Freshly Official & Already Put To The Test

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

I now have in my possession official proof: I have gray hair and Medicare. That patriotic red, white & blue card not only provides me with health insurance but insures that I can officially act like an old codger with little patience for suffering fools lightly.
And it took less than 10 days for it to be put to the test. Not the health insurance part; the cranky codger part.
I was shopping in a corporate owned big box store whose name will be left undisclosed to protect the guilty. But figure they pack your purchases in yellow, blue, white or tan plastic bags and you will figure out who the guilty parties are. They all engage in what they call their version of providing an excellent customer experience by inconveniencing customers.
I traditionally shop at the local mom & pop shops, especially if they are a Times advertiser, but there are times that that just can’t be accomplished and I must resort to the dancing to the corporate tune…reluctantly & sometimes (as you will read) with attitude.
Earlier this month I was in one of those colorful plastic bag purveyors. I made a number of purchases, and happened to notice a particularly fine sale price on a large bottle of Merlot. Planning on pasta for supper, I indulged my unsophisticated palate with a purchase of the $5 vintage.
At the check out things went fine until the heavily tattooed young person scanned the bottle of wine and asked to see my ID.
“You sure you’re old enough to scan a bottle of alcohol?” I asked. She assured me that she was but declined to show me her ID.
“Do you think I dye my hair this color of gray just to fool cashier’s into selling me booze?” I queried. “Do I look like I am under 21? Do I look like I am under 40? I think I have been over 21 for longer than you have been on this earth,” I badgered.
I heard some chuckling behind me and glanced back to see about a half dozen other customers amused by the corporate lunacy causing the standoff.
“I need to make sure you are old enough to buy alcohol,” the young cashier said.
So I pulled out my new Medicare card. “Do you know how old you have to be to get one of these?” I asked.
There was more laughter behind me so I turned and asked for a vote. “How many of you think I look over 21?” I asked the other customers.
They all raised their hand including the pre-school youngster waiting with his grandma.
“There you have it,” I said as I turned back to the cashier. “You’re the only one who thinks I look younger than 21,” I said beginning to get more than a little miffed.
“I need to see your driver’s license or I could be fired,” the young cashier said.
Well, not wanting to be a party to an unemployment insurance claim, I showed her my driver’s license as she told me Excise Police sometimes review surveillance footage to see if the store is selling to people under age.
“No, they do not,” I shot back emphatically. “They have more important things to do that watch a TV screen for crimes not committed.”
“But they do hire people who are under 21 to try to buy alcohol to test cashiers,” said I, “but I am not one of them.”
“Now,” I asked as I gathered up my purchases, “you saw my driver’s license. What’s my date of birth?”
All I got was a blank stare and an “I don’t know” as I left the building.
“Wasn’t that an exercise in futility,” I thought as the automatic doors slid shut.
IC Code 7.1-5-10-23 says…”if a person reasonably appears to be less than 40 years of age they are required to supply proof of birth.” The graphic of me at the top of the column needs to be updated. My hair is grayer and my moustache longer. I think that sketch is older than the cashier carding me.
I checked with the local office of the State Excise Police and was told excise enforcement does not like having the blame for customer inconvenience placed at their feet. “Corporations should not be blaming the alcohol enforcement division for their lack of common sense policies,” Excise Officer Christine told me.
Well I can agree with that. Only in the corporate world would you blame the people who control the renewal of your license to sell alcohol as the reason for inconveniencing senior citizens to prove their age.
In that last millennium, back when I was 30, I thought it was flirtatious for a comely barmaid to card me to see if I was old enough to drink. But that was then; this is now and now it is an idiotic intrusion to be thought to be under age 21.
Whether it is showing a driver’s license or giving a date of birth (I usually give one in 1995 that calculates I am only 22 just to see if the cashier is paying attention or just going through the motions), it is an inconvenience and an intrusion.
I am not in favor of selling alcohol to those not old enough to buy it. But there needs to be shown some corporate common sense (but alas, that is a contradiction of terms).
There is a business phrase for those of us who feel abused by corporate “nuke ‘em all” policies: former customers.
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Caution To All Cashiers: If a tall, gray haired man with a long moustache approaches your check out register with alcohol, to purchase, don’t ask him for an ID, enter your own date of birth, and he will leave you with a smile, a thank you, and glowing remarks on the online survey you always ask to be completed.

Sometimes It’s Difficult…

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

I could write about the weather and how warm February temperatures have early spring flowers blooming and how mid-March temperatures are doing their best to do in the early spring blooming flowers.
I could write about the Ides of March, the mid-point of the month of which Caesar was warned of his impending death and whose last words were “Et tu Brute?” (You too Brutus?) as his colleague(?) joined in with the crowd to stab him to death.
Or I could write about how we embrace celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this Friday (probably because of the revelry & beer) but how our American ancestors’ discriminated against Irish immigrants much like too many of today’s now naturalized by birth A-mur-acun immigrants discriminate against those who don’t look like us.
That kind of discrimination is one reason why Jackson County became the home of a number of early German immigrants. They were farmers and business owners who pretty much kept to themselves for their own safety. Their worship services were conducted in German until World War I when they realized some might question their allegiance to America by holding church services in a foreign tongue. America was at war with Germany, you will recall.
There was a switch to English and, as added emphasis of their loyalty, many German churches began displaying the American flag at the front of their sanctuary. Not to be outdone by the German immigrants, other churches joined in the patriotic display.
Or I could just write that it is difficult to come up with a new topic each week. That would be more of the truth.

The Wisdom Of Others

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

“There is very little difference in people but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude,” penned W. Clement Stone. Frequently we have found that there are profound truth in simple sentences or phrases composed by others. The following are some thoughts on life; some penned by the famous, some by the obscure.
“Nobody forgets where he buried the hatchet.”     ~Kin Hubbard
“Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
~Mark Twain
“A bore is a person who talks when you want him to listen.”
~Ambrose Bierce
“No problem is so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.”
~Linus Van Peeble from Charles Schultz ‘Peanuts’
Time heals of wounds but “times wounds all heels” according to Jane Ace.
“I base my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.”     ~Gildna Radner
“The perils of duck hunting are great, especially for the duck.”     ~Walter Cronkite
“A retentive memory may be a good thing but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness.”      ~Elbert Hubbard.
“Most of us grew up poor and didn’t know it. Today, if you are poor, the government never lets you forget it.”        ~Paul Harvey
“Always select the right sort of parents.”    ~George Ade
“Man does not live by words alone, although he sometimes must eat them.”              ~Adlai Stevenson
“The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”    ~Frank Lloyd Wright
There is even wisdom for our current White House administration:
“People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.”    ~Abigail Van Buren
“The first quality of a good education is good manners.”    ~Hubert H. Humphrey
“If humility speaks for itself, it is gone.”    ~Rev. D.L. Moody
“When in doubt, tell the truth.”    ~Mark Twain

Frogs…In February?!?!?

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

What a difference a few weeks make.
In January I needed jumper cables for a jump start because of the weather. In late February with the sun shining brightly and the thermometer outside the wilderness window almost bumping 70° the batteries in my mini-SUV and my psyche are re-charged and raring to go.
The daffodils planted in the valley and along the lane have greened up and there is rapid bud swell. Some of the soft maple trees are beginning to show some slight red on the branch tips as their buds prepare to swell as well. The ferns placed in the basement to overwinter are sending up curled tendrils of new growth well before their natural forest cousins have dared think of sending up green.
The spearmint sitting next to the basement ferns has greened up as well and there is lanky growth leaning into the sunlight.
Outside, as I pulled weeds that took over last year’s herb garden, I was pleasantly surprised to see chives already growing.
As if they were thumbing their noses at the early February groundhog, I heard spring peepers down by the lake more than a month before the spring solstice. And to beat all, dodged a few frogs on the roadway as I drove home from an evening meeting.
Frogs…in February…in Indiana?!?!?
I had some gleaned ear corn that I shelled and scattered for the turkeys down in the meadow. Though I think Emma the Great Pyrenees thinks deer and turkey are an invading force and she is constantly on patrol protecting her property and her humans…oh, and Willow the camouflaged cat.
Mother Nature’s critters seemed anxious to be out and welcome the warmer temperatures. A fly crawled along the dock and took flight when I reached down to see how active it really was. Not to be outdone by the fly, a cricket moved, albeit slowly, along the edge of the water. And the bluegill of the lake swam at the surface seeking a handout of fish food…which I obliged.
But the warm February weather doesn’t always bring out the good. A tiny tick was removed from Emma’s fur. And, alas, while enjoying the unseasonably warm weather from the back deck (while also enjoying a chilled adult beverage), I swatted a mosquito attempting to dine on me.
What with the warming temperatures…yes, I know it’s just February & there’s more cold weather a comin’ (and might already be here by the time you read this)…I have a bunch of chores planned: spread round some more fertilizer, get some wildlife planting seed in the ground for later turkey & deer browse, pull the weeds in the mulch pile to use for the raise bed gardens, cut up some downed trees for next season’s fireplace wood…
With all of that to do, I’m not sure when I will find time for work at the newspaper. Except to inspire a column or two.

Elected Leaders vs Media: It’s Historic

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

Donald Trump’s combative relationship with what he calls “the dishonest media” is nothing new.
Politicians, elected officials, and bureaucrats have been complaining about the press since the very first days of our country.
Thomas Jefferson, our nation’s third president and the man who penned the Declaration of Independence, wrote in a letter to an early US Congressman, “I deplore … the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them. As vehicles of information and a curb on our functionaries, they have rendered themselves useless by forfeiting all title to belief.”
Seven years earlier, Jefferson had written a letter to John Norvell, an aspiring journalist who went on to become the co-founder of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” Jefferson said. “Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”
By comparison, Trump’s criticism almost sounds tame. On his first full day in office, Trump told a crowd of CIA employees he had “a running war with the media.”
“They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” he said.
The fact is that presidents and journalists aren’t supposed to be friends. Jefferson said as much in 1787 in a letter to Edward Carrington, a delegate to the Continental Congress.
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people,” he wrote, “the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Journalists are the watchdogs on government. As Wilbur F. Storey, editor of the Chicago Times put it, “It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news, and raise hell.”
Chicago Evening Post journalist and humorist Finley Peter Dunne gets at least partial credit for another old saying, that “a newspaper’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
Ken Paulson, then the editor of USA Today, wrote in May 2006 that the media’s role as a guardian of our freedoms had not always been embraced by the American public.
“After all,” he wrote, “politicians and public officials have stock speeches about media bias and favoritism, all in effect saying: ‘Ignore the barking. The watchdog is rabid’.”
The challenge for journalists, he said, is to keep at it.
“When we do our jobs the right way, striving every day to publish reports of integrity and balance, when we ask the tough questions, when we fight to keep the public’s business public and when we provide the kind of watchdog reporting that is the lifeblood of a democracy, we fulfill our promise to that first generation of Americans who believed that one of the best ways to guarantee a democracy was a free and vigorous press.”
That was true in Jefferson’s day, and it’s true today.
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Our thanks to Kelly Hawes, assistant editor of CNHI’s Indiana news service for the research.

Democrats Get Chance To Be The Adults

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

Reason must resurface and prevail among the nation’s elected representatives.
Democrats in the U.S. Senate can take a significant step in leading the country toward reasonable governing, and away from chaos. Those senators can set an example of the steadiness, sorely needed in America right now, by resisting the understandable urge to obstruct the confirmation process for Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch.
They certainly should not just roll over. This is the chance to show the nation that there are adults in the room.
Those senators justifiably remain angered by their Republican colleagues’ disrespect for the authority of President Obama. The GOP denied any hearings on the president’s nomination of moderate, respected U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Republicans’ undemocratic behavior toward a president, elected overwhelmingly twice, left that seat empty for 293 days. That unprecedented refusal to perform their duties, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, exemplified their shameless obstruction during Obama’s eight years in office.
Tempting as it may be to deliver a payback, Democrats would do us, themselves, and the country well by taking the high road. By showing the statesmanship of Lee Hamilton and Richard Lugar.
As the minority party after November’s election of Donald Trump to the presidency, Democrats have a ripe opportunity. In just two weeks as president, Trump has proven his erratic decision-making, petulance and complete disinterest in listening to the needs of Americans who did not support him—the majority of those voting in November. While some Republicans in Congress have, rather meekly, questioned the constitutionality of Trump’s executive orders, most are tolerating him in hopes that he will deliver on their pet priorities.
The nation needs wisdom. The nation needs statesmanship. Senate Democrats should support the democratic process and let the confirmation hearings for Gorsuch’s nomination unfold in a timely fashion. His judicial track record contains areas of concern, which several senators have cited already. They should vigorously question Gorsuch on those topics during the hearings and vote their conscience. His legal qualifications merit thoughtful consideration and the senators should weigh those carefully, too.
But be very certain: questioning should not be construed as obstructing.
It is true that Obama, not Trump, should have been the president to appoint the justice to replace Scalia, who died a year ago. But gridlock and polarized politics have proliferated on Capitol Hill during the past quarter-century, and congressional Republicans’ behavior since 2009 has worsened the situation. They elevated their want for a conservative Supreme Court above the American system of democracy.
Democrats, by contrast, should exhibit respect for the process of representative government, fought for and won through high sacrifice. Gorsuch deserves a confirmation hearing with thorough vetting by the Senate.
The nation deserves sane, rational leadership at a moment when visible examples of that quality are in such small supply.
(The Tribune-Star contributed to this week’s column.)