Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Have No Taste

While it is true I'm not much of a snappy dresser and if my wife didn't decorate our home it would look a rather plain, that's not what I refer to. You see, I've started to lose my senses of taste and smell and rather often I smell something burning when there's nothing burning around me.

I started to notice this in late June and early July, 2008. I spent a day or so in a place where there were a lot of smokers. Having quit smoking a few years ago, my nose is very keen to pick up the scent. It's not unusual for me to catch a whiff of burning tobacco even days after being around it. At first, I didn't think much of the smell of something burning, but as weeks went by I started to get somewhat concerned. Smelling something that no one else smells was not unusual for me since I've always had a sensitive nose, but smelling something so strongly that no one else does at all wasn't. And it was getting stronger all the time.

Researching on line, I found there were a number of reasons people sometimes smell things which aren't there: trauma to the head, severe nasal allergies, sinus infection, exposure to certain chemicals and a tumor in the brain. I couldn't think of any recent occasion I experienced any of the first four things, so I decided it was time to visit the doctor to make sure it wasn't the fifth.

My primary care physician referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. While he informed me that tumors are very rare, his body language and constant "hmmm, this is strange" comments unnerved me a bit. As he did his tests, we found I couldn't smell mint very well and nor could I smell lemon (I had to very deeply sniff it 3-4 times to get the scent) and my taste of salt was diminished. As we talked about my signs and symptoms, I realized I couldn't smell coffee nor taste many things. It was time for me to go "hmmmm."

Earlier this week I underwent an MRI and found out there's nothing in my head that's not supposed to be there (though someone did ask if I checked to see if anything was missing - no, I forgot to ask about that). For the week I had to wait to learn the results of the MRI I was really caught in the "what ifs" of having a tumor or not. I'm quite glad it wasn't, though I really just wanted to know what was going on.

Looking back I can see this problem probably started a long time ago. My blood pressure has been up for the past few months. I realize now I was way over-salting my food because I can't taste salt very well. I've since given up extra salt, though I can still taste black pepper so I use it. Blood pressure is down a bit now.

I also noticed over the past few weeks that if I eat very spicy food I don't smell the burning whatever as much. Bring on those jalapenos!

My advice to those who are experiencing similar problems: Go get checked out. Loss of taste and smell is common as people age. But, smelling things which aren't there could be a sign of a very serious problem. My doctor assured me that a tumor causing symptoms like mine are about 1 in 100; however, it would be nice to rule out that your in that 1%. My doctor recommended taking supplements of zinc and magnesium, which I will try. (Remember, don't try any medication or supplements without consulting your physician. I'm not a doctor, though I'm handsome enough to play one on TV).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Part 2: Responsibility

To be a free people means to also be a responsible people. One of the great hallmarks of US history has been the pioneering and "do what it takes" attitude the people. In the past, people didn't sit around and wait for someone else to take care of them, they went out and did what it took to take care of themselves and their families. Taking "charity" was unheard of. A person's pride was at stake and few would accept a handout unless they faced extraordinary and dire circumstance.

Granted, sometimes folks honestly need a hand up or help through a bad situation. Although their families and friends should help them first and foremost, it's not completely outside the realm of local and/or state governments to help the truly unfortunate to get them going in the right direction again.

It often appears, though, there are fewer of  us who need a hand up compared to those who just wish to get on the dole and make no effort to take care of themselves. We don't see a reason to work hard to earn our way and feel the government should take care of us and ours. Instead of working hard and learning how to better ourselves, we tend to opt for the "easy way" of letting someone else (read: the federal government) take care of us. We scream life is unfair (and it isn't, nor was it ever) and insist on getting what we feel they are entitled to be it "free" health care, "free" day care, "free" senior care, other "free"things.

Nothing is really "free" though. Those things we will rely on and, indeed, already rely on are not "free." Someone has to feed the government money machine. So we happily elect leaders who promise us more "free" things and promise they will "stick it to" the "rich" and the "greedy corporations" in order "to make things fair." Then we complain bitterly when those same "rich" people move their money into tax shelters and the "greedy" companies cut staff, raise prices or move overseas because it costs too much to operate the US. Because most of us, are blinded to reality, the cause and effect relation of "taking from the rich" and "giving to the poor" is not seen as the reason the rich and the corporations take their money elsewhere.

There is quite a bit of irresponsibility among the leaders of corporations, too. Instead of being responsible and looking to the long term in their attitudes about employees and customers, many companies look to the myopic view of the short-term bottom line and try to squeeze every last penny out of their efforts. Instead of rewarding the loyalty of employees many companies cut benefits, institute salary caps or let full-time employees go and hire all part-time staff. It's appalling how those companies operate, and yet we really don't hold them accountable at all by witholding our money from them. We customers blindly buy products and don't complain to the companies or vote with their checkbooks when quality and value suffer because they cut too many corners in order to make an extra buck. *

Probably the most irresponsible entity on the face of the Earth is our Federal Government. Money is wasted here, there and everywhere. The $100 screwdrivers and toilet seats are the stuff of legend - and they are true. It is amazing how much money the government can piddle away in such a short time. I'm not referring to the big-ticket items like the war against terror or the space program, but the money wasted on "bridges to nowhere" or endless bureaucracies. This isn't a "Democrat" or "Republican" problem - it's a government problem which trandscends party affiliation. Most people just shrug off the growing national debt and ignore the money wasted just so long as they get "theirs." And this is the government we want running our health care system?

Because we don't bother to look, we don't see how government-run programs in other countries fail to meet the needs of their citizens. Because we don't bother to look into matters for themselves, we assume when TV or a politician tells them we should have, for example, free health care the same as Canada or England do, it's true. We don't bother to check and find the people in those countries don't like their health plan and wish theirs was more like ours.

We also don't see that in every country where socialism was tried it was an utter failure. We can look at the former Soviet Union, countries of the former Warsaw Pact, or the former Yugoslavia and can see socialism/communism did not work. Although the ideal of socialism is to make all things fair and equal, in the countries where it's been tried there was still a social class system where, as Orwell put it, "some are more equal than others." Unfortunately, power corrupts and those with the power tend to live outside the very system they insist is best for everyone.

I had chance to visit the Czech Republic in the months right after the Iron Curtain fell. As I drove through the cities, I couldn't help but think that the entire country needed a coat of paint. I asked a person I met during my business there why everything looked so drab and dreary and in disrepair. His response was that if everything belonged to everyone, then it really belonged to noone. I guess if something belongs to nobody, then nobody will care enough to take responsibility for it. After instituting a number of reforms between my first visit and another visit 3 years later I could see drastic changes. Buildings were fixed up and painted and everything seemed more colorful. Even the clothing worn by the people I saw was brighter and more cheerful. It was almost like leaving the black and white world of Kansas for the Technicolor world of Oz.

A great story is the one told in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness." The main character in that movie finds himself in a very bad place. His wife left him, he couldn't make any money selling medical equipment, he lost his apartment, his car and ended up out on the street with his young son. Instead of wallowing in self pity, he pulled himself up and pursued a career selling investments with a large firm by joining as an unpaid intern. There was stiff competition as a dozen or so young people were going out for the one open position. It took a lot of determination, hard work and guts, but despite all the disadvantages he faced he got the job by outworking everyone else and doing what it took to make things happen. It's a great example of someone working hard to achieve a goal and make their life better.

But today it seems that there are fewer and fewer of us who are willing to go an extra 5 feet, let alone an extra mile to make things better. We often don't look beyond what instant gratification will provide us. Instead of working hard and educating ourselves to get out of a minimum wage job, we complain bitterly that we can't make ends meet on minimum wage and that it needs to be raised. We make excuse after excuse and keep ourselves down instead of taking advantages of opportunities - or even making our own opportunities.

There are still many, many opportunities left in this great nation of ours. And it can be even greater still if we all would "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." If we don't wake up, then the government will have to step in and take care of things, but only because we won't do it for ourselves.

* Please note: I'm not in favor of forcing companies to change their ways through more government regulation. What I advocate here is to let the market handle things. People will often shop with causes they support in mind; such as they purchase from companies who are making efforts to be green or to purchase from suppliers overseas who don't run sweat shops. The same could apply to purchasing from those companies who treat their employees with loyalty and respect. The products those companies produce may cost a little more, but the quality and care that goes into a product made by happy employees will more than make it worth the little bit extra the item might cost.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Part 1: Education

Education is an essential element of a free people. Without it, people cannot even begin to live in a free and self-governing society. Without the basics of understanding the written and spoken word, one cannot understand ideas or ideals nor can he or she participate in honest debate. It's difficult to stand for something if you have no idea what anything is. The ability to learn and understand was important to our Founding Fathers so they were the first champions of free public education. Wise and prescient men they were for they could see that an uneducated citizenship would easily be lead to tyranny.

And they were correct. Today we have a generation or two of young men and women who have come out of our education system woefully ill-prepared to take care of themselves. Instead of training to be solid on the basics, they learn "feel good" English and mathematics. Instead of raising the bar and helping students achieve, the standards are lowered so more kids pass. 

Those who can't even meet the lower standards are passed along, either to make the numbers look good or to just merely get rid of them. Parents make excuses and expect their kids to get good grades even when they are not earned. The jobs thus available to these children are menial and low-paying and later they will look to the government to make everything "fair" or turn to crime to "level the playing field." 

And that's even if they stick around long enough to graduate. Statistics show over the last few years fully a quarter of all high school students drop out. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in which children are likely to be less educated than their parents and are more likely to drop out of school.

The schools themselves in many cases have literally become battle zones. Kids who are never taught discipline by their parents are not allowed to be disciplined in school. The ones who really want to learn are unable to because the havoc created makes it impossible to learn anything. 

When those who wish to learn more go on to college, many times they have to take basic classes to catch up so they can start doing college-level work. I was visiting a friend who teaches at a small college and spoke with some of his coworkers. One lady was the person who coordinated remedial training classes for incoming freshmen. I was astounded when she told me well over half the students who come into their school require remedial training before they could even begin college-level work. This is appalling and should be shouted from the rooftops.

Parents, instead of teaching their children life lessons about disappointment, losing and failure, they coddle the kids. In sports, no score is kept and everyone gets a trophy so the kids' feelings aren't hurt. In the name of "esteem building" kids are pumped up with undeserved praise. Later in life, when disappointments come to those kids, they don't know how to handle it. They never learn the skill to persevere and keep trying until they reach a goal, to do something difficult and succeed. So, when school work becomes "too hard" they drop out or just "skate along" until it's over.

In a relatively short time, we end up with a generation or two of people who are woefully ill-prepared to take care of themselves and whatever family they might have. In trying to let them succeed so much when they are young, their guardians set them up for failure. As they grow into adulthood, those young men and women have no idea how to handle the basic things the "grown up" world expects them to take care of. 

All the while they give up the freedom they have been blessed to enjoy because they simply don't know any better and just want what they feel they're entitled to.

We should all be appalled at this trend in education. Where are the parents protesting against such terrible treatment of their children? Where are the parents when the kids drop out? Why are the news outlets not shouting this crisis from the rooftops? Instead we see scant notice of this, while the media report the latest happenings of Britney and her sister, Brangalina's children and 24/7 OJ coverage.

Now, how do we reverse this trend?

Money alone is not going to solve the problem. For example: The Detroit Public Schools system had a budget of $1.2 billion, which works out to about $11,400 per student, yet the graduation rate calculated by the school district is only 67%. If you believe outside sources, the graduation rate is even less at about 25%. Either number is unacceptable.

The Federal Government isn't the answer. All they can do is pass laws requiring the states to uphold standards which the states set for themselves as in the "No Child Left Behind" law. This is totally worthless and does nothing to hold the school systems themselves accountable. The Department of Education is a waste of the taxpayers' money, the role of which should be reduced to recommending standards and promoting them to the states.

The states aren't doing much better. In an attempt to hold at least an appearance of standards for students, many have opted for standardized testing. Although students have to at least learn something to pass the tests and move on, many times it's only those to test well who do well.

School districts and teachers need to be accountable, too. I'm sure the vast majority of teachers go into the field because they love kids and love to pass on and instruct in learning. I'm also sure there are quite a few "bad apples" who through lack of desire, lack of education or lack of skills have no business being a teacher. Those teachers need to be let go and teachers unions need to quit blocking attempts to let them go.

Although money alone won't solve our problems, teachers also need to be paid a better wage for all the work they do. We often read about the exorbitant salaries corporate CEOs, celebrity and sports figures make, yet we expect our teachers to work for so little that many have to take on second and third jobs to make ends meet.

Then we come to the parents. The primary responsibility to teach children are the parents who brought them into this world. Unfortunately, it's often those very parents who look at schools as nothing more than daycare and do not bother to learn what their offspring are doing in school, how they are doing, what their teachers are like etc. It's ultimately the parents' responsibility to make sure their children are taking education seriously and to hold them accountable.

Ultimately, it's we - all of us - who need to start taking education seriously. We are last in industrialized nations in education. Can we maintain our global leadership in technology, industry and other business if our children are not properly educated? The answer is absolutely not.

Eventually the answer will end up being socialism because no one will be able to take care of themselves and will need "Big Daddy Government" to step in and take care of them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Introduction

Some of my coworkers and I had an excellent discussion recently about politics and the presidential race. I voiced my opinion about "voting the bums out" which was met with just a little skepticism.

I did get to discuss one question I've been mulling over in my head for some time: Is socialism in the United States inevitable?

If you take time to read through some of my postings in this space, you will find I am against socialism and "big government." The very idea of socialism is anathema to me. I find the federal government is already unconstitutionally far too intrusive into the everyday lives of the citizens of  our nation. The saddest part is: those very citizens are, in many cases, inviting the government to step in and take away our constitutional freedoms.

In order for a people to be free, I believe they must have three things: Education, Responsibility and Desire. Without these three things, they cannot be free. In my next few postings I will deal with each of these things individually. So, please stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Now They've Done It or My Future Weight Gain

Rumors have been circulating around here for months. "A Cracker Barrel is going to be built off I-35," people would say. I would cringe each time I heard it. "I hope they never do," I would reply. Most people would look at me like I was from Mars. I can almost hear them thinking, "Is he nuts, we need more good restaurants around here."

I couldn't agree with them more. Chain restaurants have been popping up all over the area for the past 4-5 years. It's been great for our community.

I found out last week a Cracker Barrel opened up down the road about 1/2 an hour away. I was somewhat relieved at that news. "It's just far enough away," I thought to myself. *whew*

My relief was short-lived, though. Last Monday I noticed a new building being framed out on my way to work. Nothing unusual these days. Even though times are rather tough for construction crews new stuff is still going up all around the area. The day after I saw that frame going up there was the tell-tale sign that a Cracker Barrel was, indeed, going up in our town. There were a dozen or so working bricking up the signature fireplace and chimney which is the central part of any Cracker Barrel restaurant.

I'm done for.

This is terrible. I might as well start buying bigger clothes now. My bank account will be drained. Life as I know it will end.

You see, it's not that I don't like Cracker Barrel. Quite the opposite: I like the place way too much. I can hardly drive by a Cracker Barrel on the highway without stopping. The temptation is sometimes too great and I will go gorge myself with Uncle Hershel's favorites or the Country Boy breakfast even if I'm not particularly hungry. I can almost smell the bacon, gravy, biscuits - I'm salivating here just thinking about it. 

With one on the way to work, how will I be able to resist? What was once a treat to make a day trip or a great vacation even better will become an obsession, almost a curse. How can I resist those tempting goodies? Eggs to order with cheesy hash browns, wheat toast to dunk into my over medium eggs...

I'm done for.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Loves My Crocs™

Some call them "doctor shoes" or "nurse shoes." Some call them "stupid shoes" or "ugly shoes." I don't care what others think about them, they're the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. I'm referring to my Crocs™

When my wife brought her first pair home, I was a Croc mocker, too. I choose to live and let live about that kind of thing, though, so I didn't pay much attention to them. Until one day I happened to put them on.

I needed to take one of my boys someplace and we were in a hurry. I was just planning to do a "drive by" drop off and head home. I slipped on a pair of Crocs and headed out the door. During the short time I was in the car and walking back and forth from the parking lot I was hooked.

They don't seem like they'd be good for your feet, but I have found they certainly are for me. I have heel spurs which often give me grief while wearing regular shoes. Although there is no visible arch support and there doesn't appear to be padding on the inside, my heel spurs never bother me when I wear the Crocs. I once spent all day walking and standing for just about 12 continuous hours and my feet, shins and knees felt fine afterwards. My toes are free to move around in them and the holes over the top and around the sides allow the whole of my feet to breathe. When I wear them, it feels almost as if I am bare footed. 

*** WARNING: Riding a motorcycle without proper footwear can be dangerous. Do not try this at home. ***

I've found Crocs to feel wonderful when riding a motorcycle. I have no problem breaking and shifting. It feels so good to have the wind blowing on my feet that it's worth the risk. I guess it's similar to how those who ride helmet less feel when the wind blows on their head.

My wife decorates hers for the seasons. The holes on the tops make for excellent mounting points for various doo-dads. During Christmas time 
last year, she even had colorful flashing light all across the top with evergreen-looking material and shiny plastic packages. They were quite festive.

The only disadvantage I see in wearing crocs is when it rains. The ones I wear let water in if I step in a puddle. I have seen models without the holes around the side and I might pick up a pair to see how they work in the rain.

I am merely a fan and not a professional reviewer. I was not renumerated at all for this posting. It just hit me on the way home from work today how much I enjoy wearing these shoes.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Extreme Generosity

Despite vows of poverty, they’re millionaire monks Wisconsin monastery sells printer products online; profits go to charity

Here's a group of men who have taken vows of poverty, yet still run over a million dollars in annual sales with their on-line company - with all money over what they need to run their monastery going to charity.

It's not the "most profitable" business model money-wise, but it's cool enough that I think I'm going to buy my ink from them.