Sunday, May 30, 2010

Joys and Sorrows

Joys of the past week? Visiting Attica, where I taught from 1990-1999, and seeing old friends. Watching two former students, Lavica and Kayla, run the Anthony Vet Clinic so capably reminded me of the importance of the education I helped them earn when they were in high school. I hope I can keep their example in mind as I begin the 2010-2011 school year in a couple of months, remembering that what I do in the classroom may have longer range effects than I can ever predict.
Sorrows of the past week? Two of them have hit home. Another Attica student, Dacia, was one of the two best school newspaper editors I had while teaching there. She took charge of the layout by learning the computer program and using it to produce a nice-looking paper. Dacia and her 10-year-old son Dawson were killed in a car wreck on Friday. The suddenness of such a death always takes people by surprise. Dacia's last facebook post talked about spending time with her family and ended this way: "I am so thankful I have so a great mom. I ♥ you!!!!" What a powerful reminder of the importance of telling people how important they are to us.
The second sorrow concerns the health of Doug Frye, who has been undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. Doug was a student at Bennington. His struggle is far from over, but he has the support of a loving family, and the expertise of the best doctors.
All too often I forget the importance of the people I know and care about, but these two events have forced me to remember to tell them my feelings.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Be Responsible? Why Should I? A Rant.

I voted for President Obama. Heck, I even went to the local Democratic caucus for him, and I still think he is doing as good a job as anyone might do with the mess he inherited, but I'm sick and tired of the government using my tax money to make life easier for irresponsible people! I'm angry that people who have shown no restraint, only greed and more greed, are getting my money.

"Cash for Clunkers." What a clever nickname for a joke of a $3,000,000,000 program. The new cars people are getting up to $4500 for have to get only 22 miles per gallon. What a joke! I've driven my 2005 Pontiac Vibe for three years now, getting an average of 31 miles per gallon. Even if I wanted to buy a new car, my Pontiac doesn't qualify for any sort of rebate. So

Wreck Of The Old '86 (7)Image by England via Flickr

Joe Gashog can exchange his guzzling Suburban or Expedition for something that gets all of 22 mpg and get thousands of dollars of MY TAX MONEY. Irresponsible American automakers, who produced thousands of huge S.U.V.s and pickups and only made cars like my Vibe under pressure from the government and when gas prices hit $4.00 a gallon, are making sales again. Well, maybe. Because foreign automakers can also take part in this program, Japanese and Korean car companies may actually be the ones to benefit the most. Meanwhile, in a government which goes further into debt with every new budget, lawmakers are handing out billions of dollars to people who stubbornly stuck to their gas guzzlers, despite all the economic and environmental reasons to get a new, fuel-efficient vehicle. What do I get for my responsible behavior? Nothing, except what one commentator has called "a good feeling" for having done the right thing without being financially encouraged. That doesn't fill the gas tank, bub. Why not give me a tax break for driving a high-mpg car?

And while I'm at it, what about the multi-billion dollar bailout of homeowners and financial institutions? Countrywide Finance and other companies made ridiculously bad loans to people with ridiculously bad credit. People took out $400,000 house loans on $45,000 salaries. Now they want someone to bail them out for their foolishness. When I moved to Salina, I qualified for an $80,000 house loan, with no money to put down and an annual salary of about $40,000 at the time. I knew that loan would be hard to handle, so I bought a small townhouse for $49,900. I've made every payment--because I didn't get in over my head. But I'm supposed to accept the government's using my tax money to bail out the greedy people whose eyes were bigger than their wallets. Well, screw that.

Health Care for PeanutsImage by wstera2 via Flickr

Finally, there are the changes to the health care system. I will be one of the first to say that changes are definitely needed. But why aren't there any incentives for those of us who work hard to stay healthy? How about health club membership price reductions? Tax breaks or lower insurance rates for people who maintain a healthy weight? I know, I know, there are people who are not as lucky as I've been most of my life. I've been fortunate enough to avoid any serious health issues. But I've known people--family and friends--with serious health problems. I think the government should help them with their overwhelming bills. But when my tax money goes to care for Overweight Ollie's high blood pressure medications or Sally Smoker's lung cancer chemotherapy, then I'm getting screwed. Again.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Little Town on the High Plains

I'm no expert on Cawker City, Kansas, but I did stop for about 15 minutes the other day on my way to Nebraska. Having lived in Kansas for 43 of my 47 years, I've heard a lot about "The World's Largest Ball of Twine," Cawker's pride and joy. So when I had the chance to visit, I took it.

The ball of twine is indeed quite impressive. It's impressive because of its size--it weighed 17,886 pounds in 2006 according to a nearby sign--and its age--Frank Stoeber started it 56 years ago--but also because it has given the town something to advertise as uniquely its own. Some of the sidewalks have a "string" painted on them, as if the ball has started to unravel and begun to roll around town. According to a sign next to the twine, Cawker City holds a "Twine-a-thon" on the third weekend in August. Do people bring their pieces of twine, saved since the previous August, to add to the record-holder? Do people show artwork made from twine? Wear twine-woven skirts and vests? It sounds like an intriguing and interesting weekend. Across Highway 24 from the shelter where the ball sits is the Ball of Twine Inn, a cozy-looking little place that I didn't take further time to explore. Maybe some time in the next 47 years I'll make a stop!The part of the town that I saw, running along US 24, has clearly seen better days. Abandoned storefronts dot the blocks, and abandoned pieces of farm equipment seem to be the main decor. Not that old trucks and tractors don't have their own unique appeal--I took several pictures myself--but they are obvious evidence of a town that's struggling to stay alive, like so many small Kansas communities. These wrecks, rusting yet picturesque, show the energy that used to invigorate Cawker City, as family farmers worked the surrounding fields on small tractors, hauling their crops to marker in trucks with no modern amenities like air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, or even radios. They would make a proud parade, if only someone had the knowledge, will, and money to restore them before they deteriorate beyond reclamation. If they haven't already.

I must say, I was impressed with the efforts of an unknown local artist who has painted reproductions of several famous works of art and posted them in windows of buildings both occupied and empty. I saw Van Gogh's Sunflowers and a couple of Impressionist works. The people of Cawker City have no excuses to be unaware of their artstic heritage! I wish I had had more time to see what other paintings I could have spotted, but the road called, so I took one last look at nearly nine tons of sisal twine sitting under its custom-made shelter, then crawled back into my car and followed a farm truck out of town.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ending the Health Care Crisis Simply and Quickly

As I listen to President Obama talk about his health care plans, I start to think about some possible ways to raise money for it, and possibly even to eliminate the need for government intervention in the first place. I'm not questioning the need for change--we definitely need to do something. Are these ideas perfect? Probably not. The suggestions add to government oversight of our lives and to our tax burden, and I'm not so sure I like that. But I'll put them out here anyway, because Americans can't, won't, or don't take care of their own health. If Americans would take personal responsibility for their own health by exercising, eating right, not smoking, and finding a way to relieve stress, I don't think there would be a need for any sort of huge health care program. Be that as it may, changes apparently must come from outside, because too many Americans are unable or unwilling to make them personally.

First, cigarette smokers bear a huge tax burden because their habit is politically and socially unpopular. I'm not questioning that. Smoking stinks, raises the risk of cancer, and harms those in the vicinity through second-hand smoke. But why only smokers? Right now, obesity is one of the largest (pun intended!) health concerns in the United States. There should be small taxes on fast food (read or watch Supersize Me or Fast Food Nation), candy and other unhealthy snacks, soft drinks, and alcohol. These taxes could be phased in, but if enough items are taxed, then the taxes on the individual items wouldn't have to be very large to raise impressive amounts of money. Anything to encourage people to adopt healthier eating habits (including yours truly!) would help Americans make steps toward better individual health. Taxation of cigarettes has cut the number of smokers dramatically. Perhaps doing the same to the unhealthy items I've listed would do the same for their use.

Second, use that tax money to fund more opportunities for people to live healthy lives. Use it to build bike paths and even sidewalks in neighborhoods that lack them. Use it to buy bikes that can be shared by people in poor neighborhoods. Use it to pay for part of people's memberships to health clubs, but make sure that those people are using that membership wisely. Use it to subsidize healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, not the producers of high fructose corn syrup. Use it to help schools hire enough physical education teachers that all kids from kindergarteners through high school seniors can take classes which may provide their only exercise all day. Use it to fund drug treatment programs. Maybe even use it to give tax refunds to people who succeed in making themselves more healthy by quitting smoking, lowering their cholesterol, losing weight, or making similar improvements in their health. Using the money in people's own neighborhoods, so they can see its impact directly in their lives, as opposed to sending it to large entities like insurance companies and health care providers, will go a long way toward encouraging healthier lifestyles.

People are always saying that they want government out of their lives--until they need a service that government provides, such as public education, good roads, and Medicare or Medicaid. Then they're only too happy to draw on the government's bank account. As I noted earlier, if people would simply take as much responsibility as possible for their own health by eating right, not smoking, and exercising, there would not be any need for government taxation to reach into their pocketbooks and wallets to fund health care. Come right down to it, the answer to our health care problems is incredibly simple--and it's found within each and every one of us!
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