Archive for February, 2010

Oh, Canada

In our modern times, popular sensibilities are easily upset.  That is, whatever you do, someone, somewhere, somehow will be offended.  Certainly this is true with politics, and one is left with the dark suspicion that the media are doing their level best to keep the pot stirred.  Likewise, sites like TMZ are also preoccupied with what can only be regarded as trivial in these quarters.  I’m continually mystified about just who these people are, yet the media always seem to trot out something new for us to be upset about.

Why should the Olympics be any different?  And, in keeping with that notion, the Olympics have been a modestly rich source of trivial controversy.  Consider the fact that the Canadian woman’s hockey team defeated the United States’ hockey team to win the gold.  As many foreigners can attest, there is something uniquely enjoyable about beating the United States in anything.  While I am sure that the game itself was quite interesting, what is even more interesting is what happened after the great victory.

After the crowds left, along with most of the media, the Canadian women stayed on the ice and celebrated the moment.  With beer and cigars.

Canada Goes For The Gold

Needless to say, the Outrage Machine started bubbling and burbling.  One Olympic official managed to keep a sock in it, quietly saying: “not what we want to see” [from athletes at an Olympic venue].  Well, so be it.  Keep in mind that even a bad example can be used to teach a lesson.

In any case, I’m not the least offended and, in my own warped way, quite amused about this.  Consider that the game of ice hockey is rough and tumble.  Also consider that it is Women’s Ice Hockey, not Ladies‘ Ice Hockey.  If nothing else, the above picture merely reminded me of another image:

Huey & Dewey Duck Enjoy

The scene is from Donald’s Happy Birthday, in which the three nephews try to give Donald a birthday present, and Donald misinterprets their purchase of a box of cigars.  The box was purchased for $2.98, which probably works out to about $0.12 per ‘gar.  Not a princely sum, but still a lot of money for three kids in 1949.  Of course, this image is taken out of the context of a ten minute cartoon.  Much in the same way that the smoking Canadiens have been taken out of context, too.

Certainly the drumbeats of manufactured outrage will build to a crescendo and finally fade when something more interesting develops.  In the meantime, I am also reminded of a quote:

These days, it should be:

  • What this country needs is a good five cent nickel.

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It’s Back, Again

Just when you think that it is safe to walk the streets, health care “reform” is back again.  Of course, given how much energy has been expended, and how much bandwidth has been used and how fractious the national “conversation” about health care issues has been, the politicians should pretty damn well do something.

This time around, the current administration will try to enact legislation through a process called reconciliation.  As with so much else in Washington, everybody is trying to sound innocent, that this is a novel and unusual process, but don’t kid yourself; they’re no virgins here.  The reconciliation methodology goes back at least to the 1980’s.

Rather than argue about whether the legislation Tastes Great or Is Less Filling, let’s look at some of the implications of what the administration is proposing.  We are, after all, talking about a radical change to 6% of our national economy.  And we are talking about introducing the Federal government into a very significant portion of your life, especially as you get older and more prone to health problems.

Florida Disaster Insurance

If you’re looking for an example of what national health insurance will be like, a good example to study is the Florida disaster insurance situation.  One thought, here.  In particular, the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation may be a model for the issues which nationalized health insurance will be like if there is a “Public Option”.  In short, the public option that the Democrats claim is so important may result in the only option available as private insurance carriers flee the increasingly complicate and arcane regulations created by the government.  Of course, the government would also the operator of  the Public Option insurance carrier.

California Health Insurers

A major health insurance carrier in California just raised their rates.  And, there has been the predictable reaction.  As noted in these pages before, I tend to side with the insurance carriers, no matter how unsavory they may be.  I do so because I don’t think that politicians can get this process right because they have a different agenda than the health insurers.  The health insurers want to control costs to make a profit; the politicians want to get reelected regardless of the costs as long as they don’t have to pay it.

After the last try at health care “reform” failed, now the administration wants to regulate insurance rates in across the country.  This in spite of the fact that each state has an insurance commissioner (or similar), who is responsible for regulating the rates in their state.  Proponents of this plan use the term “patchwork” to describe the regulation of rates; I prefer the term “locally responsive”.  That is, if Washington, DC is going to regulate health insurance rates, then you have to travel a good deal further to get things changed than if you just have to go to your state capital.  Suit yourself, but I like local control.

The critics also say that these insurance commissioners are in the pockets of the health insurance carriers, which is a reasonable argument.  But why assume that things will be any different in Washington?  If anything, insurance carrier meddling will be even worse because of the scale of the regulatory environment.

Whole Foods Hatred

If you Google the term “Whole Foods Hate“, you will turn up enough results to lead to a lost weekend in front of the computer.  When you’re good at something, there is a portion of the population that will hate you for it.  And some will blog about it.  So what?  I don’t typically shop at Whole Foods, but I respect the freedom of those who do chose to shop there.

In part, this latest round of Whole Foods mania came about because the president of WF, one Mr. John Mackey, dared to express an opinion about health care coverage.  Read it yourself and see if it merits being screamed at by a hundred blogs.

Can Government Get it Right?

Well, the anecdotal evidence is not favorable.  There’s not enough bandwidth to cover this, but consider that just about every government program is projected to cost one dollar amount but once it is in place and operating, it always seems to cost more.  Why should it be any different with health care “reform”.

You and I share a lot in common; getting sick, dying, taxes.  How much risk are you willing to take?  What is important to me is the autonomy of the individual.  Yet, national control of the health care system simply reduces you and I to inconsequential numbers.

During the campaign, we were told words that we wanted to hear, because the focus groups told them so.  No matter what it would take to deliver upon those promises.  Now that it has come time to deliver those promises, it has become much more difficult.  We hear words about health care, but based upon actual experiences, why should this situation be any different from any other time that the government has undertaken such massive control?  The speed at which this “change” has been conducted leads to continued suspicion about the motives for what has been described as “health care reform”.  We are told to trust, but why?

The missing component is personal responsibility.  The willful and conscious act of taking control of your life.  With nationalized health care, you won’t be able to take personal responsibility for your life, even if you want to.

Unwinding the legislation

Too much power for any persuasion is being granted to the national government.  There’s too many ways that things can go wrong, but there is one big question.

If we undertake a massive change in the health care sector of our economy and the process turns out badly, how would we be able to change things back to the imperfect but functional system that we have now?

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The genius of America is the checks and balances which operate in our systems.  Although this concept refers specifically to our form of government, it also applies in other sectors of our society in similar ways.    As a dynamic society, there are countless forces which work against each other and with each other to make America great.  These forces can also work to diminish our society, too.  The challenge is to keep the dynamic without the detriment.

For our government, it is the separation of powers.   The triad of the executive branch (the President), the legislative branch (the Congress) and the legal branch (the Law) all work aganst each other to maintain balance.  These three branches are all part of  the same government.  Also, there is the balance that works between the individual States and our Federal government.

For our economy, it is a free market, the balance between buyers and sellers.  When prices get too high, then there is financial incentive to come up with a less expensive alternative.  Of course, the notion of a free market is theoretical, since more than a few “free market” business types are still up there on Capitol Hill, trying to lobby for some extra legislative leverage.

Because of the specific interests involved, when one force gains too much power, another force works to counteract and keep things in balance.  When you look back at the last few years, almost all of our institutions have disappointed us in a number of ways. From our financial institutions, to the Catholic Church, to our various governments, things have fallen short of expectations.

To a degree, this is because we are expecting too much from these institutions, shifting our personal responsibility to others. At the same time, those whom we have relied upon have proved wanting.  Things got out of balance; now, our society is trying to regain the necessary balance, a balance which allows us to thrive.  This period of adjustment makes for times of uncertainty; we can’t reliably predict what tomorrow will be because things are in a state of flux.  Once we resolve the core issues that are in contention, then things will return to stability, balance.

At the moment, there is a “crisis” of leadership.  We are told by John Podesta that the state of politics “sucks“.  Suit yourself, it only sucks if you have just tried to push a massive radical agenda through Congress and resistance has built up.  To continue:

The political stasis in California provided the writing on the wall for the US as a whole, he said. Since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13 in the state, all budget changes had required a two-thirds majority. “And so nothing gets done.”

Pointing to Proposition 13 is interesting, because it was the voters of California that passed this measure in an attempt to control the spending of their state government.  They were able to cut the taxes, but not the spending.

So much of what is represented as “leadership” is actually the result of focus groups.  To be sure, this makes some sense because the focus groups tell corporations what people want to buy.  These same groups tell our elected leaders what is on our collective mind.  I don’t know about you, but personally, I hate those telephone calls that want to ask my opinion about things.  And, with the growth of cell phone usage and the decline of land-line telephones, you also have to wonder as to the effectiveness of telephone based market research.  The same applies to those who have the time to attend focus group sessions.  So, just how accurate is the message that the focus group research companies are passing on to those who buy their services?

It’s not the research process so much that is defective, as much as it is the resulting decisions made by our so-called leaders.  And while financial America has been a disappointment, it is our elected leadership that will be the true focus of our collective ire.  And, who could blame us for being mad at our political leaders?  Like a stained glass window, sometimes you have to stand back to get the full picture:

And the list goes distressingly along.  There’s ethics.  There’s the effort made for a bill labeled as “health care reform” that just seemed to get more out of touch with reality every week.

The current administration gives hour long speeches that tell us what we want to hear, but when push comes to shove, these are just empty words designed to make us feel better about a growing problem.  These are words that sound good until you sit down and think about it:

  • Bank Tax.  President Obama will try to recoup for taxpayers as much as $120 billion of the money spent to bail out the financial system, most likely through a tax on large banks, administration and Congressional officials said Monday. Interesting if true, especially in light of the fact that many of these institutions are successfully repaying the loans, with interest.  And, in playing the populist card with the people, it is assumed that nobody will think about the fact that any such tax would be treated by the banks as a cost of doing business, and thus a cost passed along to those who use these same banks.  In other words, us.
  • Entitlement Reforms Commission.  One idea on Capitol Hill is to create a commission that would propose a package of entitlement reforms that Congress would have to vote on as a package, up or down, take it or leave it—much like the base closing commission. Call me old fashioned, but we already have such a commission in place.  It’s called Congress; there are currently 435 members from the various states who serve for two year periods and 100 members from the states, two per state, that serve for a period of six year terms.
  • A Government Spending Freeze.  The White House is considering dramatic gestures, perhaps announcing a spending freeze or even a 2% or 3% reduction in non-defense spending. Not mentioned is the fact that such a freeze would also lock into place the substantial spending increase of the last year.

Congressional district gerrymandering

One example of things getting out of balance involves the way in which that Congress establishes the various voting districts.  Thanks to computer technology, Congress has produced, state by state, a group of “elected” officials that have little fear of losing their job.  Because the districts are designed to combine a group of like minded voters, very few elected officials are at risk of losing in the next election.  It’s called Gerrymandering, and it is almost as old as our great Republic.

If this seems to be unfair, that’s because it is.   It is because our elected officials are the ones who establish these narrow districts.  Consider my own neighborhood, for example.  I live in the 4th Congressional District of Georgia, and this district is designed to be a consistent seat for the Democratic party, no matter who runs.  Computers allow for that.  At the same time, I also reside in the 46th House district of the State of Georgia.  I am represented by one individual in the Georgia General Assembly; across the street, my neighbors are represented by another individual in the General Assembly.

The politicians have gamed the system to their advantage.  The net effect is that our governments are run by the same people, year after year.  Unless these individuals decide to retire or commit a felony, the position is theirs as long as they want.  This has contributed to the stale atmosphere in Washington.

Of course, people like Scott Brown are proof that the checks and balances of our system work.  Senator Brown may only be in Congress for the final two years of his predecessor’s Senatorial term, but his election has resulted in shock waves around the United States Capitol.  Elected officials are in shock, as well they should be, for the fact of the matter is that when enough people get angry about an issue, no Congressional district is safe.  No matter how the computer drew it up.

The American system of government worked.  For an elected official, your only protection is to have been doing your job right and having open lines of communication with your constituents.  In the case of Senator Brown, the Democratic party took the state of Massachusetts for granted.  To their own peril.  The American system worked.

We are in the midst of a crisis of confidence in our governmental and economic systems.  The solution is in our hands, literally.  If we accept things as they are currently, then we will continue with the system that we have.  There’s no need to throw it all away, but our elected officials need to be reminded of whom they work for; the ballot box does that very well.  Our economic systems have this feature, too.  You buy what you approve of and don’t buy what you don’t approve of.  Consider Ford Motor Company.

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Your Cheating Heart

We live in a society which presumes that everybody is being completely honest with each other and that everybody is doing the right thing all the time.  We have the presumption of innocence in matters of law, for example.  Of course, when the rubber meets the road, not everybody is completely honest about everything.  In some cases, this is beneficial, while in others it is not.

I have a health savings account (HSA), and as a result, I tend to view the medical establishment with a degree of caution.  That is, I’m keenly aware of what medical procedures and prescriptions cost, even though, in many cases, the doctors don’t know what things cost.  And I know that there is a complex financial relationship between my health and what it costs to keep me healthy.

I suppose that this is an example of the Stockholm Syndrome, but also I tend to view the health insurance carriers as being on my side.  In the end, their vigilance over medical costs is what keeps my insurance premiums reasonable.  Yes, of course, I would like the rates to be lower, but I also recognize that there are financial aspects to my relationship with my doctor, the hospitals and my health insurance company.

The insurance carriers have always been the subject of criticism from all sorts of people and “advocacy” groups.  And not all of it is undeserved.  Yet, from time to time, the politicians decide to play to the electorate with what can only be considered to be ill-advised legislation.  The latest in this cavalcade of political pandering comes to us in the current session of the Georgia General Assembly.

Rescission: (to rescind or set aside a contract) has generally been defined as the unmaking of a contract between parties.

State Senator Preston Smith, a Republican from Rome, Georgia, has introduced SB330, which deals with an insurance industry practice called “rescission”.  To quote:  At the core of SB 330, Smith said, is rescissions, or the cancellation of health insurance polices. Smith said Georgia is one of the few states that allows rescissions, particularly those based on errors, omissions and misstatements.

As with so much else, it is presumed that when you file an application for health insurance, you are being truthful. To continue quoting Senator Smith, his bill would: “Prevent insurers from canceling policies and refusing claims based on contract misstatements or innocent omissions.”  Of course, your “innocent omission” can be a deal breaker for the insurance carrier when you fail to reveal your two-pack a day relationship with Marlboro cigarettes, for instance.

As pointed out by a representative of the health insurance industry: “If I don’t know what the risks are, I charge you more...”  The insurance industry has legions of actuaries whose sole job is to assess risk and to price things accordingly.  If they don’t know what the risks are, their pricing has to reflect this lack of knowledge.

And, in a parallel example, our own governments rely upon us to be honest and truthful in reporting our incomes for tax purposes.  When you sign that tax form, you are attesting that the information which you have given is an honest report.  They give you some latitude for “innocent omission”, but when it becomes apparent that you have not been truthful, the penalties and interest have a way of reminding you that you shouldn’t do that sort of thing.  Why should insurance applications be any different?

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Snow Job

Snow Job – An effort to deceive, overwhelm, or persuade with insincere talk, especially flattery.

Time MagazineSnow Is No Longer a Joking Matter in Washington.

Well, suit yourself, but I’m quite delighted with the snow shutting down Washington, DC.  Yes, it is a massive inconvenience for millions, but it is also a circuit breaker that may well serve to allow our elected representatives a few quiet moments to consider what they’ve been doing in the last few years.  This is not a Republican or a Democrat thing, this is an American thing.

Here in Atlanta, snow is a special thing.  We’re just not set up for snow, so when it happens, the smart play is to top off at the beer store.  Bread-up and milk-up at the grocery.  Sit down with the Mrs. in front of the fireplace and enjoy it for what it is.  I love snow, but unlike other places, we just merely divert ourselves and wait for it to melt.  Would that things were that simple in Washington.  There’s so much snow, they’ve run out of places to store it once the roads have been plowed.  Too big to melt.

Of course, the parallels to excessive governmental spending are way too obvious, even for these pages.  Let’s face it, once the current administration really got underway, the excessive spending of the Bush years are pale in comparison.  Bush the Second’s reign is beginning to look like the Warren G. Harding administration.

Out here in the real world, people have wised up to the fact that the last Presidential election was a massive snow job, where everybody was told what they wanted to hear, each according to their race, creed, color, national origin and demographic group.  Flattery on steroids, if you will.  Now that people realize what is happening, we are being told by the “experts” that it  is no longer the fault of the politicians, it is our own fault.  America has now been declared by the liberals to be  “Ungovernable”.

Consider the thoughtful words of Mr. Peter Wehner: “No, America Isn’t ‘Ungovernable’”  To wit:

  • Americans are too stupid to govern.  Granted, there is a good deal of anecdotal evidence to support this notion if you watch a lot of television, but if you get down to the grass roots level, away from the glare of the media, most people are good natured, common sense individuals.  Most people have a healthy grasp of what is going on in Washington, and they are appalled.  Being appalled by our government’s current activities is a natural reaction.  Of course, because we are a nation of dolts, we can’t see the genius of a massive health care reformation and expansion of Federal powers as being “reform”.
  • It’s the fault of the nihilistic Republicans.  I’ve covered nihilism in other pieces, so there’s not much reason to go over that again.  Suffice it to say that your nihilism is my skepticism at massive governmental spending.
  • Congress is dysfunctional.  Again, your “dysfunction” is my “political give & take”.  I don’t really want my government to be too efficient; too efficient government leads to even more intrusions into my private life.

And, by the way, Mr. Wehner’s conclusion is that it really isn’t us, it’s our weak and liberal chief executive.  Suit yourself.

Of course, the snow will eventually melt; sooner here and later up north, but for the moment, this is time for people to sit back a bit and take stock.  There are already indications of this; a recent first draft of  “jobs” legislation proved to be so laden with non-job related spending that eventually the current majority leadership withdrew it.

There will still be those who are so determined to have their way that they feel it is necessary to once again repeat their dreams to us of health care reform, spending reform, campaign funding reform and whatever other reforms they can come up with.  And, because we are not very bright, they will act like some Americans do in foreign countries when dealing with non-English speaking locals.  English is always understood if it is spoken loudly enough and slowly enough.  You-o need-o reform-o.

I’m enjoying my snow day.  I think that I’ll read the United States Constitution.  It will take quite a while, because I move my lips when I read.  And the words are very big.

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High Speed Trains, Again

They’re at it again.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution is now in crusade mode, and the current administration is doing its best to help.

In “LaHood rips Georgia on High-Speed Rail”, Cynthia Tucker again reminds us that Georgia is hopelessly behind in any number of things.  Today’s problem, high speed rail transportation.  To quote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, “Georgia doesn’t have its act together. The state legislature doesn’t want to put money in for high-speed rail”. This from the Administration’s man who testified that anybody with a potentially defective Toyota should just stop driving it.  Jumping in, U. S. Representatives John A. Lewis (D) and David A. Scott (D) describe the transportation funding disparity as being the fault of the elected leadership of the State of Georgia.

There is, of course, a possible alternative explanation.  Consider that in the Stimulus Olympics, High-Speed Train category, the State of Florida got $1.25 Billion; the State of California got $2.25 Billion and the State of Illinois got $1.23 Billion.  Georgia gets $750,000.  Of course, Florida has been a key state in national elections, California is the biggest voting bloc in our great Republic (and a solidly Democratic one at that) and the current President’s home state is Illinois.

Georgia, on the other hand, currently has a Republican governor and a Republican dominated legislature.  Georgia is currently considered to be a “red” state.  Perhaps when we get our minds right and become a “blue” state, there will be more Federal money.  Assuming that there will be any Federal money left.

High speed trains are yet another public relations dream for the elected-class.  If the Japanese and the Europeans can do it, why can’t we?  And, yes, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that Georgia is behind in its transportation infrastructure.  Keep in mind that it took forever to get the Atlanta government building facade changed from State Highway Department to Department of Transportation.

The ghost of Jim Gillis still walks the halls of the State capitol.  If you ever want to see the benefits of political largess when it comes to road construction, take a cruise down Georgia Route 29, south from I-16.  Once you get to Soperton, Gillis’ hometown, keep on driving down Ga. 29 to see the result of not having political power.  Presumably, in the intervening years since Gillis left the Highway Department post, this has been remedied, but it does point to the political character of transportation construction, be it highways or high-speed trains.

Politicians currently love high-speed trains.  Inevitably, any example used in the press shows one of the various European trains, conveniently forgetting that we have high speed trains in the United States already, in the form of the Northeast Corridor.  Likewise, some believe that the original electrification project of that segment of railroad was a Federal project, but it was, in fact, largely funded with private capital.  To quote from the Wikipedia article: “In 1933, the electrification south of Wilmington stalled due to the Great Depression, but the PRR [Pennsylvania Railroad] managed to get a loan from the federal government, and resumed work the next year.”

And, it is hard to do a camera shot of the continuing funding problems that Amtrak enjoys in Congress.  If an Amtrak train does not go through an individual Congressperson’s district, then Amtrak does not get funding support from that Member of Congress.  It’s a miracle that we have governmentally operated trains at all.

Like so many other problems, Congress created the problem in the first place by constructing the Federal Interstate Highway system and creating heavily subsidized airline travel.  When the Postal contracts moved from the railroads to trucks using the Interstates, the passenger train mysteriously became unprofitable and went away.  Caught in the act, Congress bought the passenger trains from the privately operated railroads and then spent the next 40 years giving out just enough money to appear to be doing something without actually doing much of anything.  Locally, support for high-speed trains is largely confined to someone else’s neighborhood.

So, with the Stimulus honey pot bubbling, the big-spenders have latched onto the concept of high-speed railroad corridors.  It is yet another indication for Congress’ penchant for throwing money at a problem rather than engage itself with thoughtful legislation.  And, more than a few communities have dutifully come up with a relationship with a sister city so that they can be called a corridor, which is the only place that conventional thought allows for “high speed” railroad construction.

So much of the current Congressional wet dream calls for construction of highly expensive corridor trains.  They are expensive to build, expensive to operate and expensive to maintain, but they look good on television.  And, of course, if the trains are maglev, so much the better.

Using a baseball analogy, maglev is a bases-loaded, game-winning home run in an extra inning 7th game of the World Series.  “Conventional” high speed trains are just a bases-loaded game winning home run in the play-offs.  What we need right now are a bunch of singles and doubles, and maybe a triple every now and then, but that doesn’t produce good television.

For a while, all that Georgia could come up with was a commuter line from Atlanta to Lovejoy.  Support for this was based on the presence of Federal money that had been dangled out in front of some pliant individuals rather than as a result of a clear and present demand for the service.  Having a duplicate set of railroad tracks from Atlanta to Macon didn’t hurt the cause, either.  In the end, nothing happened with due cause.  Whatever money might have been spent on that boondoggle could have been better applied somewhere else.  Like extending Rich’s Pink Pig to Alpharetta.

If you want other examples of government largess in the transportation business, consider the Detroit People Mover.  It is self-described as the best way to discover downtown Detroit; certainly it appears to be the safest option, as long as you stay on the train.  From its windows, you can see countless abandoned buildings.  And, in the best Federal government tradition, it operates only in a counter-clockwise manner.  It is comprised mostly of left-turns. [The direction of operation was changed a couple years ago.  It now operates in the opposite direction. ro’c]

Likewise, consider Dulles International Airport, the airport designed by Congress.  It is almost impossible to fly in or out of Dulles without being transported between terminal and aircraft in one of these contraptions:

Dulles People Mover

Inside, they have the charm of a bus station waiting room:

In operation, they have an odd bounding motion.  I’ve been in a coal hauler that rode better, but the really special part is at the beginning or end of each trip.  The passenger compartment must be lowered and raised at the terminal and at the aircraft, so everything stops, you hear some gears grind and then the unit’s engine goes into a high crescendo of diesel fury.  And, for a minute or so, you look out the windows and watch the scenery slowly rise or fall, depending upon your location.  During those sweet moments, I like to look at my fellow passengers, trying to see if they also realize the absurdity of this situation.  Mostly, they try to ignore what they are being forced to endure, much as when someone passes gas at a party.

Yes, I really trust Congress to get transportation issues right.

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In my misspent youth after graduating from college (Class of ’71), I had the opportunity to work as a bartender for about 9 months. In looking back, it was a very interesting experience, on a variety of levels.  The bar was an odd one, down in a basement of a building in the downtown section of a working class town.

The clientele was mixed, with business people and local politicians during lunch; by the evening, the crowd had become much more, ahem, diverse.  There were college students, factory workers, assorted industrial-strength consumers of alcohol and a group of local motorcycle enthusiasts called The Grim Reapers.  Maintaining control was paramount, and it is only with the benefit of reflection that I know that nobody wanted trouble with the bartender.  In other words, I had much more authority than I realized.

I remember a few of the characters that came into that place at that time.  The Grim Reapers were trying very hard to be as bad as the California enthusiasts’ group, The Hells Angels.  Likewise, the college students were interesting to me since these were people that I knew from campus, but the situation was entirely different.  Given the presence of free flowing alcohol, a lot of odd things happened.  Such as when I looked up from washing bar ware to see a patron eating a glass.

I remember one individual specifically.  He was a quiet guy.   Came in once or twice a week, had a few beers and then left.  That was it.  Until one night, when a couple Grim Reaper wanna-bes came drifting into the bar.  They sat down at one end of the bar, ordered and started looking around.  Their gaze became fixated on the quiet guy with beer at the other end of the bar.  One of them got up, walked down to this guy and started ragging on him.

“Well, if it isn’t Mr. ****sucker.  How you been?  I haven’t seen you since that bar in Peoria……”  You can figure out where things went from there, but at a point, the quiet guy gets up and says to the lout: “If there’s anything that I like more than sucking ****, it’s beating the **** out of somebody that deserves it.”

At this point, I went into Authority Mode, directing them that if they had any differences of opinion, they needed to take it outside of the bar, which they did.  I never saw any of them again.  I look back at that and marvel at the event.  Stonewall had happened two years before, but it’s a long way from New York to rural Illinois.  Homosexuality was a taboo subject then; it was a different time in America.

I think of that evening every time I see additional controversy about the military policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  As a conservative, I’m all for private expression of whatever feelings you might have.  I’m all for the government staying out of people’s lives.  And I’m thinking that the military needs all of the willing talent that it can muster.

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