Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Good People Make Good Places

While I was trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, a process still under way, our son had little choice but to come along on the trip. It was quite a journey. We lived in eight different cities while Lee was growing up.

Lee proved there may be truth to the currently overused pronouncement: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

No doubt it was difficult for Lee to periodically leave good friends and adjust to a new community and school. I've often regretted causing those problems for him. But I think he became a man of integrity and honor who has been able to adapt to difficult situations partly because of his diverse experiences. The nature of two communities we lived in may have contributed positively to his development.

Forbes latest list of the top 10 best places to raise a family in the U.S. includes two cities where we have lived. Forbes ranked metro areas based on household incomes, costs of living, housing affordability, home ownership, commuting times, crime rates, and local school quality. Lee attended school and participated in organized sports in two of the top 10--Boise, Idaho, and Ogden, Utah.
Ogden, Utah, is a great place to live in any season.
Ogden was No. 3 in the rankings. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, an excellent spread between incomes and living costs, and great access to outdoor activities. Lee learned to ski nearby; a trip to the mountain slopes was just a few miles from our first home there adjacent to a Wasatch-Cache National Forest boundary. Lee made school friends in Ogden with whom he still stays in touch.

Boise ranked as the seventh best place for families on the Forbes list. Boiseans also enjoy a good income to cost of living ratio and great opportunities for outdoor lifestyles. School quality rated high and the crime rate is low. Several of Lee's early school years were spent in Boise.
Boise, Idaho, has a State Capitol and much more to recommend it.
Lee, Sandy, and I conferred today about characteristics of the places we've lived. We agreed the Forbes people got it right with Ogden and Boise. But, because it would be almost impossible to quantify, the raters didn't consider the factor we believe was most important. We all thought the people in those two cities generally were pleasant, thoughtful, and helpful. For us, good people made Ogden and Boise good places to live.

This might lead you to think I was pretty smart about picking places to apply for jobs. Not so.

We had never set foot in Idaho before moving to Boise. The only individual consulted was my sister, who knew a little about the city because her husband worked for Boise-Cascade and they had visited company headquarters a few times. The endorsement was lukewarm at best. Jane's final statement was, "I suppose its OK if you like sagebrush." We made the change simply because it was time for me to move on.

We moved to Ogden strictly to get a Forest Service promotion and the improved income that came with it. Most of the comments I heard before the move were negative, but that was because my boss (who had lived in Ogden earlier) mounted a campaign to convince me not to leave Idaho. Some of it was absurd.

The most imaginative, and least convincing, statement by Boise National Forest Supervisor Ed Maw was, "Those Mormons will steal your horse; then they'll steal your wife."

Well, I didn't own a horse, and Sandy has stayed on as my beautiful wife to this day. We didn't find a lot of bad guys in Utah. What we did find in Ogden, just as we did in Boise, were good neighbors and friends.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Give Us This Day . . .

Those words are known to all of us raised as Christians who comprise the majority of Americans.  Yet our elected representatives, who claim divine guidance for many questionable actions, continue to block efforts to ensure that millions of American workers are paid enough to feed their families.

Congress has failed to act on proposals to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10. Here in Michigan, and in other states, legislatures also are refusing to raise minimums that qualify full-time workers in many occupations for food stamps. They need the food stamps, paid for by taxpayers like me, to feed their families. Thus, we taxpayers are subsidizing businesses that refuse to pay their workers a living wage.

Many owners of those businesses argue that they will be forced to eliminate workers if they are required to pay decent wages. There is a body of research in this area. Most of the better designed studies find few if any jobs would be lost.  

Political philosophies aside, it is a fact that the federal minimum wage adjusted for inflation is one third lower than it was in 1968. It simply is not fair pay for those who serve our meals, clean our buildings, and care for our sick and elderly.

Two members of a discussion group I coordinate are among those circulating petitions designed to force an improvement in Michigan. The change would be far from drastic. Over three years, the state's minimum wage would be increased from $7.40 per hour to $10.10. The minimum for those who depend on tips, which currently is below $3.00 per hour, also would be raised. To keep the playing field level, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation in the future.

I had to think for as long as it took to find a pen before signing. 

We should be ashamed that Americans working full-time at the bottom of the economic scale cannot afford to buy their daily bread. They should not have to depend on welfare for the most basic of human needs. We need to change this situation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Don't Shoot . . . Sanction

Let's see now . . . Vladimir Putin couldn't wait until May 25 for a scheduled referendum that probably would have paved a peaceful and fairly acceptable way for the Crimean Peninsula to leave Ukraine and return to Mother Russia, its home for much of modern history. For reasons unclear, Putin decided to strong arm his way in with a show of military force to back a puppet Crimean Premier who obligingly rushed a vote with predictable results.

A solid majority of  residents of Crimea are ethnic Russians who speak Russian. Most of the minority Tatars and Ukrainians refused to vote as a protest of the Russian power play. The vote was overwhelmingly pro-Russia. Surprise! The process of incorporating the peninsula into the Russian Federation has begun.

It is unlikely that Ukraine will make any military response. Crimea has provided bases for Russia's Black Sea Fleet for
200 years. A recent estimate put the force at 24 warships, two submarines, and 16,000 sailors and marines. On top of that, Russia has sent several thousand more troops, with insignia removed, into the peninsula since its power play started. Ukraine has nothing in the area to match that sort of strength. Taking on Russia in a full-scale attack along its lengthy border to the north would be suicidal.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama informed the world that if what has happened were to happen, Russia would face "serious consequences." Lots of people, apparently including Putin, aren't taking that message very seriously. So far, the consequences have been freezing bank accounts of a few dozen individuals who promoted the Crimean spectacle. The U.S. seized some assets, the European Union froze more.

What more-serious actions are likely to take place? Not many. The parties involved are entirely too much involved in the world of business to take a dive into the world of war. They depend on each other.

Nearly two thirds of Russian exports are gas and oil, and about half of that is sold to European Union countries. France has lucrative contracts to build Russian ships. Germans have some $22 billion invested in assets within Russia. British bankers profit handsomely by serving as a financial center away from home for Russian billionaires.  The unhealthiest U.S. symbol, the Golden Arches, appears across the Russian landscape, as do other American corporate logos.

It looks like a classic standoff. It probably will stay that way unless the few observers who think Putin has lost his mind are right. Could it be world leaders finally will act with wisdom rather than playground bravado that in the past has escalated into wars bringing misery to millions? Lets hope they continue to fire off sanctions, not missiles.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Are We Out of Respect?

A Facebook group amuses members by posting historic photos from my hometown of Tomahawk, Wisconsin. Each post usually touches off a string of comments. Most of the writers are men and women who were in grade or high school in the 1960s or 70s.

A picture of a grade-school classroom in a rural school appeared last week. It touched off a lengthy discussion of people known to have been on the faculty. The 60- and 70-year-olds writing comments referred to the teachers this way: Mr. Obey, Mrs. Leverance, Mrs. Sparks, Mr. Schindler, Mrs. Jackson, and Mrs. Wurl.

Notice anything? An old friend once told me that growing up in a small city in Oregon he and his friends seldom knew the first names of adults--because it was completely unacceptable for kids to use them. I'm told that was true elsewhere, and it was in my hometown, especially in the schools. If we knew the first name of a teacher, we did not use it, at least openly.

As youngsters, we often created derogatory nicknames for other kids and a few adults. It frequently was a form of bullying among school children. But in the case of adults, the labels stayed just between us kids. We were extra-careful about using the names in the grown-up world.

Teachers got an extra measure of respect. Beautiful wife Sandy and I carefully searched our memories and could come up with only one case in each of our school experiences where a nickname was coined for an adult. One of Sandy's teachers got the honor. In my school, only one administrator was tagged. Both insulting labels had to do with a shortage of hair on the heads of the victims.

The geezer no longer is in direct contact with practices in our schools, but a brief internet search reveals differences, and some controversy, about how students address their teachers. Apparently, in the early grades some teachers encourage use of their first names by the kids. That practice continues into the higher grades in some systems. Other school districts change the protocol as students advance.

Several stories spoke of  school districts changing policies to force a return to the old "Mr., Mrs., Miss," or perhaps "Ms." titles of respect at all times. I didn't find any accounts of school administrations endorsing, "Hey, Dude."

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Old Dad Was No Dummy

My father's formal education ended after the fourth grade, yet he had plenty of smarts. He was fluent in two languages, was capable of running a small business well, served his community in many ways, and presided over a successful family (men were in fact the authority figures in most American families in his day).

Dad didn't spout a whole lot of advice about how other people, including his children, should live their lives. I've only carried a handful of his thoughts on my journey. One guideline goes like this, "In any business deal, make sure you hold the money if you can."

That wisdom about putting yourself in the power position has worked for me for a long time. This morning, it came to mind once again.

A computer message advised that the local electric company was about to make its routine monthly charge to my credit card---for $631. My typical bill in winter months is $80 to $90. Yikes! I was on the phone in a hurry. The message said the charge would be made in two days.

Some 15 minutes on hold while various irrelevant recorded messages played gave me time to calm down and assess the situation. Because I had agreed to an automatic credit charge, the company in effect would be holding my money until the situation was resolved. By automating a monthly task to avoid paying a bill with an envelope and postage stamp and to collect a one percent cash-back bonus, I had put the wrong party in control.

When I finally got through to a service rep, I was assured that someone would be out today to reread my meter. "Then what?" I asked.

"The charge to your account probably will be adjusted in about a week."

I asked the rep to cancel my automatic payment authorization and have the corrected bill mailed to me. She reluctantly agreed.

Now I'm in the power position. It will be a cold day in you know where before that company gets a $631 payment from me. Dad would be proud.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Writers Don't "Love" to Work

The geezer long has argued with those who cheerfully exclaim, "I just love to write!" I've been at it for a bit more than a half-century, and creating new deathless prose still qualifies as work, not pleasure.

The fun part, I maintain, is that good feeling when you think you've turned out something worthwhile. Even more satisfying is the discovery that someone bothered to read it. And if anyone says they liked your offering--WOW!

I think what does apply to the hundreds of writers I've edited and the many others I've shared thoughts with over the years is this: It is not the act of writing writers love, it is the result (when the result is even a little bit positive).

Today, with expectations of at least a trifling reward, I fully intended to concentrate in solitude and create a brilliant, fascinating, compelling post for your approval. Darn, a whole lot of important tasks took precedence. I'll just have to wait for another time to feel the love.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rage and Extreme Violence

You may not hear much about the latest rage shooting, a strange event that happened in Pittsfield Township near Ann Arbor, Michigan. That's because the early reports were carried by one of the lesser news purveyors, United Press International, rather than the more widely followed Associated Press, BBC, or major American television networks.

Ben Clink said he pleaded for his life while moving snow 
What happened was bizarre to say the least. Ben Clink, a front-end loader operator, was clearing snow from the parking lot of an apartment complex. He had been working on the project for nearly 7 hours when he deposited some snow behind a white car. Bevin Wilson, 39, allegedly ran out of the apartment building and yelled at Clink. Clink said Wilson kept running toward the loader, pulled out a gun, and fired a shot through the loader windshield, narrowly missing him and causing $2,500 in damage.

Clink told reporters, "I was just saying 'Please don't shoot me, please don't shoot me, I'll move the snow, please don't shoot me.'"

Wilson did not shoot again. When police arrived, Wilson surrendered his gun and turned himself in. Police said Wilson had a concealed weapon carry permit.

Clink is a white man. Wilson is a black man.

The story didn't  make the UPI "Top News" category. It didn't even make the top five in the UPI "Odd News" reporting. Perhaps that's because of media preoccupation with another shooting rage story in Florida. There Michael Dunn, 47, was convicted recently on attempted murder and other charges.

Dunn said he and his girlfriend were in the parking lot of a convenience store when passengers in a vehicle carrying four teenagers played loud rap music that irritated him. After a confrontation about the music, Dunn fired 10 shots at the vehicle, hitting it nine times, and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

As things now stand, Dunn is scheduled to serve at least 60 years in prison, a virtual life sentence for one his age. A possible retrial and appeal are pending. Dunn had a concealed weapon carry permit.

Davis was a black youth. Dunn is a white man.

It appears that deadly violence inspired by rage over what seem to be petty matters is not the province of one race or another.

It seems to me more likely that the seeds of rage lurk within humans of many varieties. Throughout history, responses to insults or irritations often were violent and sometimes lethal, although in "civilized" societies the violence came to be more likely a relatively harmless poke in the chest, push to the ground, or punch in the mouth.

But now in the U.S., killing people or trying to over small matters seems to be increasing throughout the land. It couldn't be because more people are carrying guns, could it?  Of course not--the National Rifle Association tells us that cannot be so.

Monday, February 17, 2014

It's Just Not Fair

Five years ago, we lived adjacent to the seventh fairway of a very nice golf course near Ogden, Utah. Today, course management announced the front nine will be open for play tomorrow.

We now live next to the eighteenth green of a very nice golf course near Plainwell, Michigan. It started snowing once again about an hour ago. Forecasters say we can expect three to seven inches by tomorrow morning, which should make average snow cover on the golf course nearly two feet. Course management has not even thought about an opening date.

Boo hoo.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Beating the Bulb

With a participant in our midst who had actually studied the situation, our last discussion group meeting turned to pondering the relative environmental and economic benefits of various types of light bulbs.

Some favored CFLs (compact fluorescents) as an inexpensive and long-lasting change from traditional
Will it outlast me?
incandescent bulbs. CFLs are a good choice for some places in the home, such as closets, but they present disposal problems.

LEDs (light-emitting diodes) cost much more, but last far longer, and by far are the most environmentally friendly of the choices. The prices of LEDs are dropping, and the selection is expanding, so there is little doubt these will be the choice of the future.

In our home, we're in transition mode. We have invested in a few LEDs, starting with outdoor holiday lights. We have CFLs in the garage, some exterior lights, and all our closets. We continue to use up our supply of incandescent bulbs. When one size is gone we make a spot decision to go with a CFL or LED.

One participant in the discussion said it mattered little to him because he had a big supply of the old incandescent bulbs that probably would last longer than he would--he was loathe to throw them out.

Group members once worried occasionally about outliving their money in retirement. Now we face another worry--a concern that without careful planning we may not outlive our light bulbs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NFL Champs: Seattle Never, Denver Hardly Ever

The geezer is trying to whip up enthusiasm for this year's Super Bowl despite the fact that a couple of expansion teams are vying for the Lombardi Trophy. Denver wasn't admitted to the National Football League until 1970. The Seattle franchise is even younger; it didn't sign on until 1976.

Oh well, backers of teams that have been playing the game since the 1920s and 30s can afford to be charitable. My guys, the Green Bay Packers, have won the championship 13 times. Seattle? Never. Denver  only twice.

Back next year? Maybe.
NFL clubs with some history--da Bears, Cardinals, Giants, Lions, Eagles, Redskins, and Packers--can only hope to add to their laurels in the future. The usual cry of "Wait Until Next Year" is already reverberating around the league.

If it doesn't happen for your favorites right away, don't give up. The geezer once waited nearly 30 years for the Pack to get back. A long drought just makes savoring a new title all the sweeter.

The geezer's Super Sunday pick: Seattle by 3. That will give them one.