Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

29 November 2012

Those Damn Unions

Many of you will claim that labor unions are responsible for the wholesale demise of business in the U.S. (Just look at the situation with Hostess!) Unions typically make silly, stupid, unreasonable demands…until management finally gives up and says, “Enough!” and moves the company right out of the country…to someplace where people will produce the exact same goods far more cheaply. Hey, that’s business in a global economy! Yup, fair is fair.

Some will grudgingly agree that unions may have been necessary “once,” but surely their usefulness is past and their viability is long gone. Companies know they have to treat their employees right, right? Here in the U.S. we already have the best working conditions in the world, and companies know they must pay a competitive, livable wage. So why do unions still exist? Shouldn’t they be outlawed or something?

That’s probably what many of you think. That’s probably what Walmart thinks too. You know Walmart: That’s the company that decided it was more efficient to have some of the clothes they sell made in Bangladesh. Hey, they’re always starving over there…even George Harrison’s 1971 benefit concert did little-to-nothing to fundamentally change anything in that country. So if Walmart can have clothes made in Bangladesh…great! Right?

Right. Except. Except that a fire broke out in a garment factory in Bangladesh this week, and 124 people died because the fire exits were either non-existent or blocked and people couldn’t get out.

Walmart, Sears and Disney all had clothing made in that factory. But they cleverly had enough plausible deniability to distance themselves from the actual process of manufacturing. Well, we did not contract directly with that company. In fact, we directed our suppliers to not use that company! Which is exactly what Walmart actually claimed. Left unsaid was, But you know…we don’t really monitor such things closely as long as we get the product for the right price. And how could we! Bangladesh is soooo far away from Bentonville, Arkansas.

Those damn unions! If not for those damn unions we'd still be making clothes in the U.S.!

Well this is what we get – this is the high cost of low prices. It might be easy for some Americans to shrug it off and say, “Hey, that would not happen in America.”

But it did. Triangle Shirtwaist Company, anyone? Ring a bell? Probably not, because it was 100 years ago. (A hundred and one, actually.)

Just after the turn of the 20th Century, New York City was a hub of manufacturing, including clothing. The Triangle Waist Company made women’s blouses that were called “shirtwaists” back then, don’t ask me why. The company occupied the top three floors of a huge 10-story factory in lower Manhattan. The employees, mostly young women, worked nine-hour days from Monday through Friday, and a seven-hour day on Saturday. They made a maximum of about $12/week.

In March of 1911 a fire broke out on the eighth floor of the factory. There were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, no fire-hoses…and so the fire got completely out of control before people on the two upper floors even realized what was happening. Emergency exits were locked, ostensibly to prevent stealing by employees. There was one rickety fire escape which quickly warped and collapsed due to the heat of the fire, sending as many as 20 people to their death. When the NYFD arrived, the ladders on their trucks were not tall enough to reach the floors that were burning. In all, 146 people died.

The Triangle Waist Company fire led directly to better, more strict regulations concerning worker safety in factories. It also led to the growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which worked hard for better treatment of employees in both compensation and working conditions.

Well, screw that! Manufacturers simply moved their factories out of high-profile places like New York City, to other locations where people would work more cheaply, would be happy to have any job at all, where there were no pesky labor unions and where government oversight and scrutiny was not so…let’s say “intense.” Places like Central America. And Bangladesh.

And so a couple of days ago, 100 years after the Triangle Waist Company fire, there was another fire, this time in a garment factory in Bangladesh in which 124 people were killed.

Boy, we’ve learned a lot in 100 years, huh? But this is what we get. This is what we get when we, as Americans willingly accept the “fact” that companies should be allowed to produce their goods wherever they can do it the most cheaply, and then ship those goods to us with no restrictions. This is what we get when we do not hold companies like Walmart and Sears and Disney directly accountable, and morally and financially responsible for disasters like this. We should be ashamed of ourselves, but we’re not. Not as long as we can get that Disney-branded jacket for our kids at a cheap price or that $6 sweatshirt from Walmart.

We see how corporations act when they are left to make up the rules on their own. We saw it in lower Manhattan in 1911. And we just saw it again this month in 2012 in Bangladesh.

Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

WIKIPEDIA: Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire

22 November 2012

Giving Thanks, 2012

The house is quiet again. For the last three days it’s been filled with the sounds of Matt, Alisha, and their pair of rambunctious ten year-olds: Faith and Dylan (and their cat). It’s a wonderful noise! It makes the house sound alive. They were visiting from Atlanta – came down early for Thanksgiving since there were other family plans back up in Georgia on the specific day. And so we had ours on Monday, which is fine.

I’ve known Matt for a long, long time…since well before he was married with children. In fact, I was honored to be Best Man at his wedding. I constantly marvel at what good friends we are and have stayed. Although we’re not blood relatives we might as well be.

One of the things we have in common is that we both love to eat! As single guys with no local family, we’ve spent a lot of holidays together over the years. We both also like to cook, and by happy coincidence it turns out that we cook well together. We get along really well in the kitchen. This shouldn’t have been any surprise really. We’re great working on cars together, and if he were a pilot I know we’d get along well in the cockpit too. We’ve got some individual recipes that we bring to the table. We'd usually cook up a big, traditional holiday feast, even it was just for the two of us. This year Alisha joined us in the cooking. It was fantastic. The meal turned out awesome.

We did a turkey, of course; what kind of un-American pinko heathen would not have turkey on Turkey Day? For side dishes, Alisha did yams with marshmallows – yum! She also did a special side dish of green beans that was dee-licious! Matt did the chicken-cornbread dressing from scratch, a recipe he got from an aunt which is literally to die for. I did my world famous crabmeat potato salad. There was more…too much more, actually…an embarrassing amount of food for three so-called adults and two well-fed kids. But collectively we have a lot to be thankful for, and you know we Americans celebrate that thankfulness with food.

I’ve mentioned before that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And this one was one of the best ones yet.

They’re gone now; they left Wednesday morning on one of the busiest travel days of the year. I’m happy to report they made it safely back to Atlanta. And so the house is quiet again. And as KC and the Sunshine Band once sang, that’s the way (uh-huh uh-huh) I like it. I love Matt and Alisha and their kids, but I do like my solitude.

Whether you celebrate this particular holiday in your culture or not, it’s good to occasionally take time to stop, step back and give thanks for all you have. I, for one have been extremely blessed. With the best family and friends a guy could ever hope for, I have the best life of anyone I know.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

10 November 2012

The Best Political Post EVER!

Okay, maybe not.

Some of my friends are pretty angry and bitter right now. Having President Obama get elected for a second term really chaps their collective asses. To paraphrase Michael Stipe and REM, it’s the end of the world as they know it, and they don’t feel fine. They (still!) make endless posts on their Facebook pages, predicting the veritable destruction of the U.S. and all they hold dear. They blame the left-wing liberal Commies for this inevitable downslide off the cliff and into socialism. And they’re pissed.

The mistake many Republicans make is the same one that Mitt Romney made -- the one that probably cost him the election. They assume that everyone who votes Democrat is a lazy, unemployed welfare-cheat…someone who exists on government handouts, considers themselves a “victim” and has no inclination to better themselves. They assume that everyone who votes Democrat would prefer to live in a socialist country like Communist Russia…where all you have to do is sit back and the government will take care of you.

And these assumptions are wrong.

Umm, here’s a newsflash: We’ve all seen how life is under socialist regimes like in today’s Russia. None of us would opt for that. Really.

Here’s a little chart that got published on Facebook. It’s telling, at least to me. What it shows is that the top ten states that have people with college educations voted for Obama. The top ten states that have people without college degrees voted for Romney...with one glaring exception.

Now, a college education does not guarantee that someone is a genius, or even smart, or even has any common sense. It only means that you spent the time and took the courses and got the degree…which admittedly could have been in Liberal Arts. Nevertheless, people with college educations do know how to think critically. And whaddya know, more people in states with college educated people chose to re-elect President Obama.

Some Republican doom and gloom friends of mine have gone so far as to minimize the importance of having a college degree in life. Perhaps obviously, these are people who do not themselves have a college degree. Go figure.

The fact is, just over half of the entire population voted for Obama. More people in the states with the larger number of electoral votes voted for Obama. The states that have the highest number of college graduates voted for Obama. Tellingly, Romney could not even carry Massachusetts, the state in which he was governor. Didn’t they remember him?? Oh wait…maybe they did! Similarly, Paul Ryan did not carry his home state of Wisconsin. Make of that what you will.

Things have changed, people. Our country has not only elected a black president, we've elected a black president twice!

But we did not elect a king. Obama is still just the president, and as such he has to work with Congress. So I don’t expect a wholesale conversion to Marxist socialism any time soon.

If you voted for Obama you are probably happy with the outcome right now. But if you don't like the way the election went, then you better get with your senator and congressman and make damn sure they know how you feel. 'Cuz it ain't majority rules in this country. We still are a thriving, surviving democratic republic.

Me? I did not vote for Romney. I could have, but I did not.

05 November 2012

The Devil You Know

You’re probably as sick of all the political crap as I am. I cannot wait for this election to be over. And you know what? I really don’t care who wins. Really.

I am either the most left-leaning Conservative you’ll ever meet, or perhaps the most right-wing Liberal. I staunchly oppose gun control, but I’m against totally against abortion. I think we need the federal government out of our lives, and we need a smaller military. I think every American should have health care. Not “access to” healthcare, but healthcare. We are supposedly the most advanced nation on the planet. What does it say about us that we do not take care of our citizens?

Anyway, does all this make me: Undecided? An Independent? A moron? Probably all three.

Politics has gotten so divisive lately that it’s sickening. People are so angry! On Facebook I have had to unsubscribe from the newsfeeds of some of my more vociferous friends so I don't have to be subjected to their continual childish rants. I’ve come very close to “unfriending” them completely. Sad to say, these are usually Republicans. They make post after hate-filled post about Obama and liberals. It wears me out. I get it, okay? I do not recall such anger back when George W. was running for his second term, but that may just be selective memory. I mean, let's face it, Dubya wasn't a very good president. And I love how Republicans keep invoking Reagan's name and keep skipping over the two guys named Bush. Clever, that.

I was confronted recently by a guy I know who is a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative Republican. He was literally steaming about Obama…how’s he’s ruined “the country” and how if he is re-elected “the country” will be totally, off-the-cliff destroyed. I offered that from my point of view it didn’t seem to matter who won this election. Oh boy, wrong thing to say!

This guy went into a Hannityesque anti-Obama tirade that included everything from our bad relations with Israel to the Iranian nuclear situation to gasoline prices to Benghazi – the usual Conservative talking/yelling points. Oh, and he also stated as a fact that Obama cancelled the “Keystone Pipeline” which is simply not true although many uneducated boobs believe in their feeble brains that it is.

I shrugged, refusing to get drawn into yet another pointless political argument. This put my buddy into Personal Attack Mode. Republicans really do believe that Obama is destroying “the country.” And Mitt Romney will save it. And if you’re not totally with Romney then you, yes YOU are complicit in destroying “the country” as well. Well! Made me feel like a right traitor, he did!

I recall that in 2008 then-candidate Obama ran on a platform of “hope and change.” He would change Washington, he promised us. He was just what we needed. And now, four years later Obama admits that you cannot change Washington from the inside. Oh really? Whodathunkit! And now along comes Mitt Romney, promising us that HE will be the change! HE is just what we need! Yeah…right. I’ll tell you what: I didn’t believe Obama back then and I don’t believe Romney today.

I think my biggest objection to Mitt Romney is that he’s a phony. He’s fake. He will say anything to anyone to get elected. Just go on YouTube; a quick search will turn up all of Romney’s inconsistencies. Flip-flop, back and forth. And this is not a trivial point…which is that no one really knows where Romney stands on issues. Because what he says today may not be what he says or does tomorrow. he tells us. Trouble is, I don't.

Is Obama any better? No. He promised us many things…over 500 promises of which he kept less than half (about 38% according to people who track these things). He promised us transparency, but his presidency is one of the least transparent ever. Like Romney, Obama is a typical politician. But in this case, President Obama is the devil we know. And for better or for worse, the devil we know may be the choice this election. Not “the best” choice, and not even “a better” choice. Just the choice. That, my friends, is sad.