The Gross National Debt

Monday, August 31, 2015

Flat tires, egg sammiches and doing the right thing

Before you continue, read this.

I give you one phrase from me bud Paul's discourse: "right in all the ways that matter."

What is right? What is wrong? 100 years from now, will it matter? Bugger that. Does it matter right now?

This is going to sound like self-aggrandizement and it may be. However, this is how I settle things in my mind, by writing them down. Sometimes it's a canoe trip down a placid river. Other times it's a ride into a black hole. If yer still with me, grab a chicken handle with one hand and a paddle with the other. Let's ride.

Lemme give you some background.


What's got my philosophy in high gear today is Sunday night's prison visit. As some of you know, I go to prison regularly. I talk with the inmates. Some people who preach to the inmates. I talk with them. As in interactive when them talking to me as I talk to them.

Some people will say this is an unconventional way to deliver a sermon. These people don't know much about me. Some people will say this is the wrong way to deliver a sermon. To each his own.

Come to prison with me.


Being pentecostal, I'm accustomed to shouts, yells, people getting up and acting like they got a dose of St. Vitus and or like they're at a heavy metal concert (in case you don't know about St. Vitus). Prisoners don't act that way. They can't. In the more than 12 years I've been going to prison, inmates have stood up during the sermon in a gut reaction less than five times. Guys have broken down crying more than a dozen times. Sunday night, two guys stood up and said "This pain is nothing!" They promptly sat back down. If yer pentecostal you understand. If yer not, I can't explain it.

Over the years, five guys have made an attempt to keep in touch with me. Two reached out more than once. Ah so.

Hey, call me.


This is really what I can't get over.

After Sunday's service, a guy comes up to me. He asks where I live and if there is an empty building behind my house. I give a noncommital reply.

"You gave me an egg sandwich."

Say what?

"I ran out of gas behind your house. You gave me an egg sandwich. I was drunk. You let me use your phone. I called my momma to bring me some gas. I had a white bulldog. You gave me an egg sandwich."

He turns to another inmate.

"I told you it was him. He gave me an egg sandwich."

The gent said this was about a year ago. It was more than 10 years ago as I remember. Certainly not a year ago. The building behind my house is now a store and has been for more than two years.

The story of the egg sandwich is now all over the prison. In a year, it will be mystical prison lore. In two years, it'll be completely forgotten, except by a few who are no longer there.

Come have a meal with me.


What would you do? A guy pulls up in the vacant lot next to your house. It's morning and he's already the side of toast for breakfast. Got a dog with him. Out of gas. What would you do?

As I live on the second most famous road in the United States, having people in various states of vehicular distress at my door happens. Flat tires. Out of gas. Other problems. What would you do?

Have had college students selling books, kids books which I bought, come to the door. Brought 'em in and fed 'em a meal if it was close to meal time. Had other people ask for help. What would you do?

Never give money. Never. A drive to get some gas, yes. A meal, yes. Some tools to change a tire, yes. Pulling their vehicle to a shop, done that too. What would you do?

Years ago I fed a guy an egg sandwich. Now he's in prison. Now he's talked with me while sober. Now, I'm feeding him something entirely different.

What would you do?

Come lend a hand with me.


To all my haters out there, to those who want me fired, to those who want me crucified, to those who threaten me, what would you do? To all the people who condemn me, attack me, insult me, what would you do? To the people who can't believe some of the things I've done, what would you do?

Walk with me. I'll bring the egg sammiches.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Report on what?

We regularly get calls, emails, messages, letters wrapped around bricks, people stopping us anywhere and everywhere that say:

"You need to do a story on this."

This is the issue du jour for the folks whose frame is bent out of shape. It can be anything. Somebody got fired. Somebody harassed someone. Someone lied, cheated, stole, abused their position.

These people hardly ever will speak on the record about this.

Yet, we're supposed to report on this.

No on the record information. No paper trail. No sources who can be quoted. No one who will publicly stand up and say this happened to me. Only off the record information.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

The national media is fond of using "sources close to the matter," "anonymous sources" and "sources speaking on condition of anonymity."

These three phrases are media-speak for "Hey. There's no way you can verify this independently."

As a card-carrying member of the media, I say it is also "Hey. We just made this shift up and there's no way you can tell if we're lying or not."


The newspaper I run does not use anonymous sources. We will and do take anonymous information. We try to verify it. If we can verify information, we may have a story. May not.

Sometimes we find out the anonymous info is true. Sometimes it is not.

We don't report rumors.

We encourage people to call us with information, anonymous or  not. But understand, unless we get someone to stand up and speak on the record, it's not going to be reported.

We're not in the business of making stuff up and presenting lies and rumor as fact.


Sources have, do and will lie on the record. Not much we can do about that. We report what people say and what the records reflect. If they lie, then the fault is theirs. If we catch the lie after their words are printed, we'll come back and tell you they lied.


If we make a mistake, and we do, we'll correct it. We're not perfect. Everyone will make mistakes. The only people who don't make mistakes never do anything.


We're going to listen to you, whether you speak on the record or off the record. But if you truly, sincerely and genuinely want the story in the paper, then speak on the record.

If all you want is rumor, innuendo, snide accusations and multi-level entendres, stick to Facebook,

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Walking all over your privilege

One of my FB peeps, RBA, enjoys telling me I suffer greatly from something she calls "white privilege" and "male privilege."

Mebbe I do. How can you quantify something like that?

Certainly there are things I can do because of what I do. Who I am is far less important in that respect. I run a newspaper, in case you do not know. If I didn't run a newspaper, there are things I could not do.

So look at RBA's statements again. Male? Yup. XY chromosomes to be sure and the requisite other body features.

White? Certainly a lot of people look at me that way. Can't help what other people think and perceive. I don't consider myself white, black, red, yellow or brown. When asked to fill out forms asking for "race" I always check "other" if available. If given a blank space, I write in "human." If my choices are limited, I usually toss a figurative dart.

So perusing FB I found this. Being a sucker for this kinda thing, I took the test. Such pop culture tests are not reliable guides for anything, except a willingness to take these tests. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Penthouse Magazine had a "personality quiz" in each month's issue. After looking at the pictures, I took the tests. Again, not really reliable, but entertaining nonetheless.

So was the BuzzFeed piece.

I scored a 33, which the test says is "Not Privileged." Ran it again. Same result.

Extremely amused, I looked over the questions one more time. I grew up in the Deep South, poor and farming and blessed/cursed with an insatiable desire to read and learn (at least learn about things I found interesting). I've lived and visited places all over the US. I've been to places most folks never see, done things they'll never do and met people ranging from top politicians and international celebrities to people who live in boxes.

This combination allowed me to not check a lot of the BuzzFeed items. Had I stayed in the South and never left, a lot more of those boxes would have to be checked.

So, am I privileged? In RBA's thinking I am. In mine, I am  and I am not. My privilege comes by way of my work. By my thinking, RBA is far more privileged than I am.

The real question is, does it matter? Yep. It sure does. Which then leads to another statement from Stan Lee: With great power comes great responsibility.

So, if you have privilege, how are you using it?

How am I using it? That's a question I am working really hard to not answer any more. Rather than explain, I try to say "walk with me." Actions speak louder than words, even when walking all over your privilege or my privilege.

So think about it. Are you privileged? If so, how are you using it? Are you satisfied with what you are doing? Is there room for change? Is there a need to change?

As you think, take the test. If you'd like to post your result, do so in the comments. 

Before you complain about farmers, make sure your state doesn't make it illegal

In ag communities, we like to tell people, "Before you talk bad about farmers, make sure your mouth ain't full."

To this I add, make sure you ain't wearing clothes, ain't using any product that contains wood, cellulose, ethanol or comes from a source that relies on any of this to get what you need. In short, unless you can make your own clothes, shelter and know how to survive off whatever grows wild, then don't speak ill of farmers around me.

I might cease being polite.

Anyway, a judge in the tater state, Idaho, has tossed out a state law that prohibited private undercover investigations of agriculture operations.

The judge cited First Amendment concerns. Here's the court's decision.

Here's two relevant excerpts from the ruling part of the decision:

The State’s logic is perverse—in essence the State says that (1) powerful industries deserve more government protection than smaller industries, and (2) the more attention and criticism an industry draws, the more the government should protect that industry from negative publicity or other harms.

“[U]nder the Equal Protection Clause, not to mention the First Amendment itself, government may not grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.” Mosley, 408 U.S. at 96. Although the State may not agree with the message certain groups seek to convey about Idaho’s agricultural production facilities, such as releasing secretly recorded videos of animal abuse to the Internet and calling for boycotts, it cannot deny such groups equal protection of the laws in their exercise of their right to free speech. Far from being tailored to a substantial governmental interest, § 18-7042 classifies activities protected by the First Amendment based on content. Therefore, under the Equal Protection Clause, it cannot stand. 

Tru dat. Free speech means the right to call 'em like you see 'em. If people object and get offended, they have the right to speak in opposition.


However, this ruling does not speak to some other important points from my perspective.

Pages 3 & 4 of the decision sort of point to existing laws about trespass, lying and etc., the kinds of laws that do not apply to elected officials but to the rest of us. Trespass continues to be illegal, at least for us non-government types. This law attempted to reinforce that part of the law

Straight from the decision -

The drafter of the legislation, Dan Steenson, likewise expressed a desire to shield Idaho dairymen and other farmers from undercover investigators and whisteblowers who expose the agricultural industry to “the court of public opinion”: “The most extreme conduct that we see threatening Idaho dairymen and other farmers occurs under the cover of false identities and purposes, extremist groups implement vigilante tactics to deploy self-appointed so-called investigators who masquerade as employees to infiltrate farms in the hope of discovering and recording what they believe to be animal abuse.” Mr. Steenson

The federal judge in this case pretty much said there's no problem with lying, trespass and etc. The judge puts the common citizen on equal footing with government folks in this case.


In general, I am opposed to ag gag laws. The link contains further links to each state's law. These statutes are aimed at protecting the food production industry from warranted and unwarranted criticism.

Point of order, I can't think of any ag gag law I'd support.

My state, Georgia, law reads in part, "[I]t is imperative to protect the vitality of the agricultural and aquacultural economy for the citizens of this state by providing a cause of action for producers, marketers, or sellers to recover damages for the disparagement of any perishable product or commodity."

Yer honor, I object.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That is the First Amendment, you may remember it, It's the one guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

Two relevant points:

1. Freedom of speech shall not be abridged.

2. The right to ask government to step in and solve problems is also guaranteed. (Never mind government creates plenty of problems.)

A free society must make room for dissent. You don't have to like it. You may be offended by it. Your business may suffer for it.

You have the opportunity to respond in kind. That's the best way to handle this kind of thing. Apply daffodils.

Daffodils - A new meaning for an old word

A while back I was stuck for a word to define a concept. There was no single English word to fit the concept. In fact, explaining the concept in English is difficult all the way around.

Rebel suggested Daffodils. I like it. I use it. You may also.

What does daffodils mean under this new definition? I will try to give you a sense.

It means whatever you do to someone else, they have the right to do it to you and they should and will do it to you. It falls just short of "must do it to you." The right to pursue action remains a choice.

It is a conscious decision by others to apply what you mean for them onto you.

It means when this is done to you, you may not complain. You may not seek recourse. The only thing you can do is accept what happens.

It's more than justice. More than the Old Testament law "an eye for an eye."

It's more than The Golden Rule.

It's more than just desserts.

It means the person making the first move doesn't think it through. The first person suffers from cognitive dissonance, disconnection from reality.

It's making you shut up and live with the consequences of your actions.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander comes about a close as anything in English to explaining this. Yet, this too falls short.

If grok is the face of a coin, then daffodils may be considered the other side.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Excuse me, you are stepping on my tenets

How far should religion be accommodated?

Some people say not at all. Some people say their faith should be accommodated to some degree. Some say their faith is the only way to live - the ultimate in accommodation.

I have problems with both extremes. In the first place, the Constitution allows free expression of religion, provided it brings to harm to others. In the second place, some forms of religious expression bring ultimate harm, death to those who refuse to believe as demanded.

Harm is the line in the sand for me.

In the case of the ultraorthodox Jews as mentioned in The Post piece, they say they will be harmed by flipping a light switch or pushing a button. Activating an electronic circuit can send them to hell. That's absolute harm as far as I'm concerned.

If it will happen that way.

The gent interviewed in The Post story has no proof of this harm that he says will befall him.


As far as I'm concerned, he needs proof and he doesn't need proof.

I 'splain.

As he's attempting to legally force other people to change something, then he needs to provide definitive proof that he is or will be harmed by opening an electrical circuit on his Sabbath. If he can prove this, then changes have to be made.

He doesn't need proof because he can modify the things he does to avoid this. He can discuss having a manual lock on his apartment door.  He can pay extra to have his wants accommodated. He can move to another apartment complex. Or, he can deal with it as is.

The real contradiction here is: If he forces others to accommodate his request, this could bring harm to them. Having the lights on in the stairs all the time burns more electricity. More expense. Someone has to pay. That could be economic harm.


My thought is if it brings actual harm to one person, it will likely bring harm to everyone eventually. Therefore, it has to be adjusted so the least amount of harm is inflicted long term. In the case of the Jewish gent, if he can prove absolutely that he'll go to hell, then that has dire implications for the entire human race.

He can't prove it. All he can do is get opinions from religious leaders about the matter. Opinion ain't fact.


S'far as I'm concerned, religious convictions should be accommodated as long as they bring no harm. The most recent example of this, which I know about, is a 9-0 decision by the Supreme Court saying prisoners can have beards. Prior to this, prisoners had to be clean shaven.


I can see not allowing prisoners long hair. It's something to grab in a fight. It can get in the way when working. Long hair can clog drains. There's actual provable harm.

A 1/2 inch beard won't lead to that kind of harm. So, it should be allowed. The guys in the state prison, where I volunteer, are taking advantage of this ruling.


It all comes down to provable harm.

If you can prove that alcohol harms you, don't drink it. If you can prove that my consumption of alcohol harms you, then we need to have a discussion about my drinking it. We have proven, time and time again, that drunk driving can cause harm. Ergo, it is illegal. But me sitting at home and having a Redd's Apple Cider after cleaning out my Cherokee brings no harm to you.

Does it harm me? That's my business, not yours.

Certainly some of the things in this list can bring harm.

However, if the harm is self-inflicted and brings no harm to anyone else, then have at it.

The minute what you do harms someone else, that's when we get an injunction to examine the matter.

The Jewish gent in The Post story does not have a right to force his convictions on the apartment complex owner. He can't prove harm and he has other options.

You don't have the right to force other people to abide by your opinions and religious convictions. Nor do they have the right to force the same of you.

We've had a pretty awesome discussion in MA's thread on FB if you want to see what others think.