Sunday, May 31, 2009

Looking forward, looking back

In this first week of June, many American's thoughts turn toward the time honored tradition of graduation. Be it high school or college graduations, bright young faces ready themselves for the next step in their lives. Some will go on to further studies while others will get down to the business of finding a business for which they are suited. Either way, for the graduates and for their families, their thoughts are focused in one direction, forward. What will be my major when I get to college? Will I have to get a real hair cut for my job interviews? What color will we paint the kid's rooms now that we have the house to ourselves?

Yes, there will be a look back at photo albums and talking about how you thought this day would never come, especially after freshman algebra, but they made it through. For these young people an uncharted future lay ahead, and with it, infinite possibilities. This is how it should be in America. Even in unsettling times, the future has a newness to it, uncluttered by the realities of, well, reality.

Along with this bright look forward, the first week in June also marks an anniversary that deserves a look back. In fact we owe a great debt to the participants, for they have given us 65 years worth of future to enjoy.

This Saturday morning, June 6, many graduates will wake up early with excitement, try on their caps and gowns, and load into the car with the family and friends to attend graduation ceremonies.

This Saturday, June 6, also marks the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Young men, not much older than this year's graduates, climbed down the cargo netting from their troop ships into the bobbing and pitching Higgins boats heading toward the French coast. Thousands of young men in the early dawn heading to landing areas with names we all know today. Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Sword and Juno Beach, and Pointe Du Hoc. The future they faced was a terrible one. Some would make it through that day, some would not.

I had the privilege to attend the Memorial Day service at our small country cemetery in Esparto. The local VFW chapter commemorated those who made the ultimate sacrifice to their country. These men and women traded their futures to ensure we would have one. The majority of the VFW members were from the Viet Nam era, as the ranks of WWII veterans grows thinner every year. A few WWII veterans attended services there; one is a friend of mine from church. I always enjoy talking with Roy, as I do with the few WWII veterans I know. Barney, Smitty, Gus, they are all in their 80s or 90s, and still full of life. I hope I have many more years to enjoy their stories.

So this weekend, as we enjoy the speeches made by valedictorians, local politicians and guests, let us take a backward glance over our shoulder, to a time before most of us were born. Let us remember what they did for us, while we look forward to a future shaped by their great grandchildren.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sugar, caffeine, Hannah Montana and giggling girls,

Can anyone recommend a good over the counter sleep aid?

This week marks the ninth anniversary of our daughter’s birthday. To celebrate, she invited three friends for a backyard-camping sleepover.

One of the dichotomies of rural life is the balance between space and a lack of activities. I love the space. I do not own a large parcel of land, but if I stand in the middle of my pastures, I cannot throw a rock off my property. I love that. Our children on the other hand would probably enjoy living in a housing track in the middle of town. My wife, who grew up in town, says that she would spend all day playing with the kids in her neighborhood. I am unaware of this behavior because I grew up on a cattle ranch, seven miles from my nearest friend. Spending the night at a friend's house was a big deal for me growing up, so it is with our children.

We do not have many sleepover nights, so when we do, my wife hearkens back to her urban youth, with a little rural flavor thrown in. The weather has been warm, so she tried to locate last year's slip-n-slide to no avail. Roxie, the wonder dog, had torn it up and I had thrown it away. Being a resourceful person, she dug around the shop and found a 15-foot brown tarp, added a sprinkler and presto, a redneck slip-n-slide. Birthday banners, party favors, ice cream cake and S'mores rounded out the evening activities. Or so we had thought.

The tent in the backyard was filled with air mattresses, sleeping bags and a boom box blaring Hannah Montana. The girls finally went to sleep around midnight, much to my relief. I have a Hannah Montana limit, and I had reached it after the second song. Another drawback to the rural life is when you need a little extra sleep, farmers have no sympathy. Sometime around 5:30, a truck pulled in across the street and started loading hay. Loading hay on semi-truck is a noisy endeavor. It woke me up, it woke my wife up, but more importantly, it woke the 9-year-old girls into a tornado of activity.

I was never a proponent of the "hair of dog" style of hangover cures, but I figured it was worth a shot with the girls. Chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and they were back at full force. I realize it is warm in the afternoon, but at 7:00 in the morning, the slip-n-slide must have been cold. With a fresh sugar reload, they did not seem to mind a bit.

They are wrapping up the party as I sit down to write this. They have been on the trampoline all morning, playing with birthday presents and generally having a good time. There is still an occasional high-pitched squeal now and again from the front yard, but I think the sleepover was a hit.

Maybe next year we can something a little less stressful, like driving to Disneyland in the Corolla, listening to Hannah Montana the whole way.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Services at the Capay Cemetery

I am spending Memorial Day at home today, the family is at the ranch, so I went out to the Capay Cemetery to attend the Memorial Day ceremony. It was a small service, hosted by our local VFW. I would guess the crowd at 40-50 total, many of them veterans, a few are veterans of WWII. One is my friend Roy who I have come to know through my Bible study. These were the older guys with the blurry tattoos and crew cuts of my youth, now they move slowly, many of them barely able to get around, but they make it a point to show up for Memorial Day.

I have such deep appreciation for these, and for all men who have served our nation in battle.
We will never forget the fallen.

Here is my video tribute.

Memorial Day 2009

We walked among the crosses
Where our fallen soldiers lay.
And listened to the bugle
As TAPS began to play.
The Chaplin led a prayer
We stood with heads bowed low.
And I thought of fallen comrades
I had known so long ago.
They came from every city
Across this fertile land.
That we might live in freedom.
They lie here 'neath the sand.
I felt a little guilty
My sacrifice was small.
I only lost a little time
But these men lost their all.
Now the services are over
For this Memorial Day.
To the names upon these crosses
I just want to say,
Thanks for what you've given
No one could ask for more.
May you rest with God in heaven
From now through evermore.

C W Johnson

Sunday, May 24, 2009

California says enough already.

Last week's special election has been dissected, analyzed, and broken down by pundits across the land, here are the highlights.

Spend only what you have. The mindset that spending must constantly increase is a concept that only exists in government. When you and I earn a little more money in a given month, through working overtime or through the one time selling of an asset, do we go out and buy a new car on credit, based on that month's revenue? This is precisely what the government does. When the economy is booming and revenue is coming in buckets, that revenue becomes the new baseline from which you plan your next year's budget. When you base your budget on the best-case scenario, you are planning for failure. People have short memories, they forget the lean times when they find themselves with extra money, and governments seem to suffer from this type of memory loss on an epic scale.

Some local municipalities do set aside a rainy day fund; however, these funds are usually only a few percent of their budgets. When revenues go down, these rainy day funds disappear quickly. On the other hand, many government agencies face a "use it or lose it" budget process, if they do not spend every dollar they were budgeted, they face losing the unused money from next fiscal year's funding. Does this seem backwards to you? If you spend your money wisely, and run an efficient department, your department is punished. If you spend every dime, or go over budget, you receive your full amount, plus the inevitable increase for the next year.

There are two major problems facing California. Most people when asked will say it is a lack of money; the primary problem however, is a lack of leadership. Leadership is not increasing funding for schools, law enforcement, or any program every single year just because you can. Real leadership is being fiscally responsible and living within your means. This is not complicated. As much as you hear politicians talk about draconian cuts, slashing this service or gutting this program, just remember, they are ones who caused this situation. No one in Sacramento wants to be the person who has to say no.

Both parties in Sacramento receive huge campaign contributions from special interests including public employee unions. When your main campaign contributors come to see you and they say they need more money, what will you do? Will you be responsible and show real leadership, or will you do everything in your power to see that every last penny the state has goes to them? It’s the same for private contributors. Every time a land developer, or private company who relies on government contracts, gives a politician money, they expect something in return. That is just the way it works; money equals access. The more you give, they better your relationship, and the more sway you have over the state’s purse strings. I am not against lobbying or making your case to your representative, however, the taxpayer should have an equal say since it is their money the politicians are spending.

The public made a few things clear last week. Live within your means. We are being taxed enough, a fee is just another way to tax us, and we are watching you. The people you take the money from are just as important as those you give that money to. Learn to say no; there are programs that exist simply because no one will show enough leadership to say no to special interests. Bipartisanship does not mean trying to find three votes from the other party to push your tax and spending plan through. If you have been in control the legislature for the last 12 years, and you keep running the government to the breaking point, maybe it’s time to listen to the other side.

Maybe it is time for new leadership.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Google, googling, and being googled.

I am often curious as to how some folks stumble upon my blog. While I do have a local following here in Yolo County, friends and a few who probably wish ill things to happen to me, a lot of my traffic comes from Google. So, what are people searching for when they find me?
Here are a few of the funny ones.

Cat people suck.
How to suck up to your wife
Don't blame me, I voted for McCain

Then there are the ones that creep me out a bit....
Dude bulge

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What is important?

Rifle, check. Ammo, check. Helmet, check . Body armor, check.

Pants?, dammit, no time for pants.

Bully for the Brits, well done son, well done.
By the way, New York loves you back.

Our broken government

Our government is broken. There is no other way to say it, at the State and Federal level; our representative form of government is broken. Come to think of it, the government is both broke, and broken.

You and I could sit down over twenty or so pots of coffee and list the voluminous ways in which politicians have screwed up our government, but most of us have a top three list we keep in the back of our minds.

In past articles, I have focused on what I consider poor policies decisions or legislation, but today I want us all to look at those who make up our government, the limitations of that government, and how it affects our daily lives.

Elected office as a career path; while I am aware of the arguments against real term limits, I am willing to trade career politicians for representatives who know they will return to the private sector in a few short years and have to live with, and abide by, the laws and rules they have passed. The life cycle of a politician today is to run for office, win, pay back their contributors with favors or appointments, and start campaigning for the next election. This is cycle is self centered, not service centered. Sure, you can look back on legislation you have authored, or a park, library or school you have had built in your district, but how much of your time was spent at home in your district listening to your constituents? After a decade or two in office, how connected are you to the people you represent? I will bet you know the names of more lobbyist than you do PTA chairpersons from your district.

Government as the problem solver; call me a cynic if you will, but as a private contractor and later as an employee, I have been around government for the past twenty years at the state and local levels. In that time, I have seen a few things that work well. I have also seen incompetence rewarded, waste overlooked and layer upon layer of management who have no accountability. Don't get me wrong, I know there are good people in the public sector who are trying to do a good job, and to serve their customers, however, there many more for whom the idea it is not "their money" permeates every decision they make. Every time you have a bad experience with a bumbling bureaucrat or incompetent civil service worker, just remember, these are the same people some politicians want running our health care system. Does that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling? Where is this new “super government” that will fix everything? It simply does not exist, and never will.

Nickels, dimes, billions and trillions; the government wants to grow, that has become its purpose, to grow itself. Just as soon as you create the new "department of helping this, that or the other", the department will come out with a report telling the politicians they need more funding. These programs never go away; they never have to go through a return on investment audit, and for every new program our government starts or expands, the money comes from the pockets of taxpayer. No one ever asks the tough question; are we really spending this money wisely or are we just rewarding poor decision-making and bad behavior? Is this something that the government should even be doing?

Here in California, we will soon reap the harvest of our broken system. Career politicians who work the system to stay in office, an ever-expanding and intrusive government, along with an addiction to spending “other people’s money” at a rate that simple cannot be sustained.

It is time to stop and ask our government three questions; what are you doing, why are you doing it, and where are you getting the money to pay for it? If they give you the same political double speak for an answer, it is time to send them back to the real world.

Monday, May 11, 2009

If it were not so serious, it would be funny.

I have to wonder where some people get their news. Look, I know Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert are funny guys, but are they really the outlet you should use to understand what is happening in our world? I am all for political satire, in fact, it is a hobby I dabble in myself, but forming your political views by watching the Daily Show or the Colbert Report?

For many folks out there, this past election was the first time they became politically active, or took the time to vote. They looked at the situation in 2008 and wanted change. I get that, however, maybe in this next election cycle the voters might want to become a little more informed. The change they voted for will have an impact not only on them, but have far reaching implications that will affect future generations.

You might say that politics is confusing, and they are all liars, so why bother. You should pay attention because the politicians are counting on you to watch Dancing with the Stars, not what they are doing with your money. They want you confused, and are doing their best to keep you that way. The more you understand, the better decisions you can make.

How many of you know much about breast cancer? How about prostate cancer? Other than just a thumbnail sketch, I know very little about these life threatening diseases. However, if someone in my family were diagnosed with one of these, or any other serious ailment, you can be sure I would quickly become informed about the different treatment options, trail medications and cutting edge medical centers that are having the best results in curing the disease. Why? These diseases are having a life changing impact on my life.

The economy, government spending, gun control, gay marriage, take your pick, when any of these issues hits home for you, you become involved and hopefully, informed. For me, the massive power grab taking place under the guise of stimulating the economy is first on my list. You need to know how much money they are talking about when politicians throw around numbers in the millions, billions and trillions. Which takes me back to my first point?

Where you get your information is very important. I know that most of us are not going to watch CSPAN in our spare time, we have busy lives, and we want to relax when we get home. I know my teenage son will sit down on the couch some nights when I am watching CSAN or some other news program and after a few minutes he will ask, “Why on earth are watching this?” My answer is always the same, “Because it’s important to me.”

With all the news and opinion outlets available right now, it should be pretty easy to find solid, reliable information. The real challenge is finding both points of view to any issue. If you get your political information from the Comedy Central shows or you watch MSNBC, you are getting a decidedly liberal viewpoint. If you only watch Fox News, you are getting news from the center right, if you are watching CNN, you are getting a center left slant to the coverage. I watch everything, even Keith Olbermann from time to time just to see how long I can take it. The main idea is to take a “fact” and check it against many sources and many viewpoints. You may be surprised how malleable facts can become. You will also be able to spot a line of (manure) very quickly.

You may not agree with me, and I may not agree with you, but we should be able to agree on the facts. Two plus two should always equal four, unless you are in Washington DC or the State Capitol. When it comes to politicians and their friends in the media, any number between three and three hundred, sixty eight can be the answer. It all depends on who you listen to.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Okay, now this is funny

Vice President Biden ditched a day of presiding over the Senate to "give the twin cannons some sun."

Sunday, May 03, 2009

What I have learned about women in twenty years of marriage.

Very, very little. In fact, I can honestly say that the intricacies of the female mind are as much a mystery to me today as they were on that June afternoon some twenty years ago. It is not that I have failed to learn anything about how women think; rather it is how the principles and rules of the female mind are not hard and fast. I would suggest that being a husband is like taking one of those multiple-choice tests where you are supposed to pick the “most correct” answer. You may pick a solution that seems right, but it is not the “right” right answer your wife was looking for.

Consider a certain problem that you may encounter with your wife; the correct answer you chose the last time may not be the right one on this occasion. I can almost hear a hushed “amen” from the husbands out there. However, if you are a wife reading this, you will say, the husband obviously is not learning anything and making the same mistake again.

So, short of any Jedi mind tricks, is there a way to deal with these constantly changing rules? I can think of three, each has its upside and downsides.

The first is to feign some sort of benign ignorance. “Oh, I’m sorry honey, when you said not to buy any more guns, I thought for sure you meant shotguns, and as you can see, this is a rifle.” This strategy has its downside when you actually do have a great idea, and your wife will not consider it because she thinks you may have a mild form of developmental disability.

The second is to ditch the married life altogether and become a professional bachelor. You can get up at noon on Saturdays, you can leave the toilet seat up, have beer for breakfast, and you can make nachos using spicy pork rinds and Velveeta without anyone saying a word. The downside is being alone for years could turn you into the Unabomber. I wonder if they found any spicy pork rinds or Velveeta in that Montana cabin.

The third is to stop trying to figure out how they work, and start listening to them. I mean stop what you are doing, and really listen to your wife. I will admit that I have not tried this particular tactic very often, and I am unsure how useful it could be, but it’s worth a try. The downside? You must discontinue the use of the first tactic, feigned ignorance, which is too bad because it can be very effective.

I hope to see you at the Friends of the NRA Dinner at the Elk’s Hall on Thursday. I wonder if my wife would be upset if a win a new gun in a raffle. I may have to turn over that new leaf of listening on Friday. Monday for sure.