Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Putting the Spark in Mr. Sparkle

Consider for a minute this man's job.  In a world full of menial and unfulfilling tasks, the sandwich board man's lot is not an enviable one. I would venture that he earns the minimum wage trying  to drive traffic to the car wash for whom he is the human billboard.  He spends hours spent every day on his feet, breathing exhaust fumes, his back probably aching, the straps cutting into his shoulders. And for what, $7 per hour maybe?    

Most people with this job would be detached from the task, mute, expressionless, mind anywhere but in the present, anywhere other than being sandwiched between two boards schlepping for a car wash.   We are accustomed to sullenness from people in such jobs. We expect disinterest from the cashier at the fast food restaurant.  We expect bad service and crappy attitudes and blank stares because that's how it is now. We know that the service industry's most glaring deficiency is in hiring people who care enough to give a damn.

But then there is Derald, the antithesis of the disinterested employee.

In your Lexington travels you no doubt have seen Derald posted at the intersection of Richmond and New Circle Roads.  And what you witnessed when you first saw him probably made you shake your head.  He is a perpetual motion machine, waving, gesticulating, pointing, and giving a thumbs up to every passing car.  His smile is as big as the sign he wears. He gets your attention even if you doubt his enthusiasm.

"Look at that crazy fool. He's got that crappy job and he is acting like he loves it. No one can be that happy doing that job," you most likely said to yourself.

If that's what you thought, you thought wrong. Derald is the real deal. He has been lighting up Lexington with his smile for years, so I am told.

More importantly, his attitude reinforces the notion that all work is honorable, regardless of the level of skill required to perform it.  In reminding us of this important truth, Derald has become something of a local celebrity. Lexington loves this guy because he takes pride in his work and the happiness he radiates makes us smile. It's pretty simple.

Check out this photo and caption from the car wash's Facebook page:
In a world of well-paid but ineffective celebrity pitchmen, Derald is low-cost marketing gold.  His photo  on the car wash's Facebook page has  garnered almost 4000 Likes. When he found out how many people appreciate his effort and attitude (left) he responded in kind (right).  How many of those thousands of people have gone to Mr. Sparkle expressly because of Derald? 
There is no resisting his smile. Eventually even the worst of us cynics joins the honking and waving chorus that lets him know each day that we appreciate his smile and enthusiasm. People love Derald and his message and I'm not referring to the message that he is paid to wear.
All work is honorable. It's an important message and it's the message that Derald imparts to us each day that he stands out there smiling, waving, and pointing at us as we drive by. Next time you need a car wash, head on over to Mr. Sparkle and tell them that Derald sent you.  That's what I do.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wow, Just...Wow

I think it is inarguable that our Founding Fathers demonstrated amazing clairvoyance when they  established the legal framework for our fledgling country. The United States Constitution is a remarkable document, and as it was originally conceived our system of government made possible the United States' rise to economic prosperity and the highest standard of living the world has ever seen.  I say "originally conceived" because our government no longer operates in the manner envisioned by its founders. Unfortunately for us all, the extremist views which have come to dominate American politics are exposing some of the flaws inherent in a representative democracy.
Congress' approval rating hovers at about 10% currently.  10%.  Almost no one in this country thinks Congress is doing its job well. We are disgusted by the inability of Congress to advance the agenda of the American public.  We complain, we talk about "throwing the bums out", and we dream of ways to make Congress share our pain, but is there anything that we actually can do to bend Congress to the collective will of the American people?   In discussing Michael Kammen's 1988 book Sovereignty and Liberty: Constitutional Discourse in American Culture,  Edward A Fallone, Associate Professor at Marquette University Law School writes this about the pre-Constitutional debate on popular sovereignty:  

On the one hand, some argued that popular sovereignty was largely a myth, and that the sovereign power of the people only manifested itself on the specific dates of regularly scheduled elections.  In between these elections, went this argument, the sovereign power to govern rested solely in the hands of those representatives of the people who had been elected by the voters. In opposition to this view, many argued that the sovereign power of the people was in fact very real and that this power was exercised on an ongoing basis even during the period in between elections.  As I have explained in this article in the Wake Forest Law Review, conceptions of limited government in America rest on the idea that the people are the ultimate sovereign and that government only possesses the powers that are delegated to it by the people.  The recent growth of the Tea Party movement in the United States is an expression of the resurgence of this basic concept in contemporary political discourse.  Central to this idea of delegated authority is the principle that elected representatives must act in accord with the wishes of the public, and that the failure to do so is in and of itself sufficient grounds for that representative to be recalled before the end of their term in office.

Recall elections in this country typically occur only in cases of criminal conduct, but if you subscribe to the belief that "elected officials must act in accord with the wishes of the public and that failure to do so is in and of itself sufficient grounds" for recall, then Congress' 10% approval rating seems indicative enough of public disaffection to warrant a wholesale recall of the entire body. Why then, has this not happened?  Why do the American people not exercise the power that rests with them when the collective opinion of the populace is that Congress has failed utterly "to act in accord with the wishes of the public"?

For all of the nonsense that gets posted to Facebook (no, Congress did not exempt itself from the Affordable Care Act), for all of the made-up quotes, outright lies, distortions, and perversions of the truth, Facebook is wildly successful as a medium for the dissemination of information. It is a forum where the tenets of populism and libertarianism find a receptive audience.

One of my Facebook friends made the following post:

Is this true?  Wikipedia states that "failure to get the annual budget bill approved by the Knesset by March 31 (3 months after the start of the fiscal year) also leads automatically to early elections."  If true, it would appear that job security is tied to performance.  We also hold our elected officials accountable for their performance but we deliver the verdict only on election day. That's too much lag time.  Furthermore, even  those we vote out of office are eligible for a lifelong Congressional pension after only five years in office.
The Founding Fathers did not intend for politics to be a lifelong profession, yet that is what elected office has become. The actions of our elected officials are governed by a desire to remain in office, to make happy their constituents even if those actions run counter to the national good. The Founders intended for national government to be limited in power and scope and for power ultimately to rest with the people. Government now is an unimaginably huge colossus with an insatiable appetite for power and money. In the desire to have someone else deal with our problems we have allowed this to happen. This lack of personal accountability is a national failing and threatens to be our undoing.
The flaw in the system is that laws are enacted by those we vote into office and it is not likely that these same people will vote to limit the powers they have created for themselves.  Would these annual stalemates take place if they received no pay while the government was shut down or if the inability to agree on a budget meant that all members of Congress would have to stand for reelection after a period of time with no budget? Would the national good be better served if political office was not a means of enrichment but rather a duty? That's what the Founding Fathers thought.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Food. Sort Of.

It's a starfish, but it's fried so it must be okay. 
Children's food aversions are one of the universal struggles that parents face. On the scale of importance, getting our children to eat broccoli is not as important as teaching them not to make campfires in the living room or drink Drano, but establishing good eating habits early offers a lifetime of benefits.  Why then is it so hard to get our children to eat the right stuff?

I have heard that food aversions are the result of instinctive behavior that prevents us from  unwittingly killing ourselves by ingesting poisonous foods but that doesn't explain how a child can be terrified of lettuce.   If food fear is protective and instinctive behavior then my kids are wired for survival because there is no chance that any of them would accidentally ingest something poisonous, much less healthy. They view unknown and untasted food with the same circumspection that you and I would have for a plate of dog poop. 

We plead with them.  "We'd never make you eat something that we wouldn't eat ourselves," we say.  "So what?", they think, "you are adults and are idiotic." We beg them, we threaten them and we bribe them but they would rather confess to murder than eat green beans. So, given how much of a challenge it is to get kids to try something new, is there anything more  irksome than a parent whose child has a cultured palate and will eat anything?  They lord it over you as if it were a perfect SAT score or some other genetic gift. Here you are looking for a little commiseration as you tell the story of your child's refusal to eat peas, only to be told by your friend that his/her child has been eating sushi since age 3.  


F*** off.  

Well guess what?  In earlier times, those kids would never have made it out of the wading area of the gene pool because they would have eaten those poisonous toadstools and—after a crazy psychedelic trip—died.  End of story. The only reason that they are still here today is because those of us who are scared of food are nice enough to watch out for them. 

"Hey, don't eat that!  What are you, crazy?"

I was a picky eater as a child. I once had a standoff with a plate of vegetables that lasted until 10 pm, but I didn't crack.  Finally, my exasperated mother gave up and sent me to bed.   I have gotten more adventurous as I have aged but I couldn't call my palate expansive. I'll eat all the regular foods but do not even try to get me off of Main Street and onto Exotic Foods Avenue 'cause I ain't going.   As a matter of fact, I have quashed any thoughts of traveling to Asia or the Middle East specifically because of the cuisine in that part of the world. 

Just today I received an email that reinforced my wisdom in this regard. The email contained photos of some of the different foods (I use that term with some hesitation) that Walmart sells in China. Have you seen what these people eat? Nothing is off limits. Call me a homer if you must, but I'll stay right here and eat chicken and get my culture on the National Geographic channel. I am not going over there to experience those ancient cultures only to subject myself to a meal of chilled monkey brains or live eels.  No way.  

The gross out food scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
doomed my chances of visiting that part of the world.

The Chinese will and do eat anything. Literally anything. I hate to sound so ethnocentric because I suppose it's possible that the Chinese find bacon revolting, but given that they consider caterpillar fungus a delicacy and that KFC sells more chicken in China than anywhere else, I have to assume that they are not as scared of our foods as we are of theirs. 

You know how they get you to eat their weird food?  They tell you it is an aphrodisiac.  Everything is an aphrodisiac.  If my Chinese hosts made me eat caterpillar fungus "getting busy" would be off the table, I gotta tell you. There are a billion Chinese already and the government won't let them have more than one kid. What do they need to eat horny food for? 

Caterpilla Fungus is a species of parasitic fungus that grows on insect larvae. The fungus invades the body of the Thitarodes caterpillars, eventually killing and mummifying it. The dark brown to black fruiting body (or mushroom) emerges from the ground in spring or early summer, always growing out of the forehead of the caterpillar. The fungus is commonly used as a Chinese or Tibetan medicine where it is used as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for a variety of ailments, from fatigue to cancer. It is also served in soup (as you can see in the image above).
I suppose people in this part of the world should be applauded for their thriftiness.  Nothing goes to waste.  Organ meats may be a fringe dish in our culture but over there it's all on the menu.  Eyeballs, testicles, snouts, name it, they eat it. 

Who wants some delicious pig face?
So, here's to the person who was crazy enough (or hungry enough) to eat the first raw oyster. That was a giant leap of faith, huh? Maybe that's were the term intestinal fortitude comes from because it literally took just that to look that raw oyster in the face and decide, "okay, here goes."  


Take a look at that.  I mean really take a look at it.