Saturday, August 23, 2014

They Don’t Make Things Like They Use To…Thank Goodness They Don’t - Part Two

While many complain that “they don’t make things like they use to,” I’m one person who is most grateful that that is not the case. I will not measure today’s average quality by the best of the best which survives today as examples of the supreme quality of past skills and achievements. The best of past workmanship should be measured against the best of the today's workmanship. 

On the whole the quality of today’s average products are superior to the average products made a century ago, or five decades ago, or even two decades ago. Following is a sampling list for your consideration:

  • How many of us would accept today from our primary car the gas mileage of the equivalent car made twenty years ago? Today's large cars far outperform the mileage of the thrifty cars of the 1980s, let alone the thriftiest from the 1960s.
  • Forty yeas ago, in the 1970s when a car reached 80,000 it was quickly approaching the end of its life. Rarely did a car from that era hit 100,000 miles. For today’s car is a car, a car hitting 80,000 is only entering its later mid-life state. Cars manufactured today are expected go at least 140,000 miles.
  • When was the last time you changed a tire by the side of road? When was the last time you saw someone changing a tire by the side of the road. Fifty years ago changing tires by the side of the road was a common happening. I wouldn’t exchange the average modern tires for the best tires made in the 1960s.
  • Would I accept a new television made even twenty years ago. No. I’m certainly pleased to have today’s higher quality televisions with their crisper picture and full sound than the fuzzier picture quality of the televisions from years ago which in themselves were great improvements over the televisions from the mid 70s.
  • The modern stoves certainly outperform, outlast and have more features than those made many years ago.
  • How many of us would exchange today’s refrigerator for any of the ones made in the 1980s, or the ice chest refrigerators from the 1940s? How many families would like to return to the days of the wringer washing machine? Today's new washers and dryers are more efficient and perform better than those made decades ago. 
  • Though today’s average new home may not have solid wood floors which were more common in the new homes of the 1960s and earlier, today's average new home is superior with those from the past. past, which in large measure explains why many people prefer to buy a new home. Today's new home are far more insulated and built to a higher quality than those built in the 1930s, 1950s or even in the 1970s. The windows and doors today seal out the cold/hot air far better than in the past. The wiring and plumbing are of a higher quality and the lighting more efficient. Just look at the improvements in the bathrooms. Our toilets and showers are more efficient than those of yesteryear. How many families would exchange their whirlpool/jet tubs for even the upper end tubs of the 1970s? Today’s homes are for the most part roomier are equipped with more storage.
  • Though paint still receives a tough time from the elements, the paints of today do stand up longer than those in the past.
  • I’m certainly pleased that the modern train engines do their work (an pulling far greater loads) without spewing black smoke from the coal used to fuel the great engines of the past.
  • I would certainly not swap my iPod the early Walkmans. I much prefer the compact iPod with its weeks of stored music stored to the bulkier Walkmans.
  • Today we have far more medical devices, equipment and drugs than in the past that enable people to live longer, and remain more mobile and independent than in the past. I would certainly not want to return to the quality of medicine from the past days.
  • How many of us are able to do our banking and get cash out of our accounts while thousands of miles from home? Little of what we do today could be done four decades ago without going to the local branch…and in some places your bank was limited to doing business in your state, and in some cases only in your county.  When you went on a trip, you had to use credit cards and make sure you had enough cash with you.
  • Whenever I’m sitting behind a transit bus I’m pleased it is not an old model. I never did enjoy the smell of diesel fumes.
  • I certainly don’t miss the old diesel trucks with their black exhaust trailing behind them, or the noise created by the old engines.

I hope you too are thankful that they don’t make things like they use to do so.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

They Don’t Make Things Like They Use To…Thank Goodness They Don’t - Part One

“They don’t make things like they use to” is frequently used as a putdown of modern workmanship. We have around us of homes, buildings, clocks, furniture, jewelry, etc. that are superior when compared to most modern examples  of similar items. When we gravitate to using the phrase in question, I argue that we are uncritically buying into hagiography, the over glorification of the past events/things/people.

Yes, we have examples of fine high quality design and workmanship from a hundred or more years ago that survive today as examples of the quality of their craft. But “fine high quality design and workmanship” is the operative phrase.  The fruits of this high quality workman ship survive because they were crafted with care using high quality materials, and of sufficient skill and quality to endure beyond the common products produced by their peers that haven't lasted. Today, we too have high quality design and workmanship which will continue to stand as signposts to their craftsman's skills for many generations to come.

Today’s fine craftsmanship is not common. We must remember that such high quality craftsmanship was also not common in the every past generation. Many arts of work, music, crafted furniture of past generations have not survived because they were not of superior quality to be cherished, maintained well and passed down. For each item that has survived, hundreds more, whether they be furniture, machines, art, public or private buildings or homes homes have perished because they lacked quality design and workmanship. I’ve seen many old homes that go back a to the early 1900s or earlier that are dilapidated, and which by today’s workmanship and standard are substandard.

Let’s not be premature in dismissing the quality work and labor around us today. We do have poor quality workmanship today, that cannot be denied but the same existed in the past generations since the beginning of time. Just as the common and poor quality work of the past has more or less perished, so too will most of the common and poor quality of our generation’s workmanship.  We can take comfort that our best too will join the collection of the best from the past generations we have inherited.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

VA Scandel - pox on both houses and then some.

For the fifteen to twenty years anyone who has followed veterans affairs issues, particularly with regard to medical care would not surprised by the recent scandal involving the American VA. In the early 90’s funding going into the VA system shrank. WWII vets were becoming fewer and the VA was deemed to be a place to help balance the budget  or free funds for Congress’s pet projects. Yes, the was an aging pool of Korean and Vietnam vets that as they aged would need more support, but they were still years away from needing more intensive support and by when they did need such support the rapidly declining pool of WWII would soon be minimal.

Hence, over the 90s instead of facilities being updated, they were allowed to age, and not always gracefully either. In the mid to late 90s facilities were closing resulting in vets having travel two to three hours further to VA hospitals for treatment and care. Some vets in the areas of the country by 2000 were traveling a half a day or more to reach their nearest VA hospital. The overall strength of the medical staff not only decreased because of the closures of hospitals but also from decreases in medical staff at existing hospitals with aging and sometimes equipment that was not current.

The dedicated medical staff worked hard to care for those who came under their care in the same or greater numbers while having less and less resources to manage their care. And when this country went to war and its youth came home wounded in body and spirit, increasing the annual budget was not a priority of either Congress or the White House. In the 2000s to the present there were some budgetary increases, but they were not nearly enough to make up for the cuts, to modernize facilities, to open new facilities and clinics, to increase staff. The VA continued to serve more and more with inadequate resources.

With fewer and fewer resources, and with more demand, what is the logical result? What happens at a remote busy gas station and half the pumps are turned off? Lines and with longer wait times. And yet we are shocked by longer wait times at underfunded, underequipped and understaffed hospitals?

Earlier this year Congress refused to take up and pass a bill that would have given the VA an extra $2.1 million a year for the next ten years. This has been going on for decades. Congress by its action continued then and still does underfund the VA. Yet many of those who have underfunded the VA have been the first to cry out in scorn at the VA and the President for breaking faith with our veterans as if Congress and they themselves by their votes are blameless. Political commentators cry out in alarm, but the story has been there for decades and they did not cry.

Who has broken faith with our vets? It is not just this President with our veterans! It is the prior President too! It is not just past Congresses who bear a good part of the blame, but the current one as well. And on a personal level, personal blame goes to each Congress member and Senator  who has by their deliberate votes and willfully turned a blind eye to VA underfunding. Add to the mix the political commentators, politicians for their false horror, who push the story for political attack purposes.

Each member of Congress who is pointing fingers elsewhere, who is not accepting a portion of the blame and not saying, “I’m going to join others to do something about the underfunding” are not only perpetuating the problem, they are at the heart of the problem. They are breaking faith with our vets. Shame on them!

The story has been there for years. From time to time over the last decade there have been stories about the VA’s underfunding and growing wait times. Often this is not a new story has been marginalized and yawned at. Now it has finally has gained traction. And finally, I too am part of the problem for not writing my Congressman and Senators more often about the VA’s underfunding.

Dismissals are not the answer. The answer is simple, give the VA the resources that they need to do the job that they are not only charged to do, but want to do.  

The citizens of the United States, including myself, and our leaders who have broken faith with their veterans!!         


Friday, May 23, 2014

Mail Delivered to the Door versus Group Mail Boxes

Today I received from a firm working in the direct marketing field an email about the US House’s proposal to allow the Postal Service to convert 15+ million people to group mail boxes on their street who are currently having mail delivered to their door. The article's tone suggests the proposal was a bad idea and talked how I and my organization should resist the change.

The rationale for moving to group boxes is logical. As the proposal allows those with limited mobility to have mail delivery to their door, the rationale for resisting the USPS efforts in this direction is anemic. I am not downplaying the emotional element but it is more tied to people feeling uncomfortable with change.

I've experienced both, mail delivered to the door and group boxes. By far, for three primary reasons, I prefer to have my mail delivered to a group mail box than to the door.   

1. Mail delivered to group boxes is more secure than mailed delivered to the door. I don't have to worry about someone, maliciously or as a prank, tampering/stealing my mail. One of the vehicles for stealing identities is through the taking mail from mail boxes at the door step.  

2. If I am away for two to four days, the mail does not build up in my door side box and it giving a major clue to a thief that no one is home. Arranging for a neighbor to gather the mail, or arranging for the Post Office hold the mail until I return is diminished.  

3. It cuts delivery costs for the USPS by 25 to 30%. In group boxes more homes can be serviced by one carrier than by someone walking from door to door, particularly in areas where walking to the next house could by 40 or more yards away.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Gay Marriage Battle in Virginia and Defending of the Virginia Amendment - part 2

In yesterday’s post I noted that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard a lower court ruling that Virginia’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, civil unions and gay partnerships was unconstitutional. I am troubled after reading several of the arguments put forth by the lawyers defending the amendment, some of which essentially devalue marriage, the very institution the defenders are arguing that they are defending as having high and sacred value.


Following are some of their primary arguments, the ones I found alarming. While I am far from being legally educated, I brief note why I found several of the key the arguments defending the amendment to be troubling.


Voters by a 57-43 margin approved the amendment to the VA Constitution and their vote should stand: This argument calls for majority rule as the primary rule of the land, that majority rule trumps all including fundamental rights belonging to each person, that a citizen has no preexisting human right to liberty, freedom and happiness. This argument means that any right, even the right to life, can be denied or removed from individuals or a class of people by the state if the majority so decide to do so. The argument means that the claim Americans have proudly proclaimed and boasted about being the nation of fundamental rights is a false assertion. The claim is that a person has a right only if the majority agree to grant the person or class of people a right. The flip side of the coin is that the right can also be taken away at some point in the future if the majority so wills it. The argument means that minorities, whether racial or religious or political or lifestyle, are tolerated only as far as they don’t offend too many outside their group. Hence the only defense against the tyranny of the majority is not the courts, but by either conforming or finding little niches in the nation where your neighbors are tolerant of your kind of minority.  


What I find most interesting is that not only does this mean majority rule as the ultimate principal of the land, and contrary to what I’ve understood as the heart of a founding principle of the United States, is that the argument is akin to the arguments King George and the British Parliament used to deny the Colonies representation in Parliament…that the majority of British Parliament, the British citizenry and the King deemed it appropriate to deny the Colonials basic rights that they enjoyed. The Colonies has no right of representation because the majority wished not for them to have such opportunities. Therefore in a way, if this argument holds, this nation has come full circle, that King George and Parliament were right, and the founding fathers wrong.



Marriage is primarily about procreation, and as gay marriages cannot procreate, such marriages cannot exist:  This argument is simple, that my marriage, and your marriage too, is defined by my wife and my ability to procreate. It means that if marriage is defined primarily by the ability to procreate, there is no reason for the marriage to exist. By extension it means that women who have gone through menopause and men with very low or nonexistent sperm levels should not marry as there is no grounds for such marriages to be allowed. It also means that those who do not have children have marriages of a lesser order than marriages that produce children.


Not only am I extremely uncomfortable with any marriage that is defined primarily around having children, I am firmly against any such argument that devalues, and in a sense even negates the companionship and love elements of marriage. When my wife and I stood before the alter of the Paxton United Methodist Church that June morning, not one word in our vows even hinted at procreation. We testified to our love for the other, our commitment to each other, to be mutual companions and comforters for each other, and to cherish and nurture the other through good times and bad times for the rest of our lives. Our marriage was not a contract about having offspring and raising children together. While alarmed by this argument, I am highly offended that Christians are embracing this argument as being solid and proper.


For anyone who agrees with the argument put forward in the Court I would point out that if you are a Protestant that this argument contradicts what most Protestant churches have taught about marriage since their founding. Protestant churches have traditionally claimed that their beauty and value in marriage and marital sex. The value of marriage is founded upon mutual companionship and love. For Protestants marital relations is wholesome in itself, a beautiful and enjoyable way to express one’s love for one’s spouse. Marriage they have taught is about the quality of the husband and wife relationship, about the loving couple, not about having children. Children are the by-product of the essence of a marriage, not the ground for the marriage’s existence.


If this argument prevails, it does more to undermine the value of my marriage than if the amendment’s defenders lost.  



The State has the right to determine who can procreate and marry: Wow, reading this one sent chills down my back. The lawyers are claiming that the State has the right to say who can and cannot have children.  Are we going to require people to pass a test or gain permission of some government official in order to have children? Are we going to deny people the right to have children if they lack a certain level of intelligence? Lack a certain amount of annual household income? If to have a child and support the children they are having, the mother would have to work outside the home (after all is it not best for children to have mom at home rather than working in the community?), or the father to work a second or third job?  This rationale sounds too much like a totalitarian state argument.



Marriage is a fundamental right that historically has focused on preserving stable families. As such every child deserves a mother and father: It is the later part that bothers me. If every child deserves to a mother and father, what does that actually mean? Are we saying that children should not be raised in a gay household because a parent of a particular gender is lacking from the home? I’ve heard friends and Christian preachers and talk shows argue this point in the affirmative. Pointing to various studies some conservative Christians argue that children raised without both genders present in the home are at much high risk of socially dysfunctional behavior as children and adults than do children in homes where both a mother and father are found. But is this a result of parental disengagement or the lack of two adults of opposite genders? Are not the at risk rates similar in two adult homes where both parents are disengaged from their children? I can readily agree that when parents disengaged, regardless whether there are one or two parents in the home, and are too busy to nurture and care for their children that children from such homes have a significantly higher at-risk rate than those from loving homes where both parents, or even one parent, is supportive and engaged with the children.


While there are studies that support both sides, let’s remember that the body of research into gay households is thin as it has been for the most part lacking. A number of studies are full of unanswered questions, and some are poorly designed, or lack longevity to be reliable. Also we much recognize that some authors of studies have biases, they design studies in a manner and cherry pick data that will help support their desired proof. Further, the general public and politically engaged people tend to pick and choose the studies and data that lend support to their positions while dismissing studies which contradict their position. For me the studies claiming children in gay homes are highly impacted have reliability issues, and at first glance appear to be less scientific than are the climate warming studies those out of my religious tradition so quickly tend to dismiss.


Regardless of the quality of the science behind the studies, for the sake of argument let’s say that there is some type correlation. Even if there was some type of harm, if we deny gay marriage based on this argument are we as a nation then going to remove children from all single parent households which have a similar or greater rate of risk? What about homes where one parent is convicted of a felony for children raised in such homes also are at high risk too? What about removing children from homes where wife abuse exists, whether that abuse be physical or emotional? Are we then going to remove children from two parent homes whose household income are near or below the poverty level since numerous studies over the decades have indicated that those homes too have a high risk rate? If we are to be consistent in our arguments our communities should start removing tens of children from their homes, and if we are not going to do so, why not? If the only reason is that I was not to do so because I am talking about a gay couple, then what does that say about me?



I find myself troubled by the above arguments. Why did the lawyers defending the amendment use such arguments? We did they not craft and put forth more solid and balanced arguments?