Thursday, August 25, 2011

Column for August 25, 2011

Should a town be beholden to the State of North Carolina for every last decision? I say no. I was reading the article in “The Selma News” about about the Town of Selma’s desire to close the road around the railroad crossing on Preston Street by the old feed mill. I cringed when I read about how the Town Council decided to hold off on the vote until next month. I wish I still had the newspaper in front of me, but my two-year-old got to it, tore up the paper, and it got tossed in the recycle bin. I do recall that the town wanted to get input from the state Department of Transportation before taking a decision. I am all for having all the needed information before you prior to taking decisions, but that irked me a bit.

If Selma is an autonomous government agency, then it has its own jurisdiction and decision taking ability. I am told that Preston Street is a state road despite its length and termination points. It probably should be a town road, anyway. As much as I disagree with the proposed closing, I do believe that it should be Selma's decision to take, considering that the road is entirely within the town's jurisdiction.

There is a reason that each town has its own jurisdiction. I think back to when Selma was rezoning a parcel of land so that it could be used for industrial applications, specifically for an ethanol plant. I recall it vividly because I was on the town’s Planning Board at the time and was one of those who voted on that matter. I also went to the town council meeting about that decision. What irritated me about that meeting was that our neighboring town of Pine Level wanted to have a say in the matter. Speakers from Pine Level droned on for quite some time about their opposition to the ethanol plant. First, the agenda item was for a rezoning request, not for a debate over the merits of an ethanol plant. Second, this was a Selma matter within Selma planning and zoning jurisdiction, and not that of Pine Level. Selma can take its own decisions within its own jurisdiction, thank you very much.

As to the road closing request coming from a safety perspective, I do have experience in this area. Safety and risk management are part of my educational and work background. Sometimes there are acceptable levels of risk to take. Anytime you get into an automobile, there are inherent risks associated with travel of any distance. Yet we assume that risk regularly. How often are we going to shut down an intersection under the guise of safety? That railroad crossing has been decades and yet I don’t recall a single massive wreck associated with it in the news since I have been a Johnstonian. So to me, the safety issue is a non sequitur.

This safety claim reminds me of my very first column in this very newspaper about the Town of Selma spending thousands of dollars to take down an abandoned water tower for alleged safety and liability issues. The tower had been fine as it was for decades, but in a time of budget cuts and layoffs of town personnel, the town spent money needlessly at that point. It was reasonable, assumable risk at the time and could have been accomplished later in better financial times.

There are two more reasons that I personally oppose the closing of this railroad crossing. The first is freedom. I occasionally use this public road, for which I pay taxes for its upkeep. I despise the many roads that already dead end at railroad tracks in this town. How many more are we going to close? Shall we wait until only Pollock Street, Buffalo Road, Anderson Street, and Ricks Road remains as crossings?

Furthermore, I am not much for accommodating a railroad’s desire to close a road when they keep digging up our crossings almost every year, especially at Ricks Road. We have the worst crossing there now we have ever had. Another bad crossing is now near the train depot on East Anderson Street. Trenches with gravel tossed in them have been the norm now for quite a while and are simply horrendous. I can remember at least four times in as many years that the crossing at Ricks Road has been closed and torn up. Each time it’s never a quality job as was done on Peedin Road in Smithfield, on Buffalo Road, or even in the Town of Lillington.

Until all of our crossings are fixed nicely by all railroads that cross through our town and in a timely fashion, I would not be so willing to make accommodations for taking away more of our town’s access ways. As it is, I saw three signs on three different roads just this week warning of temporary crossing closures. Closing multiple crossings for construction has happened before, and I find that to be more dangerous in terms of cutting off emergency response by fire and ambulance equipment than any single crossing remaining open. It almost makes me want to see Railroad Days changed to some other type of festival. I can’t possibly be the only one who thinks that way.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Column for August 18, 2011

My wife and I bought a family membership to the NC Zoological Society about a month ago. We were planning a family trip to the NC Zoo in Asheboro, so we bought a membership for us and one more adult. We figured that since we make about one trip a year to one of the aquariums at our state’s coast and the zoo admission was sufficiently high that a membership that covers both places would make sense financially.

Had I known of all the animal sightings we were going to encounter in the coming weeks, I would not have gone to the zoo. Just this Monday we saw a vulture in front of our house. It was checking out a dead squirrel that had gotten run over in the street. When we came out the door, the startled bird flew away and I was a bit surprised to see a large bird taking flight at the end of my driveway. Then I looked to see what he was munching on and saw the dead, flat, gray rat with a bushy tail laying in the road.

Selma has an ordinance covering stray dogs. “It is unlawful for any owner or keeper of any dog to permit such dog to run at large within the town.” That is verbatim from the town code. It seems that we have a lot of them running around lately. I do take my dog outside, generally off leash since we pretty much cover from my house to the corner and back. My dog knows his territory and in general stays within it. When he has done his sniffing (reading the newspaper, as I call it) and relieved himself, we go back inside. My dog is always indoors, with me as we go outside together, or in my fenced backyard.

Lately we have been having issues with at least five different dogs wandering through the neighborhood. Three of them are habitually running loose. They especially become a nuisance when I attempt to take old Barack Odoga outside. Just last night a stray Golden Retriever came up to play with my dog, startling both him and myself. The dog got underfoot and I stepped on one of its paws. Whether I use a leash or not (and I occasionally do), these strays are a nuisance. My neighbor’s dogs have been known to be up at 2 AM barking at strays. That of course sets off the entire neighborhood alarm of barking dogs.

Selma has another town ordinance that has to be fractured in order to take care of the aforementioned one. One of the stupidest ordinances in town simply states, “Any person using an air rifle in the town shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” There are no qualifiers for this ordinance. On my own property, I should be allowed to fire my Daisy Red Rider that I have owned since I was age ten. As long as I am not shooting anybody else or damaging the property of others, I should be allowed to have a BB shooting range in my back yard if I want. Besides, a BB in the side of a stray dog has been known to get rid of the nuisance. It is obvious that there are no real animal control efforts going on, so someone has to make the pesky critters leave the premises.

The last animal display that we saw happened within the last week. I took my wife and children out for an inexpensive family meal. The establishment serves up a pizza, salad, and soup buffet. It is fairly cheap, so we have been known to go there once in a while.

On Saturday afternoon we were grazing on the salad and attempting to find some normal style and appealing pizza on the buffet when a swarm of locusts entered the restaurant. I almost felt like Pharaoh after I refused Moses’ demand to let his people go.

An entire team of child soccer players came in while we were there. At first I said that they were going to be like locusts and pick the buffet clean. These children were all wearing uniforms that actually had a foreign company sponsor’s name in a foreign language on them. I don’t care from whence you come, but if you are going to enjoy the freedom in America and the relative prosperity that we have, at least assimilate to the language and culture.

While my wife and I took turns going up to the buffet to bring back plates of different kinds of pizza for our two children and ourselves, the locusts acted more like wild jackals. They pushed, shoved, and handled their buffet of prey. They picked apart the food with their bare hands, stepped on feet, ran into people, and never once apologized for doing so. They were loud, filling the entire restaurant with a buzz of foreign language, laughter, and the sound of silverware and plates clanging. We could barely hear each other above the din.

Who needs the zoo when we have wild dogs, vultures, cute gray rats, locusts, and jackals right here in Johnston County?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Column for August 11, 2011

I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy losing thousands of dollars overnight. Thanks to the Congress and President of the United States, that is exactly what just happened. Whether or not I recover that money remains to be seen. I am sure that there are others who lost a lot more than I did, but any loss like this is something I notice. If you are like me, you may have a 401(k) retirement savings plan or perhaps some other sort of arrangements. Maybe you invest in the stock market for income or to dabble and play. Whatever your status is, I am sure that you have heard the news of the falling stock market over the past few days.

Quite honestly, I am not a big time investor, but I have made a few investments over the years and am working on building a nest egg for my retirement years. For years I have been socking away money into my company’s retirement plan. Like all things economic, the market fluctuates. I took quite a hit several years back when my employer merged with another company and the company stock plummeted. I lost thousands of dollars in the value of my 401(k). Just since last week, my retirement fund has lost over $6000 and that does not include the downturn from today’s market. Still, I would rather put my money in the market and risk it than putting it in the government coffers and pray that the government can afford to give me back my own money with a far lower rater of return on investment than what I am still getting in my 401(k).

With the recent federal government’s “credit rating” being downgraded a notch, a lot of investors are having knee-jerk reactions. David Beers, the head of Standard and Poor’s (one of three key credit-ratings agencies) government debt-rating unit, got it right. He said, “Congress and the administration are jointly responsible for the conduct of fiscal policy. So, this is not really about either political party." Predictably, the ones most responsible for the financial problems have been pointing fingers at everyone but themselves. I have in front of me two news articles about blame shifting for the stock market and credit rating debacle.

Far left liberals have been branding Republicans as steadfast ideologues that were inflexible. Senator (and former Presidential candidate) John Kerry blamed the “Tea Party” followers for the downgrade. No, Senator, it was a problem with spending that led to the downgrade, not a particular group of people who stood in opposition to the irresponsible and reckless spending that we have seen over the past five plus years (and yes, I include some of the tenure of George W. Bush in this) that was the reason that the nation’s credit rating was taken down a notch for the first time in our history.

The sodomite Representative from Massachusetts, Barney Frank proffered yet another absurd explanation. He blamed our “spending too much money being the military policemen of the world." In all fairness, I am in agreement with Frank that we should pull back our military from much of the world and police our own borders rather than protecting those of other nations and supporting the economies of foreign countries. However, military spending is not the problem alone. The problem is with entitlement spending that is eating up the majority of our budget. We spend far more on wealth redistribution than we do on the military. Barney Frank has had his hands involved with the Fannie Mae and Freddy Mack scandals, which were costly to the American taxpayers. The policies that he does support and fight for cost Americans far more than our military ever thought of costing.

I recently heard a Christian book publisher speak in Wilson, NC. He seemed fairly naive when it came to political issues. He stated that Democrats were too far to the left (I agree with that) and that the Tea Party was too far to the right. He was way off with that last part. The so-called Tea Party folks simply want a few things such as a return to fiscal sanity and the restrictions imposed by the US Constitution. There is nothing “far right” about wanting to adhere to our founding document. The ironic thing is that the person who coordinated that speaking engagement is a leader in the local Tea Party movement. I could feel the tension in the room after he made that inane statement.

In the interest of disclosure, I am not a registered Republican, nor am I a member of any Tea Party organization. As far as I am concerned, both are way behind the times. I don’t consider the GOP to be conservative any longer and I was preaching constitutional government and fiscal sanity long before the Tea Party Movement came about.

Here is what I do know for sure. It is the irresponsible policies of Congress and the President that have seriously affected my personal wealth and that of millions of other Americans. The leaches who depend upon government handouts and like the current reckless spending notwithstanding, let’s all remember who has been affecting our personal finances when we go to the ballot box in 2012.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Column for August 4, 2011

I have long heard that the Food and Drug Administration forbids the claim that consuming citrus fruits can cure diseases like scurvy. Scurvy is caused by a vitamin C deficiency. Citrus contains vitamin C, therefore preventing and curing the disease. The British Navy found this out in the 1700’s and thus supplied their naval vessels with limes and other citrus fruits. Hence the origin of the term “limey” in reference to English sailors and later the English in general. The FDA, however, says that the claim of a fruit curing scurvy shall cause said fruit to be considered a drug and therefore subject to its regulation. I don’t know what sort of pinheads get hired at the FDA, but they certainly lack common sense. They just struck again and you will not believe their controlling nonsense, effectively requiring their almost religious doctrinal endorsement.

You may not be able to buy Blue Diamond Walnuts at the supermarket any more. When you go to Cold Stone Creamery or Hula Girl, you may not be able to get walnuts in the near future. The FDA has classified walnuts as a drug. This is based upon the fact that Blue Diamond claimed that the Omega-3 fatty acids contained in their nuts can have health benefits. It has long been known that Omega-3 fatty acids are good for health, according to several studies. Walnuts happen to contain these Omega-3, but apparently once a nut company claims this, the nuts are considered a drug. Without the expressed approval of walnuts as a drug, the Blue Diamond company can no longer distribute their product in the USA if they continue to make the health benefit claims.

Blue Diamond is going to cooperate with the FDA on this, but they could have generated an entire black market demand for their newly classified drugs. I can just see Selma Vice cracking down on walnut dealers here in town. It would make me want to hang out near one of the local convenience stores near the railroad tracks carrying a ziplock bag and say, “Psssstt...hey you! Wanna buy a walnut? It’s good stuff!”

Of course this restriction on freedom of speech (and accurate speech at that) is incredulous. On the other hand, a restriction on freedom was recently lifted here in Selma.

I was ambivalent about the school uniform policy adopted by Selma Elementary School several years back. I figured that maybe a decent quality dress code might be a good thing for school discipline. Of course the uniform policy was not really uniform, since colors and styles of clothing were not really homogeneous across the board. However the policy was more restrictive than the Johnston County dress code. What this meant was that we had to purchase a certain type of clothing each of the last 3 years for our grammar school aged child. Shirts had to have a collar and could have no logo or brand name on them. Pants and shorts had to be plain with no trim on them. This was OK at first, but got to be a real pain as time went on. Our child could not go out to play in the school clothes later or wear clothes that he got for Christmas or his birthday to school.

My boy loves Star Wars and has several Star Wars shirts. There should be nothing wrong with wearing a Yoda t-shirt and a pair of good, clean denim jeans to elementary school. We had to essentially purchase two sets of clothes for our son. That got old real quick. Clothes that he could wear to church were not allowed at school, even though they are modest apparel. We have a much more casual dress style at the church we attend and we much prefer that to dressing up. My son could not express his good, clean individuality with his choice of clothing.

Thankfully, the dress code will be reverted back to the standard Johnston County Schools dress code for Selma Elementary beginning next month. My mind was changed after we had to abide by the abrogation of freedom and additional expense for three years. I can see perhaps a private school requiring a restrictive dress code, but the government run “because I think it’s a good idea” experiment thing got real old real fast.

A government hireling made our lives difficult in terms of school apparel. A government hireling is exercising control and dogma over common sense claims over walnuts. Let freedom ring, let the walnuts freely flow to consumers who can benefit from Omega-3 fatty acids, and I shall let my son wear his Yoda shirt to school.