Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Column for Aug. 26, 2009

Last week, I wrote about LaPlante's Law and made a tangential comment about a streetlight being burned out and my neighbor having asked for a year to have it replaced or repaired. I am pleased to type that the very afternoon that the column hit the news stand, I got a phone call from the Selma's electrical department wanting to know which light to replace. The next morning, a crew replaced the offending light. Kudos, guys. My neighbor is happy and took the time to write me a note saying so.

Last week's column actually started out being entirely different. I had planned for a few weeks to write about some casual observations around town. That is how I intended to write, starting with LaPlante's Law and going from there. It is not unusual to end up somewhere other than my intended destination when I sit down to craft my weekly rant.

Well, here are some of my observations.

  1. New streetlights in Selma are very bright. In fact, they are brighter than the old ones nearby. This is by no means a complaint. It is merely an observation.
  2. Selma actually has properties in town selling for over $350,000. Though some of the higher end homes I have seen are beautiful and the real estate listing web sites have showcased some flattering pictures, I wince that the two or three houses I absolutely love in town are well beyond my budget right now.
  3. It takes years to get the flagpole in front of the post office painted. But it was painted. I even got to see it being done. Yay!
  4. There are some young, intelligent, attractive teachers at Selma Elementary.
  5. I am not quite old enough to be the father of some of those teachers, but some days I sure feel like I am and then some. Today was one of those days.
  6. There are/have been three day care centers opening in Selma recently or in the near future. And I thought we already had a bunch of them.
  7. There are also two new barbershops, bringing the total of which I am aware to at least four. I did not know that there were that many male heads of hair to be shorn in this town. In the town where I grew up, which was slightly bigger than Selma, there was but one. When my old, faithful barber lost his lease on his shop, he would come to our home on an appointment basis.
  8. My word processor does not like the terms "flag pole", "street lights", "barber shops", and "post script" to be separate words. It prefers them as compound words, but that is not the case with "news stand" versus newsstand. Both are acceptable. My word processor also does not like the possessive form of my last name. It tells me that "LaPlante's" is misspelled. Misspelled, one of the most often misspelled words in the English language, however, was accepted without objection.
  9. I forgot some of my other observations and should have written them down when they crossed the synapses of my brain. That in itself was a fresh observation.
  10. I can not find a whole lot of people from Selma on but did find a bunch on The people on MySpace are mostly younger whereas Facebook folks tend to be a bit older. Find me on either, user name troylaplante.
  11. Even after road closures and construction projects, we still can not get a smooth crossing over the railroad tracks on Ricks Road. On Peedin Street in Smithfield and at the main crossing in Lillington, that is possible, but apparently not in Selma. Crossing those tracks at that spot is annoying, but nothing I type here will make any difference. After all, it is not a streetlight (one word).

Though I am not currently outside applying LaPlante's Law, the law of entropy is applying itself to me. I have struggled all day to keep a positive attitude, not speak too negatively, and resist just plain being ornery. My resistance to orneriness was severely tested at this evening at a meeting, especially with the postscript (one word) attached to it. However, I am sure that subject will be fodder for another column some other day as well make for interesting news in this paper.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Column for Aug. 20, 2009

I often have trouble sleeping. I have for years. It is just one of those things I have come to accept, and I am not sure why I can not sleep well. I can count on one hand the number of times I have woken up in the past two decades and said, "Well, that was a good night's sleep." I have had a sleep study done and I know what the problem is not. Either way, I live with it. Having a five week old baby in the house contributes to this, but I am relatively used to a lack of sleep as it is.

My dog is the beneficiary of a master that does not sleep well. I often take him outside in the middle of the night for him to check his territory, mark his scent, and come back inside. I get to do the same in some regards. I have my little quarter acre of paradise and I get to walk around on my grass, rain or clear skies, warm or cold.

It is on these nightly jaunts onto my kingdom grounds that I have postulated LaPlante's Law. LaPlante's Law basically states that no matter what time of the day or night it is, if I go outside and walk on my front lawn facing Anderson Street, I will see cars on my street or an adjacent street 95+ percent of the time. Seldom will I not hear an automobile coming and watch one pass. This is true whether it is midnight, 2 AM, 4 AM, 6 AM, whatever. I see pick up trucks, cars, police, bicycles, vans, even commercial trucks at all hours of the night. When sitting in my rocking chair feeding Junior in the wee hours of the night, I often hear vehicles passing by my modest home, though I do not count them as conforming to LaPlante's Law if I was not outside at the time.

For a small community, we are a noisy town at night. That is why I still think about and chuckle at the public comments that were at the public hearing a couple of years ago when it was proposed to build an ethanol plant outside of Selma. Don't get me wrong, I was not in favor of the plant being built. However, I thought that some of the comments were outlandish.

From my front lawn on Anderson Street, late at night, I stand and listen. Sometimes I hear the cicadas screaming in the early evening. I often hear crickets chirping late into the night. I can also hear the interstate traffic that is over a mile away from here. I often hear the railroad, since I am only a block away from one set of tracks. I am only a few blocks from the water plant, so I hear its dull roar all night long. I can also see the glow of the lighting from that same facility.

That is why I chuckle. The complaints about the proposed ethanol plant covered such things as alleged noise and light pollution at night. Yet right in the midst of a residential district I hear the noise from the water plant that fills my faucet with clean drinking water. As to the alleged "light pollution" (which is fallacious, in my opinion), my neighbors have been trying to get a street light fixed for about a year now as it is. People want more, not less light along my street. When I think about these ironies, I inwardly snicker to myself and at the folly of human whining. I literally think about this every time I listen to the hum of the water facility and see the non-functioning street lamp.

Like I said, for a small town of only seven thousand people and 4.6 square miles, we have a lot of noise and activity. We have a lot of traffic at all hours of the day and night, even on side roads. Most of that traffic, by the way, ignores the town speed limit. West Anderson Street is one of those routes that has no stop signs along its path, thus attracting rapid cross town traffic.

Though I would enjoy a good night's sleep once in a while, there are several things I love. I love being a daddy to my baby, even if it means middle of the night feedings and diaper changes while listening to automobile and locomotive traffic. I love my jaunts outside with Barack Odoga, who has turned out to be a much better dog than I ever thought he would be. I love the cooler months when I can look into the clear North Carolina night sky and see my old, faithful friend, Orion, in the stars overhead. I love this despite the noise and light pollution of street lights, interstate traffic, freight trains, and water plants. And I love living in a nation in which I have the freedom to own my own quarter acre patch of land to call my own and hang its flag year 'round at my front door.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Column for Aug. 13, 2009

Are you enjoying helping other people buy their new cars?

Have you purchased a new car recently? If so, have you enjoyed either helping others buy their new cars? Or have you been enjoying others buying your car for you? With $3 billion now into this boondoggle, the "Cash for Clunkers" program has been in full swing. The automobile industry may love it, but as a taxpayer, I detest it.

Sorry people, but a new car is not a necessity, it is a luxury. Just because your car is older and may get a little worse gas mileage than you would prefer does not entitle you to government money.

I see nothing in the Constitution that gives the government the power to authorize such expenditure of public money. And yet we are paying for people to have the luxury of a new car.

One part of the Cash for Clunkers catastrophe that falls under the “law of unintended consequences” is (as I just read) that the price of new cars is being driven up because of the lack of a need to discount prices to attract customers.

A second consequence is that the cars traded in for new ones have to be destroyed under the law. Good, older used cars will not be available to the less fortunate or those who do not have the budget for something newer. As long as the populace in general is getting hosed on such a boondoggle, lawmakers could have had the charitable foresight to give away these used cars to the less fortunate. At least then, welfare recipients without a car could wake up before noon and have transportation to go find a job.

The original Cash for Clunkers program was supposed to last all summer and only require a $1 billion budget. Now they are two billion dollars over their original budget. Are we sure that we want the same people who could not run such a simple program like this to be in charge of our health care system, as well?

What is the bottom line purpose behind the Car Allowance Rebate System (Cash for Clunkers, as it is called)? Control. When more money is taken out of your pocket and redistributed, it is control over your life. If you look to the government as your supply, then you will tend to re-elect those who gave you money. This principle transcends all levels of government. Follow the money trail and it always shows the hidden agenda.

To continue on the idea of a hidden agenda, I was watching a news report that users of the Car Allowance Rebate System web site ( must agree to a term of use that says you agree to give up ownership of your computer. You actually have to agree to the fine print stating that your computer has become part of a government computer network and that the computer is now under the ownership of the US Government.

A software application gets installed on your computer and you agree that all files on your computer are accessible by the government. Hey, I don’t make this stuff up. I just report what I have read and seen.

I don’t know about you, but that is just Big Brother at work. For the $4,500 or so in the form of a rebate, I am not willing to totally relinquish my cyber privacy and allow any jack booted brown shirt to come from the government to claim my personal property as that of the government.

One way to ponder the $3 billion for CARS is that though it is a pittance compared to the overall national budget, it is huge when put into perspective locally. The $3 billion is 15.789 percent of our entire North Carolina state budget.

We certainly would not have a $900 million tax increase with that sort of money added to our state budget instead of being blown on new cars. Also, more people would have directly benefited. Three billion dollars is 174.446729115106755 times the entire annual town of Selma budget.

Before I pop a blood vessel thinking about how our tax dollars are being spent, I need to wrap up this week’s column.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Column for Aug. 6, 2009

At the last two Planning Board meetings here in Selma, we have taken up the issue of limiting the sort of lodging establishments that can be built in town. There is a proposal to prohibit motels from being built and only allowing hotel type lodging. This does not affect existing businesses, but rather future growth or replacement structures.

The difference between a hotel and a motel, as proposed by the town, is the manner of construction. A motel would be defined as having room access from the exterior of the building whereas a hotel would have interior corridors. It is argued that a hotel type business attracts (in general) a higher class of customer and brings in higher taxes than a motel.

I do a significant amount of traveling in my job and personal life. Just recently, I stayed at a fine Best Western motel (as defined by proposed Selma ordinance). I have stayed at some fine hotels, as well.

It was the opinion of the Planning Board that the town ought not adopt an ordinance discriminating against motel type facilities in favor of hotels. The reasons were several, including the infringement upon the private property rights of a motel franchisee, discrimination against a viable form of business, and losing potential tax revenue from fine motel type establishments.

Let's face it, Selma will never attract a Hilton Garden or Embassy Suites. We are a crossroads on Interstate 95 and not a major tourist, convention, or business destination. Interstate travelers are looking for a clean, comfortable, affordable room, not a luxury suite.

Let's also face this fact. Selma does indeed have several establishments that I would term "flea bag motels". At one time, I am sure that they were decent establishments. Now they are aged, lacking in amenities, attract a lot of drug users and dealers, and some are high crime areas. It is precisely these sorts of clients that the town seeks to eliminate. I am all for that, but at what price? Sure, you are not as likely to find that sort of activity at the Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn. That is the nature of the franchises and clients to whom they cater, not necessarily construction.

The Village Inn in Smithfield has been a well run motel for years, as have several others. On the other hand, there were several fine motels that degraded into drug havens and cesspools. Some have since been torn down to make way for nicer businesses. That is all about the commitment to fine management and respect for the community versus trying to get a few bucks from a sleazy clientele roster.

If one of our craptacular motels here in Selma was to burn down or be demolished (which would not hurt my feelings. I will refrain from naming business names), the proposed ordinance would prohibit any type of lodging establishment that did not offer only interior corridors for room access.
Don't get me wrong, I love Microtel and have a stack of hotel rewards program cards for different hotel chains in my desk. However, if a Best Western, Red Roof Inn, Motel 6, or other company wanted to build a nice, clean, new facility that just happened to provide rooms accessible from the exterior of the building, I have a hard time with the Town of Selma saying, "Sorry, but we do not want your million dollar facility on our tax rolls, we are holding out for hallways."

Furthermore, unless one of our existing motels is indeed demolished, there are few places for the construction of a new facility. However, since we are not a major tourist destination, I doubt we will attract much more than we already have. Roanoke Rapids attracted a Hilton Garden, but they also have a major music theater on site, and we see how negatively that whole scenario worked out for the town.

I have a few thoughts about the argument that a hotel brings in more tax revenue than a motel. First, show me some hard numbers and I may soften my position, but property rights still prevail in my estimation. Second, I had guests in July and will have family here in September. Both parties elected to stay in a local lodging establishment since we do not have much room for accommodations at the house. Both parties chose lodging near the Factory Stores. Selma lost tax revenue since I advised against the flea bag motels, and the corridor edifices in town exceeded the cost they were willing to pay.

I do not know what the Town Council will decide on this issue, as they have been known to ignore recommendations by the Planning Board for various reasons. Will we uphold property rights and freedom while potentially missing out on property and room taxes from establishments that do not conform to fancier corridor construction?