Archive for July, 2012

Happy Birthday, Linchpin

The celebration lasted nearly a month. It began at a 4th of July block party and ended on a McDonald’s Playland. Our three-year-old is now four.

Since this was his fourth birthday and since his birthday is in July and since parties explode on July 4th, he naturally believed he turned four on Independence Day.

His older brothers tried to tell him that his birthday immutably falls on July 24, but he would have none of it. Like when he had none of my claim that he must always tell the truth: “But I’m not Jesus!”

Honesty is not always his best policy. For instance,

Dad: “Son, what’s behind your back?”
Cookie Monster: “Mom told me I could have one.”
Dad: “Mom, did you say he could have a cookie?”
Mom: “No.”
Cookie Monster, handing me the contraband: “I’ll just have one tomorrow.”

I admire his confidence in the father’s mercy.

I call him Linchpin. If he’s well, most likely the family system is, too. With two older siblings and two younger, he is the quintessential middle child.

He gets hit from above and bitten from below. No wonder he thinks you get “punched” on St. Patrick’s Day if you’re not wearing green.

Remarkably, he’s our most fun-loving soul. He had a troop of high school girls cheering his bunny hops during our last trip to the pizza parlor. He wore a coonskin cap to church on Sunday.

Even wet underwear won’t get in his way of a good time. (He’s out of diapers but not beyond leakage.)

His birthday party piggybacked on a YMCA “Flick & Float” at the city pool. We didn’t tell him all the people weren’t there for him. Besides, they weren’t strangers. They were just friends he’d not yet met, like Hank, the “hybrid” puppy we adopted from the new Kendall County Animal Shelter the day after the party.

It had been seven years since our family had a dog. We lost Shadow in 2005 to a nice man who ran him over and then kindly took his lifeless body to the vet for disposal. As Shadow’s name suggests, he was always at our side, except when a cute poodle pranced down the opposite sidewalk like on the night we said good-bye.

After Shadow faded, my better half and I started having kids at an exponential rate, leaving little bandwidth for un-humans. That is, until the week our third three-year-old turned four.

He thinks the dog was a birthday gift for him and that’s fine. The more children responsible for the sanitation of my backyard, the better. And Linchpin is an expert in all things fecal. For example, this interchange as I stuffed a pair of dress slacks into a dry cleaning bag:

Son: “Why did you put those in there?”
Dad: “That’s where I put them when they get dirty.”
Son: “You mean when you get tee-tee and poo-poo on them?”

Sure, if that helps.

We concluded the month-long celebration at McDonald’s with just our family. Everything went as planned, including the drink spill.

Happy Birthday, Linchpin. May your trousers always be dry. And may you always find a cleaners to take them when they’re not.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at http://www.kwt.info.

Sic to my stomach

The headline read, “In rush to be first, CNN, Fox initially get it wrong.” The June 29 story in the San Antonio Express-News recapped how the cable news networks first erroneously reported the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare.

The fairly short article had no fewer than two authors, Dan Freedman and Elizabeth Traynor. Perhaps a third would have caught this mistake found about three-fourths the way in:

“Among the viewers initially taken in by the flub: President Barak (sic) Obama.”

Sic is Latin for “thus”. The word is added in quotations like these to communicate that an error is merely transcribed as originally written. The full Latin phrase is “sic erat scriptum” or “thus was it written”.

Thus, in an article about how the media was in too much of a rush to catch a mistake, the media was in too much of a rush to catch a mistake. While all sic-inducing errors make me sick to my stomach, the irony of this sic makes it particularly nauseating.

What shall we do with this fourth estate we call the modern media?!? Before I burn them at the stake, I will recognize their plight.

No industry has changed more in the past two decades than theirs. A friend told me last week that he recently got a job with The Oklahoman, a statewide newspaper in the Sooner state.

I told him I hadn’t heard of someone getting a job in news publishing since The Help. All I’ve heard about are layoffs, page narrowings and shrinking circulations.

These trends are, of course, driven by the splintering of traditional media by the Internet, digital  technologies, talk radio and cable TV, even the affordability of high quality paper printing. The barriers to entry have largely fallen.

Media incumbents have fought hard to find shelters from the storm. For example, many major urban papers have tried localized editions in the suburbs that depend on user-generated content.

Having limited success with its version, TribLocal, the Chicago Tribune has outsourced some of its “hyperlocal” news gathering to Journatic, a company that specializes in producing localized content for publishers. Journatic has come under fire of late for falsities and plagiarism.

The original television networks face similar struggles for relevance. Unscientific statistic: more people watch Wheel of Fortune re-runs than the networks’ nightly newscasts.

Loss of trust seems to be a core issue. Is what I’m consuming news or political partisanship designed to sell me an ideal? Is it news or infotainment designed to keep me watching through the next commercial break?

Skeptically, we gravitate toward sources that share our particular perspectives. The thinking: “They may be selling something, but at least it’s something I want to buy.”

I don’t mind those like-minded sources. I even enjoy them from time to time.

But I still wish for sources whose sole mission is the truth; sources who approach a story as a judge approaches a jury trial; sources with journalistic integrity and commitment to excellence; sources that deliver fairness, depth and correct spellings of the names of world leaders.

Yes, everyone is allowed an occasional mistake. But when your industry is in turmoil in general, and a credibility crisis in particular, you’re allowed them a little less occasionally than most.

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Megabus meets a travel need

I love when innovative companies re-arrange business models to fill a gap in an economy.Most of us know someone who spent two days on a Greyhound bus to get just 200 miles. We’ve heard that a trip from Dallas to Atlanta can take one through, logically, Chicago. Or that you might overhear a passenger in the row ahead say, “I haven’t been this cold since prison!”

And most of us know how maddening post-9-11 airport security can be. The undressing and redressing. The interrogation of the feeble grandma who has a much greater chance of dying on the flight than blowing it up.

The contraband bottle of lotion. The too large shaving cream can. The reckless fingernail clippers. Your reward for maintaining good hygiene? A full-body hygiene check.

Then, there’s the travails of traveling certain interstate highways by car. Take I-35, for example. Among Austin congestion, free-wheelin’ eighteen wheelers and road construction, it’s a beating at best, a death trap at worst.

So when my wife requested my assistance getting our clan back from a North Texas trip to Mamaw’s, I saw no easy solution.

Enter Megabus, a low-cost point-to-point bus service.

Megabus is popular in the northeast for express trips between metro areas. The company is now attempting to break into the south and is offering cheap fares to do so. I paid $6.50 for my one way ticket from San Antonio to Dallas.

The shiny new double-decker was scheduled to depart at 5:30 a.m. from a surface parking lot in downtown San Antonio. With one stop scheduled for Austin, our estimated arrival time in Dallas was 11:00 a.m.

Mechanical concerns forced a replacement bus and a 45-minute departure delay. I overheard the driver: “It’s still driving good but I don’t know – that light, ya’ know.” No, I don’t know and don’t want to find out.

Notwithstanding the slow start, we reached Dallas only 15 minutes behind schedule.

The clientele was diverse. There were two genders, three generations and four races represented. There were singles and families.

As for safety, I didn’t feel like I had to sleep with one eye opened. I did hustle on my trip to the restroom, which felt more like a port-o-potty than an airplane lavatory. There was no sink but at least a bottle of hand sanitizer.

The company advertises free Wi-Fi Internet. Of course, it also disclaims on its homepage any responsibility for connectivity problems. Sure enough. My device could see the network but could not pull up any sites.

I wasn’t too disappointed. The early departure had cut into my beauty sleep. I used the blackout to stretch out across the back row and catch up on my zzzzz’s. I was one of only about 12 passengers on the 50-passenger bus. Each of us had ample leg, arm and headroom.

Had the Web worked, I would not have run out of juice. Each seat had its own electrical outlet.

Speaking of juice, I did miss the complimentary beverage of a Southwest flight. I did not miss the mandatory “Fasten Seatbelt” sign.

Door-to-door travel time with Megabus surpassed that of flying by a couple of hours. But the much cheaper fare and the much simpler security requirements (i.e., none) helped Megabus live up to its name.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info

Should stupid hurt?

All the wisdom of a thousand philosophers cannot surpass the truth of a single bumper sticker.

“Jesus loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re a jerk.”

“Driver carries no cash. He’s married.”

The original tweets, bumper stickers can capture reality as succinctly as any medium of modern communication. It hardly seems fair to us verbose types, but it is true.

Recently I saw this one: “Stupid should hurt”. Here’s what I think the power-packed punch means.

Our society – well, maybe it’s not just our society; perhaps all human nature is hell bent on avoiding consequences. People constantly search for ways NOT to have their actions affect them.

In the grand scheme…

We don’t allow unscrupulous mortgage bankers and investors, not to mention Fannie Mae executives and stockholders, to fall on their faces. We bail them out with taxpayer dollars.

We don’t force auto unions feel the brunt of their impact on car manufacturers’ bottom lines. We restructure their deals and leave corporate bondholders in the lurch.

Social services certainly meet some legitimate needs in the nick of time. At other times they create habits and dependencies that block consequences from ever inspiring change.

In short, stupid should hurt, but often it doesn’t.

At the micro level…If you stay up too late, you can down a 5-hour energy drink. If you pack your schedule too tight, you can drive thru for dinner. If you stress yourself out, we have a pill for that.

We live in a medicated world that makes one wonder, “Would there be more lasting change if we didn’t have so many quick fixes to our self-inflicted woes?”

If the government would just say, “Wise up! We can’t protect you any longer from your own stupidity! We have to pay down the tab from our decades of trying.”

If the Federal Reserve would say, “Produce stuff that people want and the economy will improve! We can’t keep printing money because it will only inflate prices.”

If parents would say, “Practice diligently until you’re talented. You’re not getting a trophy for just showing up!”

If doctors would say, “You know the basics for healthy living. I’m not writing a prescription just because you refuse to live by them.”

If educators would say, “Pay attention! You’re not going to 3rd grade – or ball practice or JROTC drill – until you get this.”

As education guru Dr. Douglas Reeves asserts, the penalty for not doing the work should be to do the work.

If we let kids – or adults, for that matter – off the hook when they don’t do the work, when they don’t live responsibly, stupid doesn’t hurt.

The less stupid hurts, the less change happens. The fewer productive lives get lived. The less reality is faced. The more some bumper stickers ring true:

“I don’t have a beer gut. I have a protective covering for my rock hard abs.”

“Keep the dream alive. Hit the snooze button.”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Freedom to tax

This Fourth of July brings special cause for liberals to celebrate. The highest court in the land has bolstered their freedom to tax.
When Senator Barack Obama ran for president, he was lauded for being “nuanced.” Little did we know just how nuanced our Chief Justice could be.

By calling Obamacare’s penalty for forgoing health insurance a tax, he allowed the procession of a very liberal act. At the same time, he virtually eliminated all limits on Congress’ ability to coerce.

The new liberal playbook is set: Require stuff of people and if they don’t comply, charge a penalty. America may turn into a very expensive country for conservatives.

In some ways, Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling seemed to split hairs. Penalty vs. tax; commerce clause vs. taxing power. It felt a bit like an exercise in semantics.

I understand why he parsed things the way he did. He doesn’t want his court to be perceived as overly political.

His own chief justiceship, after all, is arguably the result of one of the most politicized decisions in the court’s history, Bush v. Gore (2000). As he said himself, he just wants to call balls and strikes.

One might say he showed Solomonic wisdom with his opinion, saving the baby and exposing the liars, President Obama included, who argued that the penalty wasn’t a tax. In this respect, his decision demonstrated remarkable brilliance.

The result may very well strengthen Governor Romney’s chances in the fall. It may even spark a Republican overtake of the Senate. But given the permanence of Supreme Court precedents, limited government proponents may win these battles but ultimately lose the war.

Justice Roberts may come to regret his decision, as his limited government instincts rise to the surface, as the congratulations of the left fade into “What have you done for me latelies?”

And as the effects of Obamacare take hold.

It is no small irony that the U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld much of Obamacare actually pitted a small business group against a very large government.

The suit was formally called “National Federation of Independent Businesses et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al.”

What started as a benefit to attract employees (i.e., employer-paid health insurance) will likely be the end of some small companies and small business jobs as we know them.

Here’s why:

The coverage that Obamacare mandates employers provide will increase overhead. When overhead eats too much into profits, businesses make cuts. If they can’t simply cut the health insurance, guess what they will cut? The health insured.

When this happens, the next logical step will be for Congress to institute European-like labor laws that prohibit such cost-cutting. At that point, businesses, particularly small ones, will have less incentive to exist. Many will close their doors. European-like unemployment will result.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling last week, President Obama repeated his claim that health insurance will cover more while costing less.

But how can Humana be forced to provide care for more ill people and also charge its current customers less? I don’t want to underestimate the efficiency capabilities of American companies, but this seems like a non sequitur.

Or maybe I’m simply too dull to get the nuance.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at www.kwt.info. Write him at kevin@kwt.info.

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