Friday, July 27, 2012

"You didn't build it!"

In light of all that's been going on, I should perhaps be concentrating on other things, like the horror in Colorado.  I'm too deeply disturbed by that on so many levels that I need some more cogitation before addressing mental illness and firearms.  There are personal aspects to Aurora that won't be discussed here.

 Meanwhile, just because it's another pet peeve, I fired off a letter to Mr. Bill over at FOX, and decided to share this little issue with my readers.  When I heard Fearless Leader babble his insult to business owners the other day, I almost puked.  The situation described below has been going on for a while, and it's a microcosm of what's wrong with the American economy.

Dear Mr. O’Reilly—or Anonymous staff member:

Regardless of how you consider smoking, I want to tell you a little tale about the state of capitalism in America today.

Until recently, there was an upsurge in the proliferation of “Roll Your Own” [RYO] shops in America. These were small, entrepreneurial businesses where one could purchase tobacco, paper cigarette tubes with attached filters, and for a modest fee, feed these ingredients into a machine that would produce a finished product in a matter of minutes. A carton of these cigarettes cost $26 and change, as opposed to $40+ for a carton of, say, Dorals, or $50 for high-line Marlboros.

These machines—about the size of a soft-drink vending machine—cost $35,000 apiece. The entrepreneurs who invested in them were assured by market research that they would pay for themselves fairly quickly. It’s the supply-and-demand thing; there will always be smokers, which is why the federal and local governments love us: we’re cash cows and slaves to whatever “sin tax” they care to levy on our addiction. As Stossel points out to you frequently, it’s a matter of choice. The hypocrisy enters the equation when—for all their self-righteous lip service about “we’re only hiking prices on cigarettes to discourage people from smoking”—the fact is the government loves us, and the loss of tax revenue if everyone quit smoking tomorrow would be substantial.

When President Obama signed his ballyhooed Federal Transportation Funding Act a short time ago, he put God-knows how many small business owners out of business. In Section 100122 of the bill, there is an amendment to, of all things, Subsection (d) of section 5702 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, amending this obscure legislation to prohibit the use of these cigarette rolling machines “in commerce.” (See attachment to this e-mail.) When President Obama signed that bill, suddenly hundreds—perhaps thousands—of entrepreneurs were put of business.

I don’t blame the president for this particular outrage. I have a good idea where it came from: “Big Tobacco.” The lobbyists and lawyers from R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris did their butt-stroking in Congress, and this little goodie got tacked onto a completely irrelevant piece of legislation. It’s the perpetuation of a monopoly. In immediate proximity to my home, shops in Hiawassee, Georgia and Murphy, North Carolina have already shut down. I expect the shop in Blue Ridge, Georgia—where I have been a regular customer since they opened—to shut down before the end of the year. That particular shop has two of the fully automated production machines, for an initial investment of $70,000, plus the overhead of leasing retail space in a strip mall, employee salaries and other coverage, advertising, etc. You see where this is going. Without talking to the owner, I’m guessing he has $250,000 tied up in this business, and is now dead in the water.

To reiterate, this isn’t about smoking, pro or con. It’s about the death of small business in America, and the nefarious means employed to accomplish this end. The owner and founder of Tobacco Warehouse doesn’t even smoke; he was taking a swing at capitalism. They produced a competitive product at a substantially lower cost than a mega-corporation, and for his efforts he is now effectively bankrupted. At least three employees are now in danger of being out of work, and I have no idea about the financial devastation wreaked upon this gentleman.

Back in mid-March, as my wife and I were driving home from Atlanta, a “consumer advocate” named Clark Howell [WSB-Atlanta] came on the car radio. He started with a preamble about “I don’t condone smoking, but…” and then launched into a description of RYO shops and how you could save big bucks by patronizing RYO shops and doing-it-yourself on their machines. I looked at my wife in the moment and said “That’s it. That’s the death knell for those shops. RJR will shut ‘em down one way or another.” When I said it, I had no idea it would happen so swiftly. A little nibble out of the profits of these monopolistic corporations, and BANG! the little guys are out of business.

I’m a Libertarian coming up on 60, and I have always believed in and defended the ideals of America, but this is just so wrong in so many ways. I don’t condone smoking to anyone, and have already invested in a do-it-yourself rolling machine, because “Big Tobacco” will never get another penny from me, except what I’ll have to pay for the “makings.” For the third time, this isn’t about the politically correct regard for smoking; feel free to substitute any other good or service for the plight of these RYO shop owners. I’m trying to draw your attention to an aspect of the death of small business in America. In a time when the economy is going to hell, the machinations of anyone, foreign or domestic, to destroy the backbone of capitalism—small, individual business enterprises—should be challenged.

If you, Anonymous Staff Person, would like to raise this concern at a production meeting as a topic, I would be grateful. Mr. Bill constantly touts himself as “looking out for the folks.” Well, there are plenty of folks being devastated by this devious bit of legislation. I don’t know what you might do besides call it to the public’s attention, and I doubt that anyone at FOX will read this, because of its length. Still, I tried by writing this exposition. I feel better now for the effort. I think I’ll go have a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

Robert [my full name]
Somewhere on Gray Fox Trail

[hometown, etc. blah, blah]

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The "bucket list"

I abhor the term “bucket list.” It’s an overly cute term coined by some screenwriter so aging A-list movie stars could make yet another paycheck and provide for their grandkids’ future. (And given the debt that’s being piled up for them by the minute, those grandchildren’s great-grandchildren will be struggling to pay off the interest and penalties in the Brave New World where America is a relic of the coming Islamic Caliphate…but, never mind! That’s day after tomorrow, and at my age, I’m only concerned about tomorrow. As long as I continue to get my goodies from the government, and Ms. Possum can collect her Social Security as we grow older together, it’s not important that our hypothetical great-great-grandchildren may have to sell themselves into slavery to the non-productive cargo cults of the world.)

A “bucket list”, as I understand it, is a compendium of things I’d like to do before I “take the dirt nap”—another cutesy term I’d like to send down Orwell’s memory hole. Between grinding on Blaise Paschal’s essay “The Wager” about faith and the afterlife, and realizing that (a) I’m nearer the end than the beginning, and (b) we all have unfulfilled dreams and expectations, and the life that was not a dress rehearsal may not have turned out as expected, I’ve gotten all overwrought about mortality, and the direction my ship has sailed.

For no good reason, except it’s a hot afternoon the day after America’s birthday, and I’m alone with the dog and three-legged cat in the house, I gave some passing consideration to my “bucket list.” I know there are no “do-overs” in life, and the last time I tried to make amends to someone, I was rejected and told I’d be shot on sight if there was any further contact. That incident helped to me to give up the AA twelve-stepping, and accept those pesky personality defects for what they are: a part of whoever or whatever I am that I have to live with. As with the bottle of anti-depressant pills I flushed down the toilet in 1996, I decided that there are things I’ll have to live with or die with. As with the chronic depression and alcoholism, I’ve come to accept that my life is what it was, and the ripples have moved out from the source.

There are still a couple of things I’d like to do before I tell Ms. Possum “I’ll see you later” and take my last breath. One is revisiting a lifelong passion, and the other is the pursuit of something I flirted with, but never had the discipline to accomplish.

That’s right; only two things are on my bucket list. I have modest desires, and those are easily fulfilled. I’ve already had more fun than is legal today, and the most fun I can have with my clothes on. I’ve survived gunfights, driven cars and motorcycles at over 100 mph, played rock & roll for lots of people, been in the movies, and wrote a book that never got published. I’ve re-enacted the Civil War battles of my ancestors, rescued a couple of lost souls, mediated in domestic disputes, and avenged a couple of horrendous wrongs. I’ve fulfilled every carnal desire I could imagine, too; accounting for the most fun I could have with my clothes off.

I’ve also managed to alienate most of the people who ever knew me, caused my parents eternal sorrow and grief until the days they died, acted like an asshole in general, whined like a little girl when things didn’t go my way, and for every time I stepped up to the plate in life itself, there was a time when I turned into a sniveling bitch. A lie was the first thing out of my mouth, and if you didn’t guard your assets when I was in the neighborhood, I’d destroy them just to see the look on your face.

So, grinding on all this mixed media as I approach the Big 6-0, I feel like the proverbial waste of protoplasm I’ve ascribed to others. I always wanted to do good for others, and sometimes I deluded myself into thinking I was doing something towards that end while I was, in fact, doing the worst things in the world.

There are only a couple of things I still want to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil:

The first is the lifelong passion: I want to ride a horse again. I don’t mean some diluted form of hippotherapy where some highly-trained kid leads me around on a petting-zoo pony; I want to throw my 1849 McClellan saddle on a critter with spirit and take off down a dirt road. Catch up if you can, and Devil take the hindmost. I was riding horses before I was allowed to wear big-boy pants. I spent summers at my grandparent’s farm herding Black Angus cattle; the provenance of cowboys is not limited to what we think of as the traditional Wild West. Like Scarlett O’Hara’s daddy in “Gone With the Wind”, if I break my damn neck on a jump or a low-hanging branch, I won’t complain if that’s the last, great moment. The cars and motorcycles were great, but I’ll settle for a good hunter-jumper tear-assing through some foggy woods. I miss this so much I’m all teary-eyed just writing about it.

The other thing is a form of catch-up: I want a piano. Not a Steinway or one of those automated electronic keyboard things; just a nice old piano with 88 keys and a proper tuning. Pianos are percussion instruments. I tried playing trombone and cello as a kid, but when I got booted out of the 6th grade chorale for messing with a pair of tympani drums, I decided I’d learn to play the drums. The Beatles were doing okay, and the future looked limitless. The Doors and Cream were just around the corner. Everyone needed a drummer, and it promised to be a great way to impress girls and be a cool kid instead of a geek. My one musical talent turned out to be a sense of rhythm, and somewhere along the way I learned what the black and white keys on the piano mean, as well as the implications of tonality, harmony, and the circle of fifths—which is not a collection of whiskey bottles. I never had a formal lesson, but I got by with improvisation and knowing how to play a few chords. When my legs worked, I was quite adequate on a double-bass drum kit, and reached professional proficiency with some flourishes that are standard for today’s arena-rockers. Now, my feet move about enough for me to work the pedals on a piano, and I still know what the black and white keys will produce when I hit them with my fingers. I have no illusions about producing great symphonies; I just want to fool around. It’s got to be better than watching TV all day.

Other than that, the world can jump back and kiss my grits. I ain’t gonna be here forever, and there’s plenty that’ll be happy to see me go, but before I bring momentary joy to those I’ve offended so grievously, I want to have one more horseback ride and tickle a keyboard on a church house upright piano. After that, God can consign me to whatever I deserve.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

More Braggin' Rights

As a kind of warm-up to my last blog post, inspired by the encouragement of others who see something in my writing that eludes me, I fired off a letter to the editor of our local fish-wrapper, The North Georgia News. It’s a free weekly, full of junk flyers, bargain coupons, and advertising revenue. It’s also—as they proudly proclaim—“The Official Legal Organ of Union County”, and the most reliable form of news aside from the usual gossip, backbiting, and careless slander that is part of small-town life.

Well, imagine my surprise when this little rant got published. I just got a letter in the paper last fall. (See “Braggin’ Rights” from last November’s archive on this site.)

A bit of background: Some time back, a couple of Ku Klux Klowns from Fannin County applied to our state’s “Adopt-a-Mile” program. What it is, you ask permission, and the state grants you permission to pick up litter along a designated stretch of roadway. (The implications of the state granting permission to pick up trash may be addressed later…) When a family, group, or organization volunteers responsibility for the assigned sector, a small sign is posted for the quick-of-eye informing them that the next mile of right-of-way is relatively clean thanks to the efforts of [your name here]. In keeping with their long tradition of civic responsibility, the Klan decided to add picking up beer cans and burger wrappers to their heritage of murder, arson, and torture. These boys make me so proud!

The state denied the request, on several grounds. As it’s reported, the two individuals who filed the request are not residents of Union County, where they had asked for the first mile of state route 515 inside the county line. The stretch of highway they wanted to “protect” is a four-lane highway, where the speed limit is 55 or above, which the state cited as the official reason for denying the application. These people were extremely dubious about their mailing addresses, their reasons for requesting that particular stretch of roadway, and even their personal relationship. They gave an address in Union County that turned out to be a Post Office box registered to “the United Klans of America” or some such crap. The single word that sums it up is “bullshit”, and the two mooks were told to take a hike.

Then all this nonsense leaked out to the Atlanta Urinal-Constipation, and hit the Associated Press newswire. FOX News picked it up and ran it on their headline crawler, which was where it first crossed my radar. I had a good chuckle, and passed it along to Ms. Possum the next day, thinking it was some gnat-ridden county in flatland Georgia where this had occurred.

That was three weeks ago. Two weeks ago, the local rag ran a headline story that the Klan is going to hold a rally in our county seat in September. Below that was a detailed story about the “Adopt-a-Mile” flap. The editorial page was consumed with opinions, including the usual Q&A column allotted to our county commissioner. The chief-editor-and-bottle-washer, Mr. Duncan, weighed in with a column, hence my reference to him in what follows. He insulted the people of our adjacent county, and tried to link the name of their local high school football team to the machinations of the Klan. This whole mess took up most of the front page, the editorials, and the jump pages of the first section, which is the only part of the paper worth reading.

I keep telling myself “I have nothing to say,” but obviously my alligator mouth interferes with my hummingbird brain. I wrote the following letter. As of this writing, no one has burned a cross in my front yard. My lawyers, Browning, Colt, Smith & Wesson, are waiting to address anyone who wishes to express themselves in a rude or uncivilized manner.

I’m getting to the “I told ya so” moment, but it hasn’t quite arrived yet. For the time being, let’s just indulge a moment of vanity at being read by thousands of people, and have a chuckle at the foibles of local politics:

Dear Editor:

Why, in the second decade of the 21st century, are we still paying any attention to the Ku Klux Klan? What started as an angry reaction to the abuses of Reconstruction has evolved into a motley collection of cartoonish morons who are less deserving of passing notice than a dead possum on the side of the road. Whatever notions Nathan Bedford Forrest had in his head have long since evolved into a legacy of malicious hatred, ignorance, and murderous disgrace of the honor that Confederate general held at the end of The War of Northern Aggression. As a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, I have joined many others in filing for restraining orders against the Klan for hijacking symbols of the Confederacy and defiling the heritage of the South, but to the credit of what’s left of our freedom in this country, those petitions have been denied. As it should be, idiots are allowed to speak their little minds, and those who bother to listen are permitted the discretion to agree or disagree.

Why, then, is Mr. Duncan trying to provoke a Hatfield-McCoy feud with Fannin County? The good people of Blue Ridge don’t wear their sheets, they sleep on them. There is nothing dishonorable about calling a high-school football team “Rebels” if one understands the origins of the Civil War and what it truly represented, which was not a “defense of slavery” or any other racial connotation one would care to imply. I’m catching a strong odor of brimstone and political correctness from Mr. Duncan’s editorial. I would stipulate that I despise the Klan, but it takes a lot of energy to actively hate anyone or anything, and they are not worth the emotional investment. One in four Klansmen is a federal informant, and the rest don’t have the sense God gave geese. I think the real reason the Department of Transportation denied their request to “Adopt-a-Mile” is that the state bureaucrats realized Klansmen are too stupid to stay out of traffic, no matter what the speed limit on the roadway.

This whole tempest-in-a-teapot controversy has been vastly amusing, but it’s time to get back to more important issues, like the validity of the insidious T-SPLOST tax about to be foisted upon us, or the Union County school board screeching for an additional $1.7 million dollars while they lay off teachers and retain space-occupying “administrators.” The Klan has had their little walk in the sun, and like “Deliverance” and the race-baiters of the Atlanta newspaper cartel, they have done more to set the image of north Georgia back than all the Hollywood hillbilly stereotypes combined. Paying any more attention to these clowns, or blaming their ignorance on something in the water in Fannin County, is like trying to teach a pig to sing: it wastes your time and annoys the pig.


(My full name, address, phone number and e-mail)