Thursday, October 29, 2009

Column for Oct. 29, 2009

If you don't recycle this newspaper, birds are going to die. I'll bet you did not know that was a fact. Neither did I, until my six year old came home from school and informed me that it would happen. Sure enough, I was told this not once, but twice on two separate days. When I inquired as to where he had heard that, he told me that it was being taught in his first grade class and that his teacher told him that. He was beginning to tear up over the thought of sweet, innocent little birdies laying on the ground, dead as a result of someone not recycling a newspaper.

Twice, I had to instruct him that what he was hearing was itself, rubbish. I had to inform him that newspapers are made of paper, which come from wood products, i.e., trees. I realize that he is too young to understand basic economics, so I tried to put it in a way he could understand. He has seen and helped family with growing vegetables, flowers, and the like. I told him that if he wanted a harvest from his plants, he had to put seed or starter plants in the ground. Trees are no different. They are a renewable resource.

Trees are harvested for wood products, plain and simple. Whether the use is lumber for construction, toilet paper, furniture, baseball bats, whatever, we need wood. Lumber companies are smart enough to use good forest management techniques so that they will still be in business decades down the road. If all trees are cut down, it will be like the Dr. Seuss story, "The Lorax", and we will have nothing for a forested landscape. According to The Center for Free Market Environmentalism, "The amount of new growth that occurs each year in forests exceeds by a factor of twenty the amount of wood and paper that is consumed by the world each year".

I have done some research on recycling. There are a lot of myths being foisted upon the public from both sides of the issue. Actually, we have plenty of landfill space and the United States does well with its waste generation. Two facts according to EcoWorld I found interesting. First, "the total land area needed to hold all of America’s garbage for the next century would be only about 10 miles square". The Center for Free Market Environmentalism clarifies this point, saying that the landfill would be ten miles "on a side". The second interesting fact was that "the average household in the United States generates one-third less trash each year than does the average household in Mexico." Since we have so many immigrants from Mexico in the U.S. and that number is growing rapidly, will that figure change? Doubtful. As stated by EcoWorld, "we now produce about twice as much output per unit of energy as we did 50 years ago and five times as much as we did 200 years ago." Thus, we are far more energy efficient in today's manufacturing.

I could go on with a bunch of facts and figures, but I would simply encourage each of you to do your own investigation. I know that birds can fly to a new tree if his tree is cut down. I know that nature adapts and that man has a way of making efficient use of the natural resources available when profit is on the line.

I will add this one particular quote, though. "On average, extensive recycling is 35 percent more costly than conventional disposal, and basic curbside recycling is 55 percent more costly than conventional disposal." Just from personal experience here in Selma, I find that not all items are taken by the recycling vendor in town. More than once, I have found items left on my lawn which I have placed in the recycling bin. My neighbor has had the same thing happen. I did not know that the sorting facility was at my curb, and I certainly did not appreciate the polymer container being littered on my lawn.

If you are like me, you don't run outside every time you open a can of cat food. I use an old plastic bucket to collect my recyclables right next to my garbage can in my kitchen. When the bucket gets full, we empty it into the recycling dumpster. Of course, I don't want Spaghettios, Coke, tuna, or the Wal-Mart special Ol' Roy dog food cans all nastily crudding up, smelling up, and attracting bugs into my kitchen, so we take the time to rinse out the containers first. Ah, there is nothing like using up more natural resources in an attempt to allegedly save natural resources and "save the planet". Phooey.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Column for Oct. 22, 2009

This may be the first municipal election since I have lived in Selma in which I may either not vote or may support a write-in candidate. I read last week's issue of "The Selma News" which had answers to questions posed at a candidates' forum. Quite honestly, I wish that there was such a forum the past several election cycles. Alas, one never came to pass.

I have to admit, I was eager to read the questions and answers. I was not able to attend the forum in person, since I already had to choose one of two scheduled activities that same evening. Thus, I was hoping to find a glimmer of hope for Selma's future in the newspaper. I was underwhelmed with what I read.

There is a reason I stopped going to regular town council meetings. I often had to sit and stew while watching the goings-on. Many times I wanted to shout out as if it were a session of British Parliament. I am not one to easily and quietly observe those things that just "chap my hide". Even after sitting on the council for years, one would think that incumbents would have highly educated answers. Fresh candidates should have an idea of how a municipal government works and its priorities rather than having copy cat, obviously politically correct, or uninformed answers to basic questions. I am going to pass along to all current candidates as well as ordinary citizens a good resource. The Center for Local Innovation, a division of The John Locke Foundation, is an excellent place to gain perspective about the priorities, needs, and role of local government. They are easily found on the internet.

There is a reason why I got the endorsement of a county wide newspaper when I ran for Selma Town Council. I paid attention to the needs of and the role of government. Unfortunately, government tends to exceed its rightful role, and Selma's government is no exception. Local government should not have as its primary goals the inclusion of more and more territory under its control nor the increase of its tax base. As I have preached for years, the primary focus should be on essential services and maintenance of existing infrastructure above all else. That means keeping the police cars and fire trucks rolling, the fresh water flowing, the sewage and waste water outgoing, the garbage picked up, the streets paved, and the electricity flowing. The only reason that I see water, sewer, and electricity as essential services is that the town has set itself up as a monopoly business in these areas. I would actually prefer to see private industry take over these utilities, since I believe in private enterprise, competition, and decreasing prices by not burdening tax payers and citizens with the maintenance of such services.

I was glad to read that life long residents have chosen to become engaged in their community, but I was hoping to read some great insights that made me pump my fist in the air and say, "Yeah, there ya' go!" I have a few comments that I would like to proffer, but have to keep it brief in the interest of print space.

It was stated that "senior citizens are the backbone of our community". No, they are not. I do not minimize their importance. They are an integral part, a necessary part, and a welcome part of our community. However, they are no more or less important than any other segment. Our local children are likewise. They are not to dominate our focus and we certainly are not to concentrate our law enforcement activities on them as a target demographic. We do not have inadequate emergency medical response, and the ridiculous notion that you don't get a live person on the other end of the phone when you dial 9-1-1 just because that person is in Smithfield instead of Selma just astounds me. Furthermore, EMS is not a town responsibility, it is a county one. For crying out loud, know the role of your government before filing for elected office or at least before opening your mouth at a public forum. I have more commentary, but don't have the space for it and need to go take a blood pressure pill before I pop a blood vessel.

Before anyone accuses me of simply having "sour grapes" over not having been elected myself, you can save your breath. Nay, it is a growing annoyance as a citizen of this town, this county, this state, and this nation. As I stated, I am glad to see people become engaged in their local town and government. I only wish that people took being an informed candidate or elected official as seriously as I do being an informed citizen. Yes, that is one of my pet peeves, which is one of the reasons why you get to read my rants each week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Column for Oct. 15, 2009

"Shut up, dogs!" I hollered from my bedroom. The barking stopped for just a moment, then continued. Both Barack Odoga and Daisy the killer Pekingese kept yapping...and yapping. "That's unusual," I thought. Hearing the dogs bark in the middle of the night was not especially odd. We get that a lot in this area. One of the neighborhood dogs barks at a pedestrian or cat, and the alarm system travels throughout the neighborhood. This time, however, something was different in how my two canines kept barking.

I wiped the sleepiness out of my eyes, as it was about 1:30 in the morning. I stumbled my way towards the bedroom door to make my way to the living room, where the pups were both on alert. "What is it, babies?" I asked. I looked around the room after turning on the ceiling fan light switch and saw a normal living room, just as I left it earlier in the evening. I walked into the bathroom, my office, and around the kitchen to ensure that nothing was wrong. I had listened to hear if I could hear what the dogs were barking about before I even got out of bed. The baby monitor often amplifies sound that only the dogs hear before I do. I often hear movement, outside dogs, and outdoor noises on the monitor before I do naturally. I did not hear anything out of the ordinary.

When I walked back into the living room, both dogs stood at attention, pointing towards the door to the carport. I flipped on the floodlight to the driveway and cracked open the living room door to the carport. I peered out to see if anyone was standing in my driveway, but saw nothing. When I looked down at the three brick stairs below my door stoop, I saw a body laying there clad in denim, sneakers, and white socks. I peered through the living room window and could not see much better.

Since the door opening, the dogs barking, and the light did not make the person stir, I figured that some drunken individual had passed out on my door step. I immediately put on some jeans, shoes, a shirt, and went to one of my gun safes. I despise the gun control laws that require me to lock up firearms since I have children in the house. I believe in safe handling, teaching respect for firearms, and having loaded weapons available at a moment's notice. Since becoming a dad, I complied with state law and locked them up (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). I went to the safe with my favorite revolver for concealed carry purposes, which also has a laser grip sight and wanted to at least carry it, should I need to take action. Since this is not where I keep my quick grab firearms, I had not used this piece in months. I found that the electronic lock was dead. This is not what one wants to run across when needing quick access to a gun. Fortunately, there was no imminent danger in this situation, so I took the time to try to solve the lock issue. Eventually, I used key access and figured I would fix the stupid thing later. Thankfully, that particular safe only held one gun.

I debated whether it was tactically better to handle this vagrant myself or to simply let the local constabulary force handle the situation. I weighed the pros and cons. If I took care of it myself, I would ensure that this individual was removed from my property on my terms and if medical assistance was necessary, my long expired emergency medical technician skills would come in handy. On the other hand, I am one person, and the police usually send at least two officers should things get physical. I had no idea if this person is armed or not or what would happen if he was startled awake suddenly. I could have gone out another door and approached the subject. However, I figured it was tactically best to have the local police to come remove the drunk.

Well, it turned out that an illegal immigrant with little or no English speaking capability had been so intoxicated that he either could not make it back to his residence or thought that my house was his and he just could not get through the door. Unfortunately, the Latino population, especially those here illegally, have a high instance of alcohol abuse. I understand being away from home and lonely, but there is still no excuse for drunkenness. Or illegal immigration, for that matter. At least he was not driving. I read far too many stories of drunken Latino drivers killing innocent people.

I have a t-shirt that says, "I DON'T DIAL 911" and has a picture of a Smith and Wesson 45 auto pistol firing (it looks like a model 4506, for you gun aficionados out there). Two things I know are that when it is not an emergency situation, it is worth it to sit back and wait for local law enforcement to handle non emergency situations. If it was a life threatening situation, I would have definitely done things differently. I also know that I despise gun laws, since they seldom deter law breakers but often inhibit law abiding citizens.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Column for Oct. 8, 2009

Hidden in the classified section of "The Selma News" and other periodical publications are announcements of public hearings on various topics. Whether they are budgets, zoning changes, ordinance changes, etc., towns must advertise these things. There were two in last week's paper that intrigued me. One of which I knew about, the other I did not until I read the announcement.

There is a public hearing on October 13th about a proposed change of the name of the south side of Railroad Street to Martin Luther King Avenue. The funny thing is that this announcement was in the newspaper edition reporting all of the upcoming (now past) Railroad Days activities. That irony did not escape me.

I first want to state that I believe that the Civil Rights Era of the 1960's was necessary. I believe that the work of Dr. King included a lot of good. I have read and heard many of his speeches and biographical material on the man. I spent a few days discussing race relations with one of his disciples many years ago. Though in my reading and discovery, I found many things about Martin Luther King, Jr. that I will not laud, I will not diminish his good work. I certainly do not advocate his execution nor that of any other man who works for the betterment of his fellow man, whether I agree with him or not. I am the sort of man who, had I been alive at the time, may very well have joined his marches in support of what was right.

That having been said, I do grow tired of the political correctness, capitulation, and appeasement of elevating this man's life to near deity or martyr status. It is a fad of apology and it is getting old. My personal opinion is that I would not mind naming a street after MLK if Selma already had James Madison Boulevard, George Washington Avenue, Thomas Jefferson Street, Ronald Reagan Circle, and the like. How about William Hooper or John Penn, North Carolina's signers of the Declaration of Independence? Or our representatives to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 like Richard Spaight or William Blount? Of course most have never heard of these men, as I doubt that their work is as valued today in history class.

This has zero to do with skin color and everything to do with political correctness or lack thereof. As I said, I would not mind renaming a street in honor of King, but to follow a fad and ignore the rich heritage that came before him is, in my opinion, a travesty.

I did not plan on spending so much time on that topic, since I wanted to bring up the Land Use Plan draft that was presented to the Planning Board and Town Council. There will be a public hearing on this "plan" on the same evening.

It was reported in this paper that the Selma Planning Board and Town Council had a joint meeting last week to hear about the plan. What is generally not public knowledge is that this same meeting was also supposed to be for "…the Council, Planning Board, and Land Use Plan Steering Committee [to] be able to offer commentary on the plan."

I had a copy of the plan for several weeks and had made numerous notes thereon. I came prepared for a discussion of the plan, yet no such opportunity was afforded by the Town Council, whose meeting this was, in all actuality. We were basically expected to be spectators while the town's contractors explained the philosophy behind their work. This is typical of the paradigm of some in our town government, unfortunately. We are going to have their vision of Selma regardless of what anyone else wants or says. For this reason, many on the Planning Board are disillusioned and frustrated. Many people in our town and extra-territorial jurisdiction are the same.

It is ironic that in my notes, I wrote that "we aren't Cary", since I had no idea at the time that one of our contractor's employees was the planner for the Town of Cary at one time. We were told that many things go into a plan, including philosophical values. This is what most of my commentary encompassed and was not necessarily technical in nature. For this reason, I was looking forward to the meeting for discussion.

One other thing we were told by The Wooten Company (the town's contractor) was that the State of North Carolina will be requiring towns to follow their "land use plan" when taking into account decisions relative to planning and zoning. The town's staff informed me that the plan is not regulatory in nature. However, if that shall indeed be a requirement by the state, and the town must abide by its plan for decision taking purposes, then the plan becomes defacto regulation. This plan affects the town and especially the ETJ.

Unfortunately, the Town of Selma rarely publishes any full documents online for review. Whether it is a full copy of the budget or a land use plan, you have to go by town hall for your own review. If you want your own copy, you will be charged for the photocopies. This is a control technique. I know this from experience. No big deal, though, since the public hearing is really only a formality and your input is not really welcome, anyway.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Column for Oct. 1, 2009

As I write this, I am sitting in front of my laptop computer in a motel room in Greenville, South Carolina. The motel, by the way, is a very nice, very well run motel with no interior corridors. The motel is of a national brand and is one we do not yet have in Johnston County. Selma Town Council take note.

This however, is not the subject of my column. This week's column is actually fairly solemn topic and a plea. I am in the Greenville area for my brother's funeral. He died earlier in the week. I found out on Wednesday that he had died on a Monday afternoon. On Thursday, I packed up my wife and baby, and headed out of town. I had made contact with one of my other brothers and we chatted about the arrangements, or lack thereof. He lives in Upstate New York. I have two other brothers who live in New Hampshire.

Today, my wife and I spent the afternoon at my brother's house helping his son, a friend of the family, his step father, and his first ex wife (he had three ex wives, by the way) go through boxes upon boxes of stuff, searching for some sort of paperwork indicative of a last will and testament, insurance information, or anything helpful for the disposition of his property, for a way to pay for the funeral, his wishes for his remains, etc. It was not a fun day.

My brother, Ed, was apparently a pack rat. He had a garage he could not use because it was full of boxes. His family had already been searching the house for two days by the time we arrived. They had found some 401(k) statements, some old pay stubs, old bills, and the like. As I helped paw through boxes of stuff, I found more of the same.

As of this evening, there is no sign of a will. One of his sons (my nephew) said that he remembered my brother saying once that he wanted to be cremated. His mother is a practicing Jehovah's Witness, which Ed and his two older brothers resisted since their youth. She said that Ed would have wanted a Kingdom Hall memorial service. Knowing Ed, all of us brothers knew better. His mother was married to my father and they divorced in the early 1960's. Technically, that makes my three older brothers my half brothers, but I consider them brothers nonetheless.

As with many families, there are rumors, accusations, and emotions towards different family members. Since my family has always been fairly aloof towards one another, I have nephews I have not seen in many years, and in some cases, decades. Since Ed's mother remarried twice since divorcing my father (her religious conversion was one major reason for the split), there are a bunch of people whom I have either met seldom or never met at all. Since my older three brothers have a different mother than I and my younger brother do, we have not been considered close family. Oddly enough, his mother and both of my older brothers all consider that I was the one closest to Ed. He was nine years older than me. At age 50, it is possible that he had a major heart attack. The body still has not been released by the coroner's office.

Over the past year to two years, Ed and I had been working on redeeming the time and building our relationship anew. We had been planning a visit down here sometime soon. Now I am visiting, seeing a lot of people I don't really know, and helping frantic people attempt to find what my brother may (or may not) have planned for his heirs and his wishes.

Why do I write all this? I want to encourage you, whomever you are, to make some plans for the end of your life. I made sure that I did so. The day I got married, just after we said our "I do's", this same brother was a witness on my newly signed last will and testament, living will, and health care power of attorney. Yet, it is possible that he did not do the same for himself and his four children. Hopefully, something will be found, but it does not look promising at this point. I implore you to make plans, save your family the heart ache and work, and make your wishes known in advance. It is not hard, it is not expensive, and your family will thank you for it.