November 29, 2018

Feeling Thankful
After 38 Years!

Marlene and I met in high school typing class in 11th grade. We went out on our first date on the first weekend of our Senior year. She was a few days short of turning 17. We were in the Class of '76.

After high school I went to The Sterling School in Vermont. Marlene went to a local community college. 

Marlene lived at home while going to college and needed a car to get there every day, so she bought that red Chevy Nova you see in the picture above. She bought it with her own savings. He father helped her pick it out and he paid for the insurance while she was in school. 

While in high school Marlene worked at the local nursing home every day after school. When she went to community college, she earned money by lifeguarding at the school's pool. And she had a job staying overnights with  an elderly woman in town who needed someone with her all the time.

Marlene was a worker and a saver when she was younger. She still is. If, perchance, you are a young man, yet to be married, I recommend that, in due time, you find a wife who is a hard worker and a good saver. She will be a great blessing to you all your days.

There are, of course, other important qualities to be mindful of in your future wife. And, of course, you yourself must have those same qualities for the best long term results. 

The Nova was a great car. It had a big V8 engine. It really jumped when you put your foot down on the pedal. We had a lot of good adventures with that Nova.

As for me, it would be a couple more years before I was able to buy my first car. I worked on a dairy farm for a year after the Sterling School before I felt comfortable spending the money to get a car. And I had to pay for my own insurance. :-)

In the photo above, I was home on vacation. I hadn't had a hair cut since I left for Vermont six months before. And my hair was probably not real short when I left. Longish hair was in style.

I may have looked like a hippie, but I wasn't one. True hippies were liberals. I wasn't a liberal back then. I've never been a liberal. I was born a conservative, and I've just gotten more conservative with age.

Longish hair was a phase for me. It was a mildly rebellious but totally harmless phase. When Marlene and I got married on November 29, 1980 (38 years ago today), that longish hair was gone.

I often wonder... 

If body piercings and tattoos were in style back in 1977, would I have chosen to permanently mutilate and deface my body with those things?

I really don't think so.

Well, those are some early morning blog ruminations for this day. Marlene and I are celebrating our milestone by going to some thrift shops in Syracuse. And we're going to eat at a CoreLife restaurant. 

I've never eaten at CoreLife, but Marlene has. She says I'll like it. I'm sure I will because, after 38 years, Marlene knows what I like.

This is one for the very few wedding-day photos we have from 1980. It is grainy and faded, but it captures our joy at finally being married (after four years of waiting). That joy has not diminished with the years. I am a blessed and eternally thankful man.

November 28, 2018

What John Wesley
Asked His Mother

Motherhood in Western civilization has historically been considered one the most noble of social positions and the most important of civic responsibilities. This is largely, if not entirely, because of the Christian foundations of Western civilization. 

But as America has become an increasingly secular nation, motherhood as a primary vocation for women has not only been downplayed, it has been attacked and discredited. 

Traditional Christian ideas about just about everything are marginalized and abused in our secular culture. If you keep your Christian beliefs to yourself, or keep them within the dwindling number of Christian ghettos (churches), that's okay. But don't you dare bring such ideas to the mainstream dialogue! 

But I digress. Getting back on track...

How many young girls do you know these days who are encouraged and taught to be mothers by their mothers? By that I mean taught a variety of homemaking and home-keeping  skills, along with nurturing and caring for others? I know a few, but it's a precious few .

Most young girls are consumed by popular culture. Their lives reflect the foolishness and selfishness of popular culture. This is illustrated  disgustingly well in Cyndi Lauper's Song and Music Video, "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."

More serious girls in our modern culture are expected to go to college to prepare for a career making as much money as possible. In so doing, they will be further indoctrinated into the mindset of secular-culture feminism (which abhors Biblical motherhood), and they will leave with an enormous debt load. Being thus enslaved to debt, they will then be obligated to pursue any career other than motherhood. And if they do pursue motherhood, it will be, of necessity, a part time vocation.

Now, having written all of that, you need to realize this blog is oftentimes something like a stream of consciousness. My thoughts and opinions are just flowing, and it takes me awhile to get to the main thing I want to share with you. In this instance, my subject isn't motherhood in general, but one mother in particular—that mother being Susanna Wesley. And to be even more particular, her  answer to a question asked of her by her son, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church.

My assumption is that you know something about Susanna Wesley's difficult life, and her remarkable example of Christian motherhood. If you don't, you should. This YouTube Presentation gives a short introduction, but there is so much more to her inspiring story. This Link provides more details.  

Susanna Wesley is on my mind because I recently listened to a YouTube presentation by Ravi Zacharias and he mentioned that John Wesley once asked his mother for a definition of sin.

Her reply struck me as the most insightful and scripturally rooted definition for sin that I've ever heard. 

Secularists could care less about defining sin. And "cultural christians" aren't much interested either. But understanding sin is a big deal for the serious Christian.

If you were to ask me my definition of sin, I would simply say, "sin is a violation of God's law." It is a biblically correct definition, but it is very fundamental and best suited to explain sin to an unbeliever.

Susanna Wesley's definition is so much more insightful, and it is geared for someone who is already a Christian believer. Here it is...

"Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself." 

That was written in a 1725 letter to John. He was 22 years old at the time, and Susanna was 56 (she died in 1742, at 73 years of age). 

It is a definition that I'll write down and put in my Bible for future reference, or to share with someone else someday. I think it's worth memorizing.

Susanna Wesley's above quote comes from This Web Page at the Ravi Zacharias web site.

I could go on any number of rabbit trails from here but, suffice it to say, Susanna Wesley influenced not only her children by being a godly mother, she indirectly influenced millions of people for generations to come through her children. She made the world a better place by her deliberate and serious pursuit of responsible Christian motherhood. 

And I hasten to say, Susanna did not pursue responsible Christian motherhood to make herself and her children famous. She did it out of obedience to a high calling.

In a very real sense, we as a civilization are faced with a choice: Cyndi Lauper or Susanna Wesley?

That choice is made one woman and one family at a time.

November 26, 2018

"Working For A Dead Horse"
P. T. Barnum's Advice
Regarding Debt

Years ago, when I was in the remodeling business, I did some work for Mr. Muldoon and his wife. Mr. Muldoon was an older man with his own tree-cutting business. He was a hands-on hard worker and a smart operator. The business was a profitable one. I am always interested in, and inspired by,  independent-minded people with their own successful small-scale business.

Mr. Muldoon was also an avid hunter. He built a sizable addition on his house as a trophy room. It was like walking into a natural history museum. The centerpiece of the room was a full-size grizzly bear he had shot on Kodiak island. 

Mr. Muldoon loved guns. He had a walk-in gun safe off his trophy room. It was packed full. And his office held the overflow. There were rifles by the dozen leaning against the walls, and handguns were literally piled on top of his desk. It was a sight.

Mr. Muldoon confided to me that he couldn't drive by a gun shop without stopping and buying a gun. I could relate to that.

It was not the buying of guns that I could relate to. In my case I was not able to go past a book store without stopping and buying a book. In those pre-internet days we frequently went to malls and malls always had book stores. Nine times out of ten, the book I bought was a self-help or small business book. 

Such books still interest me, though not to the degree they once did. But yesterday, perusing the internet, one thing led to another and I discovered a 138-year-old "success" book that I never heard of. Old books often interest me more than new ones.

P.T Barnum's 1880 book, The Art of Money Getting (that's a free pdf link) is a great little book. I read it in one sitting. Some of it is outdated, but the fundamental wisdom that P.T. conveys is surprisingly applicable to contemporary Americans.

"Personal responsibility" is part of the stated focus of this blog and The Art of Money Getting is very much about personal responsibility. This is the kind of book that I would be talking about with my sons if they were still home and we were homeschooling them. Hopefully, they will read this blog post!

You can go to the link above and read The Art of Money Getting, but the excerpt below is a good sample. It is about debt. If you have read my writings over the years, you know that I am passionate about not going into debt. But there are times when debt is justified, and PT speaks of them. 

Avoid Debt
By: P.T. Barnum

Young men starting in life should avoid running into debt. There is scarcely anything that drags a person down like debt. It is a slavish position to get in, yet we find many a young man, hardly out of his "teens," running in debt. He meets a chum and says, "Look at this: I have got trusted for a new suit of clothes." He seems to look upon the clothes as so much given to him; well, it frequently is so, but, if he succeeds in paying and then gets trusted again, he is adopting a habit which will keep him in poverty through life. Debt robs a man of his self-respect, and makes him almost despise himself. Grunting and groaning and working for what he has eaten up or worn out, and now when he is called upon to pay up, he has nothing to show for his money; this is properly termed "working for a dead horse." I do not speak of merchants buying and selling on credit, or of those who buy on credit in order to turn the purchase to a profit. The old Quaker said to his farmer son, "John, never get trusted; but if thee gets trusted for anything, let it be for 'manure,' because that will help thee pay it back again."

Mr. Beecher advised young men to get in debt if they could to a small amount in the purchase of land, in the country districts. "If a young man," he says, "will only get in debt for some land and then get married, these two things will keep him straight, or nothing will." This may be safe to a limited extent, but getting in debt for what you eat and drink and wear is to be avoided. Some families have a foolish habit of getting credit at "the stores," and thus frequently purchase many things which might have been dispensed with.

It is all very well to say; "I have got trusted for sixty days, and if I don't have the money the creditor will think nothing about it." There is no class of people in the world, who have such good memories as creditors. When the sixty days run out, you will have to pay. If you do not pay, you will break your promise, and probably resort to a falsehood. You may make some excuse or get in debt elsewhere to pay it, but that only involves you the deeper.

A good-looking, lazy young fellow, was the apprentice boy, Horatio. His employer said, "Horatio, did you ever see a snail?" "I—think—I—have," he drawled out. "You must have met him then, for I am sure you never overtook one," said the "boss." Your creditor will meet you or overtake you and say, "Now, my young friend, you agreed to pay me; you have not done it, you must give me your note." You give the note on interest and it commences working against you; "it is a dead horse." The creditor goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning better off than when he retired to bed, because his interest has increased during the night, but you grow poorer while you are sleeping, for the interest is accumulating against you.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master. When you have it mastering you; when interest is constantly piling up against you, it will keep you down in the worst kind of slavery. But let money work for you, and you have the most devoted servant in the world. It is no "eye-servant." There is nothing animate or inanimate that will work so faithfully as money when placed at interest, well secured. It works night and day, and in wet or dry weather.

I was born in the blue-law State of Connecticut, where the old Puritans had laws so rigid that it was said, "they fined a man for kissing his wife on Sunday." Yet these rich old Puritans would have thousands of dollars at interest, and on Saturday night would be worth a certain amount; on Sunday they would go to church and perform all the duties of a Christian. On waking up on Monday morning, they would find themselves considerably richer than the Saturday night previous, simply because their money placed at interest had worked faithfully for them all day Sunday, according to law!

Do not let it work against you; if you do there is no chance for success in life so far as money is concerned. John Randolph, the eccentric Virginian, once exclaimed in Congress, "Mr. Speaker, I have discovered the philosopher's stone: pay as you go." This is, indeed, nearer to the philosopher's stone than any alchemist has ever yet arrived.


November 24, 2018

Smedley D. Butler,
And My Solution To The
Honduran Immigration Crisis

General Smedley D. Butler

As thousands of Hondurans are marching in a "migrant caravan" to America, I got to thinking about U.S.M.C. Major General Smedley Darlington Butler. He briefly fought in Honduras back in 1930. 

Butler was (and is) one of the most decorated soldiers in American history. Most notably, he is one of only 19 men to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor two times.

But Smedley Butler is not only an American legend for his numerous military exploits. He is a legend for exposing the real reasons why he had been in so many American military actions and wars around the globe. This remarkable quote from General Butler sums it up...
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

Smedley Butler spent his retirement years speaking out against the use of American military forces to protect the profits of big American businesses. His book, War is a Racket is well worth reading (that link takes you to a free pdf copy). The book is short and to the point. Butler was a straight shooter with the written word, as I'm sure he was with a firearm.

Years later, President Dwight Eisenhower would warn America about the "military industrial complex" in his 1961 Farewell Address. Eisenhower was indirectly saying what Butler asserted. The military industrial complex was (and is) directly related to making big profits off American militarism around the world. Eisenhower was, by the way, a 5 star general before becoming President. 

These days, the military-industrial complex is part of what is referred to as the "deep state."

Don't think for a second that Smedley Butler "went soft" after his retirement from the Marines. He was not a pacifist. He believed in a strong military. He just didn't think it should be an imperial force. He didn't think America's young men should give their lives for anything other than America's direct defense. Here's another of his famous quotes...

“There are only two reasons why you should ever be asked to give your youngsters. One is defense of our homes. The other is the defense of our Bill of Rights and particularly the right to worship God as we see fit. Every other reason advanced for the murder of young men is a racket, pure and simple.” 

In his book, War is a Racket, Butler presents some ways to stop unjust American wars. His ideas are sensible and would probably actually work. But they will never be taken seriously. The powers that profit from war are much too powerful behind the scenes to allow laws that would put a stop to the flow of money into their businesses. 

Besides that, so many American workers are making very good money in their "defense industry" jobs. They would not be happy if America's worldwide warring were to be reduced. 

Nobody likes to see American soldiers die, or be physically and mentally crippled for life, and nobody likes to see innocents in other countries killed by the thousands as a result of American military actions, but war is just too good for business. 

Which brings me to my Honduran immigration solution...

If we must continue to be a nation that profits from war, let's direct our war machine towards nations in our own hemisphere, where we might really be able to make a difference—nations like Honduras.

I don't think the average Honduran would have any desire to leave their country if they had a stable republican form of government— a government where all citizens were safe and protected by the rule of law. Where free enterprise was encouraged and taxation was low. 

Hondurans want to get out of a dangerous, totally corrupt society, with severe poverty. I don't blame them for wanting to come to America.

So, I propose that America invade Honduras as soon as possible. Displace the current government. Establish a "temporary" American military dictatorship. Punish the criminals and evildoers in that country. 

Then, in due time, establish a republican democracy, based on a Constitution and Bill of Rights like America has. Do this properly and the fleeing Hondurans will no longer flee. They will rejoice and prosper in their own nation.

The only real problem with my idea is that the big banks and big-business profiteers will  want to establish themselves in Honduras and start profiteering. John Perkins explains how this is routinely done in undeveloped nations in his remarkable book, Confessions of a Economic Hit Man.  I haven't read the book, but I've listened to some YouTube videos where Perkins explains the book. 

In the final analysis, I guess it's probably not a good idea to take over Honduras. Unless, maybe, we stop trying to fix so many other countries in the world. 

I can't help but wonder what Major General Butler would think of all this.

November 22, 2018

What Do You Have
That You Were Not Given?

It is a rhetorical question, which means it was not asked to get an answer, but to make a statement. The words were uttered by the Apostle Paul and are recorded in 1 Corinthians 4:7.  

Though it is a simple question it is loaded with enormously important, life-changing Christian theology. 

The question puts our human reality into proper perspective. Rightly understood, it should lead thoughtful Christians to ask questions of themselves. Like, for example, if what Paul asserts is true, what is my proper response? And what is my proper responsibility?

First, the Biblical theological basics, compressed into one paragraph...

God created the world we live in, including each person who lives in His world. God is the Sovereign Orchestrator over all of His creation. God has entrusted the stewardship of His earth to mankind. Every human is graced by God with a measure of ability, talent, opportunity, and material well being. The stewardship mandate applies to every individual with their own particular God-given graces. God is not an egalitarian. God hates pride.

Bearing all of that in mind, there are two proper responses to Paul's question. They are (or should be) obvious. The first response is utter humility. The second is a life of gratefulness to God for his goodness and his mercy. These are also the most fundamental of proper responsibilities (but they are not the final word on proper responsibilities). 

Now, there are of course lots of people in this world who either do not see, do not understand, or simply reject all of that. For the sake of simplicity, I'll call them secularists. 

Secularists reject the notion of God. They think the world and its reliable order came into being by random material happenstance over the course of millennia. They see their talents, and abilities, and successes in life as something that came about entirely by chance and their own hard work. If they express thankfulness, it isn't to a sovereign God. Maybe they say, "Thank luck!" I really don't know.

We live in a secular, politicized culture that focuses on inequality not humility and thankfulness. Anger and discontent from inequality feed ungrateful hearts. Leftist ideology, in particular, advances itself on anger and discontent. You will never find a Leftist that is a Bible-believing Christian. The two are totally incompatible.

In This Most Recent Fireside Chat Dennis Prager talks about the connection between gratitude and happiness. He makes the statement that, "The mother of happiness is gratitude, and the mother of goodness is gratitude." 

I think Dennis Prager is right. I would, however, substitute the word, "joy" for happiness. It's a small distinction, but I think happiness tends to be more situational. Happiness typically comes and goes based on circumstances. Joy is a much deeper well to draw from.

There's a whole lot more I could write on this subject. I could bring the 10th Commandment into the discussion—Thou shalt not covet. That command is directly related to thankfulness, which generates contentment. But I have said enough for now.

Here's wishing each of you a Joyous and Grateful Thanksgiving Day 2018!

November 21, 2018

—Thanksgiving & The Pilgrims—
Fake History vs True History

Like all Americans my age, I learned the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims in elementary school, and the story was a positive one. We learned that the Pilgrims escaped persecution in England and fled to America for religious freedom. That is true, but only partly true, as I will soon explain.

I have no idea what the government schools nowadays teach about the Pilgrims but, based on news stories and some YouTube videos, it appears that the "official story" on the Pilgrims has radically changed. They are now characterized as foreign invaders who killed and displaced Native Americans. 

The Pilgrims were also, obviously, "white Christians," which is all that so many Leftist-indoctrinated Americans need to know in order to be convinced that the Pilgrims were a very bad group of people. 

The fact is, anyone can select certain aspects of the Pilgrim story, while discounting other aspects, and make the historical narrative support their presuppositional bias. This is routinely done with much of history.

Americans are continually mind controlled by false historical narratives because they don't actually do the research themselves. Historical curiosity in the populace has been largely replaced by the pursuit of entertainment and amusements. 

It wasn't always this way. Americans as a group were once a far more literate and self-informed people, especially when it came to history.

Reading a single article or book is no guarantee of finding the truth about a historical story. All writers have a bias, but some writers are more honest in their historical narratives than others. Thus it is that if you read a number of different books and articles, written by people with different biases, it becomes possible to discern more clearly what the actual history was.

I was attracted to the Pilgrim story in elementary school. I'm not sure why that is. I first visited the Mayflower and the Pilgrim museums in Plymouth, Massachusettes when I was 14 years old. I was enthralled by their story. 

In the early 1980s I read The Light And The Glory, by Peter Marshall, and was confronted with Pilgrim history that I had never known before. My respect for, and interest in, the Pilgrims deepened.

By the time my wife and I visited Plymouth and the Pilgrim museums in the mid 1980s, I knew the history pretty well. I was better able to understand and critically interpret the exhibits. I could imagine myself in the 1620s, and in the Pilgrim mindset. It was an emotional experience for me to be amongst some of the surviving Pilgrim relics, including opened Pilgrim Bibles. It was also powerfully inspiring. 

Could I have done what they did? I'd like to think so. But in all honesty, I can't be sure about that. 

However, to a very small degree, my wife and I did do what they did, and many American parents have done (and continue to do) what The Pilgrims did. But, I must emphasize, it was to a very small degree.

Before I explain what I mean by that, I recommend that you watch the following YouTube clip from Prager University. It is the only YouTube presentation I could find that actually tells the true reason why the Pilgrims left the comfort of their lives in Holland to come to an uncertain future in this once-wild North American continent...

It was for their children that the Mayflower Pilgrims came to America. Their children were being absorbed into the materialistic and immoral popular culture of Holland. 

They risked everything for the sake of their children, and for the generations to follow. These were a forward-looking people who believed in something much much bigger than their own lives and their own comforts. 

Back in 2005 I wrote an essay that went into more depth about this little-known aspect of the Pilgrim story. I quoted from their own writings. I recommend this essay to you and your family on this Thanksgiving 2018: Pilgrims & The Christian-Agrarian Exodus of 1620.


In the story of my own life and my own family, the Pilgrim example was part of the inspiration for my wife and I to live in a rural area, and to homeschool our children. Such choices are totally countercultural. 

Homeschooling was not easy, especially for my wife, who took the lion's share of the task upon herself. She sacrificed time, comfort, and worldly satisfactions to keep our boys out of the government indoctrination centers. Every family that chooses to homeschool for such reasons is, in many respects, a modern Pilgrim family. Homeschooling mothers are, in my mind, truly remarkable people. 


As I ruminate on this subject, I also think of my own parents. They did not homeschool me, but they made a separation decision for the good of their children. They were not consciously inspired by the Mayflower Pilgrims. It was just love and good sense on their part. Their decision had a profound good effect on my life. It has, in turn, been a blessing to my children.

What they did, when I was half way through 9th grade, was move from the suburban housing project where we then lived to a rural farming community. And we started going to a small rural church in the community. 

I went from a school district with hundreds of students in each grade, to a school with less than 100. I went from a government school where, for boys especially, it was a survival-of-the-fittest culture, to a school district where I experienced no fear or intimidation. Everyone was nice

I saw for myself the contrast between urban-suburban culture and rural culture. It was an eye-opener. My whole worldview was positively altered by the experience.


Well, so much for short posts on this new blog! I really did intend to keep them all short. 

For those who may be interested, here are links to a couple more of my blog essays about the Pilgrims:

Giving Thanks & Thanksgiving

Pilgrim Ruminations

November 20, 2018

Demographics And
Five years of Spanish Class

I started taking Spanish in junior high School. That was back in 1971. My teacher was Mr. Schermerhorn. He was a tall man who walked with a limp and a cane. When he wasn't leaning on the cane, he was pointing with it. No, I don't know why he limped.

I was a serious student in junior high School. My plan was to be a doctor, and I knew that I needed good grades for that. I told my parents that if I had a tape recorder it would help me to learn Spanish better. 

So, they bought me a tape recorder. It was a small reel-to-reel recorder. I used it for school, and I used it for fun. Being able to record my own voice was kind of a big deal in 1971.

Looking back, I remember only two things from Mr. Schermerhorn's Spanish class. 

First, I remember he once told a girl in the class that she was vivacious. I had never heard that word before, and neither had she. Mr. Schemerhorn defined the word for the class. In case you don't know, it means "lively and animated, or full of life." The word fit her personality perfectly. English words and their meanings interested me a lot back then.

The other thing I remember is Mr. Schermerhorn explaining to our class that  "the demographics" were telling us that America was going to become much more Hispanic in the coming years. 

Demographics was another new word for me. It means: 'statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it.' Mr. Schermerhorn told us that there are people who study "the demographics," and they can sort of "see the future."

When Mr. Schermerhorn told us this 47 years ago there was not a single Hispanic student in the school, and it was a suburban school with hundreds of students in each graduating class. There were no popular Mexican restaurants back then (like Taco Bell). Mexican food was not part of our American diet. If there were immigration problems on America's southern border, I don't remember (and I watched the news on television almost every night). But Mr. Schermorhorn and his demographics proved to be amazingly prescient.

That being the case, I'm always interested in learning about demographic trends, especially as they apply to business and the economy. I take demographics seriously.

After two years of junior high Spanish class with Mr. Schermerhorn, I took three more years in high school with Mrs. Fountain. 

Mrs. Fountain was the most vivacious school teacher I have ever known. She was a vivaciousness dynamo. Her vivaciousness was powerful. You could not be in her class without being affected by it. I liked Mrs. Fountain a lot.

When I became a senior in high school, I stopped taking Spanish. Mrs. Fountain had moved to another school district. The new Spanish teacher was not vivacious. Mrs. Fountain was a hard act to follow. Besides that, I was much less interested in school. I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I just wanted to get out of that place! 

Now, after 5 years of Spanish class, I recall almost no Spanish at all. If you don't use it, you lose it, and I lost it. I remember a few assorted words but not many. 

I do, however, remember one single sentence of conversational Spanish from Spanish class. I don't know why I remember this one sentence. I just do. And one day, many years after Spanish class, I spoke the sentence to a Hispanic person. 

I'm sure I won't do that again. Let me explain...

In the beginning of 2000, I started a job working at a state prison here in New York. I worked there for 13 years. There was a large factory inside the prison walls, and my job was to supervise inmates in the production of office furniture. 

Every different shop in the factory had one or more civilian supervisors, a number of inmate employees, at least one guard, and an inmate clerk. The clerk was a position of big responsibility. He helped to manage the flow of work, keep track of inventory and, to some degree, manage the inmate employees.

My most memorable clerk was a young man from South America. He went by the name of Chino (it wasn't his actual name). My understanding was that Chino had one body outside of prison, and one body inside prison. That's a nice way of putting it.

Chino was good natured and always respectful towards me. He spoke English perfectly, and he spoke Spanish fluently. We had a good working relationship for the years that he was my clerk.

One day I was standing in my shop near Chino's desk and he was talking fast and loud in Spanish to another inmate across the shop. When he was finished I casually mentioned to him: "You know, I took five years of Spanish in high school." He seemed surprised to hear it.

Then I confessed that I forgot almost all of it, but I remembered one single sentence. He said, "What's the sentence?"

With my very best Spanish enunciation I said, "Pues date prisa que vas a llegar tarde."

Chino looked at me blankly for a second (he was thinking), then furrowed his brow and, with a big smile spreading across his face, said, "I have no idea what you just said."

I laughed, and he laughed. 

So, after taking five years of Spanish in school, I got laughed at the first time I tried to speak it to a Hispanic person. But I also got this blog story out of it. So it wasn't a total loss.

November 19, 2018

The Joy
Of Coffee Shopping

I went grocery shopping with Marlene yesterday. In years past, grocery shopping meant that she shopped for groceries while I perused the magazine rack, and I would usually end up buying some sort of magazine to read. There were times that I even bought two. But times have changed. 

The magazine section at the Wegmans where we shop is a shrunken remnant of what it once was. And the magazines are all now so expensive.  I can't recall the last time I bought a magazine at a grocery store. It has been that long. 

The internet did it. The internet has changed almost everything in our civilization. I barely remember what life was like before the internet, and most of my life was lived before the internet.

The internet has been a powerful force for creative destruction. Creative destruction is a process through which something new brings about the demise of whatever existed before it. 

I learned what creative destruction is from the internet. In fact, I actually looked up the definition above on the internet, then copied and pasted it into that paragraph. 

But the internet has a couple of very significant flaws. Security and privacy can not be ensured on the internet. So, don't think that the internet as we now know it is the end of the story when it comes to revolutionary changes and creative destruction.

In his new book, Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, George Gilder predicts that blockchain innovations will solve the current internet flaws and totally transform the internet. Gilder has a remarkable track record with these sorts of predictions. 

This Interview with George Gilder is interesting. There are also numerous YouTube interviews. But let's get back to coffee...

With the grocery store magazine rack now an uninteresting, decimated husk of glossiness, I have turned my attentions to the coffee isle. 

I started drinking coffee when I was 50 years old. It just didn't interest me at all before that. But now, I love my morning cups (two) of coffee. 

I make my coffee in a French Press, which is so simple. This YouTube Video shows the process. Just like the man in the video, I wear a white shirt, vest, and bow tie when making my morning coffee. But, lacking a tweed cap, I wear my red-and-black-plaid Stormy Kromer.

I recently purchased a small, hand-operated coffee bean grinder at a thrift store for $3.75. Brand new, in the box. What a deal! It works very nicely. So, instead of ground coffee, I now buy the roasted beans.

For me, part of the joy of coffee is trying different kinds, and not purchasing the cheapest coffee is one of my life's simple luxuries. I love to read the packages and try different kinds. 

While perusing the coffee selection at Wegmans yesterday I spied the Death Wish coffee you see pictured at the top of this post. I took that picture because I thought the name was a noteworthy example of what not to name your product. It is like putting a curse on your business, not to mention your customers, or so it seems to me.

If Death Wish coffee were the only coffee available in the grocery stores I would go back to drinking hot chocolate.

Now, don't think for a minute that I am disparaging Death Wish coffee. I wish the company nothing but success and happiness. They may well make the best coffee I ever tasted. But it just doesn't matter. I'll never know. For me, the name is a total product killer. I'm sorry.

I opted to get the bag of coffee beans you see below. Hand-harvested coffee beans from Ethiopia is somewhat appealing to my exotic imaginations. But "fruity and floral with notes of Concord grapes" totally sold me. I love Concord grapes. I can relate to Concord grapes. I grow Concord grapes! 

It doesn't matter that the coffee will probably not actually be all that fruity and floral, and I will probably not taste any hint of Concord grapes. Just the beauty of that description is enough to get me to buy it, and try it, and probably like it. In the final analysis, as much as I enjoy coffee, I'm not really much of a coffee connoisseur. It all tastes pretty much the same to me.

November 18, 2018

Government Cheese,
Aunt Ruth's Equities, And
That Virgil Caine Song

I remember the day my parents came home from town with a bunch of free food from the government. I was 12 years old. It was 1970. There were a couple big bricks of yellow cheese, and powdered milk, and white rice, and some other things I don't recollect. The cheese was pretty good, but the powdered milk wasn't.  

The food was for poor people. It was "welfare" food. I didn't like knowing that my parents were poor. 

We were poor because my stepfather had experienced a serious health setback. 

He didn't look or act sick to me. I saw him as a fit, hard-working Marine veteran. But he wasn't as fit as he looked because he went into the VA hospital for surgery. A couple weeks later he came home a different person. He was so pale and weak and helpless that  only with my mother's help could he get up the four steps into our house. He was only 39 years old. I remember it well. It was a shock to my senses.

My stepfather had been the manager of an industrial laundry in Syracuse, NY. But when he went into the hospital, the company let him go. I don't know exactly how long he was out of work but it was long enough to be an economic hardship. Thus, the government food.

I'm sure my parents didn't like taking that free government food. To my knowledge, they never did again. And I suspect that is how they came to sell Aunt Ruth's stocks.

Aunt Ruth was one of only two living relatives my stepfather had. She was his mother's sister and she lived in California. Aunt Ruth had no children. I met her once, when she came to visit some years earlier. She was a pleasant, white-haired, old lady. Aunt Ruth died a couple years before my stepfather went into the hospital. She left him some stocks in her will.

We started getting mail in big envelopes from different companies. They contained colorful photos and financial details. Marathon Oil and Phelps Dodge were two I remember. They were blue-chip stocks from long-established companies. Aunt Ruth had invested her money wisely.

Back in those times, the daily newspapers had a couple of pages reporting how each and every stock was doing. I was such a nerd back then that I made graphs and charted the daily progress of several stocks.

In time, my stepfather recovered and got back to work. I noticed that the information from the various stock companies stopped coming in the mail. I asked why. My stepfather told me he sold the stocks.

I've always thought that selling those stocks was like selling the seed corn. Between 1970 and 2011 (when my stepfather died) the average annual return on stocks was around 10%. One dollar in the stock market in 1970 grew to be worth around $50 in 2011.

In retrospect, selling Aunt Ruth's stocks might not have been the smartest thing to do, but it was the responsible thing to do. My stepfather had a family to support, and he was down on his luck. 

Unfortunately, my stepfather struggled with one serious health crisis after another for the rest of his days. Finances were always tight. My parents were always struggling to keep the bills paid. There were periods of time when the bill collectors called. Our phone service was shut off once for awhile. My parents would manage to save some money, and then another health and financial crisis would come.

My stepfather worked well past retirement age, because he had to. And when he died (my mother had died a few years earlier), his estate amounted to a small amount in a checking account, along with the contents of his house.

That's a sad story, but it's not an uncommon story, and it's not a bad story. In fact, it's actually a good story. That's because my stepfather was a remarkable example of a responsible man. He was a diligent and hard worker who sacrificed for his family. I can't recall him ever wasting money, or spending a lot of money on something special for himself. No boats, no fancy cars, no expensive hobbies, nothing like that—it was all about providing for those he loved. And, at times, I saw my parents being generous towards others with money they really couldn't afford to be generous with.

Life dealt my stepfather one cruel blow after another, but he took the blows and he fought back to the best of his ability. He did the best he could against difficult odds. I admire him greatly for the example he was to me.


That phrase, "selling the seed corn," got me to thinking about the song, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The YouTube video below shows Levon Helm singing the song, while playing the drums. 

I can't play a musical instrument, and I can't sing, but Levon Helm can do both at once. It's a fine song and a remarkable performance by a very talented man.

So, anyway, there is a place in that song where Levon sings: "You can't raise the cane back up when it's in the feed."

I always thought those words had something to do with using up the seed corn. But I have recently learned that I have long misheard the lyrics.

He is actually singing: "You can't raise a Caine back up when it's in defeat." 

He is referring to Virgil Caine (who served on the Danville Train).