Friday, January 28, 2011

Column for Jan. 27, 2011

Just this past weekend, my wife and I returned from a Western Caribbean cruise vacation to Key West, Florida and Cozumel, Mexico. We had a great time, all things considered. There were some inconveniences that were beyond our control or that of the cruise line, but we still enjoyed ourselves.

I figured that since so many Mexicans have come to my country, I would return the favor. The major difference is that I went there legally, contributed to their economy rather than taking from it, and left to return to my own homeland. I had never been to Mexico before. I was a little surprised at some of what I saw.

Usually when someone goes to a tropical island paradise, they take in the scenery of brilliant blue ocean, palm trees, flowers, historic sites, and relax by the coarse sandy beaches. I did do just a little bit of that, but I wish I could have done that even more. Actually, I got some nasty scrapes on my legs from swimming in the Caribbean Sea in a Cozumel beach. There are plenty of rocks on their coast, as I found out.

As our tour bus drove across the island of Cozumel and outside of town, we passed through a lot of run down, unkempt buildings. I saw lots of people dwelling in relative squalor. Many businesses operated out of broken down buildings with thatched roofs. The docks were run down and ugly. There were many old Volkswagen cars in Cozumel. Many Volkswagens were manufactured in Mexico in the 1970's, so that makes sense. Being in the warm, sunny weather, the bodies of many of those Beetles seemed to still be in good shape.

I was surprised to find a resort island in this condition. Cozumel exists primarily as a tourist destination. All merchants take American dollars besides Pesos. Many merchants also take Euros. I found a lot of nice little shops that catered to European and American visitors and the trinket/souvenir market they generate. There were also shops that sold pharmaceuticals over the counter that are only available by prescription here in the U.S. (but should be over the counter, instead). Jewelry shops and bars were readily available.

Our tour guide told us that Cozumel has come a long way since she was a child there. There never used to be any colleges when she was growing up on that island, so she had to come to the U.S. to study. Now there are three collegiate schools, we are told, on an island of only 95,000 people. Those 95,000 people live within just 10% of that island. They now have total water filtration for the entire island and a safe drinking water supply. That is progress, it seems.

There were at least some people making a decent living. All merchants spoke good English. I don't know if the bar/restaurant on the beach we went to was any indication of the rest of Mexico's resorts, but they charged a good amount of money for food. We declined to pay $12 for the cheapest entrée available. While in Mexico we never ate any Mexican food, but within a few days we were home and ate Mexican food at a Smithfield restaurant. Go figure.

A T-shirt vendor refused to negotiate any lower on his price and I walked away without the purchase of two shirts. Perhaps he could afford to wait for some other big guy to come buy his larger shirts eventually, but I was not willing to pay his prices. Some of the lower priced shops were doing a brisk business. We spent a good amount on gifts for family at a few of these shops ourselves. Why then was there so much apparent poverty on that island?

I don't blame Mexicans for wanting to come to America and earn more money. I am sure that outside of the higher priced tourist shops, there was much poorer commerce going on. If the conditions of some of the people and buildings were any indication, I am sure it was the case. If Cozumel was any indicator of conditions in other areas of Mexico, I can certainly understand wanting to leave.

I compare that one tropical island to Key West, which is in America. Key West is a booming tropical paradise with high real estate prices, a lot more commercialism, and a lot more development. Other than proximity and a difference in economic systems, I am still pondering the real differences between the two tropical islands. Both had things that attracted me, and both had a few drawbacks. All things considered, however, I do believe that I prefer the American way.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Column for Jan. 20, 2011

I have a family member that lives in Greensboro and has a Howard Coble for Congress bumper sticker on her car. Since I do not live in that district, I am not all that familiar with Mr. Coble. After reading an article on “The Greensboro News & Record” web site, I know why she supports him. Howard Coble supports something that is in short supply inside the beltway of Washington, DC, common sense.

Mr. Coble supports a bill that says you should be able to use whatever kind of light bulb you prefer in your own home. You see, in 2007, Congress passed a bill that requires certain energy efficiency standards for light bulbs. I don’t know what business it is of Congress to regulate what sort of bulbs you put in your lamp next to your living room chair or in your bathroom light fixtures, since I don’t see anything in the Constitution that allows them to do that. Furthermore, it is just plain common sense to let people choose for themselves what sort of lights they want to use.

I put compact fluorescent bulbs in most of my lighting fixtures in my home. I did this to hopefully save energy and money. I bought into the hype that these bulbs were just as bright as incandescent bulbs and would use far less electricity. I got tired of some bulbs blowing out on me and constantly changing them. One lamp in particular blew bulbs constantly. A fluorescent bulb solved that particular issue.

One thing that I found out, however, is that compact fluorescent bulbs were much more expensive than incandescent bulbs. They also can blow out and fail just like incandescent bulbs. More than once I have put in a fluorescent bulb and it blew out in short order. So much for saving money there. On top of that, I found out that after a while, fluorescent bulbs tend to dim. Not too long ago, my wife remarked to me, “Is it me or is the living room darker than it used to be?” Alas, she was correct. The ceiling fan lights just are not as bright as they used to be.

I know people that have rushed to stores and stocked up a lifetime supply of incandescent bulbs just because they do not want to be forced into more expensive bulbs and they don’t want the government telling them how to illuminate their homes. I am all for saving electricity, but I am not for the government mandating how I do it. If I prefer older, more inefficient light bulbs, that is my choice. If I want to waste electricity by leaving my door left wide open so that I try to heat the great outdoors during our record “global warming” cold snaps, that is my business.

I am not convinced that this common sense repeal bill will pass through Congress and be signed by the President, however. Remember that the Senate is still controlled by people who love to control you and your actions such as Harry Reid, and that the President used to have the most liberal voting record in the Senate when he would actually cast a vote. He already wants to tell you how to conduct your health care and what volume your television can be set to, so I doubt he wants to allow you the freedom to choose the type of light bulb you want to use.

Speaking of electricity use, I see that Duke Energy and Progress Energy want to merge. The arguments so far are that there will be more efficient generation and distribution of electricity thus resulting in lower electricity bills. I am sure that every single person who is a customer of theirs and especially those who are customers of public power towns may just want a utility bill break. Towns like Selma, Smithfield, and Clayton already pay higher electricity rates than direct customers of Progress Energy, so just maybe we can enjoy a lower rate for our electricity.

I would prefer that towns get out of their arrangement through Electricities all together and sell off our local power grid to the newly organized Duke Energy, but I doubt that will happen. The power Nazis want to maintain power over the people by monopolizing local towns’ electricity distribution to extract revenue from them. The light bulb Nazis may eventually come knocking on your door if you keep using your incandescent light bulbs. I may be a compact fluorescent bulb user, but at least you can never accuse me of saying, “First they came for the incandescent bulb users, but I was not an incandescent bulb user...”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Column for Jan. 13, 2011

Generally, I find that when government gets out of the way of private enterprise, it operates more efficiently. When government tries to enter the world of enterprise, it generally is inefficient and more expensive. Three recent stories of government interference come to mind.

I work in the television industry for a large communications company. Company policy prohibits that I mention its name. I work with advertising video automation systems, so I have to deal with emerging and changing technologies on a daily basis. Trust me when I say that advanced technology has not necessarily made the job easier. Rather, it has become increasingly complex. When technology products are supplied by other companies, television networks, and advertising agencies, technology working and playing well together can be a real challenge. Welcome to my work life if that sounds confusing.

Having solved all other problems in this country, your Congress has passed a bill and our illustrious President Obama has signed The CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act into law. It is a law that seeks to force video providers to control advertising audio levels on television.
The government forced television providers to institute technology that makes that very thing difficult and rather than deal with issues like national security, illegal immigration, profligate spending, and national debt, they thought that controlling the volume of your television was more important. That is typical of government; create a problem and then propose a difficult and expensive method of solution.

In other news, two dozen North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) boards lost money in the 2010 fiscal year. Then the ABC boards had the audacity to turn around and oppose any thoughts of privatization of the ABC system in our state. Basically, they just oppose losing their jobs and control. It has been exposed that many ABC boards have been a haven for nepotism, bloated salaries and staff levels, and corruption. They are keeping private industry out of the liquor business, keeping it a monopoly. But that very monopoly is losing money.

In other states, liquor stores are privately run and are very profitable. Governor Perdue is contemplating the selling of the ABC system to private industry, and this is one area in which she and I agree wholeheartedly. There is no reason why liquor sales have to be run by government. The specious claim of the need for regulation and control has been made by ABC boards, but that does not mean that the stores and distribution system has to be run by the government. If government wants to regulate your television volume, they can certainly regulate the sale of liquor. Yet the president of the Association of ABC Boards has been quoted as saying, “We think control is a better idea than privatization.” We can have both. Other states do, and it works well.

Johnston County is getting in the way of progress when it comes to cell phone reception. The county has placed a restriction on the height of towers of 120 feet unless the company wanting the tower can prove that the lower height would hinder cell phone service in the area. Cell provider T-Mobile wanted to build a 195 foot tower in the Cleveland area. The county refuses to budge on the height restriction. The T-Mobile tower extra height would increase the tower’s range by 50 to 75%, but that does not matter to the county.

In Cary, some cell towers have to be made to look like freaky pine trees. In Raleigh, a cell tower was made into a church bell tower to hide its appearance. Out here in Johnston County, I don’t think that anyone wants bell towers or funky looking pine trees, but I am willing to bet that we all would prefer better cell phone coverage. For years, those in Johnston County who have mobile phones have had to tolerate what has been termed “cell hell”. We have experienced bad coverage, dropped calls, and slow internet service on smart phones. As the area has grown, so has the desire for improved communications systems.

I fail to see how a taller tower will be a detriment to the community. I don’t know why capricious, almost arbitrary regulations are set sometimes. Even when serving on the local planning board, I failed to see the need for some regulations whereas others were needful. This seems to me to be a case of government interference. Sometimes if government would simply get out of the way, we could have profitable liquor stores, better cell phone coverage, and private industry would not be pushed into difficult to control technology. Then again, why would we expect anything less than the oligarchical mentality we get from government?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Column for Jan. 6, 2011

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Johnston County's proposed ordinance concerning limits on where firearms and projectiles could be used (to include BB guns and bow and arrow shooting). I sent that very column to my elected representatives on the County Board of Commissioners. I received some feedback from several of them. One such email I got was an official message from Allen Mims, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners. It read as follows.

"As you are aware, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners was scheduled to hold a public hearing…to review and discuss the adoption of a proposed firearm ordinance. I, as well as my fellow Board members, have received several communications over the last week from concerned citizens regarding the implementation of such an ordinance. In light of these concerns, the Board and I have decided to develop a workgroup, consisting of Commissioner, staff and citizen representatives, who will review the proposed firearm ordinance, address the citizen concerns and develop a revised ordinance that is mutually acceptable among us all."

This shows that some people do still listen to their constituents when enough people make their voices heard. That is not to say that the reviewed and amended proposed ordinance will be any better, but at least the County Board is taking another look at the situation.

In other gun control insanity, I was reading an article about yet another gun buyback program that was in Providence, Rhode Island. This was not for unused our found firearms, though. It was for toy guns for children. That's right, toy guns. Providence is not exactly known for being conservative. I have known far too many left-wing control freaks that despise freedom and traditional American values from that area.

Children, especially boys, love to play with toy guns. I had cap guns, squirt guns, toy machine guns, and the like when I was a tot. My oldest son loves to play with his toy guns, and I have been teaching him about gun safety. Eventually I will gift him with his own real one, when he is old enough and mature enough. The same goes for my infant son. Toy guns nowadays come in bright colors or at least with orange tips, so as not to be confused with real ones. Even without the safety contrast colors, as children we never mistook our toys for the real thing and playing with toy guns never caused us to become violent in real life.

According to The Boston Globe, "In exchange for their toy guns, all the children received wrapped presents that were indisputably not violent — dolls, stuffed animals, and board games like checkers."

When I told my son about the program, he grabbed his toy shotgun, held it above his head, and proclaimed, "…from my cold dead hands!" Charlton Heston would have been proud.

Why is it that liberals will not be satisfied until everyone has equal misery? My boy is quite happy playing with his toy guns. I am happy when I get to play with my real ones. That does not make us violent. It makes us normal, freedom loving, American males. Liberals want to neuter people like us with anti-gun legislation, regulation, court decisions, treaties, and ordinances. When they can't reach children that way, they try to indoctrinate them into thinking that guns, even toy ones, are evil.

Look, guns are no more evil than the car you drive. Lighters are not evil, but evil can be done with them in the hands of an arsonist. Cars are not evil, but in the hands of a drunken driver, they can be lethal. Guns are not evil, but in the hands of an evil person, they can facilitate evil, violent acts. More people have died because of Ted Kennedy's car than have died from a bullet wound from one of my guns…and I have about 25 times as many guns as Kennedy had automobiles.

Since drunk drivers hurt people, I propose a buyback program for all toy cars and Jack Daniels bottles. How about swimming pools? Many children die in swimming pool accidents, so let's have a buyback program on all inflatable wading pools, backyard swimming pools, and Barbie Townhouse accessories. According to the logic used by liberals, it all makes sense to me.

As for me, I join with the bumper sticker sentiment of my son that was famously uttered by the late Charlton Heston, "...from my cold, dead hands!"