Thursday, June 24, 2010

Raymond Parks, Rest in Peace (and Thanks for NASCAR)

A few years ago I was browsing the shelves at my local library and I stumbled upon a book called Driving With the Devil, written by a man named Neal Thompson. I checked it out of the library and took it home and that evening read the entire thing from cover to cover. A fascinating tale of the sometimes nefarious origins of NASCAR, the book also explained a few things to me about life in Georgia and the old south---I didn’t know that the red clay soil that lies under us all is really only good for growing cotton and corn, for instance, and I never knew that that same corn happened to be the perfect strain for making moonshine whiskey. Someone had to transport that moonshine from the remote stills located in the north Georgia mountains, and it took some skillful driving to evade the federal agents who were constantly trying to bust up the stills and seize the whiskey. Some of those skilled moonshiners and drivers would become an integral part of one of the most beloved sports on the planet.

One of them was a man named Raymond Parks, who is the focal point of Thompson’s book. A moonshiner at a young age, he was smart enough to evade the authorities for a number of years, was finally caught and sent to prison for 9 months in the mid 1930’s. Following his release he returned to moonshine for a while, and after racking up a small fortune got out of the game. He invested in a fleet of cars that raced in many of the small tracks around the south, and in December, 1947, , as reported in the NY Times, “Parks was among some three dozen racing figures who gathered at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach to create the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing under the direction of the driver and race promoter Bill France Sr.”

In 1948, a Parks-owned car, modified by mechanic Red Vogt in a garage that still stands at Linden and Spring Streets in Atlanta, and driven by war hero Red Byron, won the first series of races under the NASCAR banner. In that and subsequent years many of the drivers were men who had gotten their start running ‘shine all around the state of Georgia, a fact that the France family tried to keep buried when NASCAR took a more family-friendly turn in later years.

Reading the book, it came to me as a surprise to find that Parks was still alive.

A little research revealed that he was still, in his 90’s , in the liquor business, albeit legally this time, in a shop at Northside and 17th Street in Atlanta. I also discovered that he still came to work every day, fully dressed in a suit and tie. I was doing a lot of courier work at the time and passed by there every day, never knowing what, and who, was inside. I purchased a copy of the book and headed to Northside Drive to see if I could get an autograph. I knocked at the office door on the side of the building and was greeted by a very tall, impeccably dressed southern gentleman, who invited me in with a wave of his hand. I had heard that Mr. Parks was suffering from the early stages of dementia but it was nowhere in evidence on that day. He graciously signed my copy of the book with his name and the numbers of his winning cars in those early races. Afterwards he gave me a little tour of his two rooms full of historical and impressive NASCAR memorabilia, which included the winning trophy from that very first race in 1948. Some of that collection has since been donated to a museum.

Raymond Parks died on Sunday, June 20, at the age of 96. He was the last surviving member of the group that convened in Daytona to basically create NASCAR. It was an honor and a privilege to meet him. On behalf of racing fans, thank you , Mr. Parks.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Father's Day...

The letter, dated January 10, 1928, sent from Chateaugay, NY, reads, To: Mr. Thomas Abbott, Detroit Mich.
Dear Sir, I am just writing this letter to inform you I am alone in the garage business now. Ross Mellon has been put out of the firm and Jordan also has left me. Do you think you would ever feel like coming to Chateaugay? If so I wonder if we couldn't make some arrangements. Will you please let me know just what you think?
Very truly yours, Jerome Casier
Eighty one words of almost no significance to anyone, except me. And my entire family.
With Father’s Day upon us, I recently was feeling a little nostalgic. I decided to dig through a box of old photos and papers that was left in my possession after my dad died about ten years ago. I had occasionally looked at the pictures, a lot of which were of his father---my grandfather, a man my sister and I called Papa, but whom I barely knew. I had never really looked at the old newspaper clippings and letters. This week I stumbled upon the above missive and it blew my mind when I realized what it was.
I was born and grew up in upstate New York, near a small town called Chateaugay, a village the size of Mayberry, RFD, 7 miles from the Canadian border. Things could have been a lot different…
My grandfather, Thomas Charles Davies Abbott, was born in Liverpool , England. When he was a young man he came to the United States, carrying a cheap suitcase full of clothes and a head full of dreams. While it would be romantic to claim he came in through Ellis Island, in truth he first went to Canada, where he actually served in the Canadian Army during World War I. At some point he met and befriended a mechanic from Chateaugay, NY, but after the war ended he settled in Detroit, where he worked as a mechanic on automobiles. Then one day in early 1928 he received a letter from his buddy in Chateaugay, inviting him to come to NY to work together in a gas and service station. That letter, and his decision to cast his lot in NY, would change the lives of more people than he could have ever imagined. Because when Thomas Abbott made that move, he set off a chain of events that went something like this: he eventually met my grandmother, Elsie Ives, and married her. Together they had my dad, Clement and his brother Charles. My dad and mom had me and my sister Carmen, and my uncle Charlie and his wife Dorothy had five kids of their own . I have a daughter, my sister and her husband have two children, my five cousins have many children between them and now grandchildren are popping up, and it goes on and on. A seed delivered in an envelope 82 years ago took root and has become a tall and strong family tree that is showing no signs of getting weaker.
I knew my grandfather only as a strange little man who fixed televisions in his old age. Though we lived only 5 miles away, I was only inside his house one time, in 1969, when he invited us in to watch the first moonwalk. He was distant and smelled like pipe tobacco. I don’t remember ever saying much to him because he was so uninviting to the attentions of children. If he was here now, though, I would say this to him: Thank you, Papa. Thank you for picking up your mail that day in 1928, and thank you for coming here and for deciding that this was a good place to settle down and raise a family.
As a Guy Clark song called Emigrant Eyes goes, “My grandfather’s days are numbered but I won’t let his memory die. He gave me the gift of this country and the hope in his emigrant eyes.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Interesting place, Butts County. Small town living that looks like a step back into the fifties. Unfortunately, it seems that we really are fifty years behind. Remember “Romper Room?” I gaze into the looking glass….

…and I see a quick-draw sheriff who fancies himself a gunslinger and who by golly is gonna save this town, no matter what. Remember a situation a few months back when a jerk up near Atlanta decided to steal a truck that was left idling in a parking lot, and drove off, just as the owner had jumped onto the back in an attempt to stop him? As state police followed the stolen truck down the interstate, with the situation under control, and the owner hanging on and communicating via cell phone, the little caravan passed through Butts County, where Sheriff Gunslinger and his gunslinging deputies were lying in wait. Several shots were fired at the truck, blowing out the windshield but somehow missing the driver completely. What wasn’t missed, though, was a state trooper, who fortunately was wearing his vest, which stopped a bullet. Sheriff Gunslinger was later quoted in this very newspaper, expressing dismay at not blowing the thief’s head off. What did he think was going to happen to a truck going 60 miles an hour once the driver has his head blown off? Does that truck then roll over and kill the man hanging on the back? Or does it just swerve out of control and kill innocent people, maybe even Sheriff Gunslinger? Unbelievable. In most other parts of the country, this guy would have been out of a job and possibly in jail in about three seconds. Here, he gets to be on TV and even gets a chance to take a shot at another vehicle a few months later. Please stop him before he kills someone.

I also see another sad similarity to the fifties. According to the last census, there are almost 20,000 citizens in Butts, roughly 70 percent white and 30 percent black. Yet, when I recently visited the courthouse in town to take care of a business matter, I was one of only three white faces among the approximately 50 or so people crowding the room and the steps leading out to the sidewalk. I returned a couple weeks later to see if that was a fluke or business as usual. Sadly, it looked the same. Why is this?

I also see an apparent unwillingness by your elected officials to have a Wal-Mart, or any other big box store, anywhere in the county. As a small business owner a Wal-Mart might hurt me some, or it might not have an impact at all. No way to tell. That said, though, the bigger picture shows me a lot of people, young and old, who need jobs, and who don’t have cars to go to Spalding or Henry Counties. Say what you will about Wal-Mart’s employment practices, they do hire a lot of folks who would be considered unemployable anywhere else---people with criminal histories, those who never got past high school, or even people whose general physical appearance isn’t likely to get them on a magazine cover. These County Commissioners who keep getting elected are not looking out for everyone’s best interests. Even the Amish gradually accept progress. We ain’t Amish, folks. It’s almost 2010, but not here in Butts County.


You Want Death Panels? You Got 'Em!

by Jim Abbott

Recently former (love the sound of that!) Alaska Governor Sarah Palin made the statement that President Obama’s health care reform would lead to the creation of “death panels,” with the government making life and death decisions for us. Well, here is some news for Mrs. Palin. Those death panels are already here, lurking in plain sight. We just call them by a less menacing name: health insurance companies.

A friend of mine has a son, who unfortunately got leukemia, an insidious disease that is often successfully treated by giving the patient a bone marrow transplant. If successful, the healthy bone marrow begins producing healthy blood cells and the patient will live a normal life, providing they don’t get hit by a truck.

The family had what they thought was a good family insurance plan with Blue Cross. Twelve hundred dollars a month, but they felt it was worth it for coverage for their entire family. You can probably figure out where this story is going: Blue Cross would pay for the procedure itself, but not for the doctors or anesthesiologists. It’s like getting your car fixed but not paying for the mechanic’s labor. In the end the family had to cough up over five thousand bucks in deductibles and co-pays.

This is just one of a million horror stories about our current health care system, where private insurance companies are the real death panels. They use the generic term “pre-existing condition” as an excuse for not paying your claim. With a simple stamp, “CLAIM DENIED,” they often sentence curable people to death, or worse. Realize this: the primary job of insurance companies is to take in as much money as possible and to pay out as little as possible. This they do to perfection.

All of this blather about socialized medicine and other services being close to communism is a scare tactic. It is the right’s way of trying to create yet more fear in the land, and that is just WRONG, people. True socialism (look it up) is something that this country will never embrace but certain aspects of it are already here, and most people have never given it a second thought. When you visit your local library, when you pack your kids off to public school, when the police arrest the guy who stole your lawnmower, when the fire department puts out your burning house…these are all forms of socialism. Why should your health not be as important as your house, your belongings, or your kids’ education? These are services you pay for with tax dollars. Raise taxes a little more, cover everyone. No more “haves” versus “have-nots”.

If, as my colleague Ralph Watson stated last week, “the primary role of government is to protect the citizens under their care,” then I can think of no more basic protection than providing us all with a health care option that is available to every American, regardless of status. How to pay for it? It will pay for itself. Approximately thirty percent of the money that goes into insurance companies for health care coverage goes straight into the pockets of its executives and employees. Confusing and unending paperwork (due to there being so many different insurers, all with different forms) costs doctors and healthcare providers an estimated three hundred billion dollars annually in time and expenses. Having a single payer (the government, who would definitely be a more compassionate source than for-profit insurance companies) would dramatically reduce the waste and cost. A healthy population makes for a healthy workforce, which makes for a healthy economy. Who wins? We all do.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

column for June 9, 2010

A few random thoughts:
Why is it that when I allow myself to get in a political discussion with someone from the right, and I ask them a specific question, the response inevitably sounds like one of those scripts that gets read to you by the “expert” appliance repairman over the bad phone connection from New Delhi, India? Example: Question--“Why is it that our tax money pays for schools, police, fire departments, libraries, highways, parks, and other services, but you don’t want to have it pay for health care for everyone?” Answer: “ That bleeping Obama is trying to turn our country Socialist, and we won’t stand for it!” Second question: “What is the temperature outside?” Answer: “ That bleeping Obama is trying to turn our country Socialist, and we won’t stand for it!” C’mon, folks. You’re not that dumb! Think for yourselves!
Can we all now agree that a Wal-Mart will never pop up in Butts County? Now that a new “Wally World” is being built just ten miles up the road in Locust Grove, there wouldn’t be much financial logic for the company to put one here in our little community. (Not that there ever were enough people for a Wal-Mart here anyway.) Sure, we lose all of that tax revenue but the county keeps its small town charm. If folks want to toss curses in the direction of the county commission for screwing up, they should have done it when Tanger Outlets was allowed to slip away years ago. For those of you who still want to shop at Wal-Mart, it’s literally up the road. Ten miles is about a 15 minute trip on Rt. 42 (except if, and this seems to happen to me everytime I take that trip, the world’s oldest, blindest, most intoxicated phone texting grandmother is on the road at the same time) so if you are too lazy to drive for fifteen minutes, then you didn’t really want to go anyway. Also, once the new road widening project is completed, the trip will be much smoother.
It’s nice to see some nameless individuals who are often seen walking the sides of the road where Routes 23 and 42 fork off to the south. These people are carrying garbage bags and are cleaning up other slobs’ messes. It’s a real heroic task you are performing, so thank you. It’s a shame you even have to take your own precious time to do what you do. The worst offender/item is old scratched-off lottery tickets. Possible solution: The state should come up with a plan to give a free ticket for every 20 losing tickets. Sure, stores would need to keep them stored somewhere but I can guarantee that you wouldn’t see any more of those darned things blowing around the streets. Also, the state should adopt the deposit and redemption laws for beer and soda cans and bottles. It works wonderfully in the northern states like New York, where there are people who often redeem hundreds of dollars a day in bottles and cans. And you won’t see any of those cans and bottles all over the roads either. A nickel per can or bottle is much more than the aluminum would pay at a recycling place and the glass, which pays nothing now, would be a nickel profit.
Just clearing out the clutter! Next week, back to saving the world from ourselves!

Art column--May 26, 2010

“I ain’t got time for no art”
That’s what the woman said to me a couple weeks ago when I asked her if she was going to check out the great Fine Arts Festival that was being held on Third Street, next to the fire station. A depressing string of conversations with other people that same day usually ended with a variant on what the first woman said. “I ain’t got time for no art.” And that is a shame.
What exactly is life about? Is it just getting up each day, slamming down a gallon of coffee before going off to work, then coming home at night too tired to do anything but sit in front of the tv and vegetate? Repeat the process the next day, and the day after that, ad infinitum?
For many people, sadly. that is indeed what life is about. In the ugliness that is the daily grind, there needs to be room for beauty, for pleasant distractions to make us think a little outside the box. That is what art is for, and that is what we all need to make room for in our lives. “No time for art?” No way.
What is art? Sure, it is, like what was admirably represented at the festival, paintings and sculpture. It also is photography, music, the written word, film, dance, even television at its best is art. Consider the finale of the series LOST, which aired this past week. If you were fortunate enough to have seen the show, and the finale, you saw television writing and production at its finest---thought-provoking, moving and powerful enough to have people still discussing it a week later.
The movies you watch and the music you listen to are art, sometimes. Unfortunately, as with anything else, a lot of it is just product, done to make a fast buck without concern for any artistic merits. It is the same with books and television, but if you dig a little deeper you will find some wonderfully creative people and things that will resonate for a long time. For every corporate creation there are some wonderfully talented and innovative people who are playing in clubs, coffeehouses and even just in their own living rooms, and who never get the recognition that they deserve because they don’t have a SONY or American Idol Inc. backing them.
Ever seen an art sale at a local motel or in a parking lot, out of the back of a truck? That stuff is usually just mass produced junk designed to fill a space on your wall because the dull colors match your drapes. Check out some estate sales and yard sales and you can find some real art there. Or stop at the next Fine Arts Festival you see advertised. You don’t have to buy anything, just take it all in and talk to the people who actually created it.
Or, you can do the very best thing of all: make your own art. Write a story, draw a picture, paint a scene, make up a song. Create something that makes other people happy.
Years ago I met a man who owned a painting that he spent a fortune for. I asked him why he would spend that kind of money for a painting and his answer said it all: “I like to look at it.”
No time for art? Rubbish, I say.

A column they wouldnt publish here in GA

What is it with all these Tea party rallies? What exactly are they protesting? I have figured out that the Republicans grand plan to get back in power is to just throw so much nonsense out there that it will confuse the majority of the country and the chips will fall where they may come election. There used to be an old joke bumper sticker: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” And so it has come to pass that apparently, a Republican has actually read something and took it to heart. They certainly didn’t read the health care bills---all they did was complain that it was too long. Maybe they are waiting for the Cliff Notes version, or the comic book---oh wait, Bush is gone.
OK. So these little groups of mostly older, wealthy white men are ticked off that our President and government managed to get health care insurance a possibility for 32 million citizens who can’t afford it now. They protest and complain that taxes are going to go through the roof to pay for all this stuff, and yet taxes have actually gone DOWN for 88 percent of the population this year. So what is the basis for their argument??
Let’s get down to brass tacks, as Ross Perot used to say. The President is a black man, and that simple fact is just plain not acceptable to these groups of privileged malcontents. If it was a white man running things I can assure that the argument would be different. This paper is afraid to run columns about racism but when it is so patently obvious that it is still rearing its disgusting ugly head in this country, in this day and age, all decent Americans should be as angry about it as I am.
These Tea Party folks are not the new America. They are a bunch of relics from an era best left behind and they, and the rest of the right, should be ashamed of the junk they spew. I actually heard a conversation the other day in the aisle at a local grocery store that was so vile and repugnant that I can’t repeat it here, except to say that the N-word was used several times as was the phrase “someone oughtta blow that…away.” What?? In 2010?
And that is the real danger of what the right and their ilk are doing. When enough venomous talk gets out there, sooner or later some lunatic picks up a gun and does the unthinkable. This man, this good man that the majority of people elected to office, cares about us. He has a monumental task ahead of him and any crap like thebile that the idiots on the right might vomit out is counterproductive at best, seditious at worst, and gets really tiring after a while. Reading columns from righties calling the President a Socialist and addressing us as Comrade is just so much more bullshit as well, especially since “Comrade” was used in a communist context historically. Whatever the case, it is time to ignore all this crap and let the president do his job, which he has amazingly been doing, and doing well through all the brown fog that the republican machine is polluting the airwaves with.

Cleaning up the Mess

I had not planned on having any debates with my right wing colleague, Mr. Mauldin, but his column of December 16 bears commenting on.
Mr. Mauldin, sincere as he may be, does himself and other right-leaning people a great disservice by bringing the discussion to gutter level with his "tree-huggers and hippies" reference.
To say that the above mentioned feel that they have to educate others, that is, the right, on how to conserve is actually, in all likelihood a true statement, since the political right, whose big guns are often the heads of big, greedy corporate concerns, does not care a bit about what they are emitting, dumping and spewing into the air and water.
I witnessed this myself years ago when I was a member of the Clearwater Group in the beautiful Hudson Valley.
Our great Hudson River had gotten so polluted by Monsanto and Tuck Tape with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), mercury and other poisonous substances that it was deemed no longer healthy to eat any of the fish that were caught in the river. Through the efforts of terrible tree huggers like Pete Seeger and others, awareness of the situation was heightened and the situation was dealt with in the courts and slowly the river has turned around.
Darn hippies probably can even bathe in it now, hmmm?
Mr. Mauldin also mentioned his displeasure at new laws passed taxing corporations by measuring their greenhouse gas emissions.
He uses China and India -- hardly poster nations for clean air (remember the recent Olympics in smog-filled Beijing?) -- as examples defending his opposition.
I would invite Mr. Mauldin, or anyone, to lock himself in a room with only those greenhouse gasses to breathe for just five minutes. If he was able to walk out, I would grant him his veto on the new tax laws.
The atmosphere belongs to all of us, not just industry.
What does coal do when it burns? What does anything do when it burns? It emits carbon and other noxious elements into the air.
A little science here: When the air is full of junk, rain falls through it and brings it to the ground. It seeps into the soil and water supplies and we drink it, or our cattle get it in the grasses and food they eat. If we haven't already developed lung cancer, leukemia or some other ailment, the food supply will kill us. It will happen, and the more that irresponsible countries like China and India, whose populations total seven times that of our country, keep spewing this stuff, the sooner it will happen. A sponge can only hold so much water and the atmosphere can only hold so much pollution.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, "Annoy a liberal: Work hard, be successful, be happy".
Tree-hugging hippies have to work hard, too. Cleaning up the mess left by the big corporations is a tough gig, but someone has to do it, for all of our sakes.

Immigration column/Arizona

he recent passage of a law in the State of Arizona allowing police and other law enforcement officials to pull over or detain anyone who looks like they might be an “Illegal alien” is an abomination unto itself, and should be repealed immediately.

What the heck is this country coming to?

The people running the show in Arizona have short memories. The United States wouldn’t be in existence if a bunch of European pilgrims had not come here, made the decision that “this is ours for the taking” and then did just that, killing, raping and ultimately stealing the land from the natives whose land it was for centuries.

In true capitalist fashion the white man tricked and fooled the natives out of their property. Trading blankets for land was a bargain indeed, since the blankets were infected with smallpox and other diseases, and the tribes were nearly wiped out.

Later, we decided that, “Oops, we did a bad thing and got called out for it, so let’s make reparations. We’ll give them a little land for themselves, call them reservations. Let them have their own laws and that will make it all better. “

What a crock.

All of that said, reality is now there is a ridiculous paranoia in this land. The dreaded Mexican menace is taking over “our” country. My God, build fences, install motion sensors, arm guards at the borders, keep these Indians out! Yes, folks, Mexican s are “Indians” too. Natives in what is now this country were Cherokee, Sioux, Apache, Comanche, Pima and many other tribes. To the south, Mayans, Incas, Tainos and other tribes were the rightful landowners. Who knows what might have happened if Columbus and his ilk had landed in Cancun?

The United States is a country that people want to come into. These days their sanity might be in question, but on the whole the standard of living here is better and there is a chance to make a life for oneself here. Let them come. Let them stay, let them work, let them become part of our economy and our communities.

We grant Cubans and others asylum. There is no asylum for Mexicans -- only harassment and deportation. They risk their lives to come here. Let’s reward that gamble with citizenship, or at the very least green cards or work permits. It will help this country.

“They’re taking our jobs!” cry the brave patriots. Yes, darn it, I was unable to get that great job I wanted selling oranges by the interstate, or the other gig I wanted throwing pine needles around those big houses in Alpharetta, or deep-frying stuff for rich Americans.

If anything, these workers who come north from Mexico are the victims of the real criminals, the corporations who hire them and pay them substandard wages and mistreat them in many ways. Show me any job of substance that is being done by an illegal Mexican alien and I’ll show you a bigfoot flying an UFO.

What is going on in Arizona is patently illegal and wrong. Narrow-minded politicians are targeting brown-skinned people with no probable cause. We have a Constitution and it’s being spit on.

We stole this land and now don’t want to let anyone else come and play! That’s the way it is. Shame on Arizona, and shame on us.

Dear Mr President...

Dear President Obama: Apparently you need to update your GPS settings: It appears that the “ Main Street ” that you kept mentioning while you were campaigning has been re-routed, and has now merged with Wall Street. What gives?
I realize it’s still early in your administration, but in one short year you have managed to disillusion just about everyone who gave you support and votes. Republicans say that you are too radical, and Democrats say you are too Republican.
When you promised healthcare reform, we had high hopes that the leeches known as health insurance companies would feel the door hit them in their collective behinds. Instead, your plan is going to mandate that every American has to buy their “product” or face big fines and penalties. I didn’t vote for that, and neither did anyone I know. The current health insurance situation is the worst example of a pre-existing condition, and needs to be healed, but your plan is not the answer. Medicaid for everyone is. In every other major country in the world health care is guaranteed by law for their citizens. Here, people lose their homes and lives to overwhelming medical debt. What gives?
When the banks and insurance companies and their unethical and illegal practices almost crippled this nation, instead of punishment, they got bailed out, first by TWPE (The Worst President Ever) and then by you. Instead of reformers, you have filled your cabinet with the very people who got us into this stinking mess. What gives?
The war is another area where you have really disappointed. Why send 30,000 more troops into that hellhole? Polls show that as much as 70 percent of the American populace want us out of Afghanistan , and yet you make an announcement, which could have been delivered with a phony Texas drawl, and you sound suspiciously like TWPE.
A couple of decades ago Russia , whose military might rivaled ours, got their heads handed to them in Afghanistan . Our military is tired, and the lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten, apparently. What gives?

Yes, that area was where the planning for 9/11 took place. You said that there are plots currently being hatched in Afghanistan by al-Qaida to attack us again. With what? They used up their one shot at catching us off-guard when they grabbed those planes. We are vigilant now, and will remain so. There are not enough al-Qaida remaining to warrant such a large troop surge.
Mr. President, you have a great opportunity here to help the average American, instead of making our lot worse. With all due respect, and as boxing trainer Angelo Dundee once said to Sugar Ray Leonard during a big fight, “You’re blowing it, son.”
Halloween is over. It’s time to take off your Republican mask and be the progressive agent of change that you represented yourself to be. You are beginning to make us think you want to be the TWPE. We are losing the right to call this country the greatest in the world and to be able to back up that claim.
Change? That's what I have left in my pocket.
What gives?

WalMart column

Wal-Mart: The name is synonymous with retail shopping---the picture of successful capitalism run amok.

Over the last 20 years Wal-Mart has spread its stores faster than just about any major retail chain in any category, with the possible exception of Subway, which recently took over the lead spot from McDonald’s for most locations in the United States.

One place that Wal-Mart has not invaded, as you all know, is Butts County.

And what of that? Depending on who you are talking to, Wal-Mart either tried to come in and was voted down, or they never wanted to come here even though people wanted them.

Stewart Voegtlin assures me the story of Wal-Mart being voted out by the County Commission is one of the great Butts County myths, and that according to Wal-Mart spokesmen, there simply aren’t enough people in Butts County to support a large store like theirs.

I know how the myth machine works and sometimes, if enough people believe a myth, it tends to become accepted as fact.

As a small business owner, and also as a Butts County resident, I have mixed feelings on the subject. As a retail store owner, I know a Wal-Mart in the county would likely put a big dent in my sales. As a consumer who often needs certain products, I have to go out of the county since Butts simply doesn’t have the stores here where I can buy them. I don’t like having to drive all the way to Griffin or McDonough to buy anything but have to out of necessity sometimes.

Why have a Wal-Mart here?

The pros: They have a large selection of products which is convenient, to be sure. They hire a lot of people who might not be able to get a job anywhere else, due to things like past criminal history, physical appearance and other reasons. They would pay a large amount of taxes, which the county could use to offset all the non-profitable church properties that pay no taxes at all.

The cons: Wal-Mart is infamous for the damage they do to small mom and pop businesses. They also have a reputation for questionable employment practices, long lines at the registers with an insufficient number of cashiers on hand, and, if you compare prices on certain items, ridiculously high prices at times. (Compare the prices of meat at Wal-Mart to those at Webbs, Ingles, and “the Pig” and you’ll find that you’ll get a better bargain here.) Wal-Mart makes their money not by offering any real bargains but by sheer volume; hence the large number of stores all over the US.

When the annual lists appear of richest Americans, Bill Gates is usually on top.

But if you carefully scan the rest, you will find three members of the Walton family, founders of Wal-Mart. They are individually listed each with roughly $19 billion in wealth, which, when combined is more than Mr. Gates’ total. Bill Gates is well known for his charitable works and for spending his money for the greater good. Wal-Mart is known for invading rural areas, screwing up the local economy and then when the chips are down, leaving behind a ghost town. Is that what we want for Butts County?

Health reform column

So we have some kind of health insurance reform.

I should be excited, since I have not had health insurance for so long I can’t even recall when I last had it. It makes me sad, because I am 50 years old -- that certain age when TV doctors and real ones all say you should get the works done on the plumbing and every other part of the machine.

What I do recall is when I last had health insurance I was working for UPS in New York, where I tore some cartilage in my knee while exiting the truck on an icy day. Because I was not yet a permanent employee, only a seasonal helper, I was not covered. Four months later I was hired for a permanent position, but having my knee throbbing constantly made work difficult to say the least. The only light at the end of that painful tunnel was the fact that when I reached my six month mark at UPS my health insurance coverage would kick in and I could get my knee fixed. I limped, walked, and hopped through six months of sheer hell (working at UPS is probably more physical than most people’s workout regimen) and in November I was able to have the necessary surgery to fix the knee. Blue Cross gave the go-ahead and I was as good as new soon after.

A month later, the surgeon’s office informed me they had not yet been paid and the insurance company had reviewed my case and denied the claim on the basis of a pre-existing condition. And they wanted me to pay to the tune of six grand.

That’s my health insurance horror story. It’s minor, but it is certainly illustrative of the past, and current situation in this country full of people who deserve better.

Now we have health insurance reform and stories like mine and others will hopefully stop being told.

It’s a lousy plan: Not health care reform at all but more a regulating of the insurance giants whose job was always to get by not paying claims if they could. This plan will immediately give them about 30 million new customers, so they should stop crying and acting like they are having their teeth pulled out. It is a start.

Right-wingers scream that their grandchildren will be paying for it, but in the long run it seems the plan will save money, not cost more.

Watching C-Span’s coverage of the debates leading up to the vote was educational, especially in the House of Representatives, where the suits were arguing like kids in a sandbox fighting over a shovel. Some had great points, but others, from both sides, seemed clueless about even the most general facts and were just spouting party propaganda. It’s depressing that these boobs are who we elected to represent us.

On the other hand, the fact that the entire plan was so massive and complex shows that someone, and we have to give President Obama credit for this, cares enough to put such a huge effort into getting this done for our citizens. I want to thank them for at least taking the first step to making sure all of us are on equal footing when it comes to that most basic and personal issue: Health and well-being.

Now, what is this I hear about immigration reform?

Us and them??

This column dropped into my lap: A strange encounter at a local business the other night that made me uncomfortable and somewhat ashamed of where I live. There are some terrible people among us, and what is sad is that they don't know how terrible they are.
On our way home from work the other night, my wife and I stopped at a gas station on Highway 42. As I walked in, I noticed a somewhat attractive, middle-aged woman at the counter, paying for some merchandise. There was no hint of any tension or trouble. I grabbed a drink and paid for it, and went out to pump some gas.
Before I could get to the pump, the woman crossed my path in her truck, stopped, opened her passenger window, and directed the following words of wisdom to me, a perfect stranger. She said, "We have got to do something to stop these hadjis from taking us over. They are controlling everything and we've gotta put a stop to it."
Well, heck. I had no clever retort for her. She had stopped so suddenly, I assumed there had been a problem in the store with her transaction. In her mind it was righteous indignation; she needed to vent on someone and I was the closest moving object. I am ashamed to say that I didn't immediately tell her where to go. What I really am ashamed of is that I didn't tell her this: Those "hadjis" are friends of mine.
I’m not sure what a "hadji" actually is. It used to be the name of the brown-skinned sidekick of my cartoon hero, Johnny Quest, when I was a kid, but somehow I don't think that is what she meant. The two gentlemen who now run that gas station are J.J. and Vijay. They are there for up to sixteen hours a day, working hard, seven days a week. They did come from India many years ago but are now American citizens and they have spent a lot of money that they worked hard for to get that gas station.
On the other hand, if "hadji" means "hard-working, polite, nice Americans who have a gas station on Highway 42" then I want to be the first to extend a hand of friendship to J.J. and Vijay and say this: "Welcome, friends."
I am going to tell you all a dirty little secret.

You know those video slot machines in all of the local gas stations and convenience stores? The ones that are usually in the back, under signs that say “We do not pay cash—don’t even ask” or something similar? Those machines can and do profit the establishments that have them upwards of three or four thousand dollars weekly, and guess what, folks? It’s all tax free.

Here’s how it works. Businesses that have the machines generally don’t own them—they are owned by companies who split the profits on a 70/30 basis, with the lion’s share going to the store. As for the law prohibiting cash payouts---it might as well not exist. No cash payouts equals no players. Some store owners even make deliveries to bring players their winnings at home or pay out cash in store restrooms, where they are safe from police videotaping. By law, tickets printed out cannot have amounts of more than five dollars, representing winnings for a single play of the machine, as stated in the Georgia gaming code. The fact is that the game machine companies set the computer to print out whatever they want it to print out. If a player wins a hundred bucks, the machine prints out twenty tickets of five dollars each, thus not breaking any laws on the surface.

Why do these store owners go to lengths to make sure players get their money? Because they want to keep them coming in. It is huge money. Ever see a gas station with no gas, almost empty shelves and five or six game machines? Think candy bars are keeping them in business?

If you ask a gas station or store owner if they pay cash, they will all tell you, “No, it’s against the law.” And I am here to tell you, because I have had the machines in the past, is that they are lying. The players won’t come in if they hear a place isn’t paying cash. When one is able to get the machines, which isn’t easy due to the illegality that surrounds them, you become part of a little clique, and you share info about certain players, like which ones you need to try to attract or who to watch out for.

The dirty little secret is this: Players are throwing their money away. The machines are run by a computer program that is set to “win” about 80 percent of the time, usually only a quarter or 50 cents. Big wins are few and far between. I had several players who lost well over 400 bucks in an hour. One even went out the door complaining that she had just gambled away her light bill and rent money. That was when I decided to get rid of the games. Some people are too simple to understand that they are throwing away their hard earned dough.

A recent police raid on several businesses was laughable. The machines were “seized” and the money in them confiscated. The funny thing was that the seized machines were never seized at all. After a few weeks, notices proclaiming them seized were taken down and the machines went right back into play, with the only effect being that store owners were now more wary about which customers they paid out to. The seized machines from one gas station ended up in my shop, stickers still attached, when management changed hands and the new owners didn’t want those machines in their station. The reason: They had their own.

Butts County: Outlaw those things for the sake of your citizens. You aren’t getting the tax money you should from them anyway; so what is the point?

Two weeks later I wrote the following, after the paper printed some pretty vicious stuff from a reader who apparently took unbrage...

A reader suggested I take a pill to alleviate my anxiety over the illegal use of those nefarious video slot machines [See Tom Eads’ Letter to the Editor; Progress-Argus 3/31/10 - Ed]. I say, “I took a pill, and by golly, nothing changed.”

The machines are still around and the owners of the places that have them---all of them---are still paying cash and running what are essentially illegal gambling establishments, reaping huge profits that don’t get taxed .

After my column on the machines I received a personal visit from a high-ranking local law enforcement official. He was pleased that I had written about the subject and we had a chat about what can be done, including having the establishments declared to be illegal gambling establishments and seizing the entire property and charging a huge fine.

Mr. Eads, in his thoughtful letter, commented that it isn’t the job of government to legislate people’s behavior. And yet, government does indeed do just that---seatbelt laws, speeding laws, drinking laws, and others all are put in place for our own good.

Sociologists will tell you that if people are let loose with no restrictions, bad behavior will increase in intensity and frequency. It is indeed the job of government to look out for those among us who do not know any better.

In my opinion, Butts County is a poor county. The people here, especially African-Americans, seem to live substandard lives when compared to many of the other citizens. I speak on a daily basis with a lot of people, black and white, generally poor, and it is very disheartening to hear their view of life here.

They talk of not having much opportunity to get ahead, given the state of things. So they gamble, hoping for that one-in-a-million big strike. In fact, gambling, whether legal as in the lottery, or illegal, as in those vile machines, seems to be the state sport, given the number of discarded scratchoffs I see blowing around the local landscape.

Money does not flow as freely up north as it does here. It is hard-earned by hard-working people. Money tossed away into gambling machines is making lazy store owners wealthy, to the point that their actual business is neglected. I know this from experience. Located near my place of business is one such establishment. The shelves look like the place was looted and never restocked, gas is often not available and the place teems with the poor and uneducated playing lottery, playing numbers and of course playing, sometimes two at a time, the slot machines.

Why bother actually stocking the shelves or filling the tanks when you can sit back and count the dough thrown away by suckers? When is a gambling establishment not a gambling establishment? When it is wearing a gas station mask.

Gift of Life

Christmas is almost upon us, and 'tis the season for gift giving.
Here's a little secret: You have been given your gift already, as I have, and let me tell you, we don't really appreciate this precious thing we all have, a precious thing called life.
As much as we treat this planet like our own private landfill, what most of us do to our bodies is something even more disgusting and shameful. Whether you believe that a supreme being created you, or that your body is just the latest phase of an ongoing evolutionary process, it is the ultimate sign of disrespect to whatever process got us here that we try to kill ourselves slowly.
As someone approaching 50, I have become aware of the failings of the human body, marvelous structure that it is---cut your finger and it fixes itself!---and I have also started to look outside myself as I try to get in good shape to make sure I get every minute I can out of this world.
What I see is a lot of people who have let themselves go to the point where I wonder if they are going to keel over later tonight. Fat people, drunk people, smokers hacking up gross hunks of stuff that they then spit out on the sidewalks; drug-addicted souls smoking, sniffing, shooting up whatever they can scrape off the floor, all manners of slow suicide, often by sick people who can't help themselves. And I haven't even mentioned the slowest, most insidious way we are killing ourselves: Death by food.
This is the South---home of the best BBQ, the best fried food, and not coincidentally, the most obese and unhealthy states in the country. A recent study found that of the 50 states, Georgia is number 43, joining Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana and Kentucky in the bottom 10. The healthiest states were the New England group. The Union wins again…
As I have mentioned, getting older and becoming more aware of these things has also heightened my awareness of how easy it is to let yourself go, and how hard it is to fix the problem. But you can do it, and if you have any small amount of self-respect, you will do it.
Join a gym today. If you can't afford it, do something free: Start walking for a half hour each day. Eat more vegetables. Stay away from greasy, disgusting fried food. Don't look for anything nutritious in a fast food restaurant or in a convenience store, because there is nothing nutritious there. Read labels and learn about what you are putting in your mouth.
You know what you have to do. It's all over the TV, on shows like the Biggest Loser and Dr. Oz. Fat, unhealthy, wheezing souls on their last legs, looking for a quick fix. It ain't happening, folks. You have to take matters in your own hands and honor the gift you have been given, instead of destroying it.
There is a saying that in return for a life, a death is owed. What you can do is delay payment as long as possible. Have a happy and safe holiday season, people, and hopefully we'll see each other at the gym in the next year, and not another funeral for a 45-year-old who dropped dead of a heart attack.

Socialism column

ou wake up in the morning. Your restless night’s sleep over; your brain suddenly re-boots and all of the stress of the day before is back in an instant. Immediately your body starts to react to it and your health begins to slowly but steadily deteriorate from it.

You must live in the United States, where the almighty dollar is worshipped. You have trouble living a happy life because you just don’t have enough of those dollars to handle all of your obligations. You watch while elected politicians and their corporate cronies rake in big money and wave their capitalist flags in your face, breaking laws and laughing about it. They have friends in very high places.

You get in your beat-up old car that cost you five hundred bucks to fix, and go out looking for a job, since you lost yours last week when things got slow. No matter; it didn’t pay all that much anyway and there was no health insurance or 401K attached to it so the first time you got sick they probably would have fired you, since you hadn’t been there long enough to get sick days or a vacation, which you have not had in many years, except for that two weeks a year you got when you worked for the factory.

That job was okay, but then they shipped their work to Mexico where labor was cheaper, so they closed the place down. Out you went, on unemployment for six months, which is how long it took you to find another job that paid somewhere near the same money.

Then you had the baby and when she got sick you and your husband were out of work so much that you almost lost everything you had trying to keep your heads above water keeping up with the doctors and medicines, but, despite the best care you could afford, she didn’t make it.

While your life was happening, big banks and insurance companies were robbing the public blind, and when they got found out they got a nice big bailout from the government. A sweet reward for very bad behavior. “Too big to fail,” they called it. That’s the way it is here in the United States.

Then came a new regime in Washington, similar in a lot of ways to the old one but different enough to make some people begin to scream about the dreaded “Socialism.” You’ve heard about it, vaguely, in reference to medicine. Not good, is what the voices on the radio said.

Imagine a place where you had free health care, free child care, a retirement system that was far better than Social Security, free college for all your kids, paid sick days, six weeks of paid vacation every year (my goodness, a week every two months!), a good job re-training program if you lost your employment, paid parental leave for both parents if you have a child, and free senior care for later in life.

That is what Socialism is. That is what the big players in this country have told you is evil. Why? Is it because it costs more in taxes to provide all of that to you, which it does? Is it because it’s a big trick to make you slaves to the government, which it isn’t? No. They don’t like it because it means that the government looks out for people instead of corporations. It means less money in their pockets and more in yours. People would actually be more equal, a scary proposition for them.

How many of you would you be willing to pay more taxes to get rid of all of the stress in your life that you have because you don’t have all of the things mentioned above? I’m betting most of you would, if you knew the truth.

Imagine that.

Bob Dylan column

Genius. Technically it means someone with an IQ of 140 or higher.

It’s not just the brain we are born with; there is also the factoring in of a certain amount of self-discipline and striving to improve one’s intellect, or their talents in one area or another.

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are geniuses in the traditional sense, just as Michael Jordan was a genius basketball player and Muhammad Ali was a genius in the ring. We appreciate their abilities and recognize them as such.

During a TV broadcast from the White House the other night it occurred to me there is an entertainer out there who, besides being a genius in his field, is also a national treasure and he should be appreciated while we still have him around.

Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 in Minnesota. His family was not well-to-do, but his working class upbringing in that part of the country would not stop him from pursuing a career in music.

At first, he became caught up in the life story of rail-riding folksinger Woody Guthrie, who at that time in early 1960 was hospitalized in New Jersey with Huntington’s Chorea. Dylan hitched rides across the country to visit his hero, succeeded, and began playing many of Woody’s songs, as well as many traditional blues and ballads as he made his rounds throughout the clubs of New York and elsewhere. He was considered a terrific mimic, but that was it. He did none of his own material and it never looked like he was going to be anything more than an idiosyncratic interpreter of others’ work.

This is where the genius part comes in.

Somewhere in his Midwestern brain, all of those influences -- Guthrie, Hank Williams, Little Richard and others -- coalesced, and almost overnight songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Masters of War,” and others were flying off the pages of his typewriter.

The timing of Dylan’s blossoming was in sync with the height of the civil rights movement. Dylan’s eloquence quickly made him the musical face of the movement, but he was still an artist in transition. While the folkies embraced him as their own, he tired of being pigeonholed and began writing songs of another type, long, and some say “chemically influenced” masterpieces like “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Desolation Row” and hundreds more. He faced hostile audiences around the world in the mid-sixties for going electric but it did not stop him. In the 1970s he released Blood on The Tracks, still one of the greatest albums ever made, and he has continued to record and tour since then, winning an Oscar and several Grammies in the last decade alone. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his arrival in New York. His influence on popular music and culture in the past half century rivals that of Shakespeare in his time and cannot be denied.

The other night he performed “The Times They Are A-Changing” at the White House, in the faces of the very people he was singing about: “Come senators and congressmen, please heed the call. Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall, for he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled—the battle outside is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls for the times they are a changing.”

Strong stuff for a little Jewish kid from iron ore mining country.

Immigration column

A couple of weeks ago, a reader called Hello, Butts County to inform us all that illegal immigration has destroyed the health-care industry in this country. I regret to inform you that the health-care industry in this country has, like many other institutions here, actually been destroyed from within by that good old byproduct of unregulated capitalism. Yes friends, I’m talking about greed.

I like telling stories, so here is one: A long time ago, around 1982, before things got so out of control, I went to a dentist. He was recommended to me by a teacher friend who told me that the dentist, a few weeks after doing work on his teeth, had actually given him money back, with the comment, “You can pay your union dues.”

So I went. Had work done. A little later, got money back. Huh? How’d that happen?

Here’s what was going on: Dr. So and So was charging 200 bucks for a root canal. Fair enough, but when he saw that my insurance company was willing to pay a maximum of 400 bucks, that’s what he billed them. He then split the extra two hundred bucks with me, as he had with my teacher friend before me, and who knows how many others. As far as I know, he wasn’t even breaking any laws. Since the insurance company was willing to pay that much, he was well within his rights to charge that much. What he did with the difference was up to him.

That was one little dentist in one little place in upstate New York, a small fish in a big pond. If you multiply him by thousands, or maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands of health-care professionals over the last 30 years, all billing the insurance companies for extra money, and then for extra services, the numbers increase exponentially.

Time passed. Insurance companies quickly began realizing that too much money was bleeding out of their hands, into the hands of the doctors and hospitals who were billing them for aspirin at the rate of 10 bucks a pill, sometimes, as well as five-dollar Band-Aids, 10,000 bucks for an overnight stay in a hospital, and so on. You get the picture. Insurance companies seemingly didn’t even look at the bills and ask, “Isn’t 10 bucks for an aspirin too much?” They just paid it, and passed the cost along to us later, like a store owner who has to raise prices to make up for shoplifters.

No one begrudges health-care professionals the right to earn a great living -- they work very hard to get where they are and they perform an important and life-saving service, but there is no law that says that the doctor always has to be the first guy on the block to have the yacht AND the Ferrari. At least not in his first year of practice.

Medical fraud is the biggest reason the health-care industry in this country has gone to the dogs. The doctors and hospitals (not all, of course, but some) overcharge the insurance companies. The insurance companies raise their premiums to keep their profit margins status quo and they raise their co-pays to ridiculous levels. Employers can’t afford to provide health insurance for free anymore, so they start taking the premiums out of your pay. Now you have less money for everyday living. It is all connected. Six degrees of fraud and deception.

Illegal immigration has nothing to do with it. While some illegal immigrants do seek and receive medical care here, they have nothing to do with the destruction of the health-care industry in the United States.

And you can take that to the bank (if your dentist is like mine was.)

Column following State of the Union address

Never have so many looked so foolish.

I was prepared to slam President Obama in the days leading up to his first State of the Union address. But his speech last week hit it out of the park, and it was truly enjoyable to see all of those fat cat Republicans sitting on their pudgy, un-calloused hands, putting on their best Cheney-esque scowls and shaking their collective heads when they disagreed with something they heard, which was often.

Still, invigorating and full of promise as the speech was, I have reservations about which “union” the president was referring to.

It’s hard to believe that any of the senate members have ever known what regular life is like for the vast majority of this country. Two unions, divisible…

In one union everyone wears an expensive suit, drives a Mercedes or BMW.

They “work” behind a desk, live in houses with so many rooms that the state of Wyoming could move in with room to spare. Family meals are often prepared by “the help” and dinner discussions revolve around stock investments and their next vacation in St. Barts, or skiing in Aspen.

When they get sick, the doctor comes to them.

Their kids’ college education is secure.

That union is in good shape thanks to huge government bailouts and they even get their yearly mega-bonuses as well. All this while they complain about the president spend-spend-spending us into extinction.

Then there is the small matter of the other union, comprising about ninety-nine percent of the country.

They wear jeans and overalls, work in farms, factories, fast food joints, and supermarkets, and make less in an hour than what the suits might spend for a martini at the club. Stock is just part of chicken soup.

They live in mobile homes, cheap duplexes or big empty new houses that they were conned into buying with fancy language and small print and are now on the verge of losing to foreclosure.

Their houses are empty because they have sold what furniture they had to try to make that mortgage payment, or they never had enough money left to buy any furniture after the closing on the house. They drive used cars, or buy a new one and have a monthly car payment that is as much as their rent.

When they get sick, they can’t get treatment because they don’t have money for it, and they suffer in silence.

When it gets cold, and the cost of heating their homes is so high that they can’t afford it, they suffer in cold silence.

They can’t take a vacation where it is warm because while oil and gas prices have risen to stupidly high levels, their paycheck has not increased at all. Instead, they stay home and read about how the other union spends their holidays in St. Barts and Aspen.

Even schoolteachers are being made to work several days a year for free. Can you imagine?

They elected a president who they thought was like them, from humble beginnings, who worked hard and made good, and who promised change. The only change thus far is what is in their pockets. And they suffer in silence, but not for long.

Dogs bite back when cornered. The majority of regular people in this country feel cornered. They will bite back, because they are not happy with the state of their union.

Good speech, Mr. President. As they say, though, actions speak louder than words. See you next year.

Graduation column

This column is for all of the fine young men and women who will be graduating this week. Congratulations on a job well done. In a world where there are so many distractions and speedbumps in your way, you have persevered.

Take a breath, and feel good about yourself. You've earned it. You are not, however, finished. You have a world to save.

The world you are heading into is just as full of obstacles, so you want to be as prepared as possible to take on all challenges. This means college, of course, and lots of it. Just a generation ago, there was still a chance to make a life without much education beyond high school, but the growing world and the fierce competition in it demand more and more. Now, even an associate degree isn't enough, and a bachelor's degree is essentially the bare minimum that is needed to get you in on the bottom rung of many companies.

This isn't your parents' world. This is your world, and if you don't like what you see, don't like what the future seems to be holding in store for you, then it is up to you to do something about it. Take charge of your destiny. One look at the current state of affairs in this world is enough to tell you that it's broken, and needs fixing. It's up to you, youngbloods, to get it straightened out.

This you will do, first by observing the world in a clearheaded manner, free from booze, drugs, and other pollutants that fog the mind and prevent wise decisions. You will then make your own informed opinions based on what you see and hear with your own eyes and ears, not what some talking head says on the television or radio or even in Internet blogs, which are the worst of all. Our precious freedom of speech has allowed way too much nonsense to be spewed by all sides, making your job even more difficult. But you will use the great minds that you have developed over the years to filter out all of the junk coming your way, and you will act on what you have determined are the problems and ailments of society.

To do this, you will be required to travel. I meet too many people every single day who have never been out of Georgia -- too many people who don't know how vast and varied this world is. I've been fortunate enough in my life to have visited many lands, including Africa, Europe, Canada, the West Indies and more. Don't just take it from me, see for yourself. It's a big world, and every place has its own characteristics that make it unique. Visit these places, and learn from what you see. You'll be all the better for it.

I don't want to put too much pressure on you, though. You know what you have to do. The other thing that is a must, though, is the most important: Live for yourself at the same time you are saving the world for everyone else. Whether you believe in God, or evolution, or the stork, you are lucky to be here for this shot at life. So make the most of it, and have fun, be careful and most importantly, have a great life!

Facebook column

It’s official: Facebook is scary good.

When I first heard about Facebook it was from a guy in England (kinda the way it should be) telling me I should set up a Facebook account because it was going to make the world a much smaller place, even better than MySpace was at the time.

So I dutifully set up my account, threw up an old handsome pic of myself and waited. And waited.

Impatient, I began searching for people from my past. At first, it was just old school classmates, since I still have my old yearbooks around and used them as reference material to figure out just who I might want to have be my friend (again).

A slight problem presented itself immediately: I had very few friends that I cared to find again, and the ones that I did had fairly common names.

One thing about Facebook now is that if you are looking for someone with a fairly common name, you might well end up having to search through several hundred accounts looking for just the right Robert Johnson.

Then there was another problem: Deciding just how much you want people to see. As someone who recently turned 50, and who has had a fairly adventurous life, I decided to undertake a huge project: Scanning every pre-digital photo I have and putting them, if not all, then most of them, on Facebook, along with at least some apt description so people will know what they are looking at. Once the pix (Facebook jargon) were up, all of a sudden people began wanting to be my friend. Old shots of an intact Main Street in Kerhonkson, NY, now almost completely torn down, have elicited the most response, as have a lot of old family pix of my dearly departed dad and sister, both gone too soon.

Another great (if you can call it that) result of this new toy is that I have, much to the chagrin of my wife, re-friended almost every girl and woman that I dated, back to when I was a 17-years-old, pimply high school kid. I must admit that this is the most enjoyable, if somewhat creepy, aspect of Facebook: “There she is, and there is the guy she ended up marrying and having kids with. Oh, those kids are homely. I wonder what our kids would have looked like…” and other, similarly immature thoughts run through the mind. ”Wow, did she pork up. Glad I got away from that when I still could!” You get the picture.

Seriously, though, Facebook is a blast. I have really enjoyed chatting with old friends and even some foes. I even was recently friended by someone I helped send to jail many years ago. They wrote to thank me for doing it, since it helped them get on the right path, a path they have not strayed from for 14 years. That alleviated some guilt I had been carrying around for a long time.

Mostly though, Facebook is just plain fun. I welcome any of my readers to track me down if they so desire.

Wanna be my friend?

First column for the Jackson Progress argus

Allow me to formally introduce myself. I am, as you can see, Jim Abbott. What you can’t see is, as radio man Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. Although the wonderful Stewart Voegtlin had given me mention a couple weeks back, lauding me for having the “guts” to write a left leaning column in Butts County , I think I should tell you a little bit about myself since I will be coming into your homes on a more or less weekly basis.
I am not from Georgia . I was born in a small town in the Adirondack Mountains, in extreme upstate New York, four hundred miles north of New York City (I am surprised at how many Georgians don’t realize that New York is a very large state, comparable to Georgia, and like Georgia, is mostly all rural ) and lived most of my life in a small town in the Catskill Mountains, also upstate. Through a lousy set of circumstances, I was adopted, had a decent little kid life for a few years and when I was eleven my adopted family disintegrated in divorce and acrimony. For some reason I ended up with my father, who was gone most of the time, so I was pretty badly neglected, and basically had to raise myself from the age of twelve.
I did manage to get through high school, and later four years of college. In my 49 years I have been a dishwasher, a knife factory line worker, a rat breeder (!), machinist, postal clerk, deck hand on a tourist boat on the Hudson River, a UPS auditor, dog control officer, a schoolteacher, a newspaper reporter, (before that I had a 103 mile paper route for eight years, in the Catkills, where I hit an unbelievable twenty seven deer with my various cars over that time). I have also been an independent contractor/courier, taxi driver, music buyer for a book and music store, and now am a beauty supply store owner here in Jackson . I mention all this as a pre-emptive measure, so when one of y’all disagrees with me, as I am sure you will, you can call Hello Butts County and say, “Tell Jim Abbott to go back to breedin’rats!”, for example.
I grew up, as it were, in a Republican house, and when I registered to vote I did so as a Republican, often thinking that Democrats were just a bunch of tree-hugging do-gooders who were not realistic about the state of the country or the world. But then I noticed that Republicans, including those in my town’s Republican Club, of which I was a member, were by and large rather mean-spirited. Oh, they weren’t rude in public, but rather in the informal talk that went on at various functions that I attended, including some at a fairly high level, state-wise. I also noticed that there seemed to be an attitude of “haves” versus “have nots” and I watched and listened as they would make cruel comments about less fortunate people in our small town, a town roughly the size and makeup of Jackson, and I decided I had had enough.
That was 15 years ago. I still have not actually hugged a tree, but I do appreciate that they provide life supporting oxygen, are integral in maintaining the natural balance of the atmosphere and land, and sometimes are just nice to look at. Even right wingers will have to admit that beauty isn’t always reflected in a bank account, and that it shouldn’t take guts to speak out against things that are wrong..