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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pet Peeves

And What’s Your Pet Peeve?

Man is a puzzling creature. Just about the time you think you’ve got him figured out, he pulls a stunt completely out of character. Either that, or you don’t know the guy as well as you thought.

What prompted this not too perceptive observation was when a friend of mine went ballistic at the driver in front of him for refusing to turn right on a red light. My acquaintance blistered the driver with a string of well-crafted profanities. At the end of his tirade, he growled, “There’s nothing that ticks me off like a dummy sitting at a light like that.”

I grinned to myself. I couldn’t pass any kind of judgment on my friend or his pet peeve. I’ve got pet peeves too, but sitting behind a car waiting to turn right isn’t one that would set me off like it did him. Still, like everyone, there are some things that just rub me the wrong way.

Case in point!

Some supermarkets have sample cookies or pastries in the bakery. You’ve seen them, usually in a clear container that gives the impression of sterility, which is a joke. If anything, the container probably holds in more germs than it keeps out.

The other day I was waiting in the bakery to pick up some donuts when this guy, who looked like he’d had a few cookies too many anyway, sidled up to the counter, reached for a sample cookie, picked it up, studied it, put it back, and picked up another one.

No telling how many times those cookies had been studied. I promise you, there ain’t no way I’d touch one of those free offerings-there or anywhere. You don’t know whose hands have been on them. To quote a well-known chef, ‘when you see food beautifully arranged on a platter, you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”

And speaking of supermarkets, is there anyone besides me who dislikes grocery clerks who bundle the receipt with the change? Hand me the money separately so I can put it in my pocket, and then give me the receipt or place it in the bag.

Now, I know that’s petty, but isn’t that what peeves are, petty?

Another peeve is all of this political correctness nonsense that so permeates every aspect of our
life. Members of opposing parties, whether they be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, Idiots, or Klingnons try to eviscerate their opponents on every possible occasion.

You remember a few weeks back when Senate Speaker Harry Reid caught a lot of flack for a remark he made about the president. His remark, "light-skinned" African-American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

I wish someone would tell me what’s wrong with that, the word, Negro?

I can think of a lot worse things to say, and I’m sure everyone else can also. It couldn’t be ‘dialect’ because there are thousands of different dialects in the U.S.

Don’t misunderstand. I have little respect for Senator Reid. He doesn’t deserve to be a senator in this great country, and I hope he’s voted out, but let’s be fair.

President Obama is fair-skinned, and he is African American (this multiple nationality nonsense is another peeve, but let’s get on with the subject), and he does not converse in the dialect employed by many of his race. Big deal. As I said, there are dialects all over the country.

Whether he can speak the dialect or not, I have no idea. And I don’t care. But someone tell me why such a remark is racist. Is it now racist simply to talk about other races? Am I being racist if I say a Yankee from Maine has a certain dialect?

If the majority of the public honestly believe it is, then such an indictment sends chills through my bones. Whatever happened to the idea of freedom of speech, of saying what you believe? And I dare anyone, even the most diehard of liberals to show me what was racist, truly racist in Reid’s remark.

That being said, I hope the guy is voted out-not because of the remark, but because he is too pig-headed to listen to his constituents. And don’t call that racist unless you’re a hog.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Twenty First Century Greed

Twenty First Century Greed

When I was a kid up in the Texas Panhandle, Dad made about $1200.00 a year. That’s about $15,000.00 today. After the war, his salary jumped up to about $1,800.00, which would be about $20,000.00 today. Not a whole lot back then, but we were okay; didn’t starve; go without; or face any handicap because of income. Didn’t have much, but nobody else did. That was when ten bucks would buy half-a-dozen bags of groceries—paper bags, not plastic.

It’s hard for me to really absorb just how much income and expenses have soared over the last sixty-five years. Seems like every time I turn around, prices are increasing—and, the contradiction of all contradictions, we’re in a recession.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not feeling sorry for myself for there are a large number of folks who really have it tough. I got an education, kept my nose clean (for the most part), and persevered, staying with education for forty-one years, but as many, I worry about increasing prices while living on a fixed income.

A friend of mine made a similar remark one noon when a bunch of us old codgers were sitting around straightening out the world’s problems, and one of our group suggested he sell his blood.
We all laughed.

But the ever-present specter of increasing prices still faces all of us. I know of folks who sell blood, some because it is extra income for them.

What brought all of this about was an increase in my home and car insurance, almost ten percent in the last two months.

Now, don’t misunderstand. My agent has always bent over backward to help me. I’ve been with him around thirty years or so, and it’s reassuring to know I have someone to whom I can turn.
Naturally, if you have a claim against you, rates go up.

And I did have a claim. And I was at fault for I hit a car from behind in stop and go traffic. To me it was a tap. That was it. The car had that ubiquitous fiberglass bumper. I scraped about four inches off the shiny veneer—in the shape of a lightning bolt-no cracks, no splits-a scrape. Take some sandpaper and sand off the veneer on your bumper. That’s what it looked like.

My bumper—well, not a scratch.

It was the kind of bump that if I’d received, I would have waved my hand in the mirror as if to say, no problem. Hey, what are bumpers for?

Well, I found out absorbing bumps is not their only function in today’s world of greed. They’re a means for some to pick up not just a few, but a great deal of extra bucks.

We should have called the police, but the lady insisted the damage was negligible, and she was fine. In fact, she told me she wasn’t the kind to run to the doctor and claim injury. I never stopped to wonder just why she felt so compelled to tell me that. Now I know.

Yep. By the time I got home thirty minutes later after picking up my grandsons, the insurance company was calling.

That’s one of the reasons my insurance went up.

Did you know it costs $1,900.00 to splash a dab of varnish or whatever they put on a bumper? Or that a visit to a chiropractor costs four thousand dollars?

When I talked to the claims adjuster about the incident, I couldn’t believe the amount they were giving the claimant. Cynical me, I figured the driver had a auto body friend jack up the price, but I was wrong. The insurance company adjuster was the one who determined how much to pay for the bumper.

Then a flash of understanding opened my eyes, an epiphany you might say. The adjuster was not spending company money. He was spending mine. He gave the claimant an outrageous retribution for the damage so they wouldn’t sue, then jacked up my rates. No skin off his nose.

Like one of my cynical cohorts always says ‘welcome to the real world, dummy.”

Well, that’s all I’ve got to say about it.

You know, I was hoping if I got all this off my chest, I’d feel better about it. I did get it off my chest, but for some reason, I don’t feel any better.

Know what I mean?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

writing the novel

Move Over, John Grisham

A few months back, I had the fortune to work with eight folks who were interested in learning to write a novel. Twice a year, I have the opportunity, and I always look forward to it.

In fact, one gentleman from four or five years back just finished a screenplay that was selected in the top ten percent of all the screenplays submitted to the Austin Film Festival. I’m anxious to find out what happened after he pitched it to various producers at the conference.

The truth is, all of us probably at one time or another have dreamed of writing a novel or a screenplay. It isn’t that hard to do. Believe me, if I can pull it off, anyone can. I suppose the requisite, the one real requisite is that you’ve got to be a reader. And oh, yeah, it doesn’t hurt to be stubborn.

Don’t misunderstand, non-readers can write. Go out and read some of the graduate dissertations. Most of them will put you to sleep in three pages.

And stubborn? Well, let’s say ‘persevering to the point of mule-headedness’.

A few years back, a friend of mine was putting together a writing program for Lamar Continuing Education and asked if I’d be interested in a class.

I wasn’t too crazy about it at first because it would take time away from my own writing, but I decided to give it a shot. The move turned out to be a good one for the class gave me a chance to talk writing, a dialogue that most writers have all too infrequently with other writers.

Like all teaching, the teacher usually learns more than the students for although I’d had several westerns and mysteries published, I’d fallen into a rut. The class afforded me the opportunity to utilize some of that which I’d put aside and forgotten.

One fact I stress to all who are interested in writing is that it is much simpler to do than one might imagine.

Seems like the hardest part of the whole writing business for most folks is that first step.

When I said it was simple, I meant simple.

Now, a word of advice here. You can use pencil and paper, or a typewriter, but in the long run, the easiest way to go is with a word processing program, a computer.

But, regardless, the first step is to sit down and put that first word on paper. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or anything, just get your ideas down so you can read over them.
There are really only four steps to writing a novel—any book for that matter.

1. Premise
2. Beginning
3. End
4. Middle

The premise is a one or two sentence statement revealing your character’s goals and the major problems facing him.

The beginning is where you put him on the path to that goal.

Now, you probably have an idea of how you want it to end. If you can’t decide whether you want a happy or dark ending, write them both—a few lines, that’s all.

And then, go back and make an outline of events leading from the beginning to the end.
Naturally, there’s more involved. Much of it you’ll figure out by experience.

Lamar Continuing Education offers a series of non-credit writing courses both online and on campus such as article writing; teen writing; how to write fiction; novel writing, and several others. Information is on ‘The Write Site’ at Lamar Continuing Education. Instructors are experienced writers such as D.J. Resnick, Jessica Ferguson, Carol A. Thomas, Jessica Burkhart, and yours truly.

Yes, I shamelessly admit that I teach a short six-week, twelve-hour, course titled ‘Writing the Novel.’ It is always satisfying to watch students progress from one level to the next in their writing.

By the end of the six-week period, most students have written the beginning, the end, and outlined the middle of the book.

My next class begins Tuesday, January 26 at the Beaumont Library, six to eight p.m. If you’re interested, you can contact Rhonda at 880-2233

Friday, January 1, 2010

lbj, met ben nelson

LBJ, Meet Ben Nelson

Those of us long in the tooth remember Lyndon Johnson, the Texan who succeeded John Kennedy. Well, LBJ would be right at home in the wheeling and dealing in Washington these days. So much money has been spent, we can’t comprehend it.

The stimulus bill is a done deal. Almost a trillion dollars. You know how much that is? If you started the day Jesus was born and spent a million bucks a day, you still would not have spent a trillion dollars.

Now while the world is constantly changing, it seems about the only thing that remains the same is politics and politicians, ninety-nine percent of which give the other one percent a bad name.
Politicians are still cutting deals behind closed doors, buying off each other, and doling out copious amounts of largesse at the taxpayers’ expense.

And this largesse has never been more obvious than in the Senate’s Health bill.
You’re all aware of Nebraskagate, and if you aren’t, then you’re probably a typical voter.

But anyway, Demo Senator Ben Nelson sold out his vote if the government would pay Nebraska’s Medicaid of $100 million over ten years; Blue Cross Blue Shield and Mutual of Omaha of that state would be exempt from annual fees on insurers; and a physician-owed hospital would get referrals from doctors who own it.

Who pays for all that? The other forty-nine states.

Those who see nothing wrong with this, I’d appreciate it if you’d send me your name and I’ll let you pay my share.

The guy who wrote the senate bill, Max Baucus believes insurance commissioners are taking kickbacks, yet he included no reform for these companies’ regulation. In fact, he put an entire town in his state on Medicare whether citizens were qualified or not. That was his payoff.

In addition, the Los Angeles Times reported that 166 aides from the nine congressional leadership offices and five committees involved in shaping healthcare overhaul legislation, along with 13 former lawmakers, are registered to represent at least 338 healthcare clients.

And don’t go getting all that excited about pre-existing health conditions being covered. Do you actually believe you could call up an insurance company and say “hey, my house just burned. I need insurance,” and they would greet you with open arms?

According to People’s Daily, those ‘pre-existing’ clients will go into a high risk pools with sky high insurance rates.

Neither the House nor Senate bill cover everyone as the liberals first proclaimed, but both bills plan on cutting hundreds of billions of dollars in future payment to doctors, hospitals, and other health providers who care for Medicare patients according to The Associated Press.

Cutting pay results in one obvious fact, lower quality medical care.

However slick and devious LBJ might have been, he could take lessons from those sleazy excuses for humans who are jamming this through for their own benefit.

According to the People Daily, Aetna Health Insurance sent Senator Joe Lieberman over $100,000.00 to go to bat for their company when creating the health bill. And he went to bat for them. He killed the public option, which took away a lower government price, forcing people to buy from Aetna and other insurance companies. That might not be so scary, but he gave all the insurance companies anti-trust exemptions.

To boil it all down, and I wish we could boil it away, the Senate bill contains 47 amendments that will benefit the health care industry, and higher taxes for taxpayers with poorer medical care.

I read a horror book about a gypsy putting curses on people. One curse was turning their skin to that of a reptile, one quite deserving for those like Lieberman and Nelson, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and the other fifty-seven so-called ‘public servants’ in the Senate who sold out the American people for what they could gain.