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Archive for October, 2015

Pet Peeves

It is just about that time again. “What time,” you ask. Well, I will tell you, because that’s the kind of guy I am. It’s time to talk about, once more I will add, the things that irritate the living daylights out of me…so here are some of my pet peeves:

  • Children who graduate from high school and ‘must’ go on to college. They have, for the most part, no idea of what they will study or why they choose a particular institution of higher learning, but they are willing to piss away their hard-earned savings or those of their parents because college is supposed to be the thing to do. It’s a sin, and those whose plans are vague or who are going for an asinine reason such as “That’s where Mary’s going and she’s my best friend,” should be sent to work for a couple of years to learn the real value of money.
  • People who don’t understand the value of community colleges. No, most of them are not Grade 13 as some would have us believe. Community colleges provide a great bridge for students who are not truly ready to bear the challenges that can often be faced in a four year institution. In addition, the two years of a community college enables students to more clearly focus their future goals…plus they are far less expensive than dropping fifty or sixty grand on a freshman year that is often wasted.
  • Unless a student is going to his/her state school, college is expensive; no kidding, right? Yet, when I was working in higher education, even as the cost of a university education was rising, I would watch students spend more time partying and wasting time in other ways as though money was just something one could pick off a tree. Even in state schools today, the fees are damn near as high as the tuition. It’s a crying shame that too many of these kids, for that’s the level of their maturity, don’t understand the value of the almighty buck.
  • Let’s switch gears for a moment. I have a handicapped placard for my car. I have COPD and emphysema (my fault for smoking for 51 years) and a back with all of the lumbar vertebrae fused – the result of athletics and several other elements for which I will not take credit. I use a walker on those occasions when I have to go into stores. When I see people take up handicapped spaces who do not have a placard or a plate allowing them to use handicapped parking, I am infuriated. When I see young people put up a placard and bounce out of the driver’s seat to run into a store, I really get pissed; obviously, they’ve borrowed the card from someone.
  • People who don’t believe that rules of the road apply to them make me livid. There is a middle school in our neighborhood. We pass it going to and from our house. This summer, a great deal of work was done to improve the walkways to the school, including the refurbishment of the intersection where a stop sign is prominently displayed on a pole and on the street. Today, as we were returning from shopping, I dutifully stopped at the sign and looked to my left. Before I could get my head back from turning, there was a horn blown behind me. I pointed to the stop sign but the person just threw up her hands. As I went on my merry way, she came right in behind me. I was tempted to follow her when she zoomed into the school parking area but Juli insisted on going home. Why do we have stop signs or any signs at all if people like that one don’t feel the need to obey them? I find the same thing happening more and more with directional signals. Evidently, we’re supposed to be able to read the mind of the driver ahead of us and know when and where they will make their turns. Rules of the road are meant for everyone, at all times, and not for the dipsticks who chose to ignore them as they so desire. That also includes people who seem to have their telephones glued to their ear. How many hands are supposed to be on the wheel? What are the positions of those hands supposed to be? What happens when, not if, but when you have to suddenly swerve to avoid an accident or, worse yet, a child in the road? Studies have shown that your mind cannot be in two places simultaneously. If you use a hands-on device when you’re driving, you are inviting disaster…not today, nor tomorrow, but one of these days. Then…it’s too late for the OMGs.
  • I was under the impression that if I signed up, telemarketers would not call me. Several have not gotten the message. When they reach me, they will often ask if this is Richard Bishop; when I acknowledge that it is, they begin, “Richard…” That’s generally as far as they get before I do one of several things: 1. I interrupt and ask, “Have we met? Do we know one another? How were we introduced? These questions are asked somewhat rapid fire. (This happens when I’m bored and want a little fun). If they haven’t caught on and ended the conversation, I will continue with a series of questions about their age, the name of “our” motel; how often we had been there, and whether or not she or he (I can play anyone during this gig) wished to continue our arrangement. This last generally gets them to hand up. If not, I just keep on rolling. My script isn’t as formal as theirs, and I can ad lib ‘til hell freezes over. 2. I put the phone down and do what I was doing, coming back about 30 seconds later. If the phone is silent, I know they’re gone; if they’re still talking, I might say something like, “Oh, good, you’re still there; I’m having some problems with my bowels and I had to run to the bathroom. You just can’t believe how good I’m feeling now…did I miss anything important? That’s generally a game changer and they can hardly wait to get away. 3. I don’t say anything when they ask if this is…I just hang up. If they don’t know to whom they’re speaking, why the hell should I help them?

I have many more pet peeves and perhaps there will be a ‘volume II,’ but for now, think about your own irritants. If you wish to send them along, I guarantee you will receive credit…first names only, but last initials might be included. Enjoy.

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“I pledge my allegiance to the United States of America and to the principles of the republic on which it was founded. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, equality, and justice for all, accepted by all and divided by none.”

Sort of screws up the traditional pledge of allegiance, doesn’t it? Sure, my pledge could use a little work, but after all, it’s only the first draft. You see, I don’t wish to pledge allegiance to any symbol, whether we agree that it represents us or not. My pledge is directly to my country, for which I am more than willing to give my last full measure of devotion.

My country is not a flag or a pennant waving in the breeze. My country is men and women and children. It is the farmer who provides me with food and drink. It is the manufacturer who has provided the materials with which my house could be built. It is the small business that I prefer to patronize, all the while knowing that I’m paying a few cents more than what I would pay in the “big box” stores. America is everyone and everything that I see and use and love and hate all in a single day.

“This is my country,” wrote Don Raye and Al Jacobs in 1940. Here I am 75 years later, still shouting it from the roof tops. “This is my country, land of my birth.” Yep, six years before that song was written, I came aboard America, and I love it as much today as I guess I must have loved it then…”greatest on earth,” and nothing has demonstrated to me that it is not. “I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold, for this is my country, to have and to hold.” I just want to stand up and scream how great this land has been to me.

Unfortunately, America has not been great for all. We suffered through slavery and the thought that those of a different skin color weren’t deserving of the same rights. We brought shame on our nation by the manner in which we treated people who were living here long before “we” decided to move in, a shame we bear even more today because it would appear that we aren’t really repentant about the manner in which Native Americans are still treated. We would love to believe that everything in our country is okay, but as we all know, it’s not quite the case.

The America in which I grew up was simpler, far less complex and even far less diverse than it is today. I like to say that the country’s diversity has expanded exponentially while our minds have expanded arithmetically. There are some changes that we can accept with a certain degree of ease, while others cause us a certain degree of reticence. We like to believe that America was founded on Christian values. Why then, do we allow synagogues? The simple answer is “because we accept people of the Jewish faith.” In return, what have the Jewish people demanded of the Christians? The right to pray as they wish; the right to go to school where they wish; the right to raise their families as they wish. In addition, they would like us to join them in celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as holidays in our schools. In school districts where Jews outnumber Christians, no one has demanded that we fly the American flag upside down or that we replace it with the flag of Israel. Most of the Jewish people I know consider themselves Americans first but with an allegiance to Israel because it is the land where their history began.

I refuse to accept students replacing the American flag at their schools with the flag of any other country, as has been done in several areas across the Southwest. You are in America. If you wish to stay here, respect our traditions and our history. Otherwise, go back where you came from…and don’t tell me there are no jobs there or it’s too frightening. If those are reasons you came to this country, then leave the joblessness and the terror behind you and get on with your assimilation into our culture. It may be the custom in your country to dress in a manner totally different from how we dress in America. If you wish to become part of our country, learn to dress as we dress. If this is not acceptable to you, please, go back to where your mode of dress is acceptable. Worship as you will; celebrate your holidays as you will, but this is my country; get used to it.

One of the greatest attributes of this nation is its degree of tolerance. We’ve had to work at being tolerant. Ask any Irishman whose family came over on the boats. Ask any person of Chinese descent whose great grandparents had to settle for jobs that even the Irish wouldn’t accept. Ask the first Italian, or Jewish, German or Dutch, or almost any ethnic group that came over here in the 1800s. They will tell you the difficulties of becoming accepted in our country, but they worked at it and they succeeded. Today’s emigres appear to want to do as they damn well please and if Americans don’t like it, that’s just too bad.

We live in a country that, in many cases, is prouder of its heritage and accomplishments than nations that are far older but not as far advanced. Hear me well people who come here trying to change us: “This is my country! Land of my choice! This is my country! Hear my proud voice! I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold, For this is my country! To have and to hold.”

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What is wrong with cameras?

I swear there must be something wrong with me…before you scream out a happy, “Oh, Yeah,” why don’t you hear me out.

You see, I’m one of those kooks who sees a camera at an intersection and either smile or wave or both. I don’t view this as an infringement on my right to privacy; I look at it as protection against some idiot attempting to carjack me at the stop light; it sort of gives the police a head start in locating the son-of-a-bitch, particularly if I’m injured in this auto theft.

People in many parts of the world seem to be able to get along quite well with cameras everywhere but inside their homes. As a consequence, it seems to me that when Americans piss and moan and cry, “invasion of privacy,” that those folks either have something to hide or just don’t understand common sense. Heaven only knows that with the way in which guns are being toted around, I wouldn’t mind if cameras became a part of the arsenal of law enforcement. The biggest problem I see is in the example of a public school in California where cameras were installed and then stolen that very night.

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m as private a person as the next fella. If I want you to know something about me, it’s up to me to tell you. If I want to do strange, legal things in my house, that’s up to me and it’s the business of no one else.

The people who truly amaze me are those who will say publically that they are a “very private person,” but who will then go home and post pictures of themselves on Facebook or some other social media device that “outs” them to the entire world. It is out there, in the ether, forever, and there are no ‘do-overs’ or mulligans or whatever one may wish to call them. You cannot take it back once it’s posted. I’m not certain that some folks fully understand the concept. Here’s a poor analogy…the night of his high school graduation, my son and a few friends went to a tattoo parlor in Rhode Island. One girl had a butterfly tattooed on her butt. One boy had the “Fighting Irish leprechaun” tattooed on his hip. My son, our son if you wish because Joan was still living…our little genius decided to have the Tasmanian devil tattooed on his back, on the upper right shoulder. When my wife and I saw it, we just laughed. I don’t know who had been driving since four people all received tattoos, but, hopefully it was the one who had not been drinking. “It’s there for life,” I said to my son. “Yep, sure is,” was his somewhat embarrassed reply. Now you have to understand that our son was a competitive swimmer. Every time he donned a suit and stood on the blocks, there was the devil. By the end of his collegiate career, the devil had lost a bit of its color, but it was still…”there.” When I suggested to him that he might wish to have it recolored, he responded with, “Are you kidding; it hurt like hell the first time. Why would I want to do it again? See what a college education does for one? He was four years older and a helluva lot brighter! The devil is quite faded now, and isn’t really a topic of conversation any more. On the other hand, had he posed nude; had someone taken a picture; had they posted it on social media, that picture would be out there forever…and ever…and ever.

Privacy is a wonderful thing; I’m all for it. However, privacy has its place, and when it comes to cameras on the streets and at intersections, my concern for privacy is far outweighed by my concern for being protected from criminals.

My way of thinking is so antithetical to the manner in which many Americans think that you might believe I’m some kind of a kook. In Michigan, Montana, Idaho, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and several other states, there are very sound-minded people who believe that the government, federal or state, has no right to tax them, their property, or any other part of their lives. I don’t happen to agree with those folks, but I sure respect their right to believe as they do. So it is with this issue of privacy. I really couldn’t care less about cameras, but those people who do…hmmm, I wonder why?

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It’s thirteen months before the next Presidential elections, and I’m already sick and tired of the promises being made by candidates from both sides, promises they have no intention of keeping because they don’t honestly know how. That, my friends, is a 37-word sentence, a fierce violation of the “writers’ code.” Frankly, I don’t give a damn. If the politicians can lie as blatantly as they do, I can violate a few of the inviolable rules of journalism.

What the political hacks seem to conveniently forget is exactly what Barrack Obama forgot when he assumed the Executive Office…you do not work alone in governing the United States of America. The Founding Fathers made this very clear when they proposed a system of checks and balances for each of the three branches of our government; the Legislative, Executive, and the Judicial. While it is the function of the Legislative Branch to propose and enact laws that will benefit a “great majority,” these can either be vetoed by the Executive Branch or ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Branch. The President, while he – no she yet – may bluster and bitch, he can veto what Congress sends to him for signature, ergo, he thinks he’s top gun, but Congress may override his veto. In addition, they control the purse strings, thus limiting his ability to spend monies on projects of which he may approve but which Congress does not. Oh, yes, and if they believe he has done something illegal or immoral, they can also impeach him. The judicial branch, while controlled by a systems of lower courts, is basically exempt from the checks which apply to the other two branches, and the rulings of the Supreme Court will stand until challenged by new justices.

As a result of the checks and balances that our Founding Fathers included in the Constitution, it doesn’t really matter what tripe and braggadocio is uttered by wannabee Presidential candidates. Their key attribute should be the ability to get those from their own and their opposition parties to work alongside them for the common good of the nation. This might just be a novel concept for the Executive leadership branch of government; after all, the Legislative Branch does not know how to work in any kind of harmony for the betterment of the country. I’d like you to think about that for just a moment. We have a chief executive who, when he doesn’t get his own way with the Legislative Branch, attempts to go around them through executive action rather than work with them to determine what they see as the problem with what he is attempting to achieve. (You may have to read that sentence a couple of times, but you understand what I’m saying, don’t you…sure, I thought you did.)  On the other hand, as you may have read in The Selling of America, we have a Legislative Branch that is so torn apart internally that it cannot even decide on the correct time of day or whether or not the sky is blue! Meanwhile, back in Kentucky, a clerk is telling the Supreme Court to go straight to hell, because she doesn’t care about the laws of America; she’s a law unto herself. The Founding Fathers knew that governing wouldn’t be easy, but I’m not so certain they ever envisioned anything quite as tragically comical as what we are seeing in the early part of the 21st Century. Where the hell is common sense when we need it…yep, you’re right; common sense truly is not all that common.

This is why I am already sick and tired of the banalities of these people who believe they are qualified to lead the United States of America. Here is a question that I would like to ask each of the candidates: “how can you be so certain that you are qualified to run the nation?” They would, no doubt, begin to respond immediately and I would interrupt by saying “SHADDUP FOOL!” as loudly as possible. If they continued to speak, I would have them ejected from wherever our meeting was taking place. If you don’t have to stop and think, think, think about the questioning of your own abilities, say nothing until you can speak with genuine authority. I could take each candidate currently in the running and dissect them piece by piece but then this essay would go on forever. Let me just say that governing a state does not qualify you to govern a nation, no matter how successful you were in doing so. Being in Congress most assuredly does not qualify you to be the chief executive of the United States. Having been a business person who achieved a modicum of success hardly qualifies you to the pressures that you will feel when you enter the Oval Office. Let’s see, have I left any area uncovered? Nope, don’t think so. To me, the best person to run the country is the one who has all sorts of reservations about his or her ability to do so, but who is willing to put forth a best effort to keep the nation growing, to reduce the national debt; to keep our country free from attack by foreign powers or individuals who would attempt to destroy us, and who is actually willing to sacrifice his or her life to do these things and so many, many more. Show me that person, the one who is free from bluster and bullcrap, who is willing to work with and/or around the idiots currently occupying the halls of Congress like a goddamned childish sit in, and who can demonstrate openly the ‘how’ of their plan, and that my friends is the person who gets my vote. The saddest thing of all is that that person has yet to come forward. Because of that, I fear greatly for the future of my nation.

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The gym rat is an interesting species and comes in many forms.

While most would consider the gym rat a person who is constantly working out, this is a fallacy. I have been in gyms where, when one opens a locker – generally a bottom locker and one that actually opens without the use of a pry bar –  a genuine, a-number-one gym rat will jump out and slink away, finding some hole in a wall that has either been kicked in or punched out. These particular gym rats are not sociable, have little to say, but they will feast on athletic gear that has been left behind for any period of time…including sweat socks and old jock straps. You might wish to consider moving away from this nominally-named gym rat at a rapid pace or send it on its merry way with a good swing of your gym bag. Do not concern yourself that this particular species will fight fair if it decides to challenge your authority; it does not work out on either cardio nor with free weights. Its only form of protection lies in its mouth…a rather nasty set of incisors which can cause a surfeit of damage.

There are many more species of gym rats, some to be avoided at all costs, and others to be admired from afar…or up close and personal if you have no fear of being torn limb from limb by some crazed martial arts specialist who’s just been dying to try out her newly-acquired-skills on some unsuspecting fool. It’s also necessary that you understand that species of gym rats vary from facility to facility and name to name. For example, at some establishments it is possible to see a species of gym rat known as “Musculature-excessivitis.” The male of the species can usually be found around the free weights rack, admiring both the free weights and the image of himself in the mirrors that abound in this area. If you should espy one at a time when he is using these free weights, you will note that the weight is sufficient to cause each vein in the body to appear that it will soon burst through the skin and send a torrent of blood skyward. In all fairness, it should be noted that all well-muscled members of the species are not steroid users, merely men so in love with their own musculature that they are constantly attempting to improve the way they believe men or women will find them more attractive. The female of this species is exceptionally deceptive for their manner of dress differs markedly. It ranges from the floppy sweatshirts and pants to spandex that appears to have been spray-painted on the body. The former are generally friendly and will offer suggestions if asked. The latter are usually too busy admiring their own bodies to be concerned dealing with yours.

The species or category of gym rat that I have found to be most common in the several gyms I have attended are the “Preservationists.” These are what I might refer to as “my folk.” They or we, whichever floats your boat, are the middle-aged to seniors who attempting to preserve some form of dignity with whatever they have left on their decrepit frames. Most of us have suffered through some life-altering experience that has set us on a long-term plan to not suffer such an experience again in the near, middle, or even distant future. The exercise pattern is not complex by any manner of means. It is a combination of cardiovascular exercise, accomplished by use of a treadmill, elliptical machine, stair stepper, rowing machine, or some other sweat creating torture device, with either free weights – those dumbbell type ‘thingies’ – or machines that, when first viewed, scare the living daylights out of the prospective user. In total, the preservationist may spend as many as two hours in the confines of the gym, a minimum of one hour of which will be spent chatting with others of their type regarding various aches, pains, and lack of sleep. Preservationists are harmless. Their desire is to live a bit longer than others who do not exercise or, as in the case of some, live just to see another sunrise.

Many gym rats are hybrids, the only thing classifying them for what they are being that they are consistent in their use of the gym. Six days a week, generally at the same time, you will find them exercising. For some, it’s a regimen for dropping pounds in order to fit into last year’s shirts and suits; for others, it’s wishing to fit into last year’s bathing suit or skirt. For almost all, it’s an attempt to look and feel better, both physically and mentally. From over 20 years of experience, I can say that on those days when I return from the gym, I feel energized, and I find that my mind is just a wee bit sharper than when I don’t exercise…wisecracks about my state of mind are always accepted!

Are there other pure, non-hybrid gym rats? Of course there are. To classify most of them, however, would be insulting. The “Look-at-me-look-at-me” and the spandex crowd are more pathetic than pure, and those who use the gym merely as a hangout for an hour or so are just comedic. I have been fortunate in my years as a preservationist. I have met men and women from all walks of life; from drug dealers to headmasters; from police officers to doctors; from prosecuting attorneys to those involve with homeland security; from teachers and nurses and everyday housewives just trying to stay in shape; all have been nice to me, and I’ve enjoyed my conversations with each and every one. The heterogeneity of a gym is remarkable, and I love every minute of my time spent there…rats and all!

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The selling of America

The schism within the Republican Party is an embarrassment not only to those who call themselves conservatives, but to those who put party loyalty above national loyalty. There is something terribly wrong with a group of men and women, elected by those who believed in them, when they have to place love of group ahead of love of country. Even within the conservative party known as Republicans, there are divides. The Tea Party Republicans appear to have one set of goals; The Republican Freedom Caucus seems to have set its own agenda, while the representatives loyal to the Speaker of the House of Representatives cannot even agree on who the next speaker should be. In a pique or perhaps in a moment of complete sanity, Speaker John Boehner announced that he is stepping down. What he didn’t add but which he probably should have added is, “before this group of assholes and idiots drive me into an early grave!”

The majority of representatives in the House are Republicans. People, American citizens voted these people into office. Why did the American public do this? Because the vast majority of the American public don’t have a clue about what Washington politics is all about. Politicians of both parties will promise the moon to their constituents if that’s what it takes to get their votes. It’s the old “Two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot” promise that has been getting politicians elected since time immemorial. The majority of our voters are marked by one word…gullible. They believe what politicians tell them…and politicians lie. They lie because it serves their purpose, not the purpose of their constituents, but their purpose.

There was a time when I believed that young, first-term Congressmen and women, and new members of the Senate fought to get elected because they really thought they could do something to serve their country and make it better. I would joke and say that it was the water fountains in the halls of Congress that corrupted them. What I have learned is that on their very first day after being sworn in, their corruption comes in the form of other members of their political party, perhaps only a year or two senior, and from the smooth-talking lobbyists who can make their lives grand. The old saw that everyone has their price could nowhere be better displayed than in the Congress of the United States of America, or as both Will Rogers and Mark Twain said at separate times, “We have the very best Congress that money can buy!”

Who is to blame for the chaos in the Republican Party? Well, certainly there is enough blame to go around. I suppose we can start with President Obama himself and his lack of reaching out to the Republicans when he first took office. His apparent disregard for the opposition party also served to paint a target on his back for conservatives everywhere and, instead of seeing this and reacting to it in a positive way, the President and his advisers continued to ignore a growing problem. This contributed, at least in this writer’s mind, to the rise in overarching conservatism that exceeded the goals of nominal Republicans. With the help of the Koch Brothers and other conservative donors, these “new” Republicans have achieved office and are now fracturing the Grand Old Party almost into a state of non-existence, bringing Congress into a state of gridlock and the Republic into a state of shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner can, I suppose, accept some of the blame, but I’m not certain that Jesus, himself, if he happened to be a Republican, could control the members of the Freedom Caucus or the Tea Party. These, people, who honestly believe they are doing the right thing, have done nothing but cause the GOP to go right off the rails and into a ditch that precludes anything from getting done.

Is this some kind of a conspiracy? No, no, I don’t believe it is. We all know that racism is till rampant in America and no amount of legislation will ever erase the attitudes of some people whether they are white, black, brown, or yellow. To elect a black president ignited some of the old resentments and fears. His success in passing a health care law for a program that was not truly ready to be rolled out only served to exacerbate conservative Congressional dislike and distrust of the new kid at 1600. Then, rather than attempt to modify the law, conservatives attempted to kill it completely, thus setting up a true wall of dislike between the executive and legislative branches of government. Should a woman become elected in 2016, whether it be Carley Fiorina or Hillary Clinton or someone who jumps into the fray after this is published, we are going to face similar problems. Americans don’t like change. Americans are, for all of their rhetoric, stuck in a rut when it comes to who they want to lead the country. Will America ever change? I haven’t a clue, but if it does, I’m betting it will be long after my ashes have been scattered at sea—and I’m not planning on that for a decade or so.

“They” call us the most developed country in the world. Yet, we are young in terms of civilization. We possess some of the greatest minds ever to grace the earth, yet we cannot solve some of the simplest problems put to us, such as health care and rebuilding our infrastructure or stopping terrorists from setting off bombs in our cities or enforcing laws that will keep guns out of the hands of those who would use them to kill their fellow man. Perhaps we expect too much of our elected officials. Perhaps we’re electing people without knowing exactly who and what they represent. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps; maybe someday, we will wake up to the idea that it really should be country first, state second, community third, and party label a very, very, very distant fourth.

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