Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ways to Improve our Federal Government

* In my not so humble opinion, the federal government has gotten too big and is too intrusive into the lives of the American people.  I believe that the following changes would improve the system and thus serve the people better, but don’t hold your breath for any of these ideas to be implemented.

* The President would serve one- six year term, thus eliminating the need for him (her) to spend so much time while in office seeking reelection.  The Confederacy actually had this provision in its constitution. 

* A person can serve no more than two- two year terms in the House of Representatives and one six year term in the Senate.  We do not need professional politicians.  Those who win office should do their jobs and then go home and have real careers.  Unfortunately, members of Congress would have to approve such a change.  As one wit said, Congressmen feel about term limitations about the same way fire hydrants feel about dogs!

* We need less lawyers in Congress and more gas station owners, bakers, teachers, auto mechanics, etc.  In other words, we need a broader spectrum of Americans making our laws.  This is not a cheap shot at attorneys;  greater diversity is a good thing.

* We need a law stating that this country’s politicians, except in times of national emergency, such as war, cannot spend more than is collected through taxes. 

* Except in times of national emergency, Congress may not increase taxes unless the proposal is put on the ballot and a majority of voters agree (Don’t hold your breath on this one).

* No federal agency can enforce a new edict until it is submitted to and approved by Congress.  We have too many unelected officials who are in effect making laws.  Not only should we demand “no taxation without representation,” but we should also want to stop this movement of laws being made without representation.

* One may serve on a federal court for no more than ten years.  Just think, if one is selected to the United States Supreme Court, he or she can remain on the bench for decades.  All one has to do is keep breathing to keep the job.

* An 80% vote in both houses of Congress should override a Supreme Court decision.  In 7th grade civics classes we learn about “checks and balances,” but there is no check on the power of those twelve folks dressed in black robes.  Elected officials should have the opportunity to override Supreme Court decisions.

* When members of Congress wish a pay hike, the request should be placed on the ballot so that  the American people can decide if their representatives deserve to pocket more of our hard-earned money.  Of course, this won’t happen; Congressmen love to give themselves raises.  Who wouldn’t?

* At any time during a presidential term, an 80% “no confidence” vote in both houses of Congress would trigger a national election to decide the leader’s fate. 

* The President, members of Congress, and Supreme Court members must live by the same laws that we “minions” do. So, for example, they should have Obama Care, Medicare, and Social Security, instead of their much more lucrative plans.

*None of these suggestions will ever see the light of day, but at least we can dream.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Radio

In 1920 KDKA in Pittsburgh became the first commercially licensed radio station in America.  Soon radios were being snapped up like hotcakes, but many years later, in the poor rural area where my mother and her family  lived, no one was yet the proud owner of a set.

That changed in the early 1930s when Grandpa and Grandma bought a radio  that was  about half the size of my present refrigerator.  With this purchase they became the most popular folks in the area.

My grandparents had seven children but little money, so everybody had to lend a hand, and nothing was wasted.  On more than one occasion Mom told me that when they butchered a hog everything was used except the squeal. 

Saturday evening was a time to rest from the toil of farming.  Neighbors were invited to supper and to listen to the radio.  Each family brought some food to share.  After a good meal and some socialization each person grabbed a chair and headed for the parlor.  For the next three or four hours they would stare, spellbound, at the magical box that spoke to them.

Early radio had just about any kind of entertainment that a listener could wish for.  There were comedies, quiz shows, musicals, murder mysteries, westerns, sporting events and science fiction.  Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Burns and Allen were among America’s favorite entertainers. 

By the time I was hatched television was  challenging  the radio for superiority in the entertainment field.  Dad bought his first TV set in 1951, and soon after purchased a record player.  About the only times he used a radio were when we were all held captive in his automobile.  Unfortunately for me, he usually tuned to some station that played the old, whiny version of country music.  At that time of my life I would have preferred hearing the sound of fingernails scraping a chalkboard.

At about the age of ten I became a certified sports nut.  Back in those days most of my favorite team’s football games were not televised, so I’d listen to them on the radio. 

In 1964 the Cleveland Browns were set to play in the championship game (this was before the Super Bowl).  Dad picked that very day to visit some friends or relatives who lived in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  I tried every excuse imaginable, but the old man insisted that I go along. 

The folks we visited had a girl about my age.  Taking her aside, I asked if they had either a television or a radio from which I could follow the game, but alas, they had neither!  It’s too bad I didn’t have a key to Dad’s car; then I could have drained his battery while listening to the game.

The following year the Browns were once again in the championship game, and once again Dad forced me to go on another boring visit, this time to my Grandparents’ farm.  Frantically searching around the old farmhouse, I discovered a small, black and white TV set, but unfortunately it only picked up a couple fuzzy channels that were not covering the game.

Upstairs in one of the unheated bedrooms I found a transistor radio, and lo and behold, it worked!  While standing in the room, my body shivering and my teeth shaking, I went from one end of the dial to the other.  One station was carrying the game, but static made all but about every fourth word inaudible: “The Browns ^%&*(   &*&*^^    ^*()   &^%^%^ fumble ^%&^    %^&*(     $%%^^%   %^%&* touchdown!

In a vain effort to gain better reception I stuck my upper torso out the bedroom window.  That did not improve the situation so I tried every room in the house, the land that ran along the pond, the chicken coop, the pig sty, the corncrib and the big hill.  In desperation I even climbed the tallest tree on the property, but to no avail.  Later I found out that my beloved Browns lost that game to the Green Bay Packers, so I didn’t feel too awful.

Several years later my son Todd reached the dreaded teenage years, and he soon discovered a radio station that played rap music twenty-four seven.  Just about every time I’d begin a much-deserved nap he would turn on that awful noise. 

Trying to be nice, I penned a rap song and left it on his bed: In the kitchen go blast your mother.  In the living room startle your brother.  In the family room go scare the cat.  But in my bedroom don’t be a rat!  Have mercy on me ‘cause I’m old and fat!  So turn it down, you circus clown.  Don’t make me frown.  Turn off that sound.  I’m not try’n to be a creep.  It’s just that I’m old so I need my sleep.  So turn it down.  Way down.

Despite my best efforts Todd continued to blast away when ever I tried to take a nap, so another plan was needed.  Since Todd was not old enough to have a driver’s license I had to cart him around to ballgames, dances, and so fourth.  One day, by pure chance, I discovered a radio station that played nothing but polka music.  Now being an old dude, I sort of like a little polka, but from Todd’s point of view he would rather have his fingernails pulled out with a rusty pair of pliers than listen to “old people’s music.”

It only took two trips across town for Todd to surrender.  “Dad,” he said, “I’ll quit playing rap while you’re napping if you’ll promise to never play that awful stuff when I’m in the car.”

So, as you see, radio can do much to improve one’s life, especially if there is a teenager in the house.

Monday, July 13, 2015

I Don't Understand Women

It didn’t take too many years on this planet for me to realize that in at least certain situations women and men do not act in similar ways.  For example, by the age of three I clearly understood that a man  does not invite another man to go with him to the bathroom unless, of course, he enjoys getting a fat lip.

After all these years I’m still baffled by the opposite sex.  For the life of me I don’t understand why my wife Bev has to show her friends every new piece of furniture, every  new appliance, and even every recently-purchased dress or blouse.  There must be some truth to that Mars vs. Venus thing, for I know for a fact that guys, at least the ones I hang with, wouldn’t be caught dead doing any of this.

A few weeks ago, within minutes after setting up our new bed, Bev was on the phone to tell a friend all the gory details: “Hello, Leah?  You’ll never guess!  No, I didn’t get rid of his golf clubs, at least not yet!  No, my mother isn’t coming for a visit!  Give up?  I’ve got the new bed!  It’s a dark reddish brown, with a beautiful headboard and it’s lower than the old bed.  You will have to see it!  How about coming over tomorrow about two o’clock?  Great!  Bring your camera.”

For the next hour or so she called numerous close friends, acquaintances, and even near-strangers to spread the good news and set up visiting times.  If I expected any privacy for the next two weeks I would have to  battle  bees, mosquitoes, ants and other various critters while taking my afternoon naps on the back deck.

A few months ago our ancient stove bit the dust, so there was no choice but to purchase a new one.  Within two minutes after the plumber had installed the gas line Bev was on the phone describing her newest possession: “Let me tell you, Gertrude, I didn’t really want a black range, but it has sort of grown on me!  Of course, it clashes with the yellow refrigerator, so I hope it dies soon so we can get a black one!  When can you come over to see it?  Let me check my planning book.  Yeah, two-fifteen will work.  Bye.”

Even clothing purchases become a big deal:  “Karen, you’ve got to see my new blouse.  It’s a cream color and has the cutest little kitten on the front!”

Can you imagine a real man like John Wayne acting like this?  “Hey, is this Roy Rogers?  It’s John.  You just have to come over to the stable and see my new saddle.  It’s cream-colored and has a drawing of the cutest little kitty on it.  Of course, it clashes with my black horse, so hopefully he’ll die soon so I can get a palomino.  Two-thirty?  Sorry, Roy; I’ll be fighting in the Alamo.  How about tomorrow at three?  Okay, see you then, Pilgrim.”

Incredibly, it’s not enough to merely see the new item; Bev and her friends have to make comparisons: “You know, Betty, I think my new bed is a few inches longer than that bed you bought last year.  Let’s measure it!”

Then the two ladies would scramble over to the neighbor’s house to take more measurements.  Maybe the lady with the longer bed was awarded a prize or at least received a congratulatory call from President Obama.

More often than not when looking at Bev’s new dress or  new blouse the visitor has to try it on.  I guarantee you that John Wayne and Roy Rogers never tried on each other’s outfits (perhaps Hopalong Cassidy and Johnny Cash did; both wore black).

My friends down at the local bar had a good laugh at all this and even shared similar stories about their own spouses.  We agreed that having a friend over to see your new bed, oven, or clothing is rather ridiculous.  On the other hand, we men only invite our buddies over to see the really important new stuff, things like barbeque grills, golf clubs, lawn mowers, and of course, automobiles.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Walking King

Until the last four months of her life my mother walked everywhere.  At the age of 77 she was still conquering both hills and valleys as she “hoofed it” to town and back.  In the early ’50s my impatient father gave her a brief driving lesson which consisted of one trip around the horse track at the fairgrounds.  After putting up with about three minutes worth of Dad’s nagging and criticism Mom declared that she would never again get behind the wheel, so she continued to walk.

Perhaps because of Mom’s influence  I walk at least a half hour every day.  About twenty years ago my cousin Rick and I trained for several weeks so that we could make a 55-mile journey on foot to the state’s biggest city.  The first half of that trip covered hilly terrain, but we were in great shape.  However, we awakened the next morning to discover painful blisters on our feet.  Needless to say, the second half of the trip took quite a bit longer than the first half, but we were determined to finish even if we had to crawl. 

But my family and I are mere amateurs in the field of walking when compared to one Edward Payson Weston.  Born in 1839, he perhaps more than any other person ignited a long-distance walking craze. 

IN 1860 Weston lost a bet when Abraham Lincoln was elected president.  As a result, he had to walk from Boston to Washington D. C. to attend the presidential inauguration.  He covered the almost five hundred mile trip in under ten and a half days, arriving late for the inauguration but in time to attend the inaugural ball. 

Turning professional, he won a $10,000 prize in 1867 for a walk of over 1,200 miles from Portland, Maine to Chicago, Illinois.  This took 26 days.  He and rival walkers were considered heroes, much as football and basketball players are today.

Usually he would eat while he walked, and he would take brief naps along the route.  Sometimes friendly folks  would invite him in for a meal and give him a roof over his head while he slept.

In 1869 he covered more than 1,000 miles through snowy New England in 30 days. He spent several years in Europe.  IN 1876 he defeated the English race walking champion in a 24-hour, 115 mile competition.  The Englishman quit after 65.6 miles, which he covered in 14 hours.  Weston, however,  continued for the full 24 hours, covering almost 110 miles.  He was victorious once again in 1879 when he won a 550 mile race against “Blower” Brown, the British champion.

In 1906 he traveled over 100 miles, from Philadelphia to New York, in less than 24 hours.  In 1907, although  nearing the age of 70, he once again completed the Portland-to-Chicago trip, beating his old time by more than 24 hours.  His last major walk, from New York City to Minneapolis, was covered in 51 days. 

Even in old age Weston continued to urge people to walk for the health benefits that it accrued.  He believed that automobiles were making people fat and lazy.

Ironically, in 1927 Weston was hit by a New York City taxicab, and as a result was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  His long life ended in 1929.

Weston is correct; most Americans do need more exercise, and walking is a cheap and fun way to get it.  Thank goodness, however, one doesn’t need to walk from Portland to Chicago to reap the  health benefits.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

Mom, after battling cancer for several months you left us on New Year’s Day, 1997, just three and a half months after Dad had died.  Sometimes it feels like you’ve been gone just a few months; at other times it seems like an eternity.  Anyway, as I think about this special day  several memories flood my soul:

*I can still smell your wonderful homemade bread.  From my point of view, while still warm it was the best bread in the universe.  It had to be eaten in the first couple days, however, because after that it would dry out and fall into tiny little crumbs.  Of course, I did my best to see that it was devoured long before it began to crumble.

*Like your father, usually you were quiet and even shy, but deep inside lurked a volcano.  The relatively few times that you were angry were scary moments indeed.

*I’ll never forget when those pesky ants crawled into your cake mix while you talked to a friend on the telephone.  This was one of those rare times when you turned into the Incredible Hulk.  It was kind of funny when you tried to sift those varmints out of the mix;  little bodies were flying everywhere.  As I remember, out of pure stubbornness you baked that cake, but being equally stubborn, I refused to eat it.

*Whenever you were ticked off at one of my siblings or at me you pelted our backsides with a wooden paddle.  Remember the time , despite tugging and chewing on the string, you couldn’t extract the ball from the new paddle?  I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing while you pounded my posterior with that ball still intact.

*Remember how both you and your sister loved to buy and read those silly magazines that one sees at the grocery store checkout counter?  On more than one occasion you argued that those stories were true.  I remember one in particular, in which a tall green alien supposedly regularly  advised several presidents.  Maybe that explains why we’ve had some sub par leaders of late.

*You were a walking, talking encyclopedia.  Mom, you were the only person I knew who could remember so many details about so many things. 

*I still miss those jelly-filled cookies that you made. 

*Like you, I have a love of history, but I can’t remember nearly as many details as you did.

*Being the oldest child, you served a large family as an “assistant mom.”  Your siblings owe you big time for your sacrifices.

*I forgive you for letting my  sisters talk you into taking me along to those boring weekly sewing machine classes so that they could have the house to themselves.  Of course, it will take a few more decades to forgive them for such a fiendish act!

*Unfortunately, I never expressed  how much I love you.  Hopefully, late is better than never.

*Mom, you never expressed in words your love for us, but you always did your very best for us, and for that we are thankful..

*Mom, please forgive me for constantly teasing you about Harvey and other guys that you knew during your youthful years.  My excuse was that I was a stupid kid who didn’t know any better, and I’m sticking to it.

*So happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  Your kids love you, appreciate you, and most of all, miss you.  Rest in peace.

*May all our mothers have a wonderful day; we wouldn’t be here without you!