate, he said. "We don't need to necessarily enforce them against publicly funded institutions."

Read Entire Article: Sick babies denied treatment in DNA row

If you think that this kind of thing can't happen in the U.S., you're dead wrong. We're moving into a "Global Society" that will be governed by "international law", remember? And even though U.S. companies may not be excercising rights over patented human DNA at the moment, they are - and have been for years - excercising their rights over patented seeds. Don't believe it? Do a little searching & digging on "Percy Schmeiser" and/or "Monsanto", but be prepared; it's a deep well.

Just because we don't know what's going on doesn't mean that it isn't happening.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dueling Excerpts

Sooner or later I think people will actually start reading What So Proudly We Hailed. Sooner would be nice. Until then, the lines between a fictional novel and a factual reality continue to blur together in alarming fashion. Hopefully, reality will shift away from its parallel course at some point. If not, we're all in a lot more trouble than we could ever imagine.

excerpt from "ID cards for foreigners launched":
LONDON (AFP) – The government launched the first phase of a controversial new identity card scheme Tuesday, forcing certain foreign nationals to start carrying the documents from later this week.

The documents will feature the holder's name and date of birth, their visa status and right to work, as well as a photograph, fingerprint record, and other biometric data.

excerpt from "What So Proudly We Hailed":
The Real ID for instance, when it did go into effect in 2008, wasn’t the “end of freedom for all” like some had said it would be. It was painless. Nobody even got a national ID card, much less one with a radio frequency chip or a DNA sample or a retinal scan. There were no roadblocks or checkpoints. Nothing like they said it would be. All that happened is that a positive form of ID was added to the driver’s license that everybody had already anyway: a fingerprint.

No big deal.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Coming Soon to a "Good Cause" Near You

How can we use implantable Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology? Let me count the ways . . .

1 – Implant them into your pets – of course – unless you are an irresponsible, unloving owner
2 – Implant them into our soldiers so that we will never have to leave a body behind
3 – Implant them into people who have access to areas requiring security clearances

What else? What else?

Oh, here’s one! How about implant them into everyday people so that their entire medical history and all of their records can be accessed through a software program just in case they arrive at a hospital unable to communicate:

VeriChip Corporation, a provider of radio frequency identification (RFID) systems for healthcare and patient-related needs, today announced that its personal health record used in conjunction with its VeriMed Health Link system will be accessible through Microsoft(R) HealthVault(TM), an online platform designed to put consumers in control of their health information. Through this agreement, Health Link members will have the ability to open free HealthVault accounts and input, store, view and interact with their health data. Further, the data within Health Link members' existing accounts will be directly accessible through their HealthVault accounts.

VeriChip Corporation, headquartered in Delray Beach, Florida, markets its VeriMed(TM) Health Link System for rapidly and accurately identifying people who arrive in an emergency room and are unable to communicate. This system uses the first human-implantable passive RFID microchip, cleared for medical use in October 2004 by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Full Story: VeriChip Corporation Selected by Microsoft to Offer Personal Health Record through Microsoft HealthVault

Oh, and here’s another great use. Let’s stick ‘em in “HIV positive” folks so we can keep tabs on their nefarious activities. And track them down and punish them if need be:

“ . . . legislator John Manangsang said by implanting small computer chips beneath the skin of "sexually aggressive" patients, authorities would be in a better position to identify, track and ultimately punish those who deliberately infect others . . . ”

Full Story: Indonesian AIDS patients face microchip monitoring

What other “Good Causes” can we think of for these things? Ex-convicts & parolees? Gun owners? Children? Babies? You & me?

I guess time will tell. In the interim, feel free to use your imagination, and as you do so, don't forget that a knife can cut both ways.

* * *

UPDATE (11/25/08) - Boy, time apparently tells quick! Saw the below story just this morning. Granted, it doesn't deal with RFID chips that are physically implanted into the human body, but wouldn't that just be the next logical step?
New machines scan IDs at border crossings

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Less Than Human

Note: The following is an article that I wrote for the Casey County News as part of my ongoing attempts to encourage people (myself included) to turn their backs on the corporate giants in favor of small town businesses. Green River Builders & the Casey Print Shop are the local hardware & office supply stores here in Liberty, KY. The Lowe's & Office Depot mentioned are located in Danville, KY, 25 miles away.

I have a confession to make, and an apology to give.

Not too long ago I needed some odd sized PVC fittings for a project. Green River Builders didn’t have the pieces I needed in stock, but even though I knew they would have gotten them for me, my own neglect & procrastination had made waiting a luxury that I could no longer afford.

So – for my first sin – I went to Lowe’s, and yes, in their smorgasbord of “everything” they did indeed have the fittings that I needed. I was feeling fine. Until I went to checkout.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been to Lowe’s, and somewhere in my absence they have installed four new “self-checkout” machines. Maybe I think too much of myself, but the thought that a store would present me with a machine so that I can check myself out is degrading; almost as if I’m not important enough for them to provide me with a living, human being to assist. Apparently Lowe’s doesn’t feel the same way though, because other than the four machines, there was only one register open that was staffed by an actual person.

So I got in her line intent to wait – as much to show my appreciation for her as to show my disdain for the automated devices – and the first thing she did was tell me that I could check myself out on one of the new machines. I said “no, thank you”, and continued waiting in line. Then, as she was waiting for someone to approve a check for the customer she currently had, she offered to help me use the self-checkout machine.

I had to digest this for a moment. Then I got it: She didn’t want to help me; she wanted me to use the machine, even if she had to help me do it.

Completely disenchanted with her reaction, I walked to the other side of the store and stood in line for 5 minutes at the Customer Service desk to make my purchase with the only other living person I saw standing next to a register.

Obviously not content with how badly I’d been treated at Lowe’s and apparently determined to sin yet again, I then went next door to Office Depot. As before, what I was looking for was not something that I couldn’t have bought from the Casey Print Shop, but I knew Office Depot would probably have it in stock, and I was right there after all.

This time I had a real person to check me out, but as I started writing the date on my check, she told me that to “save time” I didn’t have to fill it out; at all. Not a single line.

Curious, I handed her my blank check, she ran it through the machine, asked me to sign on the little computer screen (on which I made an unintelligible scrawl), and then handed back the blank check along with the receipt. It’s important to let you know that she never asked me for any form of ID at all. All she needed – or wanted – was my blank check, which, by the way, could have belonged to anyone.

Granted, Elaine Wood doesn’t check my ID at the Casey Print Shop either, but that’s because Elaine doesn’t have to; she knows who I am. The blank check I gave to Office Depot could have belonged to anybody. It could have been yours. Maybe it was.

Through the combined efforts of Lowe’s and Office Depot, it took them less than 20 minutes to make me feel a little less than human – a machine at one store; an account & routing number at the other – and despite myself, I couldn’t help but walk away feeling that I was the one who had done something wrong.

In truth, I guess I had, because I’d never even given my own hometown businesses a chance. My mother had a corny saying when I was a boy; “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

I should probably listen to her more often.

But in the meantime, please let me express my sincere apologies to both Green River Builders and the Casey Print Shop. Both of your businesses always treat me as if I have value. I should do a better job returning the favor.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Welcome Home (Small Town Style)

My wife Catherine & I were walking over to church Sunday evening at about 6:00 p.m. when I heard the sirens – a lot of them – wailing in the distance and coming our way fast. What was it this time? A fire? A car wreck? So sad; these things happen all to often in our little corner of the world.

Then I saw the flashing lights turn the corner and head down the street towards us, making the biggest racket you ever heard. The dusk was shattered by a convoy of strobing flashes of blue, white, & red light stretching back several blocks down the street. A multitude of differing sirens loudly competed with each other for attention; horns were blaring to clear the way.

The Fire Chief’s bright red pickup truck led the procession, followed by an assortment of six fire trucks from across the county, a police cruiser, EMS, and a half-dozen unmarked cars, all lit up like Christmas trees and making enough noise to wake the dead.

“What’s going on?” Catherine asked. “What is that?”

I smiled. “It’s an escort,” I said. “Somebody just came home.”

And indeed someone had. Cade Shackelford, a 2006 graduate of Casey County High School and current member of the National Guard’s 617th Military Police Unit was home after serving a tour of duty in Iraq.

Welcome Home, Cade. Small town style.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

16 & Life to Go

Please take a moment to read the following article:
Should Kids Be Able to Graduate After 10th Grade?

When you're finished, consider these "words of wisdom" from the article:
As more and more jobs head overseas, Brock and others on the commission can't stress enough how dire the need is for educational reform. "The nation is running out of time," he says.

I have news for Mr. Brock; American jobs have not been going overseas because of an uneducated workforce. They have been going overseas because of the corporate bottom line. Period.

And this:
But to achieve the goal of sending kids to college at 16, Tracy and his colleagues recognize preparation will have to start early. Nearly four years ago, New Hampshire began an initiative called Follow the Child. Starting practically from birth, educators are expected to chart children's educational progress year to year.

Allowing the government to get their hooks into our children "practically from birth"; That's just sweet to think about.

More important than the tripe actually contained in the ariticle, however, are the things that are not mentioned at all. Take a moment to think about some of the things that they're not addressing: Will these 16 year olds be considered adults? Will they be able to vote? Drink? Serve on a jury? Be tried as adults in criminal court? Oh, and what if - by some mere chance - instead of going on to college, they decide that they might like to pursue a career in the military? Hmmmmm. Well, they are high school graduates after all . . . .

And if they are old enough to join voluntarily, might it also be safe to assume that - only in the case of a dire emergency, of course - they might also be old enough to join involuntarily?

Why would that thought ever occur to me? Read the below passage from What So Proudly We Hailed and you'll understand. What really upsets me is that I keep seeing things that I wrote about happening in real life. Could this be yet another, if only in its infancy?

* * *
from the book "What So Proudly We Hailed":
The tide of our little war ebbed and flowed, periodically quieting down for a time only to then rise up again in a flurry of activity. It just went on and on and on. Buildings burned. Dams were blown. People died. And no matter how many men would embrace me or shake my hand, or how many words of encouragement I would give, we all somehow just ignored the fact that none of it would ever change anything.

It was all just a distraction. Just activity to keep everyone occupied until the stone that was needed to end it all could be found. We were just passing time, and as the months clipped by, I began to fear that our time was starting to run out. Because the world continued to turn for the other side as well, and I could sense the hand squeezing, the screws continuing to turn.

Some of it didn’t directly affect us. Land reclamation – as the government called it – for instance, really made no difference to us at all. It had been going on slowly and quietly for quite some years anyway. Whether it was by declaring areas as wildlife sanctuaries for endangered species, or claiming land under imminent domain for roads, border fences, public buildings and other projects, or “protecting” the water supply by taking control of all properties that bordered a river, creek, lake, pond or even a seasonal spring, the government took their fair share. What they didn’t get, the banks would pick and choose by foreclosure, and whatever was left, the corporations snapped up for agriculture, oil drilling, or mineral resources. The only thing that was different now was that by the end of 2025, fully three states – Alabama, Maryland, and Mississippi – did not have a single acre of privately owned property within their borders. Others would follow close behind the following year.

And when the work week was extended to sixty hours to halve the gap between the US and Mexican workforces (we were in a union now you know and we had to do our fair share too) to maintain our global competitiveness and keep the coffers full for the war effort – which now included the fight against these internal terrorists – we really didn’t care. Our workweek, while more flexible, was already well over sixty hours.

However, there were other things that were more ominous. When the Department of Education deemed that students were now able to graduate high school at age sixteen (since public schooling had been pushed back to start at age three many years ago), I didn’t initially see reason to worry. It was just another thing, I thought, though I should have known better, because it would prove to be yet another “first step” for something else, like so many others I had witnessed in our recent history.

It didn’t take long to figure out. Six months after lowering the graduation age, the legal voting age was lowered as well. Of course it was. Didn’t that make perfect sense? And when the draft age was lowered to sixteen years old two months after that, well, that made perfect sense too.

There was a war going on you know. Wars need men to fight it, but boys will do in a pinch.

I still held out hope that some of these things would push people over the edge, that they would all stand up as one and end the madness for us, but though they would sometimes get angry, they never did rise together. Decade upon decade of always having someone else to do their dirty work for them kept them complacent and inline, and their anger always faded away and left them looking around for someone else – and the choices were either the AG or us – to come to their rescue rather than risk losing what fragile existence they had left.

Every day I prayed for the successful creation of my stone, and every day the sun would set and I would hear no word at all.

And still the world kept turning. And still we kept waiting.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The First Step Down a Slippery Slope?

The legislation mentioned in this particular article from the Netherlands probably won't happen, but the fact that the "unfit parent" concept continues to keep popping up - in topics ranging from homeschooling to global warming - worries me that sooner or later some of the rhetoric will start to stick.

I realize the potential good that something like this could do, however, if history is to be an indicator, I cannot underestimate man's capacity to do evil with anything that has ever come under his control:

Women in the Netherlands who are deemed by the state to be unfit mothers should be sentenced to take contraception for a prescribed period of two years, according to a draft bill before the Dutch parliament.

The proposed legislation would further punish parents who defied it by taking away their newborn infant.

Have we got the right to exercise pre-emptive "justice" – and could this be the first step towards a "minority report" approach to parental "precrime"? And, perhaps, given the Dutch penchant for social engineering, this could prove to be the prelude for the professionalisation of parenting, where in the distant future only certified and trained "fathers" and "mothers" would be allowed to raise children in special facilities.

Less fantastically, could this not be the first step down a slippery slope?

Read entire article: Guardians of the unborn

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Cost of "Saving" (Part 2)

Note: This is the second of two articles I wrote for the Casey County News. Read the first one here: The Cost of Saving (Part 1)

In Part 1 of this article, I made the argument that any “savings” we gain in the short term by making our purchases outside of Casey County are offset by the long term economic damage that we inflict upon our community by indulging in that behavior.

Of course, if we all had plenty of money we might be perfectly willing to spend more of it at home rather than mortgaging our future just to save a few bucks upfront, but the reality is that we don’t all have plenty of money and the future is still the future after all; our problem is the present. We have real needs that cannot wait, and – all philosophical arguments aside – we need to save money right now, even if we know that by doing so we will ultimately lose later on down the road.

A valid point. And if we were really saving money right now, it might even be worth the risk. But are we? To find out, let’s take a look at what a City of Liberty resident actually “saves” by shopping at Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer and self-heralded low price leader.

First, think about the price we pay just to have the opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart. By today’s averages, every round-trip to Danville and back will cost you about $12 in gas, 50 miles in wear & tear on your vehicle, and a full hour of your time.

To put that in perspective, by making only 2 trips a month, over the course of a year you will spend almost $300 in fuel, drive 1,200 miles (the same as a road trip to Denver, CO), and expend a full 24 hours of your non-refundable life. And all of that before you even get a chance to open your wallet.

Next, we have to consider just how much extra money most people will spend by being immersed in a “one-stop shopping” world. Everyone’s situation will be different, but by studying the spending habits of my own family, I’ve noticed that when we purchase our groceries at Wal-Mart, we spend about $150 on average. When we buy groceries in Liberty, we spend about $80. The interesting thing is that either way, we still run out of food at about the same time.

How does that happen? What did that other $70 pay for?

Much of it is spent on impulse buys. Things we didn’t need, didn’t plan to purchase, and could certainly have lived without, but were so “cheap” we just couldn’t pass them by. It is a rare individual who is disciplined enough to make a list and stick to it under the constant bombardment of temptation that is experienced while shopping in a Wal-Mart store. But even if you can, you probably still aren’t saving any money.

That’s because Wal-Mart executes a sales strategy that utilizes what are known as “loss leaders”. A loss leader is an item that is priced so low it seems almost too good to be true. These items are indeed priced much lower than what other retailers can compete with, and because Wal-Mart offers so many of these loss leaders, we automatically assume that everything else in the store is also priced less than we could find anywhere else. But that isn’t necessarily true.

According to a 2005 study by Zenith Management Consulting, “only 15% to 20% of the items Wal-Mart sells are actually priced lower than competing retailers. [The other] 80% to 85% of the items Wal-Mart sells are more expensive than at other retailers”.

The reason this strategy works is that we as consumers no longer question whether or not Wal-Mart actually has the best prices or not. We have been conditioned to believe that they do. Wal-Mart tells us that they have the lowest prices, and then to reinforce that message they vigorously promote their loss leaders as proof, knowing that most people will never actually take the time to comparison shop on anything else that they sell.

And if Wal-Mart’s $11 billion in profits last year is any indication, they are correct; we won’t check. If we did, however, what we would find is that we probably could have gotten exactly what we wanted from one of our neighborhood retailers right here at home for a better price and a lot less time & trouble.

In the end, it makes no difference whether we look at the long term economic picture or the short term details; the math works out the same either way: We all save when we buy local.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Cost of "Saving" (Part 1)

Note: this is the first of 2 articles that I wrote for the Casey County News here in Kentucky. Although it - and the 2nd article which will be posted in a few days - were written specifically with the City of Liberty & Casey County in mind, the core concepts can just as easily be applied (with a little tweaking) to any community anywhere in the U.S., and probably to many in other countries as well.

For the past several decades, small businesses in America have been holding the short straw during a trend which has seen consumers consistently bypass their hometown stores to opt instead for shopping centers, outlet malls, and big-box retailers. The conventional wisdom has always been that this is perfectly acceptable, and is, in fact, the very allure that makes doing business in a free-market society so appealing in the first place.

Run your business well. Crush your competition. Get rich.

What’s not to like? Especially when we - as consumers - are the ones who benefit from the whole process by being able to save money and live better. It’s a valid argument; but is it true? Are we really saving money, or for that matter, living better?

To decide, it’s important to first understand the motivation of the large, publicly traded corporations that run the majority (if not all) of these big box retailers and savings superstores. Publicly owned corporations are, by design, intended to do one thing and one thing only: make money.

That’s it.

They are not designed to save people money, create good jobs, provide quality products, or save the environment; those things – if they happen at all – are merely side effects that were necessary in order to achieve the main goal. If they could do without them, they would.

Publicly traded corporations make money. That’s just what they do. And not only do they have to make money, but they have to make ever increasing amounts of it to satisfy Wall Street and the shareholders who own their stock. For smaller corporations, this isn’t at first very difficult to accomplish, but as they grow in size, the business model of perpetually increasing profits becomes harder and harder to achieve.

In order to maintain that momentum, something eventually has to “give”, and it does. That’s why we see things like massive layoffs, mergers, restructuring, jobs moving overseas, and lower quality of products due to cheaper & flimsier materials that require the same item to be purchased over and over again. (I can personally share many horror stories regarding vacuum cleaners, doorknobs, coffee makers, and can openers.)

In our lust for those “low, low prices”, we have essentially created a world where almost everything we buy is junk, while in the process we’ve given ourselves less money to spend and fewer options of where to spend it. I’ll ask again: Are we really saving any money or living any better? Is the short term fix we get from “saving” a few dollars upfront worth the long term economic damage that occurs both to our communities and ourselves?

Whether we intend it or not, every dollar that we spend outside of Casey County is gone forever. It will never be recycled within our community. It will never be spent at a local business, or contribute to a local charity, or be added to someone’s paycheck, or result in a new job. Most likely, it will wind up in the pocket of a nameless shareholder who has done nothing to earn it and couldn’t care less about the people living here.

That said, no one should hold any malice to large corporations in general. They are simply doing what they are supposed to do, and doing it well. And, without a doubt, there are some things that simply would not be available to us at all if they didn’t exist. The question arises, however, about how much of our money should be spent to make their world better as opposed to making ours better right here at home?

Click here for The Cost of "Saving" (Part 2)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Shut Up and Take Your Medicine

Excerpts from an AP news story yesterday:

As flu season approaches, many New Jersey parents are furious over a first-in-the-nation requirement that children get a flu shot in order to attend preschools and day-care centers. The decision should be the parents', not the state's, they contend.

State policy now allows for medical and religious exemptions to mandatory vaccinations, but Vandervalk said requests for medical exemptions often have been turned down by local health authorities. She said 19 other states allow conscientious exemptions like those envisioned in her bill.

New Jersey's health department has come out strongly against the legislation.

"Broad exemptions to mandatory vaccination weaken the entire compliance and enforcement structure," it said.

Entire Article: NJ flu-shot mandate for preschoolers draws outcry

Excerpts from "What So Proudly We Hailed":

The HMO’s, for instance, who ran the country’s healthcare system wanted to know how well you were taking care of your body. What did you buy at the grocery store? How much of it did you get, and how often did you go back for more? How many hours were you at the health club? Did you eat fast food? Did you smoke? Did you drink? Were you complying with your individual health mandate – making your scheduled doctor’s appointments, getting your vaccinations on time, and taking your prescribed meds?

The hospitals were numerous and clean, the nurses would always smile as they herded you through from station to station, and the doctors would all nod their heads as you answered their questions. It seemed the same as before, and yet, there was a definite underlying current that everyone seemed to pick up on even though we were all afraid to say anything about it. A negativity that you could literally feel. Because even though the smiles were the same as before, there was now an unspoken message that was as plain and blunt and non-negotiable as it was taboo to even mention: Shut up and take your medicine.

So we did.

* * *

Some people think I'm a little paranoid. You tell me. What do the words "compliance and enforcement" mean to you?

Monday, October 13, 2008

50 Years On . . .

From an interview of Aldous Huxley by Mike Wallace on May 18th, 1958:

HUXLEY: Well, there are certainly devices which can be used [to diminish our freedoms]. I mean, let us er… take after all, a piece of very recent and very painful history is the propaganda used by Hitler, which was incredibly effective.

I mean, what were Hitler’s methods? Hitler used terror on the one kind, brute force on the one hand, but he also used a very efficient form of propaganda, which er… he was using every modern device at that time. He didn’t have TV., but he had the radio which he used to the fullest extent, and was able to impose his will on an immense mass of people. I mean, the Germans were a highly educated people.

WALLACE: Well, we’re aware of all this, but how do we equate Hitler’s use of propaganda with the way that propaganda, if you will, is used let us say here in the United States. Are you suggesting that there is a parallel?

HUXLEY: Needless to say it is not being used this way now, but, er… the point is, it seems to me, that there are methods at present available, methods superior in some respects to Hitler’s method, which could be used in a bad situation. I mean, what I feel very strongly is that we mustn’t be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology.

This has happened again and again in history with technology’s advance and this changes social condition, and suddenly people have found themselves in a situation which they didn’t foresee and doing all sorts of things they really didn’t want to do.

WALLACE: And well, what… what do you mean? Do you mean that we develop our television but we don’t know how to use it correctly, is that the point that you’re making?

HUXLEY: Well, at the present the television, I think, is being used quite harmlessly; it’s being used, I think, I would feel, it’s being used too much to distract everybody all the time. But, I mean, imagine which must be the situation in all communist countries where the television, where it exists, is always saying the same things the whole time; it’s always driving along.
It’s not creating a wide front of distraction it’s creating a one-pointed, er… drumming in of a single idea, all the time. It’s obviously an immensely powerful instrument.

WALLACE: Uh-huh. So you’re talking about the potential misuse of the instrument.

HUXLEY: Exactly.

* * *

I wonder, how many of us ever take the time to stop and think about what we & our children are watching on TV? And too, how many of us have ever deeply considered how what we watch may be - over time - permanently influencing what & how we think in the first place?

Maybe an even better question is, do we even have the ability to ask ourselves those questions anymore?

Watch the interview or read the entire transcript at: Wallace/Huxley Interview

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's a Good Time to be Poor

"Corrupt politicians, Washington bureaucrats, Wall Street fat cats, and clueless commentators have failed to realize that the jig is up. Our entire financial system has been built upon deception, lies and debt. The only thing keeping the system afloat was blind faith in our government and financial leaders to do the right thing. That trust has been shattered into a billion pieces." - James Quinn

This is the only article you really need to read regarding the current financial crisis. It's four pages long, but well worth the time. I hope it stays posted long enough for you to read it.

The Second Great Depression?

Regarding the title of this post, poor people - not having very much to begin with - will actually have an easier time adjusting to an economic downturn than others who have come to expect a certain higher standard of living.

After all, you can only fall so far, and when you're already near the bottom, the landing doesn't hurt nearly as bad.

Friday, October 3, 2008

He Said: The Trappings of Marriage

Marriage is full of many traps. In fact, some might say that marriage itself is a trap; I’ve heard rumors that there is a story circulating in some corners of the world regarding free milk and a cow, but of course I’m not familiar with that story myself, and I can assure you that under no circumstances would I ever subscribe to it’s agenda, nor would I issue a melancholy laugh if anyone ever related it to me.

No, marriage itself is a wonderful thing. But there are some parts of it that take some getting used to. Like talking to your wife.

I’ll be blunt: there’s no talking to Catherine. It just can’t be done. Every conversation is like walking through a minefield, tip-toeing along while you wait for the bomb to explode. Because you know it’s just a matter of time before it will. Women will tell you that they always want you to be honest with them, and yet, I’m still searching for the correct way to do that. The truth may very well set you free, but it also has the very real potential to blow your foot off.

The core of the problem is that women do this thing they call “reading between the lines”. I’ve tried to do this myself, but all I ever see is blank space. I personally don’t think they see anything either, but it gives them a good excuse to “read” something into everything and twist it around to mean something completely different.

Take, for instance, the subject of cooking. On this topic I have to say – truthfully – that Catherine does a pretty good job overall. But not always. And on those occasions when the meal that she has prepared is, shall we say, something that I would not order twice at a restaurant (and in some cases, something that would result in harsh words and possible fisticuffs with the chef), I am presented with a dilemma for which there is no way out; a true “marriage trap”.

Try to tell her the truth – that you didn’t like it – and KABOOM!, she melts under a cascade of tears and suddenly you’re doing some serious time on the couch (the number of nights in direct proportion to how long it took her to prepare the offending meal). As bad as that is, however, the alternative, while not as immediately painful, has long term consequences that are just as devastating.

Because while she may be pleased when she sees you choke down the meal with a smile on your face and then tell her how much you liked it (while she remains blissfully ignorant the whole time to the beads of sweat running down your face), the problem is that she will think that you actually did like it. And so, completely oblivious to the fact that you normally don’t drink 8 glasses of water with your dinner, she will “make a note of it”. Which means that she will cook it for you again.


For the rest of your life.

And may the good Lord help you if she ever finds out some years down the line (after cooking this tripe for you dozens & dozens of times) that you don’t like it and never did. We’re not talking “couch time” anymore, gentlemen; we’re talking Motel-6.**

Then there is the infamous “hairdo” trap. In the early years of our marriage, I naively thought I could lick this trap by simply checking Catherine’s calendar to find out when she had a hair appointment, because - apt pupil that I am - I learned early on that when she comes home from the hairdresser, you sure as heck better notice something. But I learned just as quickly that it doesn’t matter what you say; you’re a dead man either way.

If you make a big deal about how much you love her new hairdo, what you are in effect doing (and this is where her ability to “read between the lines” kicks in) is telling her that you never really liked her previous hairdo, and in fact, had been lying when you told her that you had really loved it and had perpetuated that lie daily in all the weeks or months since.

The only other alternatives are to tell her that you don’t like it (duuuude, I really hope you like that couch), or, reverting back to your natural primal instincts, just don’t notice it at all, which, as previously stated, is just plain ignorant.

Such a perplexing puzzle is this “hairdo” dilemma, that I have even sought Biblical guidance in my efforts to try and solve it. Knowing that Solomon was the wisest man in history, I recently opened my Bible to “Song of Solomon” and pored over his words carefully - looking for anything that might help me - and found what I thought was the answer in Chapter 4, verse 2.

And so, the next time Catherine came home from the beauty parlor, I rushed up to her and - feeling more confident than I had in years - excitedly blurted out, “Hi honey, your hair looks like a flock of goats!”.

I’m not sure how well that line worked for good ole’ Solomon, but I’ll give you 3 guesses as to how well it worked for me. And I just don’t understand it either; I mean, this guy had like a thousand wives. How could that line not work? Unless the chicks just didn’t care what he said because he was the richest man on the face of the planet. Hmmmm. Maybe if I could get my hands on a whole lot of money . . .

In the meantime though, as far as my wife is concerned, well, there’s no talking to her.

It just can’t be done.

** There is actually one way out of this particular trap, and while I should charge money for sharing this intellectual property that took me years to attain myself, since it is my sincere wish that the bloodletting would stop in marriages everywhere, I will give it to you for free. The trick is to tell your wife that you love the meal, but within the hour become violently sick to your stomach “from something else.” (Anything will do here; bad wine, moldy Twinkies, etc.,). The next time she intends to cook the same thing, feign a nauseas reaction and tell her that you can’t eat it because your body has mentally linked that particular meal with your previous “sickness” (she’ll believe this because women are into that whole “mental” thing). And be sure to make a really big deal about what a shame it is that you’ll never be able to eat it again since it will always have the stigma of that involuntary reaction attached to it. Genius, I know. And while I still haven’t figured out the whole “hairdo” thing, take heart in the fact that I am working on it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Get 'Em While They're Young

Propaganda: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause (merriam-webster)

Shameless Propaganda: “We all want our children to feel safe in this world,” said Meryl Chertoff, wife of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, at a ceremony held at the John Tyler Elementary School to announce the partnership. "And who better to do that than our Sesame Street friends, Grover and Rosita!”

Oh, yes, we want them to feel safe. But how can 3 year olds really feel safe unless we first make sure they know how much there is to be afraid of? And who better to tell them how dangerous the world is than the out-of-control, jack-booted fascists at the Department of Homeland Security.

I don't make any of this stuff up: Homeland Security, Sesame Style

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why My Children Will Never Set Foot In Government Schools

Just one reason among oh-so-many. I could make you a list. U.K., U.S., makes no difference.

Teach 'the pleasure of gay sex' to children as young as five, say researchers

Maybe I'm being too close-minded; after all, they use puppet shows as part of the "desexualization" discussions. Little kids like puppets.

Monday, September 15, 2008

RFID to the Rescue

If this story isn't disturbing to you, it's only because you're looking at it as an isolated event. I would encourage you instead to take the time to put it in context with everything else going on in the United States. If you can unplug yourself from the noise of the world and do that, you will see this for what it really is; an integral part of a much larger whole, and a single step in a journey that is only just beginning.

Chipping away at border wait

Is something very similar to this written in the pages of What So Proudly We Hailed?

And in that story, did the people of the United States welcome it also?

And did they eventually come to regret it?
Oh, yes. Very much so.

But by then it was too late.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Allow Me to Set Your Expectations . . .

One of the things in my past life that I always tried my best to do was to set people’s expectations. Whether in my job as a salesman or as a manager, I would “prime” people upfront about what to expect later on. It’s a very simple “no surprises” philosophy, and it saved me from many an uncomfortable situation. Nobody likes an unwanted surprise.

A problem exists, however, because what people’s expectations are set for depends almost entirely on the one(s) who sets it for them. In other words, you can make people accept something that they wouldn’t ordinary do simply by getting the thought into their head before it happens. After that, it's all but a self fulfilling prophecy.

Here’s an example:
There is a terrible terrorist attack on our country. Those in power set the expectation that we will, from that point on, be (forever) hunting down terrorists. Several years go which allow us to become acclimated to the new policies, organizations, and procedures that are swiftly implemented in this “new, post 9/11” world in which we live. We are all aware about this.

Earlier this year, racial profiling targeted at people who look Middle-Eastern – something that was an abhorrent concept to American civil liberties even in the wake of 9/11 – became legitimatized in our quest to find these vaporous terrorists, even though there seems to be a pronounced shortage of actual acts of terrorism in America. You may or may not be aware about that, and even if you were, you probably didn’t think much about it because it didn’t apply to you.

Now that racial profiling of people who look Muslim has become acceptable, the expectations are now being set to get us ready for what’s going to happen next, which as it turns out, is that everyone will be a potential terrorist: Next U.S. Terror Attack Could Be By White Guys

Well now, that pretty much covers the board, doesn’t it? Remember too, we’ve already made the commitment to hunt them down.

Is this all just paranoia? You tell me. Read the below news articles – they’re all real - and then tell yourself that you don’t see a common theme when you look at them together, either in things that are already happening or in things where the expectations of us all are being manipulated so that we won’t be surprised later on.

GM crops 'the only way to feed world' says agri expert (I especially like where he presents it as "one way or the other"; no third option available. Also nice to know that "GM crops have been accepted in most of the Americas". Not by me.)

Not feeling afraid? We can fix that: School Shooting Drill Terrifies Unknowing Teachers

Mandatory Microchipping In Adopted Pets (This is already "voluntary" for people now. I'm sure they'll never make it mandatory.)

Clones' offspring may be in food supply: FDA (May be in your food. We're not real sure)

Purses Banned At School (To quote them, a "bold" move. I actually had another word in mind, but good taste prevents me from sharing it.)

Park attendants ordered to interrogate adults spotted without children (This is in the UK, but does it really make a difference?)

It is Illegal to Collect Rain Water in the USA (Definitely in Utah, anyway.)

Do you need more? You can find plenty at Help yourself.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Place I Call Home

Note: I wrote the following article for an upcoming issue of "Back Home in Kentucky" magazine, which appears below in its original, unedited form. I thought it turned out pretty nice.

It’s a beautiful day for a drive.

You’re an hour or so south of Lexington when you cross yet another county line. You didn’t catch the name of it as you went by, but you’re keenly aware that something has just changed. The air feels different somehow.

The top is down, your sunglasses are on, and the breeze rushing past has become pleasantly cool as you maneuver your way down this quiet country road. The faint buzz of cicadas far away on the wind and the sweet smell of fresh cut hay melt away your cares, working together like a tempting siren’s song to lead you deeper into uncharted territory.

You suddenly realize that you’ve lost track of time, and the thought doesn’t bother you at all.

Fields of corn and tobacco stretch out in pockets from the edge of the road to the lush, rolling hills in the distance on either side. You briefly wonder what it would be like to have a home on top of those hills, and then feel a tinge of envy as you see that some people already know.

Everywhere you look, rippling creeks cut their meandering paths under the cover of Maples and Black Walnuts, and quiet dirt roads branch off through the shade of the trees, holding their secrets close.

There are horses and cattle here; black barns & fence. But while the houses & farms may betray the presence of man, the unbridled beauty of it all continues to assault your senses. Your mind is consumed with thoughts that have been absent for years, and they now feel like long lost friends as you welcome them back and become reacquainted: Space. Tranquility. Beauty. Peace.

Around a curve, over a hill, and you find yourself in a quiet little town boldly proclaiming the name of “Liberty”, and the feeling of freedom you now carry with you confirms that it could be called nothing else.

You stare astonished at the hundreds gathered in the park; scores of parents proudly cheering their children as they play ball on every available field of dreams. Your journey takes you by well kept homes – the newer additions mixed in comfortably with the monuments of days long past – and the backyards and porch swings lead you deeper yet toward the center of this town whose skyline is dominated by trees, church steeples, and American flags, and whose veterans are remembered with a wall and a fountain and a Liberty Bell of their own.

At the center of downtown you finally come to a stop at one of only 3 traffic lights in the entire county, and you imagine how your friends back home might laugh about that. But you’re not laughing.

Instead, you’re transported back in time; 50 years, 75 years, 100 years, more. The buildings announce their births from the days of gas streetlamps, and as you stare at the courthouse that was standing long before the first Sunday drive ever took place, the asphalt suddenly disappears before your eyes, the power lines vanish, and the dirt streets that now lay before you become crowded with the bustle of horses and wagons and people from a time long forgotten.

With a start you realize that the light has turned green, though when it did you’re not sure; no one is honking their horn.

Reluctantly, you proceed through the crossroads, and in a flash the town disappears behind you, to be replaced with a cool, winding stretch of road nestled in the hills as it follows the lazy path of the Green River. The late afternoon sun dances over you through the leaves, and you know you could stay here forever.

All too soon though, you find yourself crossing the county line out of this place, and you feel a heaviness and a deep sense of loss as the cares of your world come back to you. You pull the car to the side, turn off the engine, open the door and stand, trying to make sense of it all.

And then a sound you never expected catches your ear, and you look up in amazement to see a black buggy coming towards you on the road, the soft clip-clop of horse’s hooves gently overcoming the faint ticking of your cooling engine. The Amish driver gives you a silent nod as he passes. You nod back. And as you continue to watch him move slowly off into the distance behind you, your eye sees the sign bearing the name of this realm you’ve just left: Casey County.

With the quiet of the evening once again wrapping you in its peaceful embrace, you realize that your original destination doesn’t seem so important anymore, and as you get back in your car you feel the smile returning to your face as you turn around to head back the other way.

It’s a beautiful day for a drive.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

News You Can't Use

Good afternoon ladies & gentlemen! We start this edition of “News You Can’t Use” with this gem:

White House Missing as Many as 225 Days of Email
Well, let’s just file this one under “isn’t that convenient”. At least they gave the dead horses of “executive privilege” and “national security” a well deserved break. In all actuality, this should be illegal, because it is for a lot of other folks. Here’s why:

The Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002 (SOX) was legislation that came out of the numerous corporate scandals involving Enron, Tyco, etc. I’m not expert on SOX, but one of the things that it requires is that companies be able to provide email records if audited or face criminal prosecution (see the fine print below).

I only know this because back in 2005 when I worked for VERITAS Software (later Symantec), when the deadlines for meeting SOX requirements were looming, the big thing everyone was asking about was our email archiving solution, Enterprise Vault, which had already been in existence for years. The short & long of it is, companies were required to be able to recover emails, and solutions existed (even way back then) that enabled them to do that. For the government to say that they “lost” 225 days of email reeks of 1) incompetence, or 2) corruption. That we would tolerate either in the Office of the President is simply a bad reflection on us.

Sarbanes-Oxley, however, only applies to public corporations, but if we require this of public companies, should we not also require it of the U.S. Government in general and the White House in particular?

Criminal Penalties for Violation of SOX: Section 802(a) of the SOX, 18 U.S.C. § 1519 states: “Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

On to story #2, (not to be confused with certain bodily functions that share that designation). Since we’re already on the subject of incompetence, here’s a sweet dish from those fine folks at the Department of Homeland Security who continually assure us that they can protect us if only we give them every civil right we own:

FEMA phones hacked; calls made to Mideast, Asia
I feel so safe. Don’t you?

And the best for last . . . . You don’t even have to read this one; the title tells you everything you need to know. Without a doubt, this is a man who is “in touch” with the trials & tribulations of the everyday American.

McCain unsure how many houses he owns

Well, that’s the news folks! Good night, and good luck. (You're gonna need it.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"This Is Not 1968"

An Associated Press news article today states that "President Bush put the U.S. more firmly than ever on Georgia's side in its conflict with Russia on Wednesday, sending humanitarian aid on American military planes to help the embattled ex-Soviet republic and displaying growing impatience with Moscow's aggression".

"Moscow's agression". That's interesting. Wasn't it Georgia who was the aggressor here in starting this whole thing by invading South Ossetia?

The article later quotes Condoleezza Rice as saying "This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it," Rice said just hours before leaving for France. "Things have changed."

She's right, things have changed. This is 2008 and the invasion of Iraq where the United States can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Apparently Russia didn't get the email.

Talk about "do as I say, not as I do". At least Russia had a valid reason for attacking.

Monday, August 11, 2008

When It's Okay to Be Lied To

from Yahoo Sports News . . .

"If you watched the Opening Ceremony on Friday night, chances are you said something like, "no way that's possible" at least once. It turns out you were right.

London's Telegraph newspaper reports that some of the fireworks which appeared over Beijing during the television broadcast of the Olympic Opening Ceremony were actually computer generated."
Whole article here.

* * *

Definition of "Deceive": to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid (from

Is deception on a mass scale acceptable as long as it was done in the interests of “safety”? Does the fact that it was done for entertainment purposes make it okay?

Does anyone think that something like this couldn’t happen in the United States? Could the same type of deception one day cross over the line from “entertainment” into “news” and "public servcie announcements"? Would any of us realize it if it did?

And does it matter that I had it backwards?

excerpt from What So Proudly We Hailed . . .

(United States, 2027 A.D.)
It was three days after July 4th, when A.J. and I had watched the celebration in Washington DC on television and saw the fireworks and the flag waving and the reading of important sounding words that didn’t mean anything anymore and the vehement assurances to all patriotic Americans that progress was being made in the war on terrorism, both foreign and domestic.

The wide angle cameras showed the Mall area overflowing with thousands of people, but the close in shots stayed in tight on the podium during the speeches and songs, showing only the stage and the first few rows of people.

I heard from a reliable source that there were only about 200 actual people at the Mall that day; paid actors for all I know. The crowds that were shown in the long views were all computer animated, and the applause and cheering that came over the TV was canned.

The fireworks had been real, though.

* * *

My mother had a saying that she often recited as I was growing up: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." A little hokey maybe, but apt.

Deception is deception; if it becomes acceptable anywhere, it becomes acceptable everywhere.

. . . choose this day whom you will serve . . . (Joshua 24:15)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Which is Fiction & Which is Reality?

Excerpt from the book "What So Proudly We Hailed":

In 2010 we took a couple more steps. Just little ones, mind you, but steps nonetheless. And every step, no matter how little it is, still moves you forward.

Identity theft was nothing new, but the positive ID on the driver’s licenses was supposed to help curb it. It was supposed to prevent imposters from living in our midst.

Forget cleaning out bank accounts, we were talking about safety. We were still fighting a war on terror you know, and the bad guys were just looking for a way to get at us. The ease at which it turned out a fingerprint ID could be forged was a glaring issue that needed to be resolved, and we all knew it.

The only question was, how?

Oh, my babies, I can solve this for you, yes, I surely can. I can take the problem away from you forever. But . . . well, I shouldn’t have said anything. I shouldn’t have even mentioned it . . .

“What? What is it? Tell us! Tell us!” we cried.

Oh, no, nooo. It just wouldn’t do. You wouldn’t like it. It makes some people afraid. No, it just wouldn’t be right. Besides, there must be another way. Somehow, someway, we’ll find it. But I’m afraid for now we’ll just have to keep looking . . .

“No! Tell us! Tell us! We want it now! We want it now!” rang the chant.

Okay, okay, shhhhhhhhh! Hush now, hush, hushhhh. I’ll tell you my babies, I’ll tell you. But only if you insist . . .

“We do! We do!” we insisted.

And you have to remember that it was you who asked . . .

“We will! We will!” we shouted.

And so, along with the colors and fonts and information that was standardized across the board, the fingerprint ID was replaced with a micro-thin radio frequency tag that was embedded into the laminate of the card.

Excerpt from Associated Press article, 28 July 2008:

It is the size of a credit card or driver's license, and has a photo and identification information printed on it, like a driver's license. It also contains a chip with a random number that allows border officials to instantly retrieve your data.

"When you come to the border, hold your card up to your window, and on the border patrol screen, up will pop your name, your picture, the fact that you are a U.S. citizen, and the number of your card. They'll peek in to see if you're the same person, and speed you on your way."

Read full AP article here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pure Genius

I know that God gave Solomon the gift of wisdom, but sometimes I think He must’ve had a little left over that He threw my way. I don't think it would be boasting to call myself a genius. I mean, who would know that better than me, right? But sometimes my genius is so intense it scares me. Like today for instance. Let me explain.

I was visiting a local business and heard them talking about what to do with their old “display” cell phones. They had a whole basket of them, and since they were just going to go in the trash anyway, I asked if I could have one. I picked out a really cool looking silver flip-phone; it has that “faux-executive” look.

A display phone looks & feels just like the real thing, the only difference - and I do mean the only difference - is that it doesn’t actually work. That may sound like it would defeat the whole purpose of having a cell phone, but I beg to differ. Having a cell phone that doesn’t actually work is actually better than one that does, for a whole host of reasons.

Don’t believe me? Think your “real” phone is better than mine? Let’s compare, shall we?

Just like you, I can use my phone to get out of meetings or annoying face-to-face conversations. I just pretend I feel it vibrating in my back pocket, and the next thing you know I’m walking away to answer “that important call that just can’t wait”. Scott free & no hurt feelings.

Just like you I can look cool driving down the road with my phone to my ear, but with the added advantage of not getting distracted by having to actually concentrate on having a conversation.

And just like you I can pretend to take pictures of suspicious people for the Department of Homeland Security.

But it doesn’t stop there. Oh, no. Here’s just a few of the other features of my non-functional phone. Read ‘em and weep, baby. Read ‘em and weep:

* No long-term contracts; just pay $0 for the first 6 months, and No Charge thereafter. Cancel anytime. No penalty.

* Unlimited minutes.

* Water-proof. In fact, it’s completely submersible with no loss of functionality. Guaranteed.

* Batteries never need charging.

* So easy to use it doesn’t even come with a manual.

* No harmful microwave radiation to my head.

* No dropped calls.

* “5-bar” service everywhere. I can even pretend to take a call while diving at a depth of 60 feet somewhere off the Florida Keys.

* Only “works” when I need it to. No annoying interruptions to my day (unless I want one).

* No roaming charges, FCC fees, or interstate surcharges.

* Built-in GPS; if I have it in my hand, I know that’s exactly where I’m at.

* Nobody gets upset if I don’t answer their calls.

* Won’t interfere with airplane navigation systems.

* Completely impervious to any illegal NSA wiretapping attempts.

* And as if that’s not enough, I NEVER have to actually listen to someone’s inane blathering in my ear.

Shocking, isn't it? I guess it's all how you look at things, of course, but the way I see it, I just can't think of a single benefit of a working cell phone that outweighs the benefits of a non-working one. In fact, I am so happy with my non-functional phone that I picked up some extras for Catherine and the kids.

We’re all on the same plan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

12 Babies Die During Vaccine Trials in Argentina

The headline for this entry was the title of a lovely piece of news that I ran across the other day. Here are some quotes from the article:

The study was sponsored by global drug giant GlaxoSmithKline and uses children from poor families, who are "pressured and forced into signing consent forms," the Argentine Federation of Health Professionals, or Fesprosa, said.

Since 2007, 15,000 children under the age of one from the Argentine provinces of Mendoza, San Juan and Santiago del Estero have been included in the research protocol, a statement of what the study is trying to achieve.

"Only 12 have died throughout the country, which is a very low figure if we compare it with the deaths produced by respiratory illnesses caused by the pneumococcal bacteria," pediatrician Enrique Smith, one of the lead investigators, said.

I love that last quote, and statistically speaking it’s very true - 12 dead babies out of 15,000 is less than 1/10 of one percent - but I wonder if that number seems “low” to the parents of one of the 12 dead babies that died as a result of being used as a human lab rat? And I wonder how many would have to die before the number would seem “excessive?”

How many other pharmaceutical companies are currently conducting human drug trials? How many total drugs are there in these trials? How many other people have died in these “other” trials, and, if we counted all of the dead together in one statistic, would that number seem excessive?

We’ll never know. Here’s what we do know however:

* “For-profit” companies are conducting drug trials with poor people from other countries.

* Some deaths are expected, and indeed, acceptable.

* The Nazis used to conduct testing on humans too (but that was different, right?)

* No animals were injured during these drug tests.

Oh, and there’s one other thing we know. We know where this news story was originally reported; on a stock market investment site. That’s right, this article wasn’t printed to inform the public at large of a travesty being committed by yet another global corporation trying to hit its quarterly revenue targets, it was printed to give investors the information they need to decide whether to “buy” or “sell”.

And that may be the most obscene thing about it.

You can read the entire article here; it is, of course, not very long:
(If link does not work, type “12 Babies Die During Vaccine Trials in Argentina” into your search engine.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Nice Review

Note: The following review was published in The Casey County News Arts & Entertainment section on Wednesday, June 18, 2008. They don't currently post the A&E section of the paper on their website, so I took the liberty of reprinting it here in its entirety. I apologize for the self-promotional aspect of doing so, but I'm fighting for mindshare in a world that publishes around 200,000 books each year; WSPWH is - at the risk of sounding boastful - one of the better of those, and, in my mind at least, one of the more important. In addition to the below, you can read another review of WSPWH here as well.

The Book Corner: What So Proudly We Hailed
by guest reviewer Penelope Wesley

Blaine Staat dedicates his newest book, “What So Proudly We Hailed” to all the U.S. servicemen and women who died in defense of our country. They paid the high price for our freedom. He presents a story with a thought-provoking question – “Can freedom cost too much?”

I was “hooked” immediately as tension mounted to the very end. I had to know where the story would take me.

It is a fictitious story, dated in 2027, with subtle truths that awaken the reader to how a government that once served the people becomes a master over them. This slow development moves the people to a point of no turning back. The reader is swept into a wild journey – a nightmare of the future as the main character has a chance to restore liberty to the American people.

Events like the senseless terroristic attacks of the World Trade Center and Pan Am 707 have changed our country forever. We continue to seek and punish those responsible. We have given our government more power and control.

Read how the author weaves this fact and takes it a step further by forming the most powerful agency that can track every detail of our lives. Follow his story of how the events and the advancement of technology bring forth both good and evil. Then ask yourself, “Can this come true?”

Will you agree with the author’s words, “Hindsight is a strange thing; so vividly clear, and yet so utterly worthless”?

Staat emphasizes that this piece of work is solely fictitious, but be prepared as you read of characters with familiar last names – Pierce, Miller, Porter and Weddle – or places like “Gateway Park” or “behind the IGA”. He writes of a little town in Central Kentucky called “Mission Creek”. Could it possibly be our Liberty [KY] in 2027?

For those who enjoy adventure and excitement, this book is a must. There is information on Homeland Security and modern technology that I don’t want to believe to be true. Thanks, Mr. Staat, for your in-depth research that has educated me and stimulated me to want to know more. You have broadened my understanding about the work of government agencies and given me a new appreciation for science fiction.

I have revisited those first pages many times. This is a powerful, thought-provoking story – one that has created a lingering eeriness that will remain with me for a long time.

Editor’s Note: Penelope Wesley is a member of the non-fiction writing group at Carnegie Center in Lexington. She is a volunteer with KET, a member of the KET Literature Task Force, and a KET Book Club panelist.

Copyright © 2008 The Casey County News, Liberty, Kentucky. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy Birthday America

Just a quick post to direct anyone who cares to an article that all Americans should read. Dr. Paul is one of the few elected officials in Washington who not only understands what is going on in the United States, but is also unafraid to say so:

Something Big is Going On

Thursday, June 26, 2008

James Madison: Patriot or Paranoid?

James Madison was a Founding Father, the 4th President of the United States, and the "Father" of both the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. By all accounts, a man who understood what individual liberty and freedom were all about.

It's interesting then that based on some of the things he said, by today's standard Madison would probably be considered a paranoid, a terrorist sympathizer, and an "America Hater".

Personally, I don't think 200 years has diminished the warnings implicit in his words one bit, regardless of what might be said against them today. We should ignore the wisdom he shared at our own peril:

“If Tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

“Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

“The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”

“There are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

“Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”

“We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Our Insane Little World

One my high school teachers used to have a poster in her room that said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” I know that some of my “Contrarian Views” may seem a little paranoid at times, but I also think it's better to be safe than sorry.

We joke about how our elected politicians will say anything to get elected (i.e., lies) and about how they are bought & sold by whichever lobbyists have the most money to throw at them, but are we really joking when we say those things?

As of today, 12% of Americans have confidence in the US Congress. Twelve percent. (By comparison, our fearful Presidentionator looks absolutely spectacular with a 26% approval rating).

So if we do not have faith in our leaders, if we do not believe that they have any integrity, if we do not believe that their actions reflect the best interests of the people (and in fact represent the agendas of corporate lobbyists), is it paranoia or is it prudence that we question what we read in the news, especially if what we read in the news isn’t widely reported by the mainstream media markets?

Here’s some news over the past few weeks that you might have missed. The stories are all very real, and if I may be so paranoid, are all eerily similar to events that take place in the heart of the story at the center of What So Proudly We Hailed:

Microchipping schoolchildren

Cell Phone Monitoring in School (it wasn’t the story itself that caught my attention as much as the quote "The constitutional rights inside school are not the same as out in the street." Did any of you parents out there know that?)

Government Sanctioned Assisted Suicide (isn’t this “compassionate” program essentially how the Nazis started out manipulating public perception so effectively that it would later yield acceptance of the death camps?)

Universal Healthcare (were you aware that state government could force you to be a customer of a private corporation? If you live in Massachusetts you are. Just imagine what the Federal Government could do with this. I especially liked this quote from the article: “Monthly penalties for those who can afford health care but refuse will jump and could total as much as $912 for individuals by December”. That’s right, $900 per month.)

Laying the groundwork to force universal health insurance on everyone else? (remember, it’s those idiots who won’t buy health insurance that are making your premiums go up and up, not the ever increasing corporate profits of the insurance companies)

Newborn DNA Harvesting (I just like the sound of the word “harvesting” when I think of an infant)

See Something, Say Something (if this ain’t straight out of “1984”, I don’t know what is.)

Joint Military/Police Practice for Martial Law Enforcement (for our own protection, of course. I don't know about you, but my neighborhood is absolutely infested with them there Al-Kida fellers)

I’ve added two website links to my blog; one is for Infowars, the other for Rogue Government. Even if you don’t subscribe to a lot of the ideas that they promote on their sites (9/11 conspiracy, New World Order, etc.), they are both pretty useful in the fact that they provide a collection of real news stories – and in some cases, opinion - that you probably did not even realize had taken place. So after you watch the news that ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX/CNN has to offer, you may enjoy finding out about some topics & news that obviously weren't important enough to make it to primetime.

On a lighter note, I’ll leave you with this little piece of insanity. It’s a British thing, but it could just as easily be a California thing, or a New York thing, or a Florida thing, or a . . . .
"Brainstorms" replaced with "Thought Showers"

What were those crazy slogans that Orwell penned some 60 years ago?

War is Peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.

They almost make sense now. Say it enough times, it becomes true.
But I'm being paranoid.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Darth Cheney & Friends

As a Christian, I try to love – or at the very least, care about – everyone that I can. Some people, however, make that very hard for me to do. And in truth, there are those where just the thought of them conjures up nothing but darkness in my mind. Such is the Vice President of the United States. I can think of nothing good to say about Dick Cheney. I'm sorry, I just can't. A more arrogant, elitist, and pompous individual would be hard to find.

Yesterday his arrogance was on display again, as he made the below incestuous joke while describing his personal ancestry:

"So I had Cheneys on both sides of the family, and we don't even live in West Virginia."

He has since apologized, of course. Well, not him, exactly. That would be asking a little much. But fortunately his spokesperson Lea Anne McBride found the humility to say, "The Vice President's offhand comment was not meant to hurt anyone. On reflection, he concluded that it was an inappropriate attempt at humor that he should not have made. The Vice President apologizes to the people of West Virginia for the inappropriate remark."

“On reflection.”


Well, I feel so much better now.

You know, I’m not even from West Virginia, but I’m offended by his remarks. Not even by the actual remarks themselves either, but instead by the underlying attitude that created those remarks in the first place. West Virginia just happened to be the joke of the day; but I promise you, it could have been any other group just as easily, because what motivates that kind of comment about any group of people is the sincere belief that you are above them all.

And I do not accept his apology either, because it was simply a necessary political statement, a statement that he didn’t even bother to make himself. Of course he didn’t; that would be beneath him.

Some people get fired for making “inappropriate” comments. Not our Dick.

His arrogance is constantly showing its face. Most people are aware of the recent exchange between Cheney and ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz when she said during an interview, "Two-thirds of Americans say it's [the Iraq war] not worth fighting, and they're looking at the value gained versus the cost in American lives, certainly, and Iraqi lives."

To which Cheney replied, "So?"

And, because birds of a feather flock together, it was no surprise that an equally arrogant comment came during an exchange between White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and columnist Helen Thomas when Perino tried to explain the context of Cheney’s “So?” by stating that President Bush is determined to do what he believes is necessary for the good of the country, regardless of what other Americans might think or what opinion surveys might indicate.

To which Columnist Helen Thomas asked: "The American people are being asked to die and pay for this, and you're saying they have no say in this war?"

Perino: "No, I didn't say that, Helen."

Thomas: "Well, it amounts to you saying we have no input at all."

Perino: "No, the — you had input. The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up."

Every 4 years. I’m glad Perino cleared that up, because many Americans have been under the misunderstanding that our government was supposed to represent the people, if not all the time, than at least on a quasi-frequent basis; you know, “by the people, for the people” and all that jazz. Not so.

When it comes to supporting her bosses, Dana is what the corporate world would call a “team player.” I’m sure she & Cheney get along well.

More Cheney arrogance on display . . .

On his five – count ‘em, five – draft deferments: “I had other priorities in the sixties than military service." – April 5, 1989

On protecting the environment:
"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." –April 30, 2001

On statements from Sen. Patrick Leahy regarding Cheney’s connections with Halliburton: "Go f*** yourself." - the Senate floor, June 2004

There’s plenty more where those came from if you have the stomach for it; just search on “Dick Cheney quotes” and bask in the glow, knowing that this man is the Vice President of the United States of America.

They say that the true character of someone is who they are when no one is watching. If that is indeed true, can you imagine the things this man must say when he is alone?