Monday, November 2, 2009

Bringing back the Past

We have watched NASCAR racing for a number of years now, and I have to wonder just how long the entire "show" is going to last.
NASCAR first came to life 50 years ago, when there were major manufacturers willing to put their cars up against the competition to see who was best. This was a win-win deal for the consumers. A car that was strong, a car that was aerodynamic, a car that was a clear winner, all paved the way for strong sales after the race.
All the manufacturers had an ace up their sleeve, be it power, reliability, brakes, or speed. That's what makes racing interesting. Who can produce the car that can conqueror Talladega, or Daytona? Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and all the others worked tirelessly to improve their offerings. The mindset was "win on Sunday, sell on Monday". The same 200 MPH cars that you saw at the track, were available in the local dealer's showroom, or at least, could be ordered there.

As time went by, the cars that you could buy in real life faded away, replaced by NASCAR's universal car. No more individuality would be tolerated, no bigger engines, no slicker aero packages. Now, the playing field had to be leveled. All the cars had to be the same, motors, bodies, and equipment. Where is the spirit of competition here? There are so many rules in place that the cars are all clones of each other, and the driver that stays awake 'til the end is declared the winner.

The trouble with NASCAR racing is, that it's obsolete. There are no more cool, fast cars, thanks to Government regulations, and insurance companies. There are no "stock" cars. We're all doomed to drive crappy four-door compacts, and engine output is less important than the number of cupholders the car offers. What we see on the track, is a fantasy, something we can't have, much less drive down the road. We're doomed to cheer on a driver only, not what he (or she) drives.

The years have been good to NASCAR, and now they should be good to the fans. Stop restrictor plate racing, for starters. Either you race, or you don't, but let's not force drivers to draft in order to get ahead. It usually results in a disaster, as drivers try to move up in the field.
Let's also get rid of "the car of tomorrow". These cars don't exist in the dealerships across the country, so why should we watch them race? Let's get real stock cars out there! All the flaws, weak motors, and handling problems will shine through the hype, and people can see just what the manufacturers are offering.
And lastly, with the auto industry catering to "soccer moms" rather than driving enthusiasts, why not fill the field with mini-vans, and have the driver carry the crew onboard? When they stop for fuel or tires, it could be like a "Chinese Fire Drill", where the crew could jump out, service the car, and then jump back in to continue the race.

Sadly, these are our "stock" cars. Heaven help us! What I wouldn't give to see a Hudson Hornet charging up through the field towards the checkered flag again!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Up, Up, and Away!

Last week, we were treated to a real-time drama, played out on television, where a 7 year old boy might just be in danger, as he floated in a homemade helium balloon over the Colorado countryside. The entire nation watched as eyewitness news teams covered the event, all speculating on the boy's condition. In the end, it was determined to be a hoax, and the thrill of the chase was over.

The Colorado sheriff in the case, told reporters, that he believed the family was innocent, and it was just an accident. 24 hours later, he changed his mind!
The first time I saw this family on TV, I could tell there was something wrong. The father did all the talking, and he hardly sounded like a man who nearly lost a son. He was obnoxious, and arrogant during the interviews, to say the least, and the fake crocodile tears did little to diffuse that vibe. If he want's to be an actor, this man needs to go back to school, because he's the worst I've ever seen!
In the meantime, the sheriff never asked the obvious questions.
First off, why the hell were the kids not in school? It seems funny that they were all just hanging out at home on a schoolday.
Next, how in the heck did the family get enough $$ to buy a bunch of helium, and mylar to build a balloon?
And, why would any responsible adult name their kid "Falcon"?? I had a 1962 Ford Falcon, and it was not very reliable. It finally lost the main bearings on the Indiana Toll Road, in a grand display of smoke.
This Falcon was history!
Fast forward to 2009, the Falcon in the story had allegedly climbed into the balloon to go for a ride, but in reality, had climbed up into the attic over the garage to hide.

The cynic in me says this is just one in a long line of hoaxes, perpetrated to give someone their 15 minutes of fame. The family made sure they hit every news show on the circuit, in order to make their case, but it was on the Larry King Show on CNN, that things began to unravel. Falcon (the kid, not the Ford) stated that he hid and pretended to be the victim "for the show". The news media finally put two and two together, and figured out that this was pure BS.
Thousands of dollars were spent chasing the runaway balloon. All manner of law enforcement followed it's every move, while flight paths were shut down in order to provide a safe passage for the "Balloon Boy".

ABC news had interviewed another hoaxer the day after the "Balloon Boy" debacle, and he mentioned some of the great hoaxes of our time. Like the "Runaway Bride", who faked an abduction to cover up the fact that she was, in my opinion, fugly!

He also mentioned the biggest scam so far, which has cost us thousands of lives....WMD's.
The US invaded Iraq in order to neutralize chemical weapons. Since there were none, a new cause had to be manufactured, and there was nothing to base this fear mongering on. WMD's were invented! They have no definition, much like the word "stuff". The whole hoax depended upon American's fear that them "Al Keidies" were gonna do something to us!
As with any hoax, the truth finally came out, but not without a great loss of life.

I wonder if any hoax is worth that? And what of Falcon? If he goes back to school, will he be a hero, or villan? Only time will tell, but parents, PLEASE don't name your kid something stupid. You never know when he'll be on the national news!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Branson, Part two

I got to thinking about Branson Missouri again this afternoon. Yes, there are a huge number of people who visit there, and drop tons of money. However, I would guess that the average median age of the visitors is a lot older than one might think. The kitschy "hillbilly" references across the city cater to how those of us in the Ozarks are perceived by outsiders. Baby boomers remember shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies", and comic strips like "Lil' Abner", that painted us as hayseeds, without a clue as to how the world worked.

Back in the late 1960's the notion came up that hill folk were somehow "cute" and an idea was born to take some land on Highway 7 South of Harrison Arkansas, and turn it into a "Hillbilly Theme Park". Al Capp, creator of "Lil' Abner" was brought in as a partner, and "Dogpatch" was born. People came from all over to marvel, and laugh, at the actors and actresses dressed as quaint hill folk. The park was littered with old cabins brought in from around the state, and it looked like a mountain village with rides, right there on the side of the road. The problem is that the whole idea was rather demeaning to people from around here. We were perceived as slow, illiterate dolts, who did nothing more than drink moonshine and sleep all day. Funny, huh?

Over the years, as the crowds of visitors got younger, they failed to see what their parents and grandparents saw in the place. It didn't help that "Lil' Abner" was no longer in the comics section. Young people just didn't get it, and by 1994 (I think) the park closed for good. Now it sits there, as before, looking like a small mountain village that has been abandoned, and left to the ravages of time.

Oddly enough, that same theme is echoed in Branson, just North of the Arkansas border. Sure there's entertainers there too, but none of the kids of today can identify with them. This got me to thinking, "What will happen when all the older folks that went there, are replaced by the younger ones? Will Branson still keep it's image as it does today, and will today's youth give a care in the future?

Even some of the shows that feature performers from the 1960's hold nothing for the youth of today. America is changing, yet Branson is still rooted in the past. It's doubtful there will be a Snoop Dog's "'Fo Shizzle Theater" on the strip any time soon! Nor will there be gambling, another lure for the younger set. The city is a sitting duck for the same thing that happened to Dogpatch.
It will be interesting to see if the city, and venues adapt to the changing age of the visitors, or fade from the scene, discarded by those in search of something new. I'm making no bets on the outcome, but I'm going to watch with a great deal of interest!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A trip to Branson, Missouri

I grew up in a small town in Illinois...honest, it wasn't my idea, I was just born there! As a child, it seemed we were constantly bombarded with television ads promoting some place in Wisconsin called "The Dells". What a "Dell" was, happened to be beyond my comprehension at the time, but the thought of some of the things in the ads had me curious to see them. "Ride the Ducks" the ads shouted, and "don't miss the Tommy Bartlett Water Show"! I remained curious as I got older, and found that a "duck" was an amphibious WWII vehicle.

Over the years, I learned that the "Dells" was basically a tourist trap, with all manner of ways to take your money. Not quite the romantic notion of "Beautiful Lake Delton" the ads conjured up. We never got to see "The Dells" as children, and even now, I can say I've never been there.

The same is true for Las Vegas. Another place conceived to separate tourists from their money. Though it looked interesting in the photos I had seen, I never had any desire to see it, and most likely never will. Money's too hard to come by, and just throwing it away on gambling seems just wasteful .

We've lived in the Ozark Mountains now for nearly 5 years, and the most famous place in the Ozarks just happens to be Branson Missouri, about an hour from here. Every time we turn on the TV, we see ads for "The Baldknobbers", or "Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede", and a number of other shows and attractions. From the sound if it, Branson seemed to be the biggest tourist trap of all! Each time an ad would come on, I would imagine just what Branson must look like. Huge theatres set back in the hills, with dedicated roads to get to them, I thought. I could imagine Andy Williams driving down "Andy Williams Way" to get to his Moon River Theatre, while the other entertainers had theatres scattered throughout the city, each with their own drives named after them. We knew that a day in Branson was beyond affordable for two of us, so we never even considered going there.

That changed yesterday, when we took a trip to Jasper Arkansas in the beautiful Boston Mountains. the fall colors were just beginning to blaze as we drove scenic route 7 down from Harrison. On the way back, we stopped for lunch, and thought "we're on highway 65, just down from Branson, why not go up and take a look?"

In a short while, we turned off Hwy 65, and onto Hwy 76, Branson's main street. I felt like someone who's never seen a city before, a red necked rube from the sticks, awed by all the traffic and buildings. So, what's wrong with that? This was not what I imagined.

Just the traffic was amazing! It snaked down the highway, a single lane in each direction, as far as the eye could see. On each side of the road, all manner of shows, T-Shirt shops, eateries ,and souvenir shops crowded the road. I can't even recall seeing a sidewalk, the buildings were so close. Jammed shoulder to shoulder, they tried to lure cars from those long lines of traffic. It was an amazing thing to see! How people ever got back out into the ever present traffic line after a show was beyond me. We crawled along like bumpkins, pointing at things along the way.

"There's Dick Clark's Theatre", or "there's Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede" we'd yell. "Look, they've got DUCKS!!!!" I was in awe, yet felt so silly for all my enthusiasm. By the time we got to the Titanic museum (housed in a replica of the front half of the ship, including the infamous iceberg, $18.82 per adult, plus tax!) we were ready to crawl in traffic back towards the old part of town, and the lake.

Historic Branson is a bit less shiny than the strip, but with a huge waterfront development called Branson Landings, it's gaining fast. Yet, just a couple of blocks away, there are old mobile homes on overgrown lots, boarded up homes, and other signs of the way life really is. For all it's glitz, Branson is just another American city, and life still isn't easy for many of it's residents.

I'm thankful I had to see it, and even more thankful we didn't give in and spend the grocery money doing it!

For what it's worth, the real beauty of the Ozarks can be seen in nature, and in it's people. The vast expanses of forest, and clear lakes and streams are the only entertainment I need.

However, I can say I was there, and I sure can't say that for too many other places!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Purpose Driven Life??

We have been scrambling to finish up a job here lately. During yesterday's manic workload, I saw a copy of "A Purpose Driven Life", and it got me thinking.
While I had no time to read it, I gleaned that it was about the "fact" that were all here for a purpose. Like what?

Perhaps superheros, pledged to fight crime, and save humanity, would fulfill that niche, but what about the rest of us mere mortals? We seem to be here to live life by the seat of our pants, never knowing what the future holds. There is no divine plan for us, no accolades for doing something right. We just get by, day by day, and have no idea what's going to happen next. Reality is, that if there is indeed a plan, we ain't invited to participate.
Look around at the successful people. They seem to be laughing all the way to eternity, because they screwed the little guy to get ahead. Is this right? Is this our purpose driven get shafted by the powers that be?

If there indeed is a plan in place, and if there is a supreme being who cares about us, and has a plan for us, then why would they turn some into heroin addicts, or leave others to starve? Is this a plan? If you're crossing the street, and get gunned down by a drunk driver, is this your destiny?

It sounds like total bullshit to me! We alone can make the choice to go for the brass ring on the merry-go-round of life. There is no divine plan, no sacred cause for us. We're here to slog along until the end. What happiness, and success we find, is totally from our own fighting to do so.
The only realities we face each day are death and taxes, and sometimes feeding the cat. Other than that, we're on our own. It's up to us to find our own happiness, help others, live, love, laugh, and then amaze ourselves with what we can do. The rest of the world could give a shit! The only one who cares about us!

So, the moral of the story is: be true to yourself, achieve your own goals, not what someone claims is your "destiny". There is no one upstairs rooting us on. No angel cheerleaders in miniskirts urging us to "go, fight, WIN!" Truth is, the cosmos could give a rat's ass as to how we end up, so it's up to each of us to make sure we're satisfied with our lives.
In the end, the only one we have to answer to is our self. Did we do something useful with our "allotted" days on earth? Did we really care about the world around us, and try to improve it? Did we touch a life, or make someone smile? Or were we self-centered ass hats, who cared for nothing more than getting ahead, at any cost?

The only "plan" is our own, and what we do is entirely for our feelings of success, happiness, and sometimes survival.

The cosmos is betting against us, let's show them what we can do!

Go team go!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cash for Clunkers; Part Deux

I recently heard that the US Postal Service is offering a $15,000 incentive to Postal Workers to get them to leave the service. It's like the "Cash for Clunkers" campaign, where the Service would get rid of the highest paid tier of workers, those that have been there for quite a while, and are near retirement age A $15K boot out the door would be a good thing for many of the dedicated skilled employees, but it should be based on performance, nothing else. Reward the people who have been breaking their backs to move America's mail! It's the least the Postal Service could do to thank the dwindling workforce of clerks who really care about doing a good job.

And that brings me to the "clunkers" part. Over the years, the Postal Service has been hiring more and more people who do as little as possible. They take no pride in their work, because the dedicated employees have to do it for them. There are no workplace rules, nor time studies in place to stop these people from clocking in, and hiding the rest of the day. Supervision has their hands full with the task of data entry, filling in countless forms, reports, and other useless drivel. They seldom look away from the computer screen. This opens the door for goofing off! Imagine employees that swipe in at the beginning of the day, and walk back out the door to go to work at another job! It happens in the larger facilities!

In my former office, we had a man who came from another office to fill a vacant position. This position involved being stationed in a remote mailing plant, with no supervision. While the Postmaster was trusting the man to do his job, the employee was out fishing for the better part of the day, and only came back when he was paged by the employees of the plant! This went on for months, and he was finally replaced by another man who did much the same thing. Instead of fishing, he would work in his sister's store, or sell real estate!

The list goes on, and this was only one office out of the whole system! Why would we reward people who refuse to work? And why isn't there supervision to weed out the useless people and process them out of the service?

Seeing these "clunkers" get rewarded for their non-service just shows what a real mess the Postal Service is in!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pay(n) in the Butt!

There's an old saying that there are only two things in life that you can't change, death and taxes. From the moment we get a few coins in our little hands, there has been some form of government wanting to take a share, be it local, county, state, or federal. We were brought up believing that it's a citizen's duty to pay taxes in order to keep the country running (and spending). It seem that there is a tax on nearly everything that affects one's life, from food taxes, to utility taxes, and on and on.The political mindset is that you never think about the tax when you see the price on the shelf. Only when you get the final bill does it appear, making the cost of your purchase higher. Then it's too late , and you resign yourself to pay it.

What got me thinking about this occurred on one of my many trips to fix my computer a few weeks back. I pulled up the the little strip mall shop where I bought it, and had to park in front of the convenience store next door. There in the window was a sign advertising cigarettes for $49.99 per carton. Since I quit smoking years ago, I hadn't kept up with the costs, but I remember that the unbelievable sum of $5\carton is one thing that drove us to quit back then!

They say the high taxes on cigarettes are meant to be a deterrent to smoking. If you don't like the tax, then quit. This means that the tax is strictly meant as a punishment! It's unthinkable that taxes are used to take money away for no other reason than to punish someone!

Not a smoker? Then how about the tax on soft drinks that San Francisco want's to implement (or already has in place)? If memory serves me correctly, it's something like 35%! All this to force people to stop drinking sweetened sodas. What on earth does this have to do with anything? I can understand that a tobacco tax might apply because of health concerns due to second hand smoke, but soda pop?

Worse yet, there's a number of nutjobs in Washington who want an extra gas tax, in order to punish us for driving older, less fuell efficient vehicles. Many people live paycheck to paycheck in this country, and to screw them with higher gas prices is just plain wrong. The price of automobiles has left many people no other alternative but to continue to drive older cars and trucks. Many new cars cost more than a full year's salary, so if a person has a car that runs, and is paid for, why should they be punished?

The list goes on and on, from utility taxes, personal property taxes, (punishment for having stuff!) and food taxes (you eat, therefore we tax!). It takes a huge bite out of a person's income. What amazes me is that the Washington elite have no idea how much strain these little swipes at our income put on the family budget. If they don't like a product we consume, is that really any of their business?

It's time to leave the consumer alone, and have at least a few things that we enjoy!

Life's too short, and in the end, when we die, it seems that there's taxes on that too!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tune in, Turn on, and Drop Out!

Ha! I've finally gotten a computer that's co-operating with least for a while, anyway.

Right now, I'm still stewing over the fuss about the President speaking to the school children today. Some nutcases are calling this speech "an attempt to advance a political agenda". What, encouraging someone to get an education is a bad thing? All of this is being fed by the Right Wing media, the same ones that claimed the President "is a Muslum", or "he's a socialist".
This malarky is being devoured by simple minded people, who treat it as the gospel truth. These same people never question what they hear, they only obey. That's the scary thing here. Nazi Germany was ruled by fear. Any one different was singled out, there were no other opinions allowed, and anyone who spoke against the party, was punished. Sound familiar?
This is the same thing going on right now! Make the people fearful, so they only follow you, and what you say. Any other opinions, of facts for that matter are "lies". It's a scary thing that's happening, an intense effort to poison the minds of people.

Take for example the "Tea Partys" that have taken place lately. All the blame for our current woes is heaped at the President's feet. Why? He didn't get us into this mess. Where were these asshats during the past 8 years, when all the spending, lying, and torturing were going on? Once again, it's just a thinly veiled attempt to frighten people into believing that our current President is some sort of "Socialist Monster" that wants to enslave us!

It's time for some clear thinking here in America, and stop the wingnuts from bullshitting the news, instead of truthfully reporting it

Hell, if I ran the country, Fox News would be off the air! And, any parent that kept their child home today because of what they heard , would have those children taken away and deprogrammed!

To quote the late Frank Zappa: "If your kids knew how really lame you were, they'd murder you in your sleep". A little harsh, perhaps, but it sums it all up!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Farewell, Dell!

My old Dell computer is facing it's final voyage. She's been a good old girl, and has served loyally for the past couple of years. However, the fact that she had a compact platform, with no case fan, and only the power supply for ventilation, has done her in. Alas, she's making that last walk through the "Silicone Valley of Death".
I guess that's the reason for this rant. Back in the day, computers pretty much followed a standard principle. If you ain't IBM, then copy them, and call yourself an "IBM Clone". It worked for a number of years, with nearly all computers performing to the same standard.

Commodore, on the other hand, was the "People's Car" of the computer age.
We had numerous Commodore PC's, and they all used the same software, and produced the same results. There were no upgrades to the processors, and no real OS. In those days, you had to learn at least Basic programming language to make the computer do what you wanted it to do. For those of us with these computers, it was an experience that few people today understand. To have the ability to program your own computer was considered just short of witchcraft by some. Mind you, this was Basic language, but the what you could do with it made you cooler than most. Better yet, they boasted a whopping 64K of ram!!

Fast forward 10 years, and the "PC Clones" were now real players. The Commodores were left in the dust; the new machines running a new OS called Windows 3.1. We bought a Packard Bell computer back then with an unheard of 20 Megabyte hard drive! The salesman told us that "there's no way you'll ever fill this thing up!" Of course, it was quickly outdated, and we had to get faster, and faster units to keep up with the software available. Windows as well, kept producing newer and newer versions of it's operating system, forcing us to keep up.

I guess that time marches on, but why not just write software for the masses again? Why do we have to buy a new computer every time something new comes out, as our old one won't run it?

Old Dell ran Windows XP, and I checked to see if she'd run Vista, but it was a no-go. She was too old and slow to keep up in the new environment. I did as many upgrades as I could, but, alas, she didn't want to play anymore. I replaced her with a Systemax "White Box" system, from 19?? It's faster than the old girl, but the video card is "stone age". Once again, I'm in upgrade mode!

And so, I have to ask, when will the computer industry slow down, and let us catch up? Old Dell is tired, and she's a hell of a lot younger than I am!

A final postscript...the Systemax has also died, replaced by another white box computer!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hemp for Victory!

I wasn't surprised when yet another plot of marijuana was found over in Marion County. The debate over this leafy hero, or demon, has raged for years.
While we hear of all the reasons it's bad, from being called a "gateway" drug, to dire warnings about health risks, we forget that hemp has been around for centuries, and our government urged people to grow it during WWII !

Hemp was used for making rope, canvas for sails, and even clothing for many years. Henry Ford used it to help make (and fuel) cars. It's a renewable resource that can be used to make hemp oil, which can power diesel engines, or make ethanol to blend with gasoline.
Hemp oil is biodegradable, and does not produce sulfur dioxide when burned. A group of people even converted a car to run on hemp oil, and drove it cross-country. It sure doesn't sound like the demon weed it's purported to be!

In the wake of these hard economic times, growing hemp would be a boon to farmers struggling to keep family farms going. It can be grown from border to border, with little or no attention, and can be used for many products that now rely on dwindling supplies of petrochemicals. With all these things going for it, why does the government at all levels, try to eradicate it? In my opinion, this could well be the goose that laid the golden egg! We now need to promote it, not destroy it.

And going back to the local pot bust, and the economy of late; what's wrong with growing it in order to make money? Jobs are drying up, people are falling behind on their mortgages, and other bills, and the outlook is getting bleaker. Perhaps this little patch was just to help someone survive for a little while longer. It's no different than the stills that popped up here during prohibition. It's American ingenuity at it's best! Just because the Government can't regulate it doesn't make it bad.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that our government urged people to grow pot? They even produced a short newsreel promoting it! Click the following link and see for yourself:

Whoever planted that patch in Marion County wasn't a criminal, they are a true patriot! Hemp for victory!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pay more, and get less!

Ever notice that what be buy nowadays isn't like it used to be? We've all seen the cost of living go up steadily over the years. From apples to automobiles, prices have climbed, in some cases, beyond what the average person can afford. I guess this is progress, but now that we're living on a fixed income, it's time for some serious discussion of the subject.

What started this whole train of thought was an estate sale we did last December. The sale was held in a condo in a neighboring town, which in itself, is not unusual. What was amazing, is that the condo had been sealed up since the early 1980's, with everything left as if the people would be back in a moment or so. There were no perishables in the house, but everything else provided a trip intro the past.
The couple that had owned the home, had several others, so this was like a vacation getaway for them. They bought things at the local stores, and in many cases, never even took them out of the boxes. I was amazed at how much prices had gone up on many items!
For example, a roll of Aluminum Foil is a pretty basic thing to find around a home. However, a 1970's roll of the "heavy duty" stuff is at least three times as thick as the current offerings. The price was also 80 cents less than the same item\brand today. Do we get what we pay for? I think not.

However, what really got me to thinking, was literally nothing to sneeze at! It was a few boxes of Puffs tissues. They were the "designer" ones that you see in the stores in the little square boxes. They had been sitting in the bottom of a closet since the 1970's, and smelled of mothballs (as did the whole condo).
The tissues in the still unopened boxes were priced at 85 cents for a box of 100 ct. Fast forward to today, where the same box of Puffs contains 72 tissues, and costs $1.30 or more. Living here in the Ozarks, I've discovered a truckload of allergies I never knew I had. I go through at least a box of Kleenex a week.

And that's the point of this whole tirade. We have been loyally buying products over the years, and paying more and more over time, while getting less and less.
Wages in America have not gone up as fast as the cost of living, and we're slowly finding ourselves unable to buy the things we used to. While it may seem unimportant that the cost of Kleenex has gone up, think about the cost of an automobile, and the gas it takes to run it. That's at the far end of the consumer spectrum. We ourselves, can no longer afford a new car, and can barely afford the cost of gas and repairs for our old one.
Consumers have been getting a bad deal, and it's showing no signs of letting up any time soon.

Thanks a lot, corporate America!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Farewell, Billy!

Billy Mays died today.

For many, it's not a big deal, but for some of us, it marks yet another TV pitchman silenced. No, he didn't have the following that Farah had, in fact he was rather annoying. He didn't live as decadently as Michael did, but he was everywhere on our televisions.

Growing up in a small town South of Chicago in the 1950's, I came to enjoy the shrill pitchmen that graced local television. Sounds odd, but the fact that they were always there, and a bit comical to boot, was quite entertaining. Nearly every part of the country had there own "salesmen", pitching local products and businesses.

In the local Chicago market in those days, we were bombarded by the Bert Weiman commercials, featuring Lyn Burton. We learned that Bert was our TV Ford man, located at 3535.... NORTH;.... on Ashland Avenue. Every Saturday, he'd shill for Bert, in a dramatic voice, urging us to buy a new, or used car. Of course, we always got to see just one side of the car he was promoting, and had to assume the other side was there! Then there was Larry Goodman, for Goodman's Community Discount stores. The closest one to us at the time was up in Harvey Illinois, and when I got older, I had to go see one for myself. It was a total PIT, with things just thrown about by the shoppers. And who could forget Bushelle carpet cleaning (and I know I spelled it wrong) at HUDSON 3-TWO-SEVEN-HUNDRED! Or C.E.T. for television, at "Mowhawk 4-4100 Call for a free home demonstration" which featured a "Native American" and a pounding tom-tom beat, where they sold TV's using the unique "quarter meter bank" You put in a quarter to watch TV, and eventually paid for it.

Later, the ads got more savvy, such as the Long Chevrolet ads, featuring a young kid dressed as an old time paperboy named Timmy. He'd shriek "Extra. Extra, Read all About it!", and you wanted to just choke him! Of course, the pitchman that endured the longest was the "Empire Man" hawking Empire carpets at 588-2300; EMPIRE! I'll admit, we even succumbed to his pitch, and had Empire install a carpet in our old house.

TV pitchmen (and women) are an integral part of the viewing experience, whether we like it or not. They live on, no matter where you move to.
When we arrived in the Ozarks, we immediately discovered Stephanie, who hawks furniture for Furniture Factory Outlet, or a huge horse puppet who sells carpets for The Carpet Barn. Better yet, an (at least) million year old Robert Vaughn, "The Man From Uncle", shills for a local lawyer's office, urging us to "Call on the hurt line.......Right now!"
It's as much a part of Americana as anything out there. Love them, or hate them, they're with us 'til we turn the TV off.

So rest in peace, Billy, and I'm picking up some Oxi-Clean tomorrow when I go to town!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's tourist season in the Ozarks, and things are promising to get crazy this summer. We've already had three drownings, (and only one of them was a tourist for a change!) and a plane crash, where three people from the St. Louis area died. Worse yet, it's not even the 4th yet!
The local roads are clogged with cars bearing out of state license plates pulling all sorts of campers, boats, and sometimes both at the same time. Not to mention the huge motorhomes that take up large amounts of space in our local parking lots.
It's a great thing, as our economy is based on tourist dollars, much like the City of Branson to the north. Our lakes attract people from all over, and while it's good for the economy, people tend to get a little wild while out on the water. You see them everywhere, young people in varying states of undress buying huge amounts of alcohol on their way to the lake. Recently, 14 underage party goers were busted on a pontoon boat in lake Norfork, all were from Jonesboro, and all were out on bail within an hour. Pretty amazing if you ask me!
Then there's the time a couple of years ago, when a speedboat full of people charged out across the lake in pitch darkness, only to blast the boat 25 feet up the shore. Think they weren't drinking?
My point is that our guests here need to slow down and enjoy what the Ozarks have to offer, and behave themselves both for their own safety, and ours!
And now for my final thought, and the main reason for this rant:
All you elderly ladies out there, that go to the local stores wearing a bathing suit, and a cover-up, please make sure your cover-up covers you up! Yer grossing me out!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cash for Clunkers?

Washington is now debating a bill that would offer vouchers to people in order to spur car sales. The vouchers would give a cash voucher to anyone who buys a new car with a rating of at least 2MPG more than their old one, and even more for a new auto that gets 4 or more MPG than the old one. Now how on earth is that going to help consumers? Most people in the "real world" don't make enough to buy a new car, even with the help of a voucher. With our "clunkers" paid for, we can continue to drive them to our jobs, and in some cases, our old rides get better mileage than the new ones! Worse yet, the goal is to get us into alternative energy cars. Last time I checked, the now Chevy Volt was supposed to be priced at over $40,000 (plus tax), and the Tesla retails for over $120,000!
That's more than my house cost! Other than Wall Street executives, who can afford those prices?

Take for instance, the truck pictured above. It has 208,000 miles on it, and is going on 17 years old. It was purchased for under $15,000, and has been a reliable friend and companion. Even it's clutch is original! It has a V-8, and standard transmission, and gets 22MPG, doesn't burn or leak oil, and in fact is very finance friendly. Where can you get the same thing today, and afford to pay for it? I haven't seen anything offered that I like more, and the last I've heard, automakers aren't giving them away for free. With more and more people out of work, folks just aren't foolish enough to get rid of something they've paid for in order to buy a new one.

So I'm wondering why the government wants to even get into this debate.
There are other HUGE wastes of petroleum going on that never even get a second look.

For example, let's look at the "frequent fliers" that flit all over the world, wasting precious resources, when they could stay home and teleconference. Or the airlines themselves for that matter. Are some flights really necessary? Do there need to be a couple dozen flights from airport A to airport B, going off half full?
If our leaders really wanted to make a change for the better in our oil consumption, they would move forward on electric high speed rail (which they're doing), and eliminate the wasteful short hops the airlines make. Instead of vouchers, give subsidies to the rail lines in order to lower ticket costs.
Americans have become a nation of people who rely on instant everything, air travel included. Would it kill us to wait for the train? I wonder.

This whole debate seems centered about forcing the people who can least afford it, to make the changes envisioned. From my point of view, that's just plain wrong!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Indian Trail Trees

In the past year or so, we've learned about the strangely bent trees that the Native Americans used to mark their trails. The trees called attention to sources for drinking water, encampments, and other things. They were, in a way, like signs on the interstates of today. Sometimes, when the tree was bent, the "elbow" was split in places and filled with moss in order to give the tree a definitive meaning.

I had heard that the majority of these trees could be found East of the Mississippi river. Lately, there have been a number of sightings in Missouri, especially in the Mark Twain National Forest.
Locally, we discovered a few over near Flippin Arkansas last winter, and were amazed to see them in person. The trees still stand as sentinels, looking over the lands the Native Americans used to roam.

Recently, we took some friends down to Blanchard Caverns in the nearby town of 56, Arkansas. While waiting for the tour to begin, we perused the gift shop, and found a small paperback book about the trees. There were several ways the trees could be bent, but all pointed the way for foot traffic on the trails.

Later, as the Native Americans began to use horses for transportation, the low lying trees couldn't be seen from horseback. The bends were made higher up on the trunk of the saplings, and the resulting marker is called a "Rider Tree" today.
Oddly enough, we stumbled across one in plain sight here in our back yard! It seems to be pointing to the old military road that ran East to West along the front of our property. Later that same road became the Southern route of "The Trail of Tears". I don't know how long ago our tree was altered, but I'm sure proud to have it!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mailman!

This goes back to my previous post. Over my many years at the Post Office, I've always heard the same general comment: "You guys just come to work, pick up a bag, and walk around!"
Nothing could be further from the truth! A letter carrier's day is as structured, and in some instances micro-managed, as any other high-stress job.
Let's have a look at a typical mailman's day!

Upon clocking in, the carrier is expected to go directly to their "case", a large unit with rows of shelves with dividers about an inch apart, where the mail is sorted for that individual route. Each carrier has his own case, and must sort the mail there in delivery order. The office standard is 18 letters, and 8 "flats" (magazines, and large envelopes) per minute. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Imagine staring at row after row of dividers with addresses marked below them, and trying to get a letter in the right place.It's not as easy as it looks!

All the while, the delivery supervisor watches them, and makes sure they are sorting to standard. Prior to the carriers arrival, the supervisor has inventoried each route's mail, and, through a software program, determined the exact time the carrier should be on the street, and when they should return. The carrier is then told this information, and expected to comply. There is no room for debate! If there's 5 feet of fresh snow outside, and the wind chill is -45 degrees, it shouldn't take any longer to make the rounds than on a pleasant spring day.
After sorting the mail, routing the SPRS (small packages) and parcels, the carrier "skins the case", or ties down the mail in delivery order, and bundles it into relays. Each relay is a loop of a block or more, that the carrier delivers. After that loop is completed, the carrier moves on the the next one, until the route is completed. All the while, the supervisor is out on the street doing what is called "Street Supervision", checking the carrier's position on each route to where the software said they should be. Usually, any variation over 5 minutes will result in a "job discussion" (getting chewed out) when the carrier returns! Petty, isn't it?

Worse yet, when a carrier breaks for lunch, they may only take that lunch in an approved location. If a new burger joint opens up in town, and you're caught there, it could end up in discipline!
At the end of the tour, the carrier must return to the Post Office to return their equipment, keys, and any accountable items. Sometimes, the supervisor is waiting for them in order to go over problems with the carrier's performance. Sound's simple, doesn't it??

Now imagine doing this 5 days a week, day in and day out. When lightning is flashing overhead, and you're walking under trees in order to keep on time. Or when the cold is brutal, and the wind just makes it worse, and you have to finish that route. That's the life of a Letter Carrier!
I'm sure glad it's over!!

Before anything.....

Tomorrow, the Postal Service is going to charge an extra 2 cents to mail a letter. Now before everyone starts carping on just how awful it is that they need more money, I figured I ought to come to their defense. I spent nearly 40 years in the service, and despite their bumbling, incompetent, and uncaring demeanor, the Postal Service does do a good job. I started there when it was a department of the U. S. Government, just like the Defense Department, or any any of the other multitude of branches. Employees took pride in their government service, and most people thought of them as special for having a good government job.

Fast forward to the present, and you'll find a Quasi-Governmental entity, with a declining revenue stream, but the proud employees still get the job done. The job itself, is to provide universal service from one end of this country to the other, and that includes it's territories. Distance doesn't matter, the cost always remains the same. While on-line shopping and E-Mailing have cut into the revenue stream, the Post Office still provides a safe, and secure way to communicate and pay bills. The chances for identity theft are far greater on the Internet, than through the mail.

Now, that universal service requires a lot of manpower, and transportation costs. When gas was near $5\gallon last summer, there was no break for the Post Office; they paid what everyone else did. That really cut into the operating budget, as did utility costs for the multitude of buildings, offices, and repair facilities. Add to that, the cost of wages and benefits for the employees, and it's easy to see why the cost of postage will have to go up.
While many will question the need for "snail mail" in this day and age, remember the millions of people that don't use, don't want, and are afraid of the Internet. The mail provides a daily contact with friends, and family via a uniformed member of the U. S.Government!

Next: The Mailman

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Well, let's give this blogging thing a try. I've decided that since I've got a lot to say, perhaps I ought to say it! There's so much I want to share with the readers, especially some of the area's history. With the Southern route of "The Trail of Tears" literally in the front yard, the Buffalo National River just a few miles to the South of us, and A large lake on either side of us, there's a lot to talk about.

It's springtime here in the Ozarks, and it's just beautiful here. We're just weeks away from the start of tourist season, and the area is still suffering the effects of January's ice storm. Slowly, things are getting back to normal here, and I'm itching to get out on the water!

I'll try to post often, starting with the story of how we got here in the first place.

Until then, thanks for stopping by!