Jeremiah Was Kinfolk

March 29, 2010

Jeremiah Leeds, the first white settler on Absecon Island (now Atlantic City, New Jersey) was a great-great-great uncle of mine. I may have omitted a “great” or two or three, but that doesn’t matter. I’m more interested in the bullfrog today.

Actually, the thought that is stuck on my craw is the idea of being “King of the World.” Have you ever given that any thought? If you were “King of the World” for even a day, what would you do?

After careful thought, here is what I, as a hard-working American, would do.

Number one: Cut off all foreign aid.

We are paying Egypt the same as we are paying Israel for only one reason. Egypt will leave Israel alone as long as we continue to pay them. This is thanks to Jimmy Carter.

And what is Egypt doing with the money? They’re supporting schools that teach the children to hate Americans. And what is Israel doing with their payola? Besides paying spies to spy on the U.S., they’re using the money to kill Palestinians, which give the Arab nations a good reason to hate Americans.

I’m not sure where else American tax dollars are going, but my guess is they are having a similar effect regardless of where they are going. We pay people to do things the way we want them to do them. Ask yourself, if the government was paying you to do things a certain way, would you? Even when the government isn’t looking?

Consider all the cash we sent to Saddam Hussein when he was fighting Iran (to our benefit) and how he used it to build palaces for himself – ignoring the Iraqi people and encouraging them to hate Americans. Are other recipient nations doing less? I doubt it. The leaders are taking the money and feathering their own nests and the poor people of their countries are left wondering why the United States of American has abandoned them.

So, my solution is simple. Let’s eliminate the middle-men. If someone in Iraq needs help paying the rent, they can fill out an application and we will consider each applicant on an individual basis. Deserving people will be helped. Undeserving people will be encouraged to go pound salt.

While we’re at it, we’ll use the same approach for welfare in America. People who have physical or mental problems that keep them from earning a livable wage will be helped. The rest will be told to go suck eggs.

As for health care, the same rules will apply. If you are unable to afford health insurance – for a legitimate reason – we’ll use tax dollars. If you are too lazy to work, or consider yourself immortal, you will be left to prove it.

As for companies, the adage “Too big to allow to fail” will be erased from the American psyche. If your management screws up, your company becomes part of American History. It’s that simple.

Pre-existing conditions will mean nothing. If you have insurance when you are struck with a chronic or terminal illness, your insurance company will be required, by law, to pay your bills. They gambled on you and lost.

On the other hand, if you saw no need for health insurance until you were struck with the chronic or terminal illness, you gambled, and you lost.

For the sake of your family, I’ll encourage the tax payers to pick up your tab. But I won’t force an insurance company to go bankrupt due to your stupidity.

There is one other major area that I, as King of the World, would look into. We may have the best equipped and trained military in the world, but I believe we could attain the same results with a lot less money. Therefore, I’d force every high ranking military official to justify every penny that is spent. I’ll bet we could achieve the same results on half the cost.

As for other government run entities, I’d sell off AMTRAK, the Postal Service, the V.A. Hospitals, and a number of other programs to the private sector. There is no doubt in my mind that people trying to earn a profit could do a much better job.

To me, the major problems with government involvement are two-fold. For those living on the dole, the government has removed the shame that would encourage them to get off the dole as soon as possible.

As for government run entities, there is no incentive to make a profit. In fact, there is no incentive to break even. Thus, the tax payers are stuck with the annual bail-out programs that aren’t even reported by the mainstream media. Either the media are trying to protect the politicians who are bringing our country to ruin, or simply see no reason to report old news.

I don’t have a telephone like Glenn Beck to encourage people to point out the flaws in my assessments, but I do encourage your feedback. If I’m wrong, tell me where! But don’t deal in generalities. Give me specifics!


Give me Your Tired, Your Poor

March 26, 2010

I’m not sure how old I was before I realized the family I grew up in was poor. I knew they’d lost a house during the depression, and I knew we didn’t have a lot of extra cash. I also knew that the men my father worked with at a meat packing plant would often stuff meat into his shirt before he left for home.

In fact, I believed my father to be a bit on the pudgy side until the day I saw him open his shirt and pull out several packages of meat. I was the youngest of four boys and the meat cutters he worked with wanted to be sure we were well fed.

At the time, my father was working as a maintenance man. I construed that to mean he was a janitor. My Big Sister is offended by that definition. “Daddy worked hard all his life!”

I totally agree with the old lady’s remarks, but considering that most of the repairs done on our home were accomplished by Mom, I’m not so sure Daddy knew how to maintain anything. But that’s getting off the subject.

The key thing is that my parents were proud to proclaim that (aside from the meat) they never took a handout. Government welfare had begun under President Franklin Roosevelt, but the vast majority of the poor folks in this country were too proud to take a handout. That’s why the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other jobs programs were so successful. People didn’t want a handout – with the shame that came with it – they wanted a hand.

Jesus once said, “The poor will always be with us.”

Growing up in that proud, but humble home, I was stunned as I worked my way through college as an enumerator for the R.L. Polk company. I, and a number of others, would go door-to-door seeking information for the City Directory (and mass-mailing lists). Because of my size (I was six feet tall and a tad over 200 pounds in those days) I was sent into the poorer neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. I was shocked by the number of people who told me they were not employed, but living on P.A. (Public Assistance – Welfare!).

One day I got to talking to a boy who was about eight years old. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to be on Public Assistance.” He proudly told me.

That’s when I first realized the damage our government had done. They’d removed the shame. The shame had nothing to do with being poor. Being poor is not shameful as long as you’re doing whatever you can to subsist. Shame comes from taking the money or goods that someone else worked for. That was a shame my parents fervently avoided.

And here was a young man who had no shame. He was proud of the fact that he, like his parents, would rather work the system than work for his living.

My father lost a number of jobs during the depression. In desperation, he ordered baby chicks and raised them under the back porch of the home where my family was living. He sold some of the chickens and fed others to his hungry brood – two boys and two girls at that time.

He tended the chickens at night… after working ten to twelve hours at whatever labor he could find. At times, he even took care of some of mom’s sister’s families… causing those families a bit of shame.

I was a middle-aged adult when I learned that a number of my aunts and uncles avoided my parents in later years because they felt resentment that Mom and Dad had food and a little bit of money when they had none. Resentment is something that grows out of shame. Rather than leaving the pain remain inside, humans have a tendency to direct the emotions outwardly. “It’s their fault that I feel this way!”

That’s exactly what has happened with welfare recipients. Instead of feeling ashamed that they have to rely on the labors of others, they turn it into resentment that the others aren’t being as generous as they should be. Those rich folks aren’t giving their fair share.

Several years ago our government took it a step farther. Because people were “embarrassed” having to use food stamps – and being recognized as lazy people living on the dole – the government turned to modern technology. The politicians claimed it was a money saving move. Politicians like to say they are saving the tax payers’ money even when they are doing something completely different.

The solution is known as an EBT card. It looks like a credit or debit card, but the EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. It’s interesting that they use the word “Benefits”. That’s a term that is normally applied to the fringe benefits that are earned as part of employment. This implies that even people who refuse to work are entitled to benefits.

Now, for the whining Liberals who have been offended by some of the things I’m saying, let me say that there truly are poor people who, for one reason or another, cannot work and earn their own living. It might be mental or physical problems, but the problems are legitimate. I have no problem with these people and agree that the government should step in and help… if their church affiliation is unable to do so.

My problem is with the people who refuse to work and see Public Assistance as a career path. Then, when they are shown on television picketing and demanding a raise, I lose all respect for them.

Speaking of television… Karl Marx called religion “The Opiate of the Masses”. It’s a shame to say this, but religion has been replaced by the television. Perhaps that is why our government has slowly but surely converted our country toward Marxism. EBT cards were just one baby step toward the redistribution of wealth.

How much of a giant step was taken by the Health Care Reform act? And what do student loans and Pell Grants have to do with health care? It makes me wonder how many other unrelated ear marks are buried in the pages of this monstrosity.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But don’t give me your freeloading low-lifes who have no shame in taking what I and other good people have worked hard to attain.

Instead of inventing new ways to redistribute the wealth of our citizens, we need to discover a way to bring shame back into the mix. Pride in accomplishment must be reborn or our Republic is dead.


Haunted Childhood Memories

March 25, 2010

The Haunted House on Round Top Street

This photo taken in 2008 would indicate that someone finally bought this old house and refurbished it.  When I was a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s, my friends and I were afraid to walk past it.

The photo clearly illustrates what an imposing edifice the structure is. It sits on the highest point in Crafton Heights and, when all the surrounding area was overgrown with weeds and vines, and the home was badly in need of paint, it was easy for a child to let his or her imagination run wild. Add numerous broken windows and a roof that was missing many shingles, and it became more frightening. And all of this was prior to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”!

There were rumors that some brave boys entered the stately old mansion (it still has the stone hitching post on the sidewalk in front of it) and found such oddities as a dumb waiter. But I never met one of these lads, so I could only go on what I heard from the rumor mill.

In any case, I avoided it like the plague, especially on Halloween.

Our woods above Steuben Street

These woods, which – surprisingly – are still there, represented one of our favorite places. We spent many hours playing games in the woods and throwing snowballs and other objects down on passing vehicles.

However, I was not permitted to go into those woods until I was allowed to cross the street by myself. I really don’t recall when that magical part of my youth came to pass. What I do remember is the night we were scared silly walking this road past the woods. It was in 1954, when I was ten years old. My brother and I, along with a number of friends, walked down to the Crafton Theater to see the latest horror movie.

By the time the movie ended, the sun had set. I don’t recall the exact season of the year, but it was warm enough for the crickets and other noisy insects to be out chirping away. Those chirps sounded just like the giant ants in the movie we’d just seen. That’s one time our parents didn’t have to worry about our dawdling on the way home. We made record time!

I’m sure there were other things that kept us awake at night, but hiding under the blankets always seemed to keep us safe.

The one thing I miss from childhood is movies that allowed us to use our imagination. Today’s films, with their constant displays of blood and gore, are disgusting… and not nearly as frightening as what we can envision by ourselves.


Have I Broken the Law?

March 23, 2010

Big Brother is Watching Closely

I have not yet returned my census form because it is not yet April 2nd. Until that date, how can I be absolutely certain as to who lives at this address on April 1st?

Come to think of it, I submitted my tax return about three weeks ago and the U.S. Government still hasn’t sent me my check. Perhaps I should send them a postcard to remind them that they are being remiss.

At least I have an excuse. All the IRS can claim is bankruptcy.

Come to think of it, if the census bureau would stop spending money on ads during the Super Bowl and these silly postcards, maybe the IRS would have enough money to pay me.


Predicting the Future – Government Style

March 20, 2010

The OFFICIAL Instructions

I received my packet on the 15th of March – right on schedule. I’ve completed the form – ahead of schedule. And now I’m supposed to mail it back to them – TODAY.

Actually, I should have returned it to them on March 15th, the day I received it. And here it is March 20th and I still haven’t mailed it back.

You might ask, “Why not?”

The answer is simple. I predicted the future when I completed the form. They want to know who lives in our home on April 1, 2010. I think I’m safe in predicting the future, but what if I’m wrong? What if one of us moves out? What is someone else moves in?

I don’t want to be charged with providing false information to the Federal Government. Therefore, I’ll sit on it until April 1st. Then, hopefully, I’ll remember where I put it and mail it.

Does it bother anyone else that they want the information as of April Fools’ Day?


Living in 2010

March 15, 2010

I just received this from Bob Jessep – a school mate of mine. I only wish I could credit the person who created the following list. Unfortunately, it is like so many things we get in the (E) mail – clever, but no indication of who deserves the credit. Perhaps the originator will stumble upon this blog and claim their just recognition. (To claim anything beyond that would be foolhardy – blood from a turnip is still not available.)

So, without further ado… the list of reasons why you know you’re living in 2010.

1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven’t played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don’t have e-mail addresses.

6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

9. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.

10. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )

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There were a couple of other things on the list that I edited out. I really don’t expect you to forward this list to your friends. But feel free to forward the address of this blog.


Are You Satisfied?

March 11, 2010

Here’s something I wrote in 1997.

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When I got into mischief as a child, my mother would always ask me if I was satisfied with myself for what I’d done. If it was something that caused my older brother some sort of agony or discomfort, my answer was usually, “Yes. Now we’re even.” However, I never spoke those words. I thought them… but had sense enough not to say them. As I grew older, my answer to the question changed. Instead of being satisfied, I was, more often than not, ashamed.

I’m sitting in a motel room in Bethel, Connecticut. I just got back from a grocery store. The experience of the trip got me to thinking about satisfaction.

Stew Leonard's Granite Carving

“Rule # 1: The customer is always right. Rule # 2: If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule # 1.” These words are carved in a massive granite boulder at the entrance of Stew Leonard’s in Danbury. Above the boulder is a huge sign announcing that Stew’s is the largest dairy store in the world. Because the words carved in the rock are true, I’m inclined to believe the other claim as well.

I first heard about this store, and its boulder, in the late 80’s. IBM was encouraging its employees to improve the quality of their products and services. The emphasis was on keeping the customers satisfied. Stew Leonard’s success was used as a model of what can be achieved by putting the customer first.

Shortly after Stew Leonard opened his business, so the story goes, a woman came to return a gallon of milk. She said it was sour. Stew took the milk from the patron, examined the date (which had long ago expired) and noted that most of the milk was gone. He asked the woman why she waited so long to return it.

She didn’t answer his question. Instead, she became irate and told him she would never shop in his store again. With that, she was gone and Stew was left holding the bottle.

Stew then asked himself a question. Was the cost of a gallon of milk worth losing a customer? His answer was a resounding “NO!” He vowed he would never lose another customer over something so trivial. He has kept that vow … and thousands of customers. The store has expanded several times and he built a second store in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Contract employment brought me to the Danbury area, and I had to see Stew’s emporium for myself. It is everything the IBM executives said it was. The closest thing to it, that I know of in Georgia, is Harry’s Farmers Market (today known as Whole Foods). But Stew’s is bigger and has a wider variety of products. As for the dairy store claim, they process and bottle milk right on the premises. (I looked for the cows, but didn’t see any.)

I mentioned “contract employment” because there is a definite connection. From 1966 until 1992, I was a full time employee. For the last five years, I’ve been a consultant working on a contractual basis. As a contractor, there’s a world of difference in my attitude. I’ve come to realize that my attitude prior to 1992 was wrong.

As a consultant, whoever I’m working for is my “customer.” My primary job is to keep that customer satisfied. As long as the customer is satisfied with my work, I keep working – and keep getting paid. One contract I had was for sixty days. The contract was terminated after eleven months. My customer apologized for having to let me go. Then he threw a “going away” party for me. He was quite satisfied.

There are times when a customer asks me to do things I consider a waste of time and money. I find such assignments boring and unimaginative. I think someone with less talent and experience could be found to do the meaningless tasks – and probably save the company some money. But before I get upset and say something I might regret, I remind myself that the customer is paying my bills. The customer is always right.

When these instances occur, I examine the situation and try to find a creative solution. If I can discover a task that allows my skills to be better utilized, I sit down and present my recommendations. More often than not, the customer appreciates my honesty and is happy to let me do things that are more productive and beneficial to both of us.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t react this way as a full-time employee. Like so many others, I’d gripe to my fellow workers, friends, and family members. Sometimes I’d even complain to my boss. Complaining isn’t bad if you can offer a solution, but a complaint by itself does nothing to endear you to the person in charge. In fact, it can get you in real hot water if your boss is feeling the same way about his or her job.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d look at my boss as my customer. I would bend over backwards to keep my manager satisfied with my work. If the boss gave me an assignment I didn’t like, I’d either find a better way to do it, or try to find, and suggest, a better use of my skills. Above all, I’d try to maintain a positive attitude and make sure the boss recognized that attitude. I would constantly remind myself that the boss is my number one customer and my primary job is to keep that person satisfied.

Mental attitude means so much in our lives. The late Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest from India, liked to say, “You can’t teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you, and irritates the pig.”

When an idiot cuts me off in traffic, or a moron forgets to leave the pickles off my sandwich, I can get upset, and yell and scream. But if I think of that singing pig, I smile and see the minor inconvenience for what it really is – minor.

If the fools in our lives apologize and remedy the situation, we might feel better. More often than not, the fools get angry themselves. Then we get madder. It’s a vicious cycle. No winners. Lots of losers. However, if we think of the singing pigs, we can get through life’s irritating moments much more easily. We can take the pickles off the sandwich ourselves, and get on with more important matters.

Whether the dimwits we deal with are our employees or employers, we’re better off  if we maintain a positive outlook. Just consider everyone you encounter as a customer and remember, the customer is always right. If the customer orders a product you don’t carry (or would rather not sell), it’s your job to “sell” your customer something else or direct him to another establishment.

Let’s take it a step farther. Let’s see if this would work with family members.

Let’s say your spouse wants to do something that you don’t want to do. You could bluntly say so and get into a heated argument, or you could open up your sales kit and try selling an alternative solution. The solution may not totally replace the original idea, but it may make it less unpleasant for you. There’s nothing wrong with honestly stating why you are proposing something different. In fact, it’s important to let your spouse know your true feelings.

Just be sure you propose another option. Don’t simply refuse to consider your spouse’s desire. Find a compromise solution that will keep you both satisfied. Remember, your spouse is always right, but there’s no reason why you can’t be right also. The problems start when one or both parties are dissatisfied, and an attempt is made to prove that one or the other is wrong.

Talk is cheap and that’s exactly what it takes to resolve problems. Try to be calm as you describe your feelings about the subject and listen intently as your spouse does the same. Then, work together to arrive at a compromise.

The thing I find most interesting about trying to satisfy the people you deal with is that you find that you are very satisfied with yourself.

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To learn more about Stew Leonard, click here.