Sunday, July 29, 2007

Incentive to Move Lessens as One Accumulates Stuff

I hate moving. And yet, here I go again. It’s moving day.

Some people, after they reach adulthood, get a job, and move into their first house or apartment, pretty much stay put for years. As their career takes off and they make more money, get married, and maybe have kids, they may want a bigger house or a different neighborhood, so they move.

For many people, this relocation of the family may take place two or three times during their entire lives. For others, though, it may take place two or three times in any particular year.

I fall somewhere in between those extremes, but the trend for me has been much closer to the latter scenario. This was especially true when I was a young adult.

Let’s see, after I graduated college and joined the real world of work, I moved from my parent’s home in Edinburgh to an apartment in Indianapolis. Length of stay: about 3 months. Then it was off to a second apartment where I finished out a year.

Then I got married. So we moved to another Indianapolis apartment where we lived about six months. Then it was about 3 months in a duplex and six months in a rental house before I got a new teaching job in Goshen on a temporary contract. We were there a full year, wow!

After that, it was back to Edinburgh for three months then to my new teaching assignment in Lake County. We lived in a small rental cottage for a month then moved to a mobile home in Portage for eight months, then back to Edinburgh for three months, then back to Portage for a year.

We then moved into a duplex in Lake Station for a full three years before moving to another rental house a block away where we stayed about a year or so. Then we moved across town to another rental home for about two years, then to another duplex in New Chicago for a year before moving back to the previous house.

After that it was a mobile home in Valparaiso for a year. Finally, I decided it was time to buy a home. We bought a small vinyl-village home in Hobart where we stayed for three years. We sold it and moved to Franklin after I changed jobs again.

A year later, it was back to Edinburgh. We lived in a mobile home for about three years in a park south of town. We then moved the mobile home to another park in town where we managed to stay for a whopping eight years. That made 11 years in the same dwelling.

When I went back to my teaching profession and got a job for Indianapolis Public Schools, I rented a house in the same neighborhood I lived in the first time I rented a home in the city.

I’ve lived there for three years, but then I felt ready to buy my second home. This one is on the south side and has never been lived in before. Who knows how long I’ll stay there; I’m holding out for 12 years. By then, I’ll be ready for retirement.

So, even though my length of stay at any one place has gradually increased over the years, so too has the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated and must therefore move or throw out. The packing and sorting is no fun. So my incentive to stay put has increased proportionally to the amount of stuff I’ve acquired.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

For Baseball, Once a Year is Enough

I was never really involved in athletics when I was in school. For one thing I was not good enough. For another, I was not interested enough.

When sides were chosen for basketball games at recess when I was in elementary school or during PE when I was in junior high, I was one of the kids who was picked last. That’s another reason I didn’t play much.

Oh, I played in the neighborhood kickball games and played a bit of scrimmage against a couple of friends, but that’s about it. The only organized team I ever played on when I was a kid was in Little League baseball, and I don’t even remember the name of the team I was on.

The first year I played Little League, when I must have been eight or nine years old, I remember going to bat only once. I struck out.

I played several subsequent seasons at Irwin Park. I didn’t improve much, but I do remember hitting a double once. It was a major rush. Unfortunately, I was tagged out at third base on the next play.

Although I sort of enjoyed playing the game, it was more the general camaraderie that I liked. And when we won a game, we were invariably treated to Dairy Queen. It almost made the embarrassment of striking out worth it.

About once per season, we were treated to an Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field. No, it wasn’t at the new, improved Victory Field, but the old one on 16th Street before they changed the name.

Edinburgh’s police chief at the time, Winfrey “Wimpy” Burton, who was a league supporter, treated us to a game one year. Not only did he take the team to the game, he gave each and every player a whole dollar to spend on goodies. In those days, you could actually get something to eat at a ball game for a buck.

Another perk of being on a baseball team, even if your value as a player was questionable, was that we periodically got invited out to the Amos Estate for a dip in their pool. Like the trips to the Dairy Queen and the Indians games, the swim-fests were, to me, more fun than actually playing a game. It didn’t involve competing on my part.

These days, I still don’t particularly care for sports. I like the local professional sports teams. I don’t often attend the games, though.

I like it when Indianapolis teams win. I was as happy as any true sports fan when the Colts actually won the Super Bowl. And I followed the Pacers when they were one of the elite teams in the NBA a few years ago.

And, although I’ve been to see both the Pacers and the Colts in action, I guess my favorite team to watch in person is the Indianapolis Indians. Perhaps it’s because of the nostalgic value, harking back to my Little League days. It can’t be the game itself; watching baseball on TV, for example, is in the same league as watching paint dry.

But I’m going to a game today. The weather is nice; the new Victory Field is awesome, and I might even get a free baseball cap. I try to make it to a game at least once per summer. And today’s the day for this year. Go Indians!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Protest Another Example of Christian Intolerance

Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate opened its session for the day with a prayer. That’s nothing unusual; it always opens with prayer. The difference was that the leader of the daily invocation was a Hindu chaplain. It was a Hindu prayer.

Congress, consisting of two elected bodies that are charged with passing the laws of this nation, probably shouldn’t be opening its sessions with a prayer because it comes very close to violating one of the primary tenets on which our country was founded, separation of church and state.

However, it has been decided by those who know more than I that, as an autonomous body, the Senate and the House of Representatives have the right to conduct business according to the rules they, themselves, decide on. And if the membership agrees that an opening prayer is in order, then there’s not much anyone can do about it.

But, just as a judge ruled last year with regards to Indiana’s General Assembly, prayers in open session should always be ecumenical, favoring no particular religion over another, if the U.S. Senate insists on opening its sessions with a prayer, then those prayers should also be representative of all faiths.

But, alas, the right-wing component of the Christian religion doesn’t see it that way. While the Hindu chaplain was saying his prayer, a group of protesters disrupted him, calling his prayer an abomination and chanting slogans like, “There’s only one true God.”

The group was arrested and charged with causing a disturbance. But the demonstration epitomizes the intolerance that is deeply ingrained in the religious right movement in this country.

To many of them, and I know this because some of them have told me, the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendments simply means the freedom to choose whichever evangelical Christian denomination one wishes to belong to. It doesn’t mean, they say, the right to select other “heathen” religions or, gulp, no religion at all.

But America is an eclectic nation, inhabited by individuals of every conceivable religious faith, including Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Shinto, Native American religions, and Christianity. About 15 percent of us profess no religion at all. I belong to that 15 percent.

Having no religion doesn’t necessarily mean a disbelief in God. Only about five percent of Americans confess to being true atheists. The rest of the non-religious crowd is either agnostic, like me, or believe in a spirituality that doesn’t fit into any organized religion.

If the Senate wishes to open its sessions with a prayer, then it should do so as the representative body of all Americans, not just the Christian ones. Prayers should either be non-denominational, or every religion should have the opportunity to participate on a rotating basis.

That’s what the Senate seems to be doing, but they need to be left alone by the zealots who believe that their faith, and theirs alone, is the right one. That is, of course, their right to believe such nonsense. And I don’t have a problem with people’s beliefs per se. I do, however, have a big problem when they go beyond considering their religion a belief system and start viewing it as absolute truth to the disparity of all other belief systems.

Nobody has that much knowledge about God. In fact, the real truth is, nobody has any knowledge whatsoever about God; they only think they do. That’s why they call it faith.

It was Bertrand Russell who said, “I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong.” If only everyone thought the same way, there would be far less religious intolerance in the world.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Death and Taxes are Certain, Especially Taxes

It’s a trite old expression: Nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes. But that expression has stood the test of time because it rings so true.

But one day, maybe sooner than most people think, the first certainty in that pair may not be inevitable. Researchers are starting to find the reasons why people age and die and they have discovered that there is no death gene. We are not, as it turns out, genetically programmed to die after a certain length of time as it was once thought.

That means, if we can eliminate the things in our environment that damage our tissue, and mitigate those damages, the only thing that would kill us would be a fatal accident. People could live hundreds of years without having such an accident.

If it ever came to pass that scientists could invent a method of cheating death, then the second part of the axiom, taxes, would be the only sure thing in life. And, in fact, there doesn’t seem to be any hope of ever eliminating those. It seems we may have better luck at eliminating death than taxes.

In Indianapolis last week, protests were held by homeowners who are understandably upset about the drastic increase in their property taxes this year. Some homeowners are facing a 100-percent increase. Most increases are on the order of 30 percent, but it still marks the second time in two years that property taxes have gone up substantially.

Income taxes already take a hefty bite out of everyone’s paycheck. The federal government gets the biggest share, but the state and even most counties have their hands in our cookie jars too.

Then there are gasoline taxes. Everyone who drives has to pay that at the pump on top of the price of fuel. And we pay sales tax on gasoline, too, as well as federal tax. We’re paying triple tax on gasoline, and since sales tax is charged as a percent of the total price, and not per gallon, it results in a windfall profit for the state.

Our system of taxes in Indiana is in desperate need of an overhaul. One of the most inequitable tax arrangements is that local property taxes are used to fund school districts. That means districts in towns or neighborhoods where there are lots of older homes or manufactured housing are not funded as well as schools in areas with large, newer homes or where there is a lot of industry.

It means students in some schools have old, deteriorating classrooms without air conditioning or decent lab facilities while students in other schools have all the educational amenities, such as computers for each student and modern science labs.

Many years ago, Indiana also had a personal property tax. Not only did you pay taxes on your home, but on everything in it. Until a year ago, businesses still had to pay taxes on unsold merchandise, warehoused items, and equipment.

A better solution, and a much more equitable one, would be to eliminate all property taxes for everyone and eliminate the income tax. Instead, the state should fill its coffers with taxes on purchases. Charging sales taxes and excise taxes is a more reasonable method of taxation than the current system.

Keep the taxes on gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol. Charge a fair sales tax. Charge a flat-rate tax on license plates. That’s’ it. No income taxes or property taxes are needed.

The people who buy more will pay more in taxes. If you want to avoid paying taxes, don’t buy expensive items.

We’ll still have to pay taxes, of course, but we’ll have more control over the amount we pay.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

England Banned Smoking. Why Can't We?

As of last Sunday, July 1, nobody is allowed to smoke in any bar, restaurant, or public building anywhere in the country. The country I’m talking about, unfortunately, is England, not the United States.

England joined with the other UK nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in enacting a total smoking ban in public buildings, including bars and pubs.

And that affects us how? It doesn’t unless you’re planning a trip to the UK. I’m not.

But it does lend us a good example. In this case, our friends from across the Atlantic are acting as a positive role model. If only this country had the guts to pass such a law….

But, alas, it probably will never happen, or at least not in the foreseeable future. Big Tobacco is much too strong an entity to allow anything as sensible as a smoking ban in public places. After all, the tobacco companies are still trying their darndest to hook kids on their lethal products.

So in the U.S. we must rely on communities and localities to pass smoking bans. It leaves us with a hodgepodge of smoking-prohibited places scattered amongst a larger matrix of smoking-allowed places. And even the smoking bans that do exist are not uniform. Some places, such as Indianapolis, allow smoking in bowling allies for some reason. Bowling allies are often filled with kids and teens.

Some local bans even include outside common areas, such as parks. Most do not. And for those who travel frequently, how does one know if a community or county has enacted a ban or not? There typically are no road signs announcing whether a community is smoker-friendly or not.

I eat out a lot. But when I come to Edinburgh and eat at one of the restaurants near the mall, I’m asked if I prefer smoking or no-smoking. It’s a question that I haven’t had to answer for many months in Indianapolis. It’s a question I keep hoping restaurant hosts and hostesses will never have to ask again, anywhere, at some point in the near future.

We all know the dangers of smoking by now. We all know that second-hand smoke is at worst, a killer, and at best an annoyance. And yet, when I’m in a restaurant in or near Edinburgh, I continue to see adults light up around their kids.

I am not in favor of a total ban on the sale of tobacco products. That didn’t work for liquor sales in the 1920s and it won’t work for cigarettes today. In fact, I not only believe that cigarettes should remain legal to buy and sell, but I believe marijuana should also be legal, not because I use it; I don’t and never have. But banning it by law creates many problems. Banning cigarettes would result in the same problems for tobacco enforcement.

We spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars in this country to stop marijuana use. It doesn’t stop it, but simply makes it go underground. Marijuana is only slightly more harmful than cigarettes and that’s mainly because it is filter-less. Legalizing it, taxing it, and controlling its distribution would make it safer.

In any case, neither marijuana nor cigarettes should be sold to minors. And nobody should be allowed to smoke either in public buildings or common areas. The law should be universal, not just in certain localities.

England’s lawmakers claim their ban is the biggest step forward in preserving the health of their citizens in decades. Why can’t the U.S. take a similar, bold step?