Thursday, October 31, 2013

They're gone

Well, another one died. Another person who touched my life in a positive way, and this was a teacher and coach in high school, Ron Hulse.

He taught for a while, owned a hardware store in Wahoo for a while and was a friend to lots of people...all the while.

When I was 15, he was soooooo much older, but I discover now that he was just 9 years older. Not much when the difference is 68 to 77, but in a teenager's mind, quite a bit more. A sincere man, and he will be missed.

Had I "died young," as the title of this blog suggests, I would not have to deal with the loss of so many and the hollow grief that is left behind. But the reward of living a bit is to know the really good ones. The characters.

I saw Ron over Memorial Day weekend when our class got together for a 50th reunion. Sort of amazing that I was able to send an email to Brazil on the spur of the moment and acquire his phone number from Gerry. Glad I went.

Thanks for everything.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ever notice?

Does anyone else have a problem with spelling on the internet? And with texting and Twitter, it seems to be [hash tag] getting worse. There is the annoying thing about "you're" and "your" that has been mentioned several times, but I have found another one.

"Lead" and "led." Went to a wedding a couple of years ago and there was a brass plaque on the wall of this ornate church that used the spelling "lead" when it should have been "led." Now, when it is inscribed in brass and it is a quote from the Bible, that is a TYPO! Isn't the only time "lead" is pronounced the way it is apparently intended in these instances is if you are talking about a heavy metal?

Another instance of why English is confusing, despite its magnificence, huge lexicon and glorious ability to offer up complex thoughts and subtle emotions. The preceding sentence displays another one of those inconsistencies: why doesn't the possessive of "it" use the apostrophe like other possessives? Well, I guess because the contraction of "it is" has already used it?

These kinds of things have to drive the non-native users crazy.

Now the real question is why in the world should I be concerned?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reduce Carbon Emissions by 10%

We hear a lot about our personal responsibility to reduce the use of gasoline because it not only pollutes the atmosphere, but contributes to the warming of the earth by emitting carbon-based gases that trap heat. The latest government initiatives are to run the fossil fuel (mostly coal) electric generation plants out of business. Wasn't that one of the campaign promises a few years ago?

Why is it that we don't have an outcry about airplanes? Every day, 1.4 million barrels of jet fuel is consumed in the skies over the US. That is about one-tenth of the usage of gasoline and diesel used on the roads and railroads of America, but it seems that when those carbon atoms are placed at 33,000 feet above earth, they may be less responsive to "sequestering" (now there's a good word spoiled by recent usage!) by plants like the CO2 emitted closer to earth.

Quit burning jet fuel, reduce carbon emissions immediately by 10%. Wreak havoc with the economy, of course, and make a lot of things inconvenient, for sure, but when we buy a seat on an airplane, we need to remember our personal contribution to this problem.

Since in the US we will not permit the production of electricity with nuclear plants like in France and Japan, we are pretty much stuck with fossil-fuel plants. Yes, let's disrupt the environment with wind generation and capture the rays of the sun and make electricity, but that is currently producing 1.1% (wind) and 0.06% (photovoltaic), or virtually nothing of the world's power. Hydro is great, it accounts for 16% of the world's production, but it is also not going to be expanded in the US; and China, the world leader in that category pretty much used up its last bountiful site.

Any reduction, planes or power, will crush the US economy. Let's not fool ourselves about that or about the dominance of things like fossil-fuel power plants and air transportation. Instead, let's concentrate on cars and trucks. Like the old story, it isn't where you should look, it is where the light is better.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tim and Jeff

A story just flashed across my brain. I know where it came from, which is probably better than simply having a story materialize out of nowhere--I saw a place name (see below) last night and it took a while to marinate into this memory. Actually, that is all disturbing, in a way.

We were in Fresno, California in a pretty swanky restaurant. I know very little about Fresno, it doesn't look like a swanky place, but this was as good as it gets. Having dinner with my boss, Tim the drunk, and a potential client, Jeff, who made equipment that used sophisticated electronic and x-ray sorting to grade citrus fruit. His machines could spit out a bruised grapefruit at high speed!

That Tim was a drunk was obvious to anyone who thought about it even a little bit. There were two huge blue bottles of vodka in the freezer at the office and "brunch" was washed down with the contents of said bottles. They were in the freezer, it was explained to me, so that dilution was minimized when poured over ice. Hmmmm. After a while, I tried to avoid lunch with him as I would come back loopy and needing a nap. The Omaha paper carried an article a few months ago about his liver transplant. Go figure.

Tim and Jeff were also known to us, the loyal troops, as loud and louder. Tim was loud, for sure, but Jeff was louder. This restaurant was pretentious enough, but it was also designed in such a manner that sound carried, so I noticed that heads would turn every now and then.

Jeff started to tell a story about sheep herding and about a Madam he knew in Nevada, where that sort of thing was and is legal. As the punch line approached, it was sort of like watching a train wreck unfold; you knew how it was going to end but there was no way to avoid it. The story's volume level increased and, as will often happen, the rest of the place quieted down. Jeff belted out a quote from the Madam, "Hell, I've 'entertained' every sheep herder from here to Winnemucca!" Only the word wasn't "entertained." Yep, the f-bomb right there into the startled silence of the room.

Tim almost choked on his martini, I nearly popped an artery laughing, and Jeff didn't know what happened.

Lucky we weren't asked to leave. Still, don't you think the place name "Winnemucca" needs to fit into a story from time to time?

Favorite topics

Boy, I wish these were not favorite topics.

One: Rolling out ACA.

Symbolic of the failure of so many government initiatives, some quite unknown to most citizens like the continuing restrictions on SBA activities that have gone on almost continuously since about an hour after he was inaugurated the first time. Not a legislative move, simply the bureaucrats doing what the bureaucrats will do when left to rule their kingdoms. This was, unfortunately, at a time when government help for the economy could have really been effective, but it went the other way.

Government has never been the most effective, efficient way to get things done. That is why so many of us support private enterprise (yes, we understand, private enterprise must be monitored and regulated, it is a balance). Reasonable people will have disagreements when determining what should be done by private enterprise and what should be done by government, but the most egregious violations need to be exposed.

I found it to be amusing that testimony by the witnesses at the Congressional hearing were from a number of contractors, but the head of CGI Federal blamed another subsidiary for the testing woes. Seems a bit evasive, since both subsidiaries are under the prime contractor, CGI Group, Inc., a Canadian company headquartered in Montreal. Didn't we hear a lot from Obama during the debates about exporting jobs?

Two: Businessman faces two years in jail for...well, it is hard to say.

Mark Witaschek, a successful District of Columbia businessman and avid hunter, was arrested in something that looks a lot like a home invasion. His house was "tossed" causing an estimated $10,000 damage, and they found a 12-gauge shotgun shell that had misfired, a brass casing, a pistol holster and an antique Colt pistol used as a paperweight. Oh, and bullets used for muzzleloaders. He keeps his guns at his sister's house in Virginia...and she was "visited" as well. Exactly a month earlier, the police had visited and, after an extensive search without a warrant because he thought he had nothing to hide, they found a box of 40-caliber ammunition, which is illegal in DC. They confiscated the antique Colt pistol even though it is legal to own that antique in DC.

No guns, no modern, viable ammunition in the raid.

You have to read the article, the streets were shut down, about 30 officers in riot gear entered the home, broke down the bathroom door and drug his 16-year old son out of the shower naked, locked the four children in a room while they handcuffed the man and his girlfriend.

All this based on a complaint by his ex-wife. She was denied a restraining order when it became apparent that her version of the details (threatening her with a gun) were not correct.

Take a look:

This abuse may just be typical of the way the DC police operate. Remembering that a good portion of the population of the District are minorities, primarily black, makes me wonder how many times the rights of those ordinary citizens are being trampled on. But when you are a black, regular working guy, you don't have the visibility or the resources of a successful businessman.

Makes ya wonder! Just two of the examples of the government out of control, stepping way over lines.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kowboys and Koreans

Well, as rare as it might be, we actually "went out" Saturday night. A costume party, no less, and we could walk since the house is just a few doors away. While trying to make it to midnight, we made it almost to ten!!

The name, price and store where I bought my hat is on the box. It is a box that has been carted all over the country over the last twenty years. "Stelzig's" in Houston, and I guess it has relocated and downsized from my visit in 1992. The 4X Stetson Caldwell was $119.95 then, and I think a comparable one would be about $209 today. But according to the government, there hasn't been any inflation.

Speaking of hats, I saw that there is a custom hat outfit in Jackson Hole. Jer, do you know those guys? Wonder what they use in place of mercury these days. Maybe only the cowboys are crazy, not the hatters.

Have a wonderful October, it is sunny, cool and perfect in Va Beach. Hope it is good where you are.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Met a character today. He was a storyteller, too, which is a plus. As always there is a back story, so bear with me.

We have friends. They just aren't here and we miss them terribly. Since we have been in Virginia, our social life has consisted of the kids, and that's it. Nothing wrong with that, but when a neighbor stopped by to invite us to a Halloween party, it seemed like a novel idea to meet some of our other neighbors.

Costume party. Threw out the typical costume ideas, cut arm and leg holes in really big trash bags, snug them around our necks with a few napkins and kleenex sticking out and go as "White Trash." Or, brown smocks with silver stripes running from top to bottom saying "Hershey's." Hers would say, "Plain," mine would say, "With Nuts."

Instead, we decided to go as if we were playing "Kowboys and Koreans." Well, she doesn't have to "play" Koreans, but you know. She is going to wear her hanbok, which was ordered for her by a friend and custom made in Korea. Gorgeous, huge garment; the empire skirt is pink and the jacket green. I love it when she wears it.

So, I had to do the "Kowboy" thing. I have the Stetson, the belt, the big silver buckle, kerchief, Levi's...but I didn't have boots anymore. I really loved those old boots, but they finally gave out. Craig's List yielded a pair of boots for thirty bucks, but I thought I needed something more, so I searched for chaps. Found new ones, of course, but wow were they expensive. I guess I could have worn the ones we have, which are either the ones that Linda's sons had as kids or the ones I had as a kid. They were identical.

Then I stumbled onto a pair of "Bat wing cowboy chaps, top-grain cowhide, work chaps. No emails." Well, the "no email" part stunk, but I gave them a call, anyway. A lady answered, and then the dreaded, "Let me have you talk to my husband." How often that then ends badly as you get stuck with a jerk. But this was different.

"Well, I was a real cowboy and I just can't quite let it all go. I have these chaps, bought them to hang in my family room, but they have never been used, never been on a horse." There was going to not be a problem with conversation with this old boy. "Retired now, so I'm here all the time. Come and see 'em."

It was "through the tunnel." And around here, that can be a full day's work, as if there is an accident or any kind of mishap in the tunnel, it could take hours to get there. But I went anyway.

"So, you are from Nebraska? Those Sandhills are God's country." Had to buy the chaps, then, didn't I? He grew up in Sweetwater, Texas, the place where they have the rattlesnake roundup. He was telling me one story after another, about working cattle in Texas, the central valley of California and eastern Montana. I was soaking it up.

"Yeah, I was listening to this call in program the other day, and a fella called in from Idaho. The host said, help me out a bit, whereabouts in Idaho are you located? Well, I'm about 8 miles east of Snake crick and four miles north of Lutin." That cracked me up, and it did Slim, too.

"Me and Jake, I really don't know what his real name was, was sittin' on horses lookin' at a valley, the San Gabriel mountains in the background, a little fog around the tree line, cattle grazin' in the valley." He had told this story more than once. "Jake rolled a cigarette, threw his leg over the pommel, lit up and said, 'Slim?' They used to call me Slim, I was so skinny they was afraid I had tuberculosis. 'Slim? Can you believe they pay us to do this?'"

We exchanged a lot of stories, and then I saw the bullwhip. A tag on it said $15. "Yeah, we had a garage sale the other day, and now the wife is tryin' to get rid of stuff on line."

"You know, that reminds me of when I was a kid in Sweetwater. Somehow they got a celebrity, Lash LaRue, to come and put on a show at the county fair. I was probably 9 or 10 years old, and my mother had made me a shirt like Roy Rogers, with the fringe across the chest. I was sittin' in the audience when Lash LaRue says, 'I need a volunteer from the audience for my next tricks. How about you, the boy with the Roy Rogers shirt?'

"So, I went backstage and he talked to me, let me touch his bull whip, and said, 'This will not hurt you, I promise." I believed him, but he warned me that I must never move! We went out on the stage, and he was a master with the bull whip. The one I remember most is that he had me hold a cigarette in my lips FACING HIM! And he picked that cigarette out of my mouth like nothin'"

There are probably about eleven people in the country who know who Lash LaRue was. I am one of them. Comic books were a luxury item for us, and that meant they were unnecessary and we just didn't have them. Somehow, I acquired a comic book with Lash LaRue as the hero. I can still see the picture of him defeating the bad guys with his bull whip, after locating the train by putting his ear to the rail. (I tried that, never worked).

So now I have the chaps and the bull whip.

Since he told me his best bull whip story, I had to tell him mine. When we were in college, some of the guys worked in the Sandhills during the summer at Shadbolt's ranch. They all had hats with sweat stains, a bit bent up when cattle had stepped on them. It was great sport to grab a guy's hat, throw it in the air and see if one of the other fellas could hit it with a pistol shot. So some of the hats had holes in them.

After a football game, they were in their hats, their Levi's, boots and full ranch gear, and decided it would be a "good idea" to put on a bull whip demonstration on the mezzanine of the Lincoln Hotel. I was not involved, so all my info is hearsay, but it is my understanding that, like a lot of "good ideas," alcohol was involved. Everyone was entertained...well, not everyone, as Lincoln's finest came to escort them to a place to stay for the night. On the way out, Jerry yelled over his shoulder, "I've been thoed outta better places than this." Slim enjoyed the story.

He told me a few more stories, and they were delightful, and being a fellow of a certain age, I had to tell him another one of mine. The one about my dad and me at the sale barn in Erickson. Wallie had experienced some prostatitis. We were standing at the urinal when he announced to no one in particular that he had gotten to the age when he spent half his time trying to pee and the other half trying to think of somebody's name. As expected, this entertained Slim quite a bit.

I introduced him to Baron, who stole a few pats from him, and he said they lost their little Maltese/Bichon mix after 19 years and it "Dang near killed me." We judged that dogs were a lot better than most people, and we finally said goodbye.

From now on, whenever I think of chaps, a bullwhip, cowboys or storytellers, a chance encounter with a good ol' boy from west Texas will pop in my mind. Or when I go to a costume party dressed as a cowboy. Slim will never see this, I expect, but I hope he entertains lots more people with his good humor and stories.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Now, here's the stuff I've been complaining about

This fits into "The World Has Gone Mad" category.

I complain about a lot of things, but this article touches on at least two:

1.     Inaccurate and misleading "news." Well, Yahoo! stuff shouldn't really be considered "news," but it is presented that way and I wonder about the people who read the first article, before the corrections. This was evidently lifted from Reuters.

2.     Detroit. I guess I should narrow it down to what exactly I complain about in Detroit, but there are so many topics of concern. This article is about union pensions, the administration of those pensions over a long period and the "13th check."

Read it yourself, but the whole business is so symbolic of the decay and institutionalized feeding-at-the-trough mentality that has become something that people think they deserve. Not that they earned it, but they just deserve it.

The pension has a $3.5 billion unfunded liability. While the number is being challenged, I don't think anyone believes it is a lot smaller, yet the unions want to continue a practice of paying a "bonus" to retirees based on investment returns above a certain figure. That practice cost the pension funds $1.92 billion from 1985 to 2008. What if that $1.92 billion had been left to invest and reinvest? Wouldn't that have put a pretty big dent into the $3.5 billion unfunded liability?

When you practice Coleman Young's "tin-cup urbanism" philosophy, however, you expect that if you can finagle something like this now, the Federal government will come to your rescue at a later date. His rationale was always that the problem was caused by racism, so that is why Detroit's fiscal problems were the responsibility of the rest of the nation.

Meanwhile, grab all you can get right now.

Detroit union victory worth 'refund on deck of Titanic'

By Joseph Lichterman

(Reuters) - Detroit's largest public sector union scored a symbolic victory Friday when a Michigan administrative law judge said one of the city's pension funds could reinstate an extra annual pension check for city workers and retirees, and make retroactive bonus payments, although the judge in the city's bankruptcy case has prohibited enforcement of the ruling.

Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes earlier this week allowed Administrative Law Judge Doyle O'Connor to rule on the so-called 13th check before O'Connor's retirement on Friday. But Rhodes forbade the parties from pursuing the matter further.

Rhodes has stayed all existing litigation against the city since taking charge of the bankruptcy case, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Yet on Tuesday Rhodes ruled O'Connor could proceed because a ruling would not injure Detroit.

O'Connor himself granted that the limitations imposed might offer "little more solace than an assurance of a full ticket-price refund offered while still on the sharply tilting deck of the Titanic."

Earlier this year, O'Connor read a verbal opinion supporting the case brought by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, claiming Detroit short-changed its members beginning in November 2011 when the city council ended the policy of paying bonus pension checks. The city's General Retirement System board issued the checks.

For decades prior, the city's General Retirement System would give bonuses to retirees and active employees when it earned more than 7.9 percent on its investments.

That payment and others cost the pension fund $1.92 billion from 1985 to 2008, a 2011 report to city council said.

AFSCME argued the city violated labor laws by unilaterally ending the extra checks. O'Connor said in February that "the change directly affected an existing and fundamental condition of employment."

Detroit's state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has said the policy contributed to the underfunding of the city's two pension funds, which he says have $3.5 billion in unfunded liabilities. The city's unions and pension funds dispute that figure.

O'Connor on Friday estimated the bonus money in question at roughly $174 million. He urged the city and union to seek a negotiated settlement of the matter.

(This story corrects the first paragraph to show judge ruled pension boards can reinstate checks. The fifth paragraph was also corrected to show the city council does not issue checks, but sets policy, and pension board issues the checks.)

(Reporting by Joseph Lichterman; Editing by David Greising and Prudence Crowther)