Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bauer’s Bold Solution

Regular readers of this weekly epistle know that I try to steer it away from all thing political, preferring instead to ramble on about topics as varied and mundane as the bi-weekly 25-cent crew-cuts I grew up with as a kid, to “Fashion Trends of the Aging and Overweight”… and lots of other topics in between. (After all, there seems to be enough politics floating out there without me weighing in.)

Readers also know that one of my long-time friends and allies is our Lt. Governor, Andre Bauer, for whom I have labored in each of his campaigns over the last sixteen years, and am supporting in his current race for Governor -- albeit in an unofficial, advisory-only role -- facts which I publicly disclaim on those occasions that I happen to venture over into the political realm. This is one of those occasions.

Andre has always been bold with his ideas. The very first bill he proposed – the day after first being elected in November, 1996 – was the law which now allows all senior citizens and working people to vote early by absentee ballot.

Eight years ago, he proposed the common-sense ideas -- such as Saturday hours and less frequent renewals -- which ultimately led to shorter lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Incidentally, it really worked. I went to the DMV two weeks ago to get a replacement license, and was amazed at the quick, efficient service. I was in and out in less than five minutes!)

And he regularly comes up with out-of-the-box, but commonsense, ideas to save tax dollars. Why not build ONE rest area in the middle of interstate highways, instead of two… one on either side of the road? Why not build all elementary schools from a single set of plans? Why not, instead of naming interchanges after politicians, let corporate sponsors purchase naming-rights, with the money going to help reduce taxes?

Ten years ago, when he proposed the idea of letting corporate sponsors kick in funds for various sponsorships, the news media scoffed. Last month, one of the state’s largest newspapers advocated that exact thing -- paid sponsorship ads on school buses -- as a way of plugging the holes in the state’s budget.

Andre Bauer is not afraid to offer bold, new solutions to problems facing our state.

Last week, however, he proposed the boldest solution of his life… a proposal that has already gained national attention, and could affect the future of every American.

Like many, many citizens across the land, Bauer was frustrated by the action of Congress last week in forcing government-run health care on the public, when, clearly, the vast majority of Americans opposed it. In researching the issue, he was advised that efforts to block the new law would not likely succeed. Lawsuits were likely to fail. Efforts to repeal the law would be vetoed by the President.

But Bauer, who is responsible for a provision asking that all high school students spend a brief period studying the U.S. Constitution each Veterans Day, was aware of an Article in the Constitution allowing the people to reign in Congress if it ever got out of control.

The framers of the constitution, in their wisdom, did not bestow ultimate authority in the Congress or the President. They bestowed ultimate authority in the PEOPLE. They foresaw that someday Congress could perhaps get out of control, as it now has, so they gave the people the right -- through their state legislatures -- to reign in Congress and undo whatever damage they’ve done.

Article Five of the Constitution gives the PEOPLE the right -- through the state legislatures-- to call for a Constitutional Convention of the people to propose an amendment to the Constitution, which then must be ratified by 38 states.

Last week, Bauer became the first official in America to call publicly for such a convention, for the limited purpose of prohibiting government-run health care and socialized medicine. He arranged to have a resolution calling for convention introduced into the SC House and Senate, and then contacted other state legislatures to begin the process of having the required 2/3 of the states do the same.

Writing to members of state legislatures across the land, Bauer said, “I believe this action, left unchallenged, is the beginning of the end of the America we know and love. The freedoms we have enjoyed in our lifetimes are being steadily eroded, and future generations will suffer the consequences. The time has come for bold action.”

A few detractors immediately criticized Bauer, worrying that a Constitutional Convention could “open the floodgates” to unwanted changes in our federal government. Bauer responded that those floodgates had already been opened by Congress, which is steadily eroding the basic freedoms that Americans have long enjoyed, and shows no signs of stopping.

“We need a Constitutional Convention to CLOSE the floodgates, and keep Congress from taking away every shred of freedom we enjoy” Bauer said. “Congress is out of control. The government is broken. The question is, who do we trust to fix it: the congress or the people? I trust the people!”

Legislators in other states have now joined Bauer’s call for a Constitutional Convention. To happen, two-thirds of the states (34) would have to officially call for it. Congress would then set the time and place. The people of the individual states would choose their own delegates. After an Amendment prohibiting mandatory socialized health care was passed by the convention, it would only take effect if it were ratified by ¾ of the states (38).

A Constitutional Convention is a bold solution. We’ve only had one before. At that one, which was in 1787, the participants were Ben Franklin, James Madison, George Washington, George Mason, Alexander Hamilton and a lot of other names you would recognize.

They were very smart men, and in the Fifth Article of the Constitution they crafted, they saw fit to include this provision giving the people the right to over-rule an out-of-control Congress should it ever become necessary.

I think that time has come.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Counting on You!

I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that the Census Bureau has designated April 1st – April Fools Day – as Census Day 2010.

Could it be that the joke’s on us?!!!

“No, Ma’am, we’re not going to share your personal information with anyone.”

“No, Sir, the White House will never have access to the data you give to the census-taker.”

“We absolutely guarantee that there is no politics whatsoever involved in the Census Bureau.”


I don’t recall there ever having been as much consternation with the census as there is this year for the 2010 census. (Of, course, I’ve only really been around for a few of them. For all I know, there could have been widespread misgivings when T. Jefferson, that wily son-of-a- gun, set out to conduct that first one in 1790.)

But I do know there seems to be some angst about this one. I figure it’s a combination of things.

Frankly, lots of folks, myself included, took note when one of the first actions of the Obama White House was to grab oversight of the Census Bureau. Call me a cynic, but that smelled a little fishy to me. And, taken along with the FedGov takeover of the banks, the health care system, and a piece of the auto industry, it sends up a red flag. (Of course, that’s probably only because I’m an actual American.)

Politics aside, there’s also a fairly healthy general skepticism anymore about giving out any personal information, period. This whole Internets fad that Al Gore invented has opened up a giant new can of worms regarding identity theft and abuse of personal information.

I’m encouraging folks to be cooperative with the census folks, and provide the answers to the seven basic questions being asked. Here in South Carolina, there’s a lot at stake.

For instance, if our actual population matches up to the population estimates which have been predicted, The Pimento State could gain a whole new congressman… giving us seven instead of six… which, arguably, could be a good thing.

Just think… if we get an extra Congressman, next time Joe Wilson blurts out “You lie”, the new guy could chime in, “And how!”

More importantly, the new South Carolina vote in congress could be the one vote needed to repeal the government-run heath care bill that, unless repealed, probably spells the end of American freedom as we know it.

If you DON’T cooperate, here’s what will happen: Nothing, most likely, to you personally. But the census taker will get the information about you and your household the best way he can, mainly by snooping around to your neighbors, and asking them a bunch of questions about you.

So, skepticism, cynicism, and just plain ornery stubbornness aside, I’d like to offer the following information as a public service. (“As a public service” is unusual territory for me. Normally, I just blather on about whatever nonsense happens to be on my mind. So, “as a public service”, I have turned to the Better Business Bureau, and the actual United States Bureau of the Census, for the following helpful information.)

From the BBB:

During the U.S. Census, households will be contacted by mail, telephone or visited by a U.S. Census worker who will inquire about the number of people living in the house. Unfortunately, people may also be contacted by scammers who are impersonating Census workers in order to gain access to sensitive financial information such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers. Law enforcement in several states have issued warnings that scammers are already posing as Census Bureau employees and knocking on doors asking for donations and Social Security numbers.

The big question is - how do you tell the difference between a U.S. Census worker and a con artist? BBB offers the following advice:

• If a U.S. Census worker knocks on your door, they will have a badge, a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag and a confidentiality notice. Ask to see their identification and their badge before answering their questions. However, you should never invite anyone you don’t know into your home.

• Census workers are currently only knocking on doors to verify address information. Do not give your Social Security number, credit card or banking information to anyone, even if they claim they need it for the U.S. Census. While the Census Bureau might ask for basic financial information, such as a salary range, it will not ask for Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers nor will employees solicit donations.

• Eventually, Census workers may contact you by telephone, mail or in person at home. However, they will not contact you by e-mail, so be on the look out for e-mail scams impersonating the Census. Never click on a link or open any attachments in an e-mail that are supposedly from the U.S. Census Bureau.

From the Census Bureau:

More than 140,000 U.S. Census workers will count every person in the United States and will gather information about every person living at each address including name, gender, race, relationship, date of birth, and whether the respondent owns or rents his or her home.

Census information, such as household size, must be accurate as of April 1. Census forms have actually been mailed out to 90% of the homes during March.

By law, the Census Bureau may not release or share information that identifies individual respondents or their household for 72 years. That’s the year 2082.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires the decennial headcount we call the census. You could look it up.

The normal census form is six pages long, and requires two pages to be completed and returned. Some homes, however, may have received a longer form: the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau also collects. It's mailed to 2 million households, and asks dozens of questions about topics such as education, commuting, ancestry, citizenship, disability, military service and housing costs and conditions. None of these topics is included in the 2010 Census form. The Census Bureau asks you to complete and return the 2010 Census form AND the 2010 ACS form if you get both.

The 2010 Census asks just seven questions about each person. The standard form — mailed to 90% of households — comes on a folded sheet of paper equivalent to six standard pages. For households of up to three people, your answers will fit on just two pages.

From Rod-Boy:

In the first census (1790) they counted 3.9 million inhabitants of the nation. The most recent census (2002) recorded a population in excess of 281 million. I’m guessing 308 million this time. (Some of the experts have predicted 310 million… but I’m guessing a couple million illegal immigrants have now headed back home, figuring the economy there has got to be better than it is here.)

Here are some other good numbers for you: There are an estimated 6,810,094,425 people in the world. The universe is believed to be 13.7 billion years old. There are an estimated 200 billion, billion stars in the solar system. There are 41 calories in a medium-sized grapefruit. And there now are 1,217 words in this column – that’s 5,904 letters – which is 417 too many! Time for me to say, “See you next week!”

Monday, March 22, 2010

I’m waiting

Among the many totally unimportant, genuinely insignificant subjects upon which I consider myself to have some level of expertise is the subject of “waiting rooms”.

I’m not saying I’ve spent more time in waiting rooms than anyone else. I probably haven’t. I’m just an average Joe when it comes to my actual, personal waiting room experiences.

But I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time actually studying on waiting rooms than most folks.

For instance, have you ever made a list of different types of waiting rooms? I have.

Before you go off saying, “Wow! Rod-Boy’s really gone over the edge this time!” let me try to explain.

As publisher of this little newspaper – and a few others – I noticed many years ago that a lot of folks seemed to report on items they had read while in such-and-such a waiting room. There was an abundance of newspaper-reading going on in waiting rooms, I realized. Indeed, it occurred to me that waiting rooms provide a unique block of time for many people to read… somewhat of a rarity in our modern-day, never-enough-time, busy, busy lifestyles.

Consequently, our little community newspaper made it a mission to make sure all local waiting rooms were stocked with a few copies each week, for the reading pleasure of the waitees. (It also didn’t hurt any that waiting-room newspaper readers very frequently seemed to come across advertisements of interest, to which they often responded, pleasing the local business-owner who had purchased the advertisement, and revving up the entire economic cycle which fuels the newspaper industry.)

Hence, I have become somewhat of a “waiting room” authority, even to the point of maintaining not one, but several different lists of waiting rooms: doctors offices, dentist offices, barber shops, beauty shops, karate lessons, dance lessons, oil change, car wash… about 30 frequent varieties of waiting rooms in all! And we try to keep them all stocked with your favorite little weekly community newspaper.

Along the way, I’ve made a few observations about waiting rooms. Some of these observations have come from careful study and analysis. And some of them have come from being stuck in waiting rooms for hours at a time.

-- As I age, I find myself spending a lot more time in waiting rooms of a medical variety, and a lot less time in hair cutting establishments. Go figure.

-- Here’s another thing I’ve noticed: When you see one of those signs that says “Ring Bell for Service”, don’t believe it. It’s been my experience that the lady behind the window usually gets a little irritated whenever anyone rings that bell.

-- While this week’s newspaper is generally the very best reading material you can hope to find in any waiting room, there are usually some other excellent reading choices as well: a collection of sports magazines from several years ago; a variety of promotional brochures; and a children’s puzzle book, usually with a number of missing pages.

-- I think sitting in a waiting room is a lot like standing in line at a ride in Disney World… except that, when you’re standing in line at Disney, you can easily tell how close you’re getting to your turn, because the line keeps moving and they post signs telling you how many minutes left in line… but in a waiting room, you don’t move closer, you just keep sitting in the same place, so if you want to find out how much longer, you have to go ask the lady behind the window “how much longer?” again, to which, ironically, she reacts exactly the same as if someone had rung the bell. Also, at the end of your wait, you get a blood sample or a haircut, instead of a ride on “Space Mountain.”

-- I have estimated that, at any given point in time, there is approximately
0.3156 % of the population currently in a waiting room. This has to be a drain on the economy, sapping 0.3156% of the Gross National Product each year. Given that there’s a captive audience/market in waiting rooms everyday, couldn’t we devise some sort of industry to take advantage of this untapped workforce? Maybe knitting sweaters? Cell phone telemarketing? Earn money addressing envelopes?

-- Various types of waiting rooms dictate different levels of socialization. Medical waiting rooms, for instance, are generally very private: not much interaction among the waitees… very little chatting, no hand-shaking at all, due to that whole “communicable disease” thing… and who wants to hear about somebody else’s aches and pains when you have your own? Karate class waitees, on the other hand, are very social… chatting away about their cute little karate kids. And hair cutteries… wow. The chatter never stops!

-- I think “waiting rooms” is a nice name for them. It sounds better than calling them “holding areas” or “containment zones”.

-- Fancy restaurants have the best waiting areas. They call them “bars”.

-- I miss the EZ listening that they used to always pipe into waiting rooms in the old days. Nowadays, if anything, there’s a TV on in the corner. And there is such a thing as too much Oprah.

-- I have more I could tell you about waiting rooms – lots more – but I gotta go now. They just called my name.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sports Column

Regular readers recognize that I rarely write about sports.

I like sports, but I just don’t often write about it. I figure there’s plenty of sports writers out there -- approximately eleventy gazillion of them, by my tally – which is plenty enough to cover the sports scene.

I’m much more likely to write about obscure notions from the recesses of my mind. Like alliterations, for instance.

If this were one of my typical columns, I would have already pointed out that the first sentence contained quite the alliteration: regular, readers, recognize, rarely, write. How often do you see an alliteration like that?!!!

But this is not my typical column. This is my rare, almost never seen Sports Column. (Unless you count the Winter Olympics that I recently wrote about three weeks in a row… but I don’t count that because, you know, it’s the Winter Olympics, with curling, ice dancing and so forth).

This sports column is about real sports, American sports, the sports we all know and love – football, baseball, basketball, golf, and NASCAR – where they don’t have to repeat everything in French after they say it the first time… and where the opening and closing ceremonies are held in parking lots with tailgates open, like they should be.

Let’s start with football. Now there’s a real, American sport! I know its over for the year…ended about a month ago with the Super Bowl… but we never got a chance to discuss the most important parts of the game: the halftime show and the Super Bowl ads.

Here’s a quick quiz: two questions about the game, and two questions about the halftime show and the ads. Think fast, and see how quickly you can answer the questions…

First two questions: Who won the Super Bowl, and who was the MVP?

Second two questions: Who performed at halftime, and what was your favorite ad?

I’m guessing the answers came a lot quicker for the questions about the show and the ads than they did about the game.

For the record, “Who” did perform at halftime… and MY favorite ad was the Betty White spot.

Now on to baseball, our national pastime. It’s early March, so Opening Day is just weeks away. You can always tell when it’s getting close, because you start seeing reruns of all the baseball movies: Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, The Natural, The Bad News Bears, Angels in the Outfield, A League of Their Own, and, if you’re lucky, some of the real classics from back in a time when all the games were day games, a time before steroids, when the only way you saw a game was to go to the ball park. This week, I saw Bull Durham on, so it can’t be long. I love baseball. I’m a red-blooded American.

Basketball. It’s time for March Madness. Basketball is the sport which is actually culminating its season along now… except for the pro teams, which I don’t count, because it seems to me they play for about 16 months of the year anyway. But the countdown to the Final Four during March…. Now, there’s some exciting sports action. And, basketball, let us remember is a bonafide, American invention.

NASCAR. This is arguably not a “sport” at all in the sense that there’s no running, jumping, kicking, throwing, catching, tossing, hurling, diving, blocking, tackling, shooting, dribbling, boxing, wrestling, hitting, pushing, shoving, or tug-of-war – plus, they seem to be letting the girls compete with the guys these days – but we’re still counting it because, not only is it an American invention, but its also a Southern concoction, with its roots right here in the Carolinas. And, it don’t get much more exciting than watching the finish of a good, close race at Darlington. We’re a few weeks into the season, and, try as they may to turn it into a just another corporate-sponsor promotion marathon, it’s still a pretty good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Which bring us to golf. Another televised sport to watch, and another way to spend a Sunday afternoon…. IF you need a good, long peaceful nap!

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why millions of people sit in front of the TV and watch a round of golf. Could it get more boring?

Granted, I am personally the world’s fourth worst golfer, runner up only to one guy who’s missing several required body parts, another guy who plays with the aid of a seeing-eye dog, and a five year old girl who is actually still in kindergarten. I don’t even try any more… and the last time I did try, it was extremely dangerous for everyone standing anywhere near me.

Still, people watching golf on TV is one of civilization’s most bizarre and unexplainable phenomena, right up there with alien visitation, crop circles and the mysteries of the tomb of King Tut.

If people will sit in front of the tube for hours watching golf, then I think I have an idea for a great new sport that will thrill them: “The Ten-Feet in Ten-Years Slow-Motion Walk”. I don’t have the details worked out yet, but I’m envisioning another sport with the exact same action-packed adventure and thrill-a-minute excitement of golf.

Okay… that’s my sports column. I’ll probably go back now to writing about things I know more about, like “vegetable colors”, “dangling participles”, and “Fashion Tips for Octogenarians”… and leave the sports columns to the professionals.

And the world will be a better place.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sloppy Handwriting

If you are one of those readers who believe me to be without fault, you are wrong. (Also, you are in the tiniest possible minority of people... probably a minority of one.)

I hate to burst the fantasyland bubble you apparently have never left for your entire life, but I must shatter your illusion: I do have a fault. One very serious fault: Sloppy Handwriting!

I actually know when it started. In first and second grade, I actually received kudos for my handwriting. Of course, back then, the writing was all in “block” letters: printing, it was called.

But then, along about the third or fourth grade, we were introduced to a concept called “cursive” writing…. and it was all downhill from there.

I really didn’t mind having bad cursive penmanship, because neat, flowing cursive writing always seemed a little girly to me. So I went to the other extreme. And now, all these years later, I find myself with handwriting so bad that even I cannot decipher it.

Normally, I would not bother you by telling you about my clumsy, fat-fingered handwriting. But in this case, my awful penmanship has a direct impact on your life. Here’s how….

Nearly every day, I have new, exciting, creative ideas for my weekly column. Unfortunately, even though I may be long on creativity and excitement, I’m a little short on memory. So quickly I forget those ideas… UNLESS I write them down.

So I DO write them down. Every time I have an idea for my column, I jot a note on a scrap of paper… usually on a Waffle House napkin, on the back of a business card, or on an old envelope which once contained my chance at millions in the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.

I then stuff those scraps of paper into one of my nine pockets (four pants, two jacket outside, two jacket inside, and one shirt), where it stays for a week or two… until its time for laundry. It is then that I unfold those various and assorted gems of wit only to discover, to my utter disappointment, that I cannot read whatever it is that I have written.

When that happens, the scraps usually go into a box or a drawer or a file folder, where they languish forgotten for months, even years, until I come across them and try once more to decipher them.

Sometimes, I miss badly, and end up writing Totally Unintended Columns.

Once, I meant to write a column on “Why I’m a Republican”, and instead published 800 words entitled “Warts on a Rutabaga”.

Another time, my intended topic, I believe, was “I Remember First-Grade Friendships”… but, instead, I accidentally wrote on the topic “I Resemble Fred Flintstone”

It’s all because of Sloppy Handwriting.

This week, I’ve unfurled a few more of those scraps of paper to see if I can guess what I was trying to write. It’s really hard to tell sometimes, because, in addition to Sloppy Handwriting, I also suffer from Fuzzy Headthinking… meaning I could have jotted down just about anything!

This is what I think some of my old notes say:

-- “I miss Saturday morning cartoons”. I’m guessing I got that one right, because I really do miss them. I’ve missed them for about the last forty years. (If you do the math on that, it means that I watched Saturday morning cartoons until I was sixteen!)

-- “How will we know when the recession is over?” Will there be a buzzer? A bell like when school lets out for the day? Maybe a final gun, like at a ball game? Or a checkered flag, like NASCAR!!!

This wasn’t on the crumpled napkin, but I also think it would have been helpful if there had been an alarm of some sort to let us know the recession was coming, like they do for a storm, or a tsunami, or when the river rises.

-- “One dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, loaf of bread, cheerios, scope, toilet tissue (not single ply).” Upon closer inspection, this crumpled scrap of paper probably was not one of my column ideas.

-- “Only 298 more shopping days ‘til my birthday.” Gift idea: pocket tape recorder for making notes, because I can’t read my own handwriting. Scratch that. I also can’t understand most of the things I mumble into a tape recorder.

--“Pick up dry cleaning. Get haircut. Return movies.” Again, the wrong scrap of paper. I hope I remembered to return the movies, because this appears to be a really old scrap of paper.

-- “Belly-button lint.” One of life’s mysteries, to me, is where belly button lint comes from. In fact, I think I could devote an entire column to the wonders of the belly button, and the marvels of the lint therein.

-- “Wearing your pants tucked into your socks”. I remember, as a very small child, being thoroughly confused each morning as I tried to dress myself. Ditto, shirttails. Tucked in, or hanging out? I think I recall confusing the two: tucking the pants into the socks, but letting the shirt hang out.

-- “Muffle lightsocket banana smushy Einstein”. Or at least that’s what it looks like to me.

-- “That’s all, folks!” I wonder if I should start using this slogan to sign off of my column each week, like Porky Pig. Also, I wonder if there’s a way a newspaper column could have a theme song. If so, I would like that Looney Tunes song.

I miss Saturday morning cartoons. And I think it’s starting to affect my work. That, and the sloppy handwriting