Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Fourth, Fireworks, and Freedom

I have been remiss in posting here. My Holiday weekend was not quite the leisure time I hoped for, between plumbing, reprogramming the household Dish and my favorite, electrical shorts in my ancient pickup, I have not had much time. Lord, give me a simple bolt-turning head gasket any day over chasing electrical "ghosts in the machine". Yes, I got it, but try finding a schematic for a 77 F-150. And it lies to you, keep a test light handy.

I'm getting old and impatient, I stayed home and watched the Macy's, then the Boston Pops fireworks. As much as I love this most ephemeral of art forms, I just wasn't up to the traffic this year. Nice surprise, just as the Pops was winding down, I stepped outside. The distant thunder from Nasworthy alerted me, and by gosh, I got to see at least the high shells from my roof. Congratulations to everybody who helped make it happen, very impressive. Made me wish I'd gone to the trouble, there is no way the best plasma screen captures the bass vibration of a live show. In 1976, I spent all day securing a very crowded spot for the Bicentennial fireworks in DC, base of the Washington Monument. BTW, on the Boston Pops, I couldn't help but think: I hope there is an especially warm seat reserved in the after-life for the ad exec who assured that no one in my generation will ever, so long as we live, be able to hear the "1812 Overture" without thinking of breakfast cereal. If you are young enough not to know what I'm talking about, you don't want to know.

The question of "patriotism" is much in the news. I am an American patriot. I am not a "My country, right or wrong" patriot, and I don't think basic patriotism has a damned thing to do with lapel flag pins. As I do every year, I reviewed our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The latter is a grand total of four pages of sheepskin, plus Amendments. It is an astounding document and has resulted in an astounding Republic.

We are far from perfect, and maintaining the vision requires our continual attention. As Franklin was quoted, "we have given you a Republic; if you can keep it". (OK, Franklin was an inveterate self-promoter, may have made that up post-facto, but it's still a good line and at the time, he set the type and paid for the ink.)

In comparison to any other government, given the choice, I pick America. Proof being in the pudding, so do millions of immigrants, legal or otherwise. Going to my heritage, almost 50 million Americans check "Irish" as their ethnic identity on the census. Did you know that Ireland, even post-"Troubles" is still the 3rd largest source of "undocumented" aliens? All our faults, we must be doing something right.

Shifting gears from the grandiose to the mundane and coming back to a local focus: The Standard-Times has afforded ink to two people, State Rep Crownover and one Dr. Fazen in favor of making the entire state of Texas "non-smoking". Our Police Chief has proposed, and Council is considering, an ordinance to force gasoline retailers to mandate "pre-pay" to avoid gasoline drive-off theft.

I, for one, think it ironic that these two mandates on business decisions come on the eve of Independence Day and a celebration of freedom.

As to the first, smoking: San Angelo already has a ban on smoking in all gov't buildings. My rough estimate, over 90% of businesses ban smoking, one assumes in deference to their customers' wishes. About the only commercial establishments to allow smoking are some restaraunts, and all beer-joints, again, one assumes, in deference to their client's wishes. My S-T handle of "barkeep" is not an affectation, I have worked that trade many years. I invite Rep. Crownover and Dr. Fazen to this challenge: Put up your own money in any jurisdiction allowing smoking in bars and open a non-smoking bar. Pay the license and taxes, hire the best band in town, advertize it in every outlet available and wait for your non-smoking customers. And wait, and wait. I have NEVER seen a non-smoking bar make it financially unless all the competitors were forced to go non-smoking by law.

A stronger case could be made if non-smokers could point to a single place they could not avoid of their own choice and not have to suffer the evil fumes. Freedom includes implicitly the freedom to make foolish choices; or not.

Gas drive-offs: Yes, it is theft, outright theft. And that makes it an ordinance issue how? Chief Vasquez "estimates" between $9,000 and $18,000 annually in "staffing "costs to deal with (his figures) 284 offenses since Jan. First, it would be nice if the ballpark pricetag had less than 100% wiggle room, makes it sound like a top-of-the-head guess. Second, that figure at the high end is a negligible less than one tenth of a percent of SAPD budget. Third, police departments everywhere prioritize resources. A bank robbery or homicide, everybody turns out. A misdemeanor, class B or otherwise, sometimes that's "Hey, we'll get to it when we get to it". At least that's the way the very reasonable, sympathetic, but realistic officer described it to me last time I reported a home burglary.

Seems to me, SAPD doesn't have to roll out "Code Blue" every time a convenience store has a drive-off, and maybe if they didn't, the retailer might rethink his own security measures instead of using SAPD as a private "collection agency".

I'm with Councilman Morrison on this one: Pre-pay or not should be a business decision, made by the business owner. Frankly, if it were my business, I would make the decision case by case. Some locations are inherently more easy to drive off from. Investments in cameras, extra clerks and policy ought be left to the business owner, and the consequences as well.

I try to avoid conspiracy theories. I don't own a tin-foil hat and I have no idea who may have been on the grassy knoll. This one does sniff as though there were perhaps a major local gas retailer(s) who would like to go "pre-pay" without suffering any disadvantage from another, more trusting or better prepared competitor. If the City Council can be hornswoggled into doing the dirty work, the retailers get to hang out a sign apologetically blaming the pre-pay two-step on Council without suffering any adverse competition. After all, it would only affect those lower class customers without the "plastic" option, and they don't really count in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oops, almost forgot, they still get to vote, don't they? Every May, best I recall. Recall, a word Councilmembers are well advised to keep in mind.

Hope you had a better Fourth than mine, but I can't really beef about it. The toilet flushes, the truck runs, and I still live in the greatest nation in history.