PAYING WHAT WE OWE

In Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” he says that he meets the U.S. government once a year in the form of the tax collector. He refused to pay those taxes as a means of protesting the Mexican War, which he said enlarged the Southern lands that promoted slavery. I’ve always admired his resolve and acts of nonviolence protest. Things are different nowadays.
Television commercials tell us that help is available for those who have troubles with tax and credit card debts. Companies invite potential customers to contact them to discuss their problems and to discover whether or not solutions are available. One such ad has a woman lamenting the fact that she owed the federal government $80,000 in back taxes. Another man says that he owed a mere $18,000. In both cases, these people say the company with whom they worked managed to cut their taxes to where they paid only a fraction of what was owed.
A thirty second spot tells people who have overwhelming credit card debt to call them. They assert with their help that people can debt cut to a small percentage of what is due. At the end, the spokesperson says, “Don’t file bankruptcy; give us 10 minutes and learn how you can pay only a fraction of what you owe credit card companies. It’s a secret that credit card companies don’t want you to know!”
These things aren’t what I was taught by my parents. My dad filed bankruptcy as a young man. After he and Mother married years later, Daddy worked on those debts he had until every single dime was repaid. To him, bankruptcy was an embarrassment, and he was committed to making whole folks whose services and goods he had purchased.
Today, it seems that folks are told to live far above their means. They can purchase a
$50,000 truck, live in a house that requires more that 25% of their monthly income, and buy every new toy with all the bells and whistles, things like the new $1000 iPhone. When they wind upside down financially, all that has to be done is to call on someone to “fix” the problem without their having to pay what they owe.
Citizens are obligated to pay a portion of their incomes to the government in the form of taxes. Those funds go toward providing the things that citizens need and want. Sure, plenty of waste occurs in the government, but that fact does not excuse anyone from paying his share. Shirking one’s obligations only makes the load much heavier for others. I’ve paid more taxes than I’ve wanted to over my life. However, I like having schools, roads, and other benefits that come from those tax dollars. Instead of resenting the government for taking our money, we should aim our anger at those who would simply refuse to pay taxes or lie in order to evade paying them.
Most of us have credit cards. We use them for large purchases or for unseen emergencies in our lives. With luck, some are able to pay off the balance each month. That’s the ideal way to use these lines of credit. The problem is that too many people whip out credit cards to buy anything they want, regardless of their ability to pay off the things. Exorbitant interest rates on cards lead to rising amounts of debt if the cardholder only pays the minimum monthly amount each month.
Failing to pay the taxes one owes is cheating the country and all other citizens. Making America great again, in part, requires that folks pay their fair shares. It also demands that individuals learn to be financially responsible by paying the debts that they’ve incurred. Finding ways to dodge those payments leads to higher prices for all of us and making end meet more difficult. Yes, I’m disgusted with those commercials that encourages people to not pay taxes or to run up their credit card bills. That preaches and teaches the lack of personal responsibility. No one is entitled to a free ride by doing these things.

SMALL WOMAN, LARGE CONTRIBUTIONS

Nellie West passed away Sunday, October 1, 2017. No, most folks won’t know who she was, but her family certainly will. The following day, Tom Petty, rock legend, died after suffering full cardiac
arrest. Probably, millions knew of him. Which death is more devastating?
I keep hearing when persons of fame die that their passings are tragic. The sense of loss is supposedly greater because these individuals made impacts in the world on grander scales. The truth is that I just don’t buy that line.
Let me tell you about Nellie West. She lived a full life of 92 years. During that time, she married, had three children, and doted over a passel of grandchildren. She married Earl West but lost him to lung cancer in the 1970’s. She grieved for him but eventually returned to life and the adventures that it offered.
Nellie had a dry sense of humor. A cutting of her eyes and a slight smile belied her supposed serious tone when she told a story that folks believed to be gospel. For years, people thought of her as a quiet, demur woman, but after Earl passed, Nellie blossomed in many ways; she became a more talkative, outgoing person who allowed her full personality to shine.
This small woman, at times, had a huge temper. I’m not privy to all the details, but family members have related incidents where a fit of anger led to the throwing of a bowl across the kitchen and where a cooking mishap ended in her throwing a skillet out the back door.
What Nellie West offered folks most were kind words and sweet smiles. She asked me every time I saw her if I had written more pieces in Chicken Soup books. Then she’d follow that up by saying she picked up those books and sifted through the list of authors to find my name before buying them. I don’t know how much truth is in that, but she made me feel good. That’s the effect she had on all folks with whom she made contact.
Nellie passed on to her children the qualities of kindness, fairness, honesty, and empathy. Then they passed those same qualities to their children, who then passed them on to grandchildren. The actions of family members were noticed by people with whom they worked or socialized and impressed others so much that they adopted those qualities and passed them on “world without end.” So, I suppose that it’s safe to say that Nellie West touched or will touch the lives of thousands of people as they try to emulate her. In the end, this small woman in Cookeville, TN will have help to make the world a better place.
Tom Petty’s music will continue to touch his fans now and in the future. I have no idea what kind of person the man was in this world. While his musical talents will be his legacy, the impact of the way he interacted with others and the lessons that he passed along is in question. He became a rich man as he  earned about $95 million from his music.

Nellie West didn’t earn a dime from her musical talents; she told me her singing was more like croaking. Neither did she make any money off the joy and love that she brought to so many people during her life. However, I’m here to declare that what she offered her fan club is much more valuable than any song that any person produces. I’m glad that Nellie lived so long and had so much impact on so many lives. I’m also glad that she now is reunited with those loved ones who went before her. No doubt, the good lord met her with a hug as he said, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

ESCAPE IS FUTILE

The announcement just came over the intercom, “Teachers, the Internet is going to be disconnected. Don’t panic!” I laughed to myself and thought, “How ridiculous is that?” The smile on my face lasted only a brief time. Then, the feelings of discomfort creeped in until I, too, fretted over having no connections.
The other day I checked in for my six-month check-up for skin cancer. The office lost its Internet connections, and the “system was down.” Things slowed to a crawl, and the silence there was akin to that of a funeral home. Receptionists and bookkeepers lamented that they couldn’t do their jobs; the records that were available for my visit were half-printed, having ended with the shutdown. The nurse
asked if I knew what I was there for, and I told her a check-up, but she had no idea what typing on my chart indicated since it stopped halfway through.
When I think about such events, the fact that we’ve turned over too much of our lives to technology is apparent. Most of us walk around with a cell phone either tucked in our pockets are squeezed in our hands. Should cell service temporarily go out, the conniption fits and profanity-filled tirades
begin. For some reason, we think that having no cell phone is a danger to life. As much as the folks in Houston might dislike it, most of them have discovered that they can survive without a cell phone. It wasn’t that long ago when owners of these wonders of technology were few and far between. Now, even elementary school students have them. What in the world is so important to a seven-year-old that he needs a phone? If illness occurs, the office has phone service available.
Because the Internet service is out at school, my students weren’t able to type final drafts of essays they were writing. I told them to use blue or black ink and to write them. One student commented, “We’re going old style!” So much work is pecked out on computers that some students have lost the ability to write in a manner that can be read. They don’t worry about grammatical mistakes because the “checker” warns them of grammatical and spelling errors. It’s as if they have turned over thinking to a machine.
Even our appliances at home run on what I call “high technology.” I don’t mind at all looking in the refrigerator to discover what items should be bought at the store. Having some screen come up on the door of the appliance where items can be listed and synced to my phone is overkill. No matter how
many buttons I push, the dishwasher never runs, and to answer questions, yes, I push the start button. These days, if a sensor or “board” goes out on a washer or dryer, buying a new appliance is almost cheaper than buying the part. If the power goes out, nothing works, and when it returns, resetting clocks and cable boxes and timers can take an eternity.

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is a good thing. Being able to type up a column, attach it to an email, and deliver it to the editor beats banging on an old typewriter and lickings stamps and envelopes. My complaint is that we humans have turned over too much of our lives to technological advances. Kids don’t play outside as much anymore; we have so many television channels but still can’t find anything to watch, and we receive contact from all sorts of people and organizations, even while we sleep. Just unplugging for a while would do all of us a favor. That being said, I’ll sit and wait for the Internet to come back so I can send this column in. Escape in futile. 

NATURE IS THE BOSS

The end of August and the beginning of September haven’t been the kindest of months to many folks in the country. Hurricanes in the east and infernos in the west displace families and destroy business.
Our feelings go out to all who have suffered such losses, and in the American spirit, volunteers, supplies, and money are pouring into those areas. Still, folks wonder what the world is going on.
I don’t have a special line of communications to the good lord that is different from all others, but I’m pretty sure that these events aren’t His doings. He created things and now lets the world spin and “do its things.” I don’t believe for one minute that these storms and fires are sent by His hand to punish people for their misdeeds. As I see it, His doing so would negate the loving character that is evident in the New Testament.
The more likely cause of these events is nature itself. A system glides over the ocean, and fueled by warm air and water, it begins to spin and churn and grow. At some point, it produces enough force to
be labeled a hurricane. The fierceness of a hurricane depends upon the route it takes over time.
Traveling over more and more warm water adds to its fury. That’s the way nature works.
The fires in the west sometimes result from careless campers or arsonists. However, nature is also the culprit of many of these fires. Lightning strikes spark fires that in ages past cleared the undergrowth of forests. I compare it to a dentist cleaning teeth. He digs out the trapped particles and built-up plague to ensure healthy teeth. A fire can also bring about healthier forests.
Another reason exists for the fires. Folks have moved out from the cities, and their homes sit in those very areas where underbrush is thick. When nature does her thing, man’s abodes are no more important than other things in the paths of fires. The effects of global warming causes droughts that fry lands that historically have received much more rainfall than at present. When a fire does break out, the dry conditions exacerbate the tender box forests and grasslands.
Hurricanes are also affected by the conditions of the planet. Warming has caused polar caps to melt, something that raises sea levels. That same warming increases the temperatures of waters which feed those storms. Those environmental problems create monster tornadoes and widen the paths of tornado alleys.

Arguments over global warming in no way helps solve the immediate problems that folks of Texas, Florida, and California face. As Americans and humans, we have a responsibility to help them in multiple ways. However, we also might be wise to study man’s effects on the environment and to understand how they negatively contribute to the disasters that will come in the future. Nature is the boss. Her power can somewhat tamed with a change in the way we go about our existence.