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A day trip in the sissy van

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SillyVan Stock

By Dr. James L. Snyder

Last week was the first anniversary of my heaårt attack. My celebratory plan was to go to McDonald’s for a double cheeseburger, large fries, and a chocolate milkshake.

I tried to keep my plan secret, at least from someone in the house, but I failed most miserably.

Somehow The Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage discovered my celebratory plans. How she found out, I don’t know, but I sure would like to know.

She stood in front of me for a moment, with both hands on her hips, and said, “If you proceed with your celebratory plans, a heart attack will be the least of your problems.”

Not knowing exactly what she meant, I immediately canceled my plans just to be on the safe side.

Then I realized she had plans of her own. I had an appointment with my heart doctor on Monday morning at 11 o’clock. I have a checkup every six months; this was my one-year anniversary.

Of course, I had forgotten about that appointment so all my plans were put in my back pocket to save for some other time.

The Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage offered to drive me to my appointment, and because it was at 11 o’clock, she made plans for lunch. I was completely okay with that; the only problem was we would have to go in her Sissy Van.

It was only to the doctor’s office and then to lunch, so that shouldn’t be too long. I don’t like riding in that crazy little Sissy Van in which the seating is so tiny my knees are in my face the whole trip. I figured it was only a short time, so I could handle it.

We arrived at the doctor’s office just before 11 o’clock, I signed in and waited for the doctor. While there, I remembered why doctors call us “patients.” It takes great patience to wait for the doctor to call you into his office. My appointment was at 11 o’clock, and by 11:40, the nurse finally called me into his office.

I was worried because it was getting close to lunchtime, and I never want to be late for lunch.

I spent about a half-hour with the doctor while he checked my vitals and then said, “You’re good. Everything seems excellent.”

I asked him, “Could I have that in writing with your signature?” I wanted someone in our house to know I was “good.”

After making plans for my next appointment, we left and got back into that little Sissy Van on our way to lunch. It takes me as long to get into the Sissy Van as it does the doctor to examine me. Oh boy.

Finally, we were on our way to lunch. She wanted me to go with her to a diner she and her daughters discovered a little while back. I was all in for that, and we had a nice time eating lunch.

Then, back in the Sissy Van, and, as I had hoped, we would be on our way home. I was getting tired of kissing my knees in traveling.

“You know what,” my wife said as we drove out of the parking lot. “I need to stop and pick up a piece of jewelry that’s ready for me at the mall.”

Looking at me, she said, “You don’t mind if we stop there, do you? After all, we go right by it. It won’t take long.”

I was okay with that, but I wasn’t going to go in because by the time I could get out of the Sissy Van, she could have gone in, picked up her jewelry, and come out. So I stayed in the Sissy Van.

She returned, and driving out of the parking lot, we passed one of her favorite stores. Something along the lines of Tuesday Morning, whatever that might be. And she said, “While we’re here, I think I should go in and pick up some things I need for my craft room.”

Again, I stayed in the Sissy Van, kissing my knees while waiting for her to return.

She got back into the van, and driving down the street, we stopped at one of her favorite thrift stores. I wouldn’t say this out loud, but her favorite thrift store is the one she’s shopping at the moment.

We continued visiting thrift stores for the rest of the afternoon, and I was trapped in that silly old Sissy Van.

Finally, we were within two blocks of our house, and I was afraid she would pass another thrift store I had no idea about.

We got home, and it took me some extra time to extricate myself from that Sissy Van. As I got out and stood up, my knees were wobbling, but I did reach the front door, got inside, and headed for my easy chair.

The Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage brought all her shopping goods in from the Sissy Van and put them on the dining room table.

She looked at me with a big smile and said, “That was a wonderful day. Wasn’t it?”

In thinking about my adventure I was reminded of what the Apostle Paul said. Ephesians 4:2-3, “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

This unity is something I work at with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. James L. Snyder lives in Ocala, FL with the Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage. Telephone 1-352-216-3025, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., website www.jamessnyderministries.com.

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Reasons to be thankful

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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Holidays offer a bit of perspective

I have a niece who I cherish. Actually, I have several, but one in particular.

She has had somewhat of a rough go of things throughout her young life (well, she’s in her late 20s, but I’m not, so she’s young).

There were instances when she was extremely down because of certain life events. She had her hopes set on many things, only to see those dashed against the rocks of reality.

Last week, though, her ship righted itself, and she gave birth to a wonderful baby girl, and I became a great uncle (in more ways than one, get it?).

It wasn’t an easy birth, and even was heralded by an earthquake in West Texas, but baby and momma are fine as paint. She even posted later how the infant has completely captured her heart.

There are two lessons in this that I found: that patience and positivity can overcome most circumstances, and, especially apropos for the season, that regardless of hardship and turmoil, there is so much to be thankful for.

My niece had never lost her hopeful nature, and that’s something to be admired. For me, that means that there isn’t anything that happens in my life that is so bad that I have to shut down.

I write quite a bit about the crappy state of government, and how that has affected all of our lives negatively, what with rising prices, empty shelves, unemployment and probably soon to be gasoline loans.

Yet I also know that these things are like a pendulum and will swing back. I also know that I have the love of my family, I have really good friend, and I live in a community that is welcoming and understands the meaning of being neighbors.

I write quite a bit about the sorry state of journalism on the big stage, where reporters have exchange objectivity for access and credibility for celebrity. Most national media reports smell like propaganda, and little credence is given to being fair, unless it can be pointed out that the other guys aren’t being fair (mostly meaning folks like me, conservative and thinking that people should be responsible for their own fates and actions).

I just have to look around at my colleagues, who strive to tell the tales of their communities and leave the silliness on television. This is the news that matters, which is what is here.

I write quite a bit about the rampant stupidity of social media, and how the anonymity of it all leads to deep acrimony. There’s no discussion anymore, there’s only I’m right, you’re wrong, and you should die a horrible death. Real problems will never be solved without compromise.

More and more, though, haters are being sought out and removed, free speech is being promoted, and there’s less need to have people face consequences for simply having an opinion. On the pages of these newspapers, there still is the opportunity to speak your mind without fear of being shut down. We also still know how to talk to each other.

There’s plenty of reasons to be thankful, and to be patient and wait for the world to change. All it takes is a little practice.

 

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The Moon is an expensive mistress

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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In 1966, the writer Robert Heinlein wrote a science fiction novel about a lunar colony’s revolt against absentee rule from Earth. The moon has become a penal colony with 3 million inhabitants overseen by a supercomputer named Mike. The computer has become self-aware and keeps messing with the humans. A Tech is sent from earth to fix the computer, who convinces Mike to stop with the pranks. There’s a revolution. It’s a good read, so no spoilers here. Give it a read.

For those not familiar with the genre, Sci-Fi, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, was often used as a vehicle to discuss taboo topics including social, religious, and political views. By moving these issues off earth and onto some imagined society on another planet, writers could infuse them with their personal philosophies without fear of censure.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, set in the year 2075, while a good sci-fi novel, is also a vehicle for Heinlein’s personal philosophies, including discussions of polygamy, what role law plays in society and libertarianism.

Many people’s introduction to Sci-Fi wasn’t through books, but through the TV series Star-Trek, and the subsequent spin-off series and movies that followed. The original series, though a bit of a cult following now, was a flop, getting low rating and being canceled after three seasons. It ran only from 1966 – 1969. My opinion of the original series at the time was that it was silly, having become a comedy vehicle for William Shatner’s silliness.

The universe of Star Trek, set in our Galaxy circa 2266-2269, was one where people had been freed from the struggle to survive to spend their lives exploring the galaxy. The need for money had been eliminated, at least on Earth, and a 5-star dinner was only a command to a replicator away. Enormous starships, like the Enterprise, roamed the galaxy looking for adventure and often finding trouble instead. A lot of folks imagined a time when this would all be possible. But it's called Science Fiction for a reason.

Building a single spacecraft the size of the Enterprise would take unimaginable resources over many years. Had money have been an object, as it is in the real world, it would cost the entire economic output of the world to build, much less fuel as it traveled the galaxy. Fortunately, with fiction, those concerns can be dispensed with by a few lines of a television script. But in 2022 in America, most of us live in the real world. There are those of us, though, who don’t.

The Artemis Program, led by NASA along with the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Canadian Space Agency (CSA), is a robotic and human moon exploration program. The immediate goal is to put man back on the Moon. The long-term goal, though, is establishing a permanent base camp on the moon as a throughway to sending humans to Mars. The program was formally established in 2017 and has many components putting them all place by 2034. Projected cost: $93 billion by 2025, with 4.1 billion for a single launch. It has been plagued with cost overruns and delays. The Artemis I Rocket launched recently.

It seems to me, with apologies to Robert Heinlein, that the moon isn’t only a harsh mistress, but an expensive, high maintenance mistress. With the project a questionable goal, likely unsustainable, and unlikely to succeed. For many reasons, establishing colonies of humans on the Moon or Mars is unlikely to succeed because humans evolved over tens of thousands of years under very specific conditions.

The earth has gravity and magnetism. The moon does not. We know from years with the International Space Station that the human body begins to change with even a short time in low orbit. Some of the changes are to our genes and can result in shorter lives. Can we somehow overcome those problems? Perhaps, but over what length of time and at what economic cost?

And, even if we are willing the pay the price, what’s the point? As some kind of backup when earth can no longer sustain life?  There are 8 billion people on this planet. We will never be able to transport 8 billion people to the Moon or Mars. Who gets to go? I don’t know, but I suspect the billionaires will have the first seats off a dying planet. More to the point, though, is what we could do towards fixing the environmental and social problems we face if we had that initial $95 billion being spent on a pie-in-the-sky program to put a colony on Mars!

The other question I have is who ultimately profits from a colonized Moon or Mars? What are the goals of those funding the effort? Do they want to make trillions of dollars extracting minerals and other resources? Do they plan to establish military bases on the Moon stocked with nuclear warhead equipped rockets aimed at earth? Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

There are certainly potential economic benefits that will accrue to companies who commercialize new technology created to advance the project. But they will likely just exacerbate the economic disparity and ecological problems we already have.

I think we need to prioritize our own planet before we head out “to where no one has gone before.”

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House committee focused on defense, veterans’ affairs

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Trent AshbyWith the General Election behind us, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude the citizens of Angelina, Houston, Polk, San Augustine, Trinity and Tyler counties for entrusting me with the honor of serving as your State Representative. It is truly the honor of a lifetime -- one that I do not take lightly -- to serve as your voice in Austin, and you have my commitment that I will strive every day to promote and protect the interests of our region and the values we hold dear.

With that, we’ll dive back into our examination of House interim charges

House Interim Charge: Defense & Veterans Affairs

As we honor and celebrate the service of the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces, I thought it only appropriate to focus on the Committee of House Defense Affairs for this week’s column.

The House Committee on Defense & Veterans Affairs has nine members and has purview over matters involving defense, emergency preparedness, veterans’ services, and military preparedness as it relates to the defense of the state and nation. The Committee also oversees a number of state agencies, including the Texas Military Department, the Texas Veterans Commission, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

This interim, the House Committee on Defense & Veterans Affairs has been tasked with monitoring the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction, as well as reviewing relevant legislation passed in the most recent legislative session to ensure the language and measures are working as intended. The Committee will also monitor the activities of the Texas State Guard and the Texas National Guard, who are currently stationed at the Texas-Mexico border for Operation Lone Star to increase operational efficiency.

Importantly, the Committee has been charged with studying the programs and funding connected to services that improve mental health outcomes for servicemen and women who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Additionally, the Committee will evaluate the needs of veterans and their families as they return to civilian life and make recommendations on how to improve the transition through opportunities in employment, education, housing, and counseling services.

I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my deepest gratitude to the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to protect and preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. While Veterans Day may be behind us, I hope you’ll find time in the near future to honor our servicemembers by expressing your gratitude and by lifting them up in prayer.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office may be reached at (936) 634-2762. Additionally, I welcome you to follow along on my Official Facebook Page, where I will post regular updates on what’s happening in your State Capitol and share information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

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Billionaires should not exist

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Billionaires should not exist.

Yes, I know. I must be un-American and hate our capitalist economic system to suggest such a thing. If a person has the genius and business acumen to accumulate a billion dollars, he/she is obviously a national treasure and should be exalted among men. Or not.

There are approximately 720 billionaires in the U.S., about a quarter of the 2,700 that exist across the world. They have more wealth than the bottom 165 million people in the U.S. You will likely recognize the names of the richest of them. Elon Musk who runs Tesla and SpaceX, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, Bill Gates who founded Microsoft and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway are among those numbers.

Elon Musk has recently been making news with his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion dollars. The messy story of what followed that offer is instructive in defending my assertion that billionaires should not exist.

Back in April of this year, Elon Musk made an offer to buy Twitter at $54.20 per share, which was 38 percent above what the stock closed at on April 1. You might think Musk was willing to pay more than the company was worth because of his astute powers of seeing a diamond in the rough that he could make a fortune from. Apparently not.

Very shortly, Musk started publicly trashing the company, complained that the company had misrepresented facts, and then decided that he was not going to buy the company after all. The problem was that he had entered, undoubtedly without due diligence, into a binding contract to buy the company, that would have left him owing Twitter $1 billion if he backed out. Despite his best efforts he could not get out of the contract, and indeed, a few weeks ago bought the company and took it private

Now, even though Musk is the richest man in the world, with a net worth over $200 billion (which swings wildly with the vagaries of his Tesla stock), he doesn’t have $44 billion in cash sitting around, so he had to borrow a big chuck of it (he convinced some billionaire friends to invest also).

The interest on those loans is approximately $1 billion a year. Twitter’s entire income was $738 million last year. Not profit, entire income. O.K., maybe Musk is a genius and knows something we don’t. But it gets worse. Financial experts who have looked closely at the company say that the actual real value of the company is closer to $9 to $11 billion, not anywhere close to what he paid for it. But it gets worse.

Musk decided immediately, within days of taking over, that the company didn’t need the 7,500 employees it had. He alleged they were dead weight, collecting a paycheck for doing nothing. So, he fired half of them, without making any effort to find out what they did. Turns out, most were from essential teams to keep Twitter running and complying to various legal requirements. Last week he issued an ultimatum. Employees had to agree that they work many more hours under draconian conditions, or they would be fired with three months salary.

Many took him up on the offer and quit. All the twitter offices were closed to all employees over the weekend because they didn’t have the staff to determine who still worked for the company. He had fired them. He could be now trying to run a company with 25 percent of its employees left. You don’t need a business degree to understand that isn’t going to work.

Musk doesn’t appear to have a clue what he is doing. Is he deliberately trying to burn $44 billion dollars by destroying a company that he hates or is he just incompetent? Only time will tell. The most likely explanation, though, is that it is hubris that has led to this result.

Musk was born in South Africa, and Musk’s early financial history gets a little murky from there, with rumors that his father was wealthy and funded his rise that do not really pan out. But there are some facts that seem relevant here.

Musk did not start Tesla, his electric car company, he bought it. He is not an engineer and did not design the cars. He runs the company. His venture to develop and sell self-driving electric vehicles has a long and rocky road, helped along by government subsidies. Tesla is a public company and is worth a lot of money. It’s facing significant headwinds now that mainstream car makers have entered the electric vehicle market, with cheaper, more reliable electric vehicles. The stock price of the company has fallen significantly, and stockholders are expressing concern that he is spending too much time with Twitter and too little running Tesla.

His SpaceX company produces rockets and space vehicles. His goal is to land on Mars and colonize it.

Bill Gates founded Microsoft, which most folks these days know because of Microsoft Windows operating system that most of their computers runs on. He is worth around a $100 billion dollars. While Gates is a software programmer, that is not how he made his fortune.

In the mid 1980s, when IBM launched The IBM PC, they needed an operating system for it. The 25-year-old Gates had just started Microsoft, and IBM asked him if he could provide an operating system for it. He didn’t have one, but he knew someone who did. He bought a program from a small software company called Q-DOS for $75,000, renamed it MS-DOS, and licensed it to IBM. The the rest is history. Gates genius was not as a programmer, but for licensing the software to IBM rather than selling it outright to them.

Every IBM PC was sold with a copy of MS-DOS. Every PC ultimately sold had a copy of MS-DOS, and later Microsoft Windows, installed on it. And Microsoft received a licensing fee for everyone of them. Over the years, that represents billions of PCs sold. The single decision to license rather than sell software outright made Microsoft, and Gates, rich.

Gates went on to eventually start a charitable foundation with an initial contribution of $40 billion dollars, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gate’s interest in the projects the foundation funds are wide ranging and have done tremendous good around the world. But Gates has also used the outsized influence his billionaire status has given him to meddle in areas where a licenser of operating systems has no expertise, with terrible results.

Most of the failed educational experiments over the last few decades have been those pushed by Gates. His ideas have frustrated school districts, teachers and lowered overall testing results of students. If you hate Common Core, that’s one of Gate’s big ideas. What made it possible for the founder of a software company to influence decades of education in the U.S.? Money. Not expertise. Not direct experience in the classroom. Not a degree in education.

We in the U.S. tend to see financially successful people as smarter and more talented than the rest of us. We assume that those who have accumulated billions of dollars operate at an intellectual level the rest of us just don’t have. Which is bad enough. But the real problem is that these billionaires also come to believe their ideas in every area are superior. That they have a special genius that applies to just about everything. Unfortunately, too often, many of their plans for society are just hubris induced crackpot ideas.

Now if you or I have crackpot ideas, it is unlikely we can have much influence. Who’s going to pay much attention to us? But if you have a billion dollars to throw at an issue like education, you can change the course of society. You can alter, as Bill Gates did, the educational system of an entire country. Or the political system. Or the social order through social media companies.

This is not just theory. Bill Gates did it with education. Elon Musk, if he destroys Twitter, or somehow salvages it and turns it into a right-wing hangout (which he appears to favor), will control the destiny of a social media platform that has been important (and a plague) for social commentary for years.

Billionaires should not exist. No one person should have the economic power to change the social, political, or economic structure of an entire society. They aren’t any smarter or more talented or better than the rest of us. Their hubris often makes them dangerous. But there exist 720 people in the U.S. that hold that kind of power. Maybe we should look at that.

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