NEIMAN MARCUS VS ANGEL TREE

Even before Thanksgiving Day was over, shoppers flooded stores for “pre-Black Friday” sales. The following day, shops opened their doors to deal hunters who’d spent the night in cold temperature for the honor of being first in line. Christmas shopping brings out the worst and best in most of us.

The 2013 Neiman Marcus Christmas book shows just how far some folks go to find the “perfect” gifts. The his-and-hers outdoor entertainment center is something spectacular. Who wouldn’t want a television that rises out of the ground and opens to a 211 inch screen with the most advanced sound system? It also features his and her mini-iPads as remotes. The system is a steal for only $1.5 million. Hey, no amount is too large to spend on a loved one.

Others might prefer the Forever Diamond Experience. Oh, it does start with a 2.5 carat Forever diamond, but that’s only the beginning of this little gift for that special girl. Travel takes her to London to view the uncut diamond and to name it. Then a tour of the crown jewels is followed by a trip to Africa to see the place where the diamond was mined. The owner also has the opportunity to see all the wonderful benefits that the workers, their families, and the community receive from the company. Then it’s back to New York to meet with designers and to display the stone to the envious public. It’s a gift that keeps on giving for only $1.85 million.

For those on a tighter budget, the Neiman Marcus 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, one of only 10 in the world, will fit nicely. At only $344,000, the “naturally aspirated 6.0-liter, V-12 engine produces some 565 horsepower and is tuned to deliver 457 pound-feet of torque,” and has a 6-speed automatic
transmission. With a top speed of 180 mph., this more modest Christmas present will have its owner cruising down the highway as he quickly escapes the masses driving boring sedans and SUV’s.

Neiman Marcus makes sure to share the wealth from each of its sales. From the sale of the diamond the company will give $10,000 and from the vehicle it will donate $3000 to the Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation, which brings enriching art experiences to youth in communities nationwide. Hey, maybe it’s not ten percent, but remember that it’s the thought that counts.
On the other end of Christmas is the Angel Tree program. It brings just a bit of light to children. The Angel Tree provides much needed clothing items, special needs gifts, and other wished-for toys to Knox County's neediest children. Approximately 140 names of senior citizens have been added to the trees this year to help out older folks with needs.
The tags on the trees located throughout the area list some items that these children request. Not one of them is much interested in a diamond or car or outdoor entertainment centers. More often, these little ones, instead, ask for socks or gloves or underwear. For toys, they request a doll or simple board game. When they open those presents, their eyes are filled with wonder and joy. Seniors are thrilled with some personal items or for things that offer a few minutes entertainment. All appreciate the distractions from lives otherwise filled with pain and need.
We look forward to Christmas and dream of receiving those gifts that will fulfill those special wishes we harbor. Yes, most of us spend too much on things that lose their luster before long. Those whose wealth has no end struggle to find gifts that are “special” since they can already buy anything that they want.
I leave with this thought: I wonder how many Angel Tree wishes could be answered for the price of just one Neiman Marcus gift, or for the money the company donates to its own fund “for the children.” 

NEVER...Yeah, Right!

After running my mouth hundreds of time during my life, I’m ready to accept that uttering “never means never” is just deluding myself. Over and over again, life and the situations that arise demand changes in what we do or the way we do them.
Some of the never moments involved our children. Amy and I swore that we would never tell our children to “shut up.” For the first year, keeping the vow was easy, but as soon as Lacey and Dallas began to speak, all bets were off. Sometimes their constant jabbering overwhelmed me to the point that I did tell them to stop talking. Of course, when Lacey reached her teens, I’d have given anything to hear her angelic little girl voice instead of the one that was filled with surly indifference.
I also declared that my children would never escape punishment when it was deserved. That usually meant a swat or two across the bottom. With Dallas I learned that no amount of swats would bring about the desired remorse or correction in behavior. He’d set his jaw and refuse to be contrite while I was present. Eventually, Amy and I discovered that the worst punishment for the boy was to place him in a room where he had nothing to stimulate him. Before long, Dallas was apologizing and begging for release.
Holidays also brought out the “never” part of me. Thanksgiving had never been a big deal when I was young. Daddy’s shift work might have him away or in the bed resting for the night shift. I wanted to make sure my family stayed at home and enjoyed the food and company.
At some point, we did change our plans. Amy’s extended family began meeting at her cousin’s house. We’d load up the car and travel to Cookeville for the day, and after overeating and visiting with folks, we climbed back into the car for a long drive back to Knoxville. However, it was worth the travel to spend time with her family.
This year, I’m choking on “never” again. We celebrated Thanksgiving the weekend before the official date. It was the best time for the kids to travel to Knoxville for the feast. Lacey’s family went to the other grandparents’ house on Thanksgiving, and Dallas had planned to share the day with a friend in Chattanooga. We were separated for the first time, something that surprised me, but it turned out well.
My biggest proclamations concerned Christmas. At first, I claimed that my family would always wake up Christmas morning at our house, and that’s the way it happened until grandson Madden was born. It became important to his mom that he be at home to open presents. I resisted and growled like a bear about not changing, but then Amy clarified the situation for me. She explained that she would be in Nashville at Christmas and that I was welcome to join her. If not, she said I could stay home by myself. Ouch! Since that time, we’ve spent the holiday with Lacey’s family, and Dallas makes the journey from Chattanooga. It’s a nice way to spend that special day, and being away from home isn’t bad except for the fact that I have to board our Jack Russell Snoop at Butler Animal Clinic.
I spent 30 years as a high school English teacher, and when I retired from the job, I vowed that I would “never” go back, especially as a substitute teacher. Guess what? Our situation has taken a turn to the point that I’m now looking for part time employment. No perfect job exists, and if I don’t come up with one before long, I’ll have to go back to the classroom as a sub.

I’m discovering that nothing in this life is set in stone and all things are subject to change. Accepting that fact is sometimes difficult, but it’s either a matter of rolling with the punches or being left behind. One thing is for sure: I’ll “never” again say “never!”

LET THERE BE HEAT!

Over the weekend Amy dispatched me to purchase a quartz heater. Its purpose is to knock off the chill in our family room. At one time in life, I might have objected because heaters smothered me and had me taking off layers of clothes. Things are different these days because I sit and shiver as my hands and feet turn to blocks of ice. It’s not a state unfamiliar to me.
When we were small children, our house was heated with a coal-burning Warm Morning Heater. It was set in the living room on an asbestos mat. The efficiency of that stove left much to be desired. On especially cold mornings, a light coating of ice covered portions of the plaster walls and all of the windows.
The bedroom Jim and I shared was just as cold as the living room. We lay under a couple of quilts and bedspreads. When the time came to get up, we ran across the wood floors and came to abrupt stops in front of the stove. For a few minutes we’d turn ourselves from front to back in vain attempts to warm up. One side would be comfortable, but when we turned, it would again be painfully cold in no time. Jim and I retreated to our room where we grabbed clothes and shoes. In front of the heater we dressed for the day.
Breakfast during the weekdays consisted of cream of wheat or oatmeal with toast. Mother’s oven was an oversized appliance that could bake up to four pies at once. She’d open its door and turn on the broiler so that the heat from it would warm the kitchen. We boys were thankful to arrive at school where the classrooms were comfortably warm.
Daddy hired some men at the mill to dig out a basement so that a coal furnace could be installed. It changed our lives for the better in some ways, but the thing wasn’t the perfect heating source. The metal monster demanded food, and our older brother trod down the steps to serve coal into the stoker. Every few days he had to carry buckets of clinkers that Daddy had fished from the furnace.
The house was warmer than it had ever been, but it came with a price. The first time the furnace fired each year, it coughed smoke from every register. For the next couple of days the haze continued. At the same time, the fuel wasn’t the cleanest. We woke up, made a bee-line to the bathroom, grabbed a handful of toilet paper, and blew the black crud from our heads. Sure, we were warmer, but the coal burner contributed to headaches, sinus infections, and upper respiratory problems.
After Daddy died, Mother abandoned the furnace because she couldn’t and knew we wouldn’t keep the thing filled with coal. She had her brother Charles find good electric heaters for the rooms in the house. They blew warm air, but no area ever warmed up enough to be comfortable. We’d squawk when someone stood in front of the heater and blocked the flow.
Not until all of us left home did Mother have a heat pump installed. It didn’t produce enough “hot” air so Mother purchased a monster wood burning stove that had us throwing open every window in the house the first time it was fired up on a cold winter’s day.

Now, I’m like so many senior citizens who struggle with being just a little “chilly.” That’s where the new heater comes to the rescue. I have another one in my office, the other room where I spend hours at a time. However, when I go to bed, I want the room to be cool. Most nights, the window at the head of our bed is opened a little to let fresh, nippy air in. I don’t so much mind that morning cold air because our house can be quickly heated so that we are comfortable. I worry about the day that comes when my feet and hands turn to permanent ice cubes.

WHEN I WAS HUNGRY

Not too long ago, the federal government cut $5 billion from the coffers of the food stamp program. If some have their way, another $39 billion will be cut over the next ten years. How does that happen in the most blessed country in the world?

It begins with a bunch of individuals who have more interest in staying in office and accumulating wealth than in making sure that people don’t go hungry. These politicians pander to constituents who say “no work, no eat.” In essence, these representatives are playing games with the health of those who are now receiving benefits. Isn’t part of serving the people taking on the responsibility for the welfare of ALL?

Oh, I am familiar with all the old lines that are used. Sure, all individuals should be required to do some kind of work. However, we can’t expect both parents to work unless childcare is provided. How much will that cost? Additionally, the incentive to work is squashed if a person’s benefits are cut proportionately to the money that he brings in. How can he ever get ahead when things are stacked to keep him right where he is?

How much money has been cut from the subsidies that are doled out to corporations in America? What hunk of money went to the oil companies or to corporate farms? How much money is paid out to discourage farms from producing food? How much food spoils in storage facilities across the land? What is the total expenditure of the defense department as it overpays for the simplest items or allows contractors to fall years behind in developing systems while they continue eating from the trough of flowing money?

Yes, abuses occur in the food stamp program, and yes, some who don’t qualify for assistance fraudulently make the lists. What the so-called leaders of the people should do is tighten up the screening of recipients. They also might rework the list of acceptable items that can be purchased with EPT cards. Allowing individuals to earn money while maintaining their assistance level is the best way to put the food stamp program on the right path.

Our economy took a major hit in 2007-2008. Folks lost their jobs and savings. The rich suffered some, but not to extent that the middle and lower classes did. The jobs haven’t come back because businesses either see a shaky forecast or, more disconcerting, they like the extra profits they rake in.

The number of visitors at food banks increased dramatically as folks who had never needed help lined up with those whose lives are filled with shortages. The resources dwindled at these banks, and only the contributions of the “regular, everyday Joe” helped them restock. The future for these helping agencies is in question as the numbers needing food increases and the funds only stay at unacceptable levels.

Too many of our leaders love to invoke patriotism and religion. Their bible-quoting ways wear on us. I ask them to remember what Christ said when the disciples asked when they did things for him and he answered,
            “I was hungry and you fed me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you came to see me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you came to see me.”


Those verses should be guiding all of us as we consider the food that is available to those who need help. It’s time to stop judging others as to whether they are scamming the system. Instead, the food stamp program should be refined to oust cheaters and to ensure only items necessary for a healthy diet can be purchased. No one can argue that the biggest shame that could occur in the USA is that even one man, woman, or child goes to bed hungry.

Was That Country Music?

Life offers plenty of signals to individuals to let them know they are getting old. Some come when we try to physically perform at the level we did a few years ago. Of course, some of us see the signs when we notice
gray or thinning hair, paunches where flat stomachs once lived, and once-muscular arms and legs gone untoned.
Even other areas of life scream to us that we are out of the loop these days. For instance, music just isn’t the same. More specifically, country music doesn’t mirror that of just a few years ago.
I tried to watch the CMA awards show the other night. I enjoy Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as they host the show. Yes, I have my favorite entertainers for whom I root as they vie for awards. Seeing superstars like Vince Gill and Alison Krauss on the stage is also a treat. Heck, I enjoy most of the Zac Brown Band and Kenny Chesney music too. What I don’t get are some of the new acts.
The Georgia Florida Line won the Duo of the Year award. Really? I don’t have a clue who these guys are, but they beat out Sugarland! One of these guys dresses like a biker with his leather vest, and I’m not a big fan of this tattoos at all. Do they play instruments?
I turned off the show when some group dove into what sounded strangely similar to heavy metal music instead of country. What’s happened to the old stand-by C-D-G chords? I’ve never like “head banger music, and I sure don’t want it invading country music.
Little Big Town has a good sound, but darn, they look more like a gospel group than a country one. Their harmonies are tight, but the song is strange: “I Don’t Want to Go Sober.” They won Group of the Year! Huh?
What I now write might be offensive or even heretical to some. For the life of me, I don’t see what the big deal is with Taylor Swift. She performed with a wonderful group that would have been much better had she not been a part of it. The girl “ain’t that special.” Her voice is flat and whiny, and all of her songs are the same. Her end will come when she no longer can find guys who will date and then dump her and then use that as the inspiration for song after song. How in the world did Taylor Swift win Entertainer of the Year three years before? Go figure.
I like Carrie Underwood, but her performance of new songs left me shaking my head in confusion. Just because a steel guitar or fiddle hits a lick in a song doesn’t make an otherwise pop tune country.
The show honored Kenny Rogers; he’s an old guy. However, I’m not so sure Kenny was actually the one recognized. The man they saluted sure didn’t look like the guy who sang “The Gambler” or “She Believes in Me.” The entertainers who sang his songs were some of the best in country music. That was nice for us old fogies.
The young folks are taking the reins of country music, but I’m not so sure how good that is. One of the best things of the night was the tribute to George Jones by Alan Jackson and George Strait. They added so much with wonderful, country voices and some wrinkles that come from experience and hard work. That was simple and good. Who said that music must evolve? The roots to Nashville country music grow deep in the traditions of the genre that foregoes too much meddling from outside.

I probably have watched my last CMA Award show. It’s just too depressing, and all this new stuff just makes me feel too old and out of place. So, I’ll close and crank up my iTunes featuring some of the old masters of country music.

CRUNCHING GRAVELS

It’s those sounds from childhood that stay with us for a lifetime. Even when every curtain in the house was pulled and the only light on in the house was the one in the bathroom, we boys knew when Daddy came home. It was that sound of white gravels in the driveway crunching under the tires of a ’54 Chevy that announced his arrival.
 My dad had little education, but he was wise beyond what he might have learned from books. However, a sixth grade education limited his options until he found steady employment at Southern Extract, a paper-making plant located in Lonsdale. Most Knoxvillians knew of the company’s existence because the foul smell that filled the air along the I-75 Coster Shop Bridge originated there.
 Out the door we flew to greet him. Dal Rector wasn’t an overtly affectionate person. The truth is that I remember a scowl across his face more than any other expression. It came from a hard life running the cookers at Southern Extract, too little money in each paycheck, and poor health that came from the noxious fumes of chemicals used to make the paper products.
 One of us boys retrieved the damp towel from the back floorboard of the car. It wrapped around his work clothes. His attempt to never bring the stench of the mill home failed because those clothes reeked with it. Ironically, that odor was met with a flood of memories after Daddy died, and we rolled our windows down as we drove by as if doing so brought back a little piece of him.


Those gravels crunched at different times during the day as shift work wreaked havoc on our family. Sometimes they sounded the alarm at 5:30 a.m. before the sun rose. We lay in bed still snoozing before rising for another day of school. His shift began at 7:00 a.m., but Daddy always liked to arrive early and ease into the work day.
 The second shift had him leaving the house just before we arrived home from school. His arrival came after we’d gone to bed. For a week, sometimes longer, we never saw our dad, and Mother was left to herd thee boys to suppers, homework, and baths. I’ve often wonder how much strain that second shift placed on my parents’ relationship.
The sound from the driveway didn’t wake us, but on those late night occasion, a squeak from the kitchen door hinge announced Daddy’s arrival. Evenings would bring the sound of car tires rolling across those stones as he left for the graveyard shift. Winters often muffled the gravels as a snowfall covered the driveway and roads. Regardless of how bad the weather was, Daddy drove to work after installing chains that replaced the gravels’ crunches with clanks and thunks as metal hit pavement and wheel wells. He’d come home in the mornings and talk with us just a little bit before heading to bed. During summers we were cautioned to be quiet as he slept during the mornings and into the afternoons. Mother and Daddy bought an air conditioner for their bedroom window to cool the temperatures for sleeping and to drown out the noise from boys whose attempts to be quiet so often failed.
 The deadly mix of cooking chemicals and a couple of packs of Winston cigarettes each day eventually laid him low. Even as he battled what his family doctor diagnosed as allergies but, in fact, was lung cancer, Daddy plodded across the yard, fired up the car, and drove to the work he’d done his entire adult life. Before long, those drives ended as the cancer ate away at his body and spirit. The last time we heard those gravels speak was when the ambulance hauled him to the hospital one last time.
After he passed, we boys would lie still in our beds and pray to hear the crunch of those gravels just one more time. It was a sound that had assured us as small children at a time when our family was whole. Nearly 50 years later, that crunching is still crystal clear in my memory’s ears.

UNEMPLOYMENT MINE FIELD

Since the demise of the U.S. economy in 2008, too many Americans have lost their jobs. In Tennessee 424,000 parents have lost them, and that number doesn’t include the people who are no longer looking for work. (Kids Count Data Center) It’s a sad situation, one that breaks the hearts, hopes, and spirits of those affected. However, something even worse is now occurring to folks who lose jobs in the state. They aren’t able to file for unemployment due to a system that rivals the mess in the Affordable Care Act. An acquaintance recently lost her job, and she began the filing procedure that same day. Later, she received confirmation that her application had been received. The next thing she was to do was to keep a log of jobs for which she applied. Then the state required her to confirm her unemployment status weekly. The woman did as the website instructed, but to her surprise, a message came that the information had not been filed in a timely manner. Confused, she placed a call to the state 800 number provided on the website. To her dismay, she was told that no one was available to take her call. Days and repeated phone calls later, she continued trying to find help, finally contacted a local office, and talked with a sympathetic worker. However, that person offered little help and less hope. It seems that all unemployment filings are done on-line or on the phone. The workers who used to help with claims have been let go. The folks there are not trained to do the job but diligently attempt to help. The result is that individuals in need are unable to file for or to receive unemployment compensation. They are trying to navigate an unemployment mine field. If you look at the situation, it would appear that the Tennessee State government is making the process hard to discourage people from filing. Oh, I suppose it does look good when the pols can brag about the low numbers on the unemployment roles, but for those in need of some short-term help to pay bills, buy groceries, and purchase medicines, the situation isn’t so rosy. If this were the end of the story, it would be a disgrace, but things are even worse. In April, 2013, a report appeared in The Tennessean about mistaken payments. ” People are dying to get unemployment benefits in Tennessee. Since July 2011, for instance, at least seven people who had died were issued unemployment checks by the state of Tennessee, to the tune of about $12,000 in unemployment payments.” That’s evidently just the tip of the unemployment iceberg. “But it's not just the deceased that a state audit found were being paid benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It also found that 24 state employees were getting paid unemployment benefits - while still working for the state of Tennessee. Those findings were among several alarming entries in a scathing audit detailing the overpayment of about $73 million in jobless benefits and other systemic problems with the state's unemployment system.” Okay, let’s see if I have this correct: dead folks can draw unemployment and working folks can get unemployment. It’s just those who are without a job but with a legitimate claim that don’t seem to be able to break through the tangle in order to get the funds that they need. Not a single Tennessean should listen to another word about the poorly managed health insurance program. Yes, it is all screwed up, but closer to home is a program in just as bad a condition, and the very people who could have helped it run efficiently have been let go. The good governor of the state needs to address this situation and bring some immediate relief to thousands out of the workforce who are fighting a jumbled mess. I laud the state’s efforts to keep the national parks open during the recent assault on the government, but I would give greater praise for an unemployment program that met the needs of those displaced from their jobs.

THE LONELIEST AIRPLANE

My grandson Madden Chemsak (5 years old) just published his first book. It's titled The Loneliest Airplane, and he developed the story line and all the illustrations. He's planning on holding book signings in Nashville, Knoxville, and, possibly, in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Here's is the URL for the book if you want to get it now.




With This Ring

I’m fascinated by business pitches on television. Some of them, such as E Trade or Aflac, are funny. Others like Northern toilet paper or Viagra are nothing short of inappropriate. One thing is for sure: none of them paint life as it really exists.
One particular subject confounds me. It’s the commercial about men buying engagement rings and presenting them to the women they love. The familiar line, “He went to Jared,” comes to mind. These men are heroes because they visit the jewelry store, choose a hunk of diamond and mounting, and present those “perfect” rings. Is that how life really works?
Amy and I had dated for about seven months before a discussion about an engagement ring began. We’d both discovered within the first six weeks that our paths were destined to cross. Neither of us definitively stated that the time was right for purchasing a ring. It just happened.
I was still a college student whose income came entirely from a small check for being the head resident of a
dorm. Somehow, Amy knew the jeweler, and on a set day, we hopped in my VW Bug and drove to Carthage, several miles from Cookeville. A balding man in his late fifties or early sixties greeted us and sat us at a counter. He opened up a velvet pouch and poured out several various sized diamonds onto it. Then, one by one, he described them and told us the size, quality, and cost. Some were exorbitant in price, so much so that my heart palpitated as I tried to calculate the monthly payments for them.
After the presentation ended, it was Amy, not I, who made the choice of stone. Bless her, for she chose a diamond that wasn’t perfect; it had one area that contained a small amount of clouding, double speak for “flaw.” The size was good, but the price was much more in line with my wallet. I breathed a sigh of relief and developed even stronger affection for my bride-to-be.
Then the other shoe fell. The discussion turned to the mounting. Huh? I thought the cost quoted included something to put the diamond on. WRONG! Amy and the jeweler began a discussion about the ring part. She wanted something that was made of pink and green gold and that looked antique. Yes, gold can be colored differently by adding alloys, and my brilliant wife knew this. At any rate, she described the ring, and the man produced it.
In April, I gave that ring to Amy. It was the first time that she’d seen it assembled, and it passed her approval. Of course, it pleased her because she created it. One more thing should be made clear: I had no part in choosing this ring! The only role I played in the event was as the person who paid the bill. As things turned out, Amy and I worked to pay off the ring with the small income from my teaching job and her part time job after college classes.
I asked her Poppa for permission to marry Amy, and he consented. We told her mother about our engagement, and for a long period, she refused to speak to me. I didn’t understand that until my own daughter reached the age of nineteen, and then it became abundantly clear how concerned Mary Alice was that Amy would marry and never reach the goals she’d had set for life.

So, I don’t understand this pitch about the surprising a woman with an engagement ring. It’s like someone allowing his friend to pick out a car for him. Too many things can go wrong, and then a friendship is strained as the person is stuck with a car he doesn’t like. When a man says, “With this ring,” at a wedding, it better be one that his bride has chosen and wants to keep for the next fifty years. 

A SHAMEFUL MESS

Okay, let’s try to sort things out. The House of Representatives Republicans don’t like Obamacare. They want to defund it, delay it, or do anything else to stop its implementation. So, they refuse to fund the budget with a continuing resolution unless provisions to kill the law are included. Democrats in the Senate refuse to act on any bills sent to them by the House. The president refuses to budge since he declares that the Affordable Care Act is law that has been passed and declared okay by the U.S. Supreme Court.
What’s now left is a “mell of a hess!” Like most Americans, I’m tired of the endless drama that plays in our nation’s governmental halls. Right now, national parks are closed. Folks who’ve traveled to the nation’s capital to soak in some of the great history of the country are turned away at the gates. I think of the impact on children not being allowed to walk up to the Lincoln Monument or on veterans not being allowed to pay tribute to their fallen brethren at the World War II Memorial or the Vietnam Wall.
Millions of folks are seeing the impact of this shutdown on their lives. Furloughs for government workers and layoffs in the private sector hit as the wheels of production come to a screeching halt. Families of fallen
soldiers are left waiting for death benefits that the government won’t pay. People still have house payments or rent due, and they still have to provide food for families. The worry about meeting bills is once again present, just as it was in 2008 when the bottom fell out of the economy. Isn’t it ironic that the very ones who have caused this debacle are receiving their paychecks?
Some representatives are playing a game of chicken about the national debt. Let’s be clear: the issue in question deals with debts that have already been incurred. Our country simply cannot renege on its bills. If we default, the effects won’t ripple through the world economy; they will crash through it. Sure, the budget needs a serious perusal to find waste that should be cut. However, what folks must be willing to do is give up some of the services that our government provides if the cuts are to be made. That’s what makes all of us hedge because we don’t want to lose anything.
I’m thinking that most Americans are just about over partisan politics that paralyze the country. We’ll continue to have two parties because not everyone has the same take on what is best for our country and its citizens. What the overwhelming majority of people are sick and disgusted with are those individuals who are more interested in ideology than country. That comes from both the far right and the far left. The fringe groups should not be dictating the course of our country.
 Democracy is built upon the basis of “majority rule.” At present, a small minority is running the show, and they are doing one poor job of it. Extremism, whether it comes from terrorists from abroad or from citizens of the U.S., never has in mind what is best for the whole. It works at tearing apart the fabric of a great country and reduces it to a malfunctioning machine.
America needs elected officials who are leaders, not destroyers. We are ready for those we choose to work to make this country better, not to cripple it. An old saying might put it best: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” That’s sound advice for all politicians. The time has come for them to find ways to fix things, and yes, that means compromising and, above all, using God-given common sense.

Pictures of several national building show them encased in scaffolding. The Washington Monument and the Supreme Court Building are under repair. Perhaps we need to rustle up every member of Congress and the executive branch and do a bit of renovation on them. Either these individuals begin to perform the jobs for which they were elected, or they can be replaced with others who hold the country’s interests above their own. 

Another Testing Debacle

Without a doubt, I’m not the only one who uttered a “Huh” and re-read the story of the Stem Academy student who received copies of earlier tests to help her pass a World History exam. Plenty of blame can be spread to all involved with the situation.
The first comment comes about the student. From the newspaper article it seems that she isn’t capable of doing the work or is unwilling to do so. She failed the history course and another one. Is the whole issue something that could have been avoided by a more serious commitment to study in “all courses,” not just the ones in which she might excel?
The STEM Academy education is touted as something above and beyond those at other schools in the system. The description on the website states,
“The essential element of high quality STEM education is not a narrow focus, but an open mind disciplined and empowered by scientific reasoning, technological expertise, engineering design, and mathematical logic.”
Evidently, the approach didn’t work for this girl; she didn’t manage to navigate things in a couple of classes. So, she was placed in front of a computer where she was to learn the material. Having her do so violated another description of the academy:
“Our integrated curriculum delivered through project-based instruction develops students' abilities to make connections, work in teams, ask questions, gather and interpret information, evaluate sources, draw meaningful inferences, and defend their conclusions-useful skills for future graduates pursuing any major or career path.”
It looks as if the academy received another failing grade on this. It’s difficult to achieve those things when a student sits in front of a computer screen all day. The young person is more likely being force-fed the material she didn’t get the first time around, and there’s no team work involved.
At any rate, the school system’s responses made the situation as clear as mud. It was a test, but then, again, it wasn’t. The scores counted, but not really. The test used to be used but not any longer, even though teachers didn’t know. Double talk does little to add clarity to a questionable program. Last, it was a test, but not an End of Course (EOC) one. HUH?
This online program Odyssey has never been a favorite of teachers. Recovery credit programs can be completed in a couple of weeks. If the learning results with Odyssey are that spectacular, why doesn’t the superintendent fire all the teachers and let kids earn credits on computers? As things are now, other students resent having to put in the classroom work for a semester while others get the same thing for a fraction of the time.
Somehow, we’ve lost direction in our school system. Money is spent on all sorts of innovative programs. The focus from the top is more on scores than on education. Someone not long ago opined that the system was run more like a manufacturing plant where students were products. Maybe that’s all right at some level, but education is much more than making “cookie-cutter” students. Kids are humans, not products, and an education that works teaches basic skill in subjects, as well as about life and getting along with others. No end of course exam will accomplish that.
Students must be held accountable for what they master in classes. Failure should require a “re-do,” not a shortcut and reward. Cheating must never be allowed so that a student can pass and the system can change its percentages of passing or graduating students.

Most of all, Knox County Schools need to have the courage to do what is best for students. Secondary concerns should be aimed at EOC scores. If teachers are allowed to teach and students are willing to work, the outcomes will be what we all want. It just might avoid another testing debacle. 

A Family Tree

About a month ago, I watched as men worked for three days to drop a tree in my neighbor’s back yard. For some time the top had been dying, and the massive maple posed a threat of crashing onto the house. What drew my attention to the event was the fact that the endangered house was where I grew up and that tree
was the sight of hundreds of memories.
That tree played a prominent role in my life during the first day of summer break from elementary school after the sixth grade. Daddy met Jim and me on the last half day and told us to change clothes and weed the strawberries. The patch was located behind the maple, and we spent what seemed to be decades hunched over yanking stubborn weeds from the rows. Like most kids, we weren’t too tough when it came to work, so every few minutes we took a break and searched for shade. That maple was no bigger than six feet and offered only imaginary shelter. 
Mother placed a table under the tree during garden season. On it we husked earns of corn and set containers of broken beans. One year Mamaw Rector sat with us boys for a few days, and we spent afternoons breaking beans as she told us stories about our dad as a boy and young man. She called my older brother aside and gave him some change to buy his cigarettes. She was more aware of what we did than we knew.
I’d never completed a pull-up during high school. A few years later, I decided to change that. One branch on the maple was low enough to reach, and my hands wrapped around it perfectly. Before long I chinned myself for the first time, and by the end of the year, I could do 20 reps with hands in either position. When the tree was hewn, that limb was more the size of most tree trunks.
When we boys grew into adulthood, mother planned a family reunion. Aunts and uncles and cousins once, twice, thrice removed came from as far as North Carolina and New York and as near as a mile away. The maple offered shade from the summer sun as we set up tables and chairs and ate meals and caught up on events and recalled the best of times.
Grandchildren spent hours with Mother at the tree. They’d sit in the swing with her and talk and laugh and love. Wading pools were positioned, and little persons splashed under her watchful eye, all the time being protected from sunburn by the sprawling canopy.
When Mother ended her battle with cancer, we boys and our families gathered at the house. We cried for our losses but then found ourselves sitting under the tree as stories of what used to be flowed. Late into the night, we shared those memories with only the light of cigarette tips and the sounds of beer cans clinking interrupting the dark and stillness.
Like all things in this life, that maple tree aged and grew brittle and a bit feeble. Eventually, some kind of disease attacked and slowly destroyed it from the inside, its own kind of cancer. Eventually, it was too weak and too sick to recover, and its life came to an end.
Watching such an important part of my life cut down in pieces hurt. Oh, the real pain might have come with the realization that I too have spanned several years and am on the backside of life. That’s not being maudlin; it’s being honest. At some point, I’ll come to an end as well, but my prayers are that I won’t leave for several more years and after making a mark on those whom I love.

That maple tree started off as a young, strong sapling, and over the years it matured and served as the centerpiece of many of our activities. In so many ways, that maple became our family tree. 

Adrenaline Rush

How sad is a person’s life when he’s willing to pay for the opportunity to have bulls with long horns run after him? No, this wasn’t that famous yearly event in Spain. It happened in Petersburg, Virginia, where 4000 folks paid $30 a head to be chased by bulls down a quart-mile dirt track at a speedway. Some 8000 others paid an admission fee to watch the madness and possibly bloody goring that might occur. It was the first of ten planned bull runs that will occur throughout the country.
One woman said, "I just didn't want to die, to get trampled by bulls and die.” Then she added, "It was a rush ... a shot of adrenalin."
That seems to be a growing desire of Americans: they want to experience something “more” than what every-day life offers. Millions of people participate in thrill-seeking activities such as skydiving, mountain jumping, and vehicle racing. I’ve never understood any of it. First, why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good plane in order to soar through the skies attached to a piece of cloth? With my luck, the parachute would fail, and I’d hit the ground at approximately 100-plus miles per hour. The fall doesn’t hurt; it’s the sudden stop that causes the pain.
Mountain jumping, as I call it, is a relatively new thing. Crazy people stand on mountain tops and simple dive off. They wear a suit that is designed to catch the wind so that their bodies are buoyed throughout the drop. In truth, these participants look like flying squirrels.
One wrong move and they become “greasy spots” on the rocky faces of the mountains they attempt to fly by.
Other adrenaline junkies ride “crotch rockets” at the speed of light down narrow or around twisting roads. Some people swim with sharks or dive from cliffs in pursuit of that “high” that comes from cheating serious injury or death.
I just don’t get it. Sure, life can sometimes wear on all of us. The demands of work and family can weigh us down. Hoping there’s enough money to meet monthly needs sometimes worries us.
Still, it’s those same low times that make the smallest of things so special. In my way of thinking, nothing is much more rewarding than sitting on the porch on a summer evening and hearing the cicadas and seeing the lightning bugs. Catching a glimpse of deer by the road or on a golf course takes my breath every time.
Being with my kids and grandson and wife is more fulfilling than any jump from a plane or harrowing 200 mile-per-hour ride in a race car. The most exciting things in our lives should be those that involve the family, nature, and home.
I write a blog titled “The Common Is Spectacular.” Many have advised me to change the name since the URL address is too long and too easy to mispsell. I’ve resisted because that title states my philosophy on life. The daily things are the best, the ones that we recall half a century later. The over-the-top experiences in life bring on rushes of adrenaline. However, when the rush from one is done, what replaces it is exhaustion. Our energies are depleted, and we’re left dormant until they are replaced.
It would be nice if folks could find the same happiness being chased by the kids as they do when bulls chasing them. That kind of activity is much safer, cheaper, and rewarding in the long run. I’ll save my energies for these less stressful kinds of adrenaline rushes. 

The ACT Sky is Falling

The latest ACT scores for students are out.  Tennessee ranks near the bottom of all states with an average score of 19.5. Knox County students averaged a 20.2 score, down from 20.6 the year before. According to authorities, a score of 21 indicates a student’s readiness for a college education. A closer look might uncover some of the problems with scores and with education in general.

To begin with, what is the rationale for requiring every high school junior in the state to take the ACT? It’s admirable that the costs of the tests are covered by the state, but suspicions abound as to why this test was chosen over others. I suspect that plenty of lobbying and money from ACT, Inc. has swayed those in power and many colleges to choose this tool.
The reported average scores in the state fail to take several factors into account. Although the requirement by decision makers is that every student takes the test, juniors are not required to invest any energies into scoring well. A student can enter the testing center and randomly fill in circles for each section. The outcome in no way affects his graduation from high school.
At some point, politicians and school administrations will discover that NOT EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO TO COLLEGE! Many students are more interested in learning a skill or trade that will offer them a good salary and livelihood. We better hope that infusions of new workers into such areas as construction, plumbing, electricity, heating and cooling continue; otherwise, the cost of houses will soar, as will the payout for service calls. These are admirable careers that do not require a college degree, nor do they necessitate a set score on the ACT. The training is no less rigorous, but it doesn’t require years of classroom work.
What might be a better course of action in schools is a return to better teaching methods. Now, some folks will declare that I’m about to bash teachers. I’m not. Sure, as in any vocation, some people slip into the field and do a horrible job. However, most teachers are interested in working with kids to improve their skills. Perhaps “young’uns“ will become better students when interactions with teachers change.
For a little while, we should call for a moratorium on standardized testing. Let’s allow teacher to TEACH their subjects instead of prepping kids so that they will pass some test that is sacred. More than those exams are part of an education. The interaction between students and teachers as they discuss the meanings of poems and short stories expand personal education. Discovering the underlying causes of environmental problems might lead a student to a career that searches for solutions. Applying mathematical functions to such everyday events as precisely dropping a tree or cutting the correct angle on a board gives education its real value. 
Technology is important in the classroom and plays major roles in our lives. However, it pales in comparison to the one-on-one relationship between teacher and student. Most of us are visual learners, but many of us also need to hear information and instructions. Machines don’t talk too well, and they can’t explain as well as a human who stands in front of whiteboard with marker ready to write or “figure” an explanation. That, my friends, is what separates real education from testing.
I want to see educational improvements in Knoxville, as well as the state of Tennessee and around the nation. I’m tired of the state being in the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education. To fix the problem, we have to test using comparable groups. That means including only students who are college-bound. The ones who are turned toward careers in other areas can be tested via different methods. Those students who are challenged should not be included in the testing outcomes, even though they might participate. Most of all, I want to see money that is poured out to testing companies invested in hiring more teachers who can work with smaller classes in more intense settings. Last, I hope that “educational leaders” will acknowledge that an education is much more than just a standardized test score. Of course, keeping their bureaucratic jobs and allowing profits for test creators probably will block the needed reform to education.

I’m just saying…
My son Dallas came home a couple of weekends ago to face a tough decision. His dog Baxter wasn’t doing so well, and Dallas wanted to take him to Jim Butler, whom he trusts exclusively in situations like this. The news wasn’t good: Baxter was crippled with arthritis, he was stone-deaf, he was nearly blind, he had bladder control problems, and his heart wasn’t in good shape. In the end, my son chose to put Baxter to sleep and, thereby, end his suffering.
Losing a pet is as painful as losing a member of the family. Some folks take offense to the suggestion that an animal is comparable to a human. Perhaps they’ve never had a pet, or perhaps they’ve never had to deal with the loss of one.
The truth is that many people spend more time each day with dogs or cats than they do with wives and children. Before long, each creature learns the habits and idiosyncrasies or the other. They negotiate through them and live in near harmony. The same can't be said for two humans who often allow egos to keep them from co-existing. 


I know no animals who have filed for divorce or emancipation from their owners. Even when a person snaps at a pet or ignores it, the animal comes back with nothing but love. All a pooch wants is a pat on the head or a scratch on the belly.The same thing can't be said for us two-legged creatures. We expect much more of a reward for loving another, and it usually includes a combination of property and power.


So, Dallas said goodbye to his friend and held him as he slipped away. It's a gut-wrenching experience, even more so when it's the first time. We gave o'l Baxter a decent burial and placed some flowers on his grave. Then my son was left to learn how to get along without his buddy.


Amy is much wiser than either Dallas or I am. She knows that one way to soothe the sting of grief is to cook some good country food. She worked in the kitchen, and when supper time came ("dinner" comes only on Sunday and holidays) a casserole dish filled with barbeque meatballs (similar to little meatloaves) and a pot of fresh green beans were waiting. Dallas loaded up, as did I, and her forgot how much he was hurting for a little while. For dessert, my bride prepared a large bowl of "banana-less" banana pudding, and it put a smil on his face.


The same thing occurs when a loved one dies. Friends and church family flood us with all sorts of foods. Most of them are "country cooking" and homemade desserts. It all amounts to comfort food. No, the stuff doesn't bring back the person, nor does it make us forget them. However, those recipes spark memories of the past when all were together in celebration around the table.


Whether we lose a family member, close friend, or pet, the pain is real, and the emptiness feels big enough to swallow ujs. We get by the best we know how, but when others surround us with love and good food, the void is filled just a little, and an assurance that "this too shall pass" settles around us. Dallas lost he best friend; his mother helped him through the tough day with a stove full of love. He survived.

A Bone to Pick

I attended a meeting the other day of citizens with a bone to pick. Somehow they figured I would make an adequate spokesman for their group, and I agreed to present their case. It concerns a situation more and more Knoxvillians are encountering each year.
A developer is seeking a zoning change for a fifty-plus acre parcel of land in Karns. On it 185 units will be built on some lots that are only 45 feet wide. Across the road from this development is another one that will contain 40 units.
The problem comes with the infrastructure in the community. To be exact, routes to the subdivisions are old country roads. In some places the lanes are less than 16 feet. It’s ironic that the streets in the development will be more spacious than the main thoroughfares.
In one spot, the road curves sharply, and goes over an outlet for two or three natural springs on the property. When heavy rains fall, water collects there and overflows onto the road. Passing then is impossible, and now even more run-off water will compete for exit. Even worse, the road is so narrow that emergency vehicles like fire engines cannot pass when a car is on the opposite side. In another example of the problem, just last year, two bus accidents occurred on the road.
This road intersects with another that is a bit wider. However, the problem there is school traffic. During the mornings and again at the end of the school day, drivers dropping off or picking up children clog the road and block the normal flow. Again, no emergency vehicle is able to traverse the road during those times, a fact that endangers the lives and properties of present-day residents, not to mention future homeowners and their houses.
One entrance to the larger development is to be located immediately across the narrow road from the smaller subdivision’s entrance. To the south is a blind hill; to the north one-tenth of a mile is the narrow curve that causes so many problems. Another access road to the large parcel is located just west of the school, and a third will connect to an existing subdivision, another problem area.
One official at an earlier meeting said that roads like these are all over the county. To that individual I say that is no reason to continue allowing construction on parcels until those routes are fixed.
The problem isn’t development and growth for Knoxville. It is essential to a sustained and thriving community. Those who would call for a ban on new projects are simply sticking their heads in the sand and hoping the whole situation will just go away and leave things as they are.
The real problem is the need for updated roads so that developments can become realities…safe ones. That means our government has to get busy with those projects. Only after they’ve been completed should new developments be approved.

The kicker for many folks in the area is that improvements that they desire come with a price tag. Yes, tax rates might need to go up. If they don’t, our roads will continue to be dangerous routes that travel by schools and neighborhoods.
What we need are leaders with the foresight who update Knoxville’s infrastructure and puts on hold new developments until they are done. Otherwise, none of us will be able to navigate the future traffic jams to get anywhere on time.

Let’s hope that the MPC will listen and make decisions that keep neighborhoods safe and promote development.

Doggie Amber Alert

My daughter Lacey and her family had a scare not long ago. It made us all re-evaluate our feelings toward the people and things we love. Well, at least that’s the effect it had on me.
Madden was spending the weekend with his grandparents in Huntsville, Alabama, and Lacey and Nick were looking forward to a party, one for grown-ups at their house. She’d planned a huge spread of food and drink, and Nick had constructed a huge “slip and slide” running down the back of their yard.
Someway, somehow, the family dog Riley managed to escape through the front door, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone. Now, the pooch is a Caron Terrier, not one of God’s brightest creatures. Of course, when any living thing is in-bred so much over the years, it’s a miracle the breed has only four legs and paws, one head and one tail.
Panic set in as Riley’s human parents searched the surrounding yards and homes. They returned defeated and heartbroken when no sign of him was found. Ever-resourceful Lacey printed out “Lost Dog” posters complete with name, description, and contact information. Yep, she issued a doggie amber alert for the missing pet.
As things turned out, a woman driving down the road saw Riley. She stopped, opened the door, and the mutt jumped in, proving just how mentally challenged this dog is. When the rescuer opened her front door, Riley ran inside, jumped on the couch, and climbed to the top of the cushions where he took a nap. He was returned to Lacey, and she welcomed his with open arms, even though she swore to beat him senseless for scaring them all so much.
Dallas’ dog Baxter is an old man. He’s nearly crippled with arthritis and has just a bit of trouble with bladder control. He is a loving dog, but his near-deafness keeps him jumpy when folks approach. Dallas has talked with the vet about whether his amigo is in pain because he would make the difficult decision to have him put to sleep if it relieved any unrelenting hurt that might be worse than passing. Right now, my son is giving wonderful care to his best buddy, whom he rescued from an empty apartment seven years ago.
My dog Snoop, the Jack Russell with an almost psychotic personality, hasn’t been his normal, hateful self of late. Last week, he kept Amy and me up much of the night as he scratched the side of the mattress and begged to get in the bed. I took the old guy to Jim Butler, our vet, and he said the look in Snoop’s eyes indicated something was wrong, but discovering it would take a few steps.
Amy and I will do whatever it takes to make sure Snoop is all right. I’m concerned that part of his problem is old age since he’s either 12 or 13 years old. I all too well understand how each additional year adds to the aches and pains of the body. I also know that if something devastating is the matter that I will make a decision to do what is best for my dog.
Anyone who has a dog doesn’t consider himself an owner. A canine becomes one of the family and soon is considered as important as any human member. The loss of a furry friend hurts as deeply. It’s an odd fact that folks who have so little affection for other persons are so deeply committed to a four-legged creature. We go to extraordinary lengths to protect them and keep them safe from harm.
It’s for sure that few things in life are as devoted as a dog. Even Snoop, who snarls and growls and snaps, will lie down beside Amy or me when he senses something is wrong. Dogs just like to lie around and be petted and patted. Those of us with grown children appreciate that since we sometimes have a longing to love and dote on someone or something since our kids are gone.

Take care of those pets. They are man’s best friends, and their loyalty is second to nothing. As for Riley, Baxter, and Snoop, they’re safe at home and snoozing on the floor at our feet. It’s a reassuring feeling to have them here until their times are up. Then we’ll grieve and learn to get by without them. You can bet it will hurt.

Barefoot Barred

One of the most favorite things about summer to many is the chance to go barefoot. In other areas of the
country, we Tennesseans are believed to be shoeless all the time. The fact is that I’ve never been crazy about going without shoes. Doing so has always caused nothing but troubles.
Oh, I too once loved the freedom of feet not bound by leather or canvas. In summer, Mother always took a pair of scissors to our old Keds to cut the toes from them. That gave enough room for our growing feet to wear them just a little longer. Yet, my toes longed to touch the ground unhampered. Without shoes, I enjoyed going out in the side yard, turning on the hose, and playing in the water to cool down. Jim and I made the ground squishy from our activities.
However, on too many occasions I suffered for going without something covering my feet. Our yard was filled with clover. That meant thousands of flowers from the plant filled the area. With that many blooms always came bunches of bees. It took little time before I’d step on one of them and suffer a sting that sent me howling to the housed for relief. Mother would do her best to calm me while she made paste of baking soda and water. The rest of the summer I wore shoes outside. The joy of “barefooting” disappeared.
As a small child, our family visited grandparents who lived on Louisiana Avenue in Lonsdale. Papaw Rector sat on the front porch like a king. He would drink from a glass and then toss the ice onto the lawn. I wanted to prove how grown up I was by doing the same thing. When I tossed the ice, my grip slipped and the glass went flying and crashed in the yard. Shards of glass lay hidden. Later in the evening, I played in the yard and rammed one of those shards into the middle of my foot. I squalled as Mother used a pair of tweezers to extract the glass from the gash in my foot I just knew would need hundreds of stitches. A band aid sufficed, but from that day I made sure to always wear shoes at my grandparents’ house.
I quickly learned the importance of shoes for vacations activities in the mountains. We kids would set out on treks to the river and our favorite swimming hole. Going barefooted resulted in bruised soles and mashed toe as we walked on rocks that lined the dry creek bed that led there. One of our favorite things was riding the rapids on our bottoms. We’d sit down feet-first in the river and allow the current to carry us along until unprotected feet rammed into rocks in our paths. When the water became too shallow, we had to walk, and when mossy rocks proved slippery, our feet bashed against them with painful results.
Perhaps I was a slow learner because I continued to go barefooted into my early adult years. Amy and I had been married only a couple of years when we bought a house in south Knoxville. The living room was spacious enough to place a couch, as well as a large, comfortable chair and ottoman. I plopped on that chair to watch the NCAA basketball final four game featuring UNC Charlotte. When a commercial aired, I jumped from the chair to make a bathroom run. On returning, I managed to kick one of the wheels on the ottoman, and when I grabbed my throbbing foot, I discovered that my broken little toe sat at a right angle to my foot. A trip to the ER ended with the toe being taped to its next-door neighbor. For a couple of weeks, the only thing I could wear on the foot was a bedroom slipper.

Since that time, almost 40 years ago, “I don’t do barefooted.” People make fun of me for always having a pair of shoes or slippers on my feet. It makes no difference to me. I’ve lived long enough and experienced too much misfortune with my “piggies” to let the comments of others change my mind about shedding the shoes. I’d rather be safe than sorry. My feet will never risk another sting or cut or fracture because they’ve been left uncovered. 

Blind Obedience

Believe it or not, Americans can be a rather nice people. Oh, we have our weaknesses and often display less than model behavior, but at the same time, we are quick to come to the aid of others or to perform acts of kindness. Our “good” sides are often taken advantage of by businesses for their profit.
One place is fast food restaurant. Places like McDonalds have trained us like pets. We stand in slow-moving line or pull our cars into ones where we sit forever to order our food; then we place our orders and again wait an eternity for them to be filled. With trays in hand, we settle at tables that might have been cleaned or might still be covered in crumbs, ketchup, or some other unidentifiable “smutz.”
After we finish our food, like good children, we gather our empty wrappers, cups, and containers and carry them to a garbage can, where we dump them and neatly stack our trays. It’s almost as if we were once again in elementary school and were being taught correct cafeteria behavior. What I’m curious about is the benefit to us to clean tables and haul trash. I’ve never done such a thing at a “sit-down” restaurant. I keep the table as neat as possible, but after paying the bill, I simply rise and walk toward the exit. Has anyone noticed a cut in prices of fast food that results from customers’ policing eating areas? What might be more noticeable is the rise in prices for smaller Big Macs and Egg McMuffins.

The same kind of behavior occurs at grocery stores. Not long ago, I shopped at the Ingles store near home.th holiday. I finished finding the items on my list and headed for the checkout area. To my dismay, other shoppers were lined up at the one register that was opened. Frustrated shoppers headed to self-checkout lines to scan items in loaded shopping carts. The anger levels rose with each passing second. I told the cashier that I realized he was working as fast as he could, but that I was pretty sure the building was a good one to locate a real grocery store. He confided that employees failed to show up and the management was too cheap to hire enough workers. My wife likes Ingles, but I don’t plan a return visit any time soon.
The store was bustling with customers, most of whom were buying foods for the upcoming July 4
Of course, all the grocery stores have instructed us that we can check ourselves out and finish more quickly. We do it with no hesitation. However, I don’t think the companies are slashing prices to reward shoppers for their efforts to get out of the store in a timely fashion.
We customers have also been well trained at convenient stores. We pull up, get out of our cars, and pump our own gas. After dark, we have to go inside if our payment is to be made in cash because of others’ acts of theft. We used to have equipment for cleaning wind shields… squeegees, paper towels, and cleaner. Alas, the crashing economy must have put an end to such extravagances. Now, we can save a dime on each gallon if we get a membership card and buy enough stuff from these stores. My question is this: if these convenient stores can cut the price of gas with some gimmick, is it possible that they are overcharging for the fuel in the first place?
Some might call me a cranky ol’ coot. Maybe I am, but the point here is that customers are blindly obedient to companies. Why should I clean a table to keep up profits for the golden arches or the king’s restaurant? What happened to staffing a grocery stores with enough employees so that customers don’t stand four or five deep and wait for while their frozen foods thaw in the carts? Finally, when did we buy into pumping our own gas while prices skyrocket and companies make fortunes off our efforts?

It might do us all some good if we demanded a little something for our extra efforts. No, it doesn’t haven’t be a fortune. Just a little goodwill from businesses that have trained us to be blindly obedient would be nice if a cut in prices is out of the question.

Musical Chair Principals

It’s hard to believe that July 4th marked the middle of summer for school kids. I still reel with the knowledge that schools open their doors the first part of August or the last of July in some places. What happened to the policy that school began the day after Labor Day? As the doors open, thousands of Knox County children and hundreds of teachers and staff members will begin the year with new principals at the helm.
No one has explained to my satisfaction why so many Knox County principals are reassigned each year. In the paper, ten individuals were named to new positions. That didn’t include principals who had already been moved. This shake-up began in earnest during the reign of former appointed Superintendent Lindsey, and it continues with vigor under the guidance of Superintendent McIntyre.
I was educated in Knox County Schools. At Ball Camp, D.T. Strange occupied the principal’s office throughout my eight years there. The community knew the man and felt comfortable dealing with him during good and bad times. He survived a fire that destroyed the older part of the school and managed a school where several students attended classes in a small building across the road during the rebuilding of the school.
During my first years at Karns High School, Bill Orr was named as principal. Orr putted to school each morning on his scooter and seemed to look upon students, parents, and community with cool detachment. Before long, Mildred Doyle removed him from Karns and placed him in a less visible job at the central office, where he remained for the rest of his career.
Billy K. Nicely replaced Orr, and he was the perfect fit. Nicely had been an assistant principal, and he was known for his fair and tough approach. He’d whistle while he walked the halls to check on classrooms and what went on in them. Billy K. loved to talk with students. He could cut up and laugh with the kids he’d disciplined with the paddle the day before. What was important was his understanding of the community and his efforts to make sure the school met its needs.
These days, principals don’t have the opportunity to get familiar with the communities where they work. Too many schools no longer serve as the central points for communities, and part of the reason is that principals don’t stay long enough to become vested in a school or its people. A year or two isn’t enough time to establish a rapport with folks and to define the vision a principal has for a school.
 I don’t know what the musical chair game with Knox County principals achieves…other than upheaval. Sure, some individuals prove to be poor choices for leadership roles, and they should be removed. However, wholesale moves in our schools might be ways for the head of schools to show his power and to squelch any dissent. “Keep ‘em guessing” might be Mr. McIntyre’s
motto.
At the same time, I firmly believe that many qualified persons for principal positions are already teaching in the Knox County system. So, the practice of hiring individuals from Massachusetts or Nashville or any other area further brings in people who aren’t familiar with the history or customs of a community. In many cases, doing so is a waste of money and, more than likely, an exercise in futility. The same holds true for spending grant money to hire a company in “Boston” to study resource allocation. The superintendent will ask the school board to kick in a 30% matching fund to hire the firm. Isn’t there a local company capable of the task? Too, how is spending $1.56 million a smart allocation of resources? What would that money buy for the students and teachers of Knox County?
Most Knox County residents don’t understand the rationale behind moving principals each year. Of course, most folks in Knoxville don’t understand why they aren’t allowed to elect the superintendent for their systems. They figure if their property taxes go toward financing the schools that they should have a say in who sits at the helm of the system level or the building level.

Maybe it’s time to swap the central office leadership. This time it can be filled with someone who has lived in the area and understands the culture of the area and who places emphasis on stability and permanency. That person might subscribe to the belief that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.!”  

SOMETHING ABOVE AND OUTSIDE OURSELVES



I’ve tried to write this piece a couple of times but found it almost impossible. The key is to put it on paper without sounding preachy or religiously stilted. So, here goes another attempt.
The main characters in books, TV, and movies are increasingly expressing their doubts or disbeliefs in a higher power. Many artists and writers and other public figures are also declaring their agnosticism or atheism. It’s a situation that shocks me.
Sure I know that hoards of folks no longer rise on Sunday morning and attend church. I also know that many say that today’s church no longer meets the needs or fits the styles of their lives. Much of the displeasure comes from the public’s desire to be entertained. That’s why the biggest growth in churches comes to those who offer alternative worship services that are filled with videos and the new Christian music. Other people don’t like giving up sleeping late on Sunday mornings.
Okay, I understand the possible need for change in the approach to religion by churches. What I don’t get is the complete turning away from the belief in a power above ourselves. Spring’s air perfumed by honeysuckle and the jabbering of birds who’ve returned home from miles away seem to hint that some power has a plan in place. Music that reaches to the depths of our hearts is another thing that is too special to just have happened by the “human” genius.
How do those who don’t believe manage to get through the tough times? Yes, I know that many will say that relying on a god during a crisis is nothing more than tricking one’s self. However, the peace that comes from the presence of a spirit is not a trick of the mind. The confidence that God is present gives us the ability to face the worst of things. No, God won’t necessarily interfere with or “fix” the events of life, but He will walk beside us as we travel through them.
An association with a church is a life-sustaining one. It can offer individuals fellowship and friendship. Far too many folks live away from family; the connection with a church family offers support and company when the bad and good things in life come around. People who aren’t a part of a church might visit some. No, they don’t have to join. Instead, they can just visit until ones that fit personal styles are discovered. Suddenly, people have a support communities, even if they don’t want any part of God.
I’ve seen plenty of individuals who give religion a bad name. At the same time, I’ve been around atheist who weren’t at all pleasant. Many in the second group are just as vocal in their nonbelief as those “pushy” Christians are. Atheists that are loudest sneer at the idea of a God. It’s as if their egoism suggest that individuals are in charge of all that is created in life. Our existences are filled with many “giant” events that are far above our abilities to create. I don’t much think they can ascribe them to personal power or the simple roll of fate’s dice.
I have friends who doubt, and they will continue to be friends. No, I don’t feel sorry for them. I do hope that at some point they find something to believe in above themselves. I’d like for them to find a church like mine (Beaver Ridge United Methodist) that opens its arms to all, that places its energies in reaching out to others through local missions, and that offers an outstanding speaker who is both engaging and sincere.
Most of all, I’d like to think that we are a people who relies on a high power for guidance. Humans make too many poor choices. Sometimes we don’t know what to do. It’s then that the reliance on God is something that offers peace and confidence. I don’t condemn anyone. Instead, I invite them to explore  groups and places that offer them strength and aid.

Whose Right Is It?



I don’t know about any other Tennesseans, but I, for one, feel so much safer knowing that our state officials are taking care of us. If you don’t believe they are, just check out State Senator Frank Niceley’s “fatherly” leadership.
Niceley’s proposal would remove the arduous task of choosing Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate from you and me and place the task in much more capable hands, caucuses in the state legislature. Oh, you didn’t realize that this was such a terrible burden? Well, Niceley seems to think that we aren’t up to the challenge. A poll showed that 93% of those asked opposed the bill, but our senator said that 92% of us didn’t know that until early in the 1900’s that’s the way things were done.
This pol states that “we need a little history lesson,” and that his proposal is a way to get the federal government under control. How’s that going to happen? According to him, if enough small red state legislatures could choose the candidates, “they could effectively control the U.S. Senate and through that “get Washington under control.” I’m interested in who “they” is.
What seems clear to me is that Niceley’s bill (SB471) is nothing more than a brazen attempt to usurp the right to vote from all of us in Tennessee. This man suggests such a thing is okay because too many of us are not only ignorant but also apathetic. I can agree that the numbers of folks voting is low, but when the choices offered include people like Niceley, there’s not much reason to get out of the chair to choose.
I am not apathetic and resent Niceley’s suggestion that I’m ignorant. No, I don’t see eye-to-eye with the man, but that doesn’t mean I lack the capacity to choose a person to support as senator. I’ve seen the workings of our state legislature and sure don’t want them speaking for me as far as candidates for either party. By the way, what if an Independent candidate wants to run? How does he or she get on the ballot?
Our state “leaders” have often decided that we should not have the right to choose persons for leadership positions. For example, Tennesseans want a return to an elected school superintendent. However, the state legislature refuses to allow the change. Some leaders have said that appointed superintendents take the politics out of education. So, the selection process is left to school boards, and I’m pretty sure those individuals sit at the pleasure the districts that elect them. The result is that a leader of the school system answers to a handful of people instead of the public that he or she serves. Of course, we voters would have to decide on a person who lives in the area and is familiar with the “politics” of the area and the system instead of bringing in someone from far away who has no stake in educational system. I suppose the legislature thinks we voters aren’t as smart as some search firm that gets a wad of cash to find superintendent candidates.
Few of us are happy with our leaders. Their partisanship leads to fights, anger, and the dreaded “gridlock.” Frank Niceley might think he and his cohorts are better equipped to choose the “right” candidates, but I’m SURE the intent of the founding fathers was to give the right to choose leaders to the people, not the chosen few. Perhaps we can figure a way to choose a better candidate than someone who wants gerrymandered control of elections. I, for one, am disgusted with any person who thinks of himself as being above citizens who are ignorant and apathetic. Of course, Niceley might be right that voters aren’t too smart; they voted him in, didn’t they?