George Lucas and the White Slavers

So, it came out last week that George Lucas likened his movies to his children and Disney to white slavers in an interview.  You can search the interview out on Google and see how ludicrous his statement was.  However, I would like to present the two following take-aways.

First, if those movies really are George’s children, then a more accurate metaphor would be that Disney and J.J. Abrams are Child Protective Services.  Clearly, those movies (and by extension, my childhood) are in much better hands, now.

Second, after reading this article, it is evident that Disney also has some attorneys who have reminded Mr. Lucas that one should be careful how one refers to the people who bought your franchise for four billion dollars.  Let’s look at all those zeros: $4,000,000,000.  Yes indeed, that is some serious back-pedaling.

The Great Asheville Mail Conundrum

We’ve been having trouble with the mail in Asheville for quite some time.  If you live here, you completely understand what I’m talking about.  We used to have great service, but once they closed the mail distribution center on Brevard Road, great mail service became a thing of the past.  What you may not know are some particulars that really need to be dragged out into the light.

Because I help manage over 300 properties in Asheville (with many of them being contained within 5 medium to large sized mobile home parks) I have a rather involved relationship with the local postal service.  Additionally, because I take time to talk to our mail carriers and postal managers, I have some information that I probably shouldn’t have about how the mail system currently works in our area.  With that being said, I say we start dragging the skeletons out of the closet.

The Inconvenient Truth of Steele

My involved relationship with the United States Postal Service began when we got a new carrier, a couple of years ago.  This particular carrier had moved into the area from out of state and was hellbent on making things difficult on our route by selective application of postal regulations.  At first, this carrier was impossible to deal with but after numerous complaints to his supervisors, he seemed to have developed a better attitude toward service and the mail delivery was greatly improved…for a while.

Oddly, I started to have tenants begin to ask me questions about whether or not we had been getting all of our mail at the office.  Although we seemed to be getting all of our mail, several of the tenants seemed to be having their mail lost or stolen.  The most disturbing element was that most of the missing mail contained money (a postal no-no from the outset) and/or gift cards.  I gave the tenants the number for the postmaster and the complaints ensued.

This was in the old days, when complaints actually got a hearing.  As a result, the postal inspector was called in to investigate.  The result?  Our carrier was escorted to his car by the postal inspector and the vehicle was searched.  Upon a thorough search of the vehicle the carrier was fired and no charges were filed to avoid public embarrassment to the Postal Service.  It turns out that our postal carrier had been stealing mail which contained money and gift cards.

You might think that something of this nature would prompt some sort of statement to customers or some sort of restitution.  You might think that, but you would be wrong.  In fact, if not for a particularly loquacious carrier, I would have never known about the confirmation of the thefts and their consequences for our carrier.  He simply would have just “gone off route.”

The Substitute for Good Service is…The Worst Service…ever

Everyone in Asheville knows the first part about this tale of woe.  The Postal Service decided to close the Brevard Road mail plant/distribution center as a means to impart efficiency and reduce costs by moving the operation to Greenville, South Carolina.  As it turns out, efficiency means the end of next-day delivery in Asheville and often lag times of up to five days.  It also means an increased incidence of missing or lost mail.

What most people don’t know is that the decision to close the Brevard Road Center was predicated on false reporting by a lady supervisor who fudged her numbers.  Her estimation turned out to be woefully below actual volume and hence minimized the importance of keeping the location open.  She has since been “relocated” by the Postal Service.  Unfortunately, now that the mail volume has been moved to Greenville, it is highly unlikely that it will return.

You might think that the loss of next-day delivery for first class mail, the increased incidence of lost mail, and the general delay in mail were the worst results.  Again, you would be wrong.  As it turns out, Greenville is in a different state and postal management zone.  Anyone want to guess what that means?  It means that complaints about service in our area go to Charlotte (if you’re lucky) and stop there.  Greenville’s zone has no accountability to our zone and vice versa.  There is no chain of resolution.  There is no method of accountability.  There is no real cooperation.  Simply put, if you have trouble with your mail, you are out of luck.

Over $12,000 Worth of Checks in the Wrong Box?  That’s Nothing…Watch Us Misplace Certified Mail

“Oh, but Stuart,” you say, “where is your hard evidence of bad service and accountability?”  You might think that all of my proof is anecdotal.  Nope.  Here are the facts from November and today:

In November, we had over twelve thousand dollars worth of rent checks delivered to the wrong address by by a substitute carrier.  Fortunately, that wrong address was also one of our tenants and they called us to come get our mail.  I sure am glad that these checks were delivered to an address with friendly individuals who could be trusted with our checks…only they weren’t…they were delivered to a family with mental health issues and criminal convictions for stealing.  It is a miracle that we got our checks.

What about today, you ask?  Oh, today was relatively minor.  Today was just a certified letter being delivered to the wrong address.  Oh, and by delivered, I mean left in our companies postal box.  Fortunately, it was one of our tenants, so we called the postal supervisor and he sent someone to retrieve the mail.  You might find yourself wondering what sort of mail was in that envelope.  Well, it was a letter from Health and Human Services for a family that has taken in an abused child.  No bid deal, I’m sure there wasn’t any important information in that.

So, here is my call to action:  Please help me shed some light on this problem.  Share this post.  Comment on it and add your issues.  Let’s stir this around enough to make it stink.  Maybe if the smell gets bad enough, we will get some service.  If not, maybe we can all start using private carriers.

Honestly, if it weren’t for these two people, I would give up on trying to help society.

transfer - 1Just to bring everyone up to speed, I’ve spent the last couple of months dealing with the death of my father and helping to get my mother straightened away on being able to live as independently as she would like.  All this while trying to get caught up on all of my projects, raising a family, and trying to get ahead at work so that I could really enjoy the vacation which we just took.  (Incidentally, talking about one’s vacation after-the-fact on the old interwebs keeps people from knowing that one’s house is vacant for nine days…a fact which seems to escape some of you people…seriously, take note.)  All of this with an apparently freshly herniated disc just above my spinal fusion.  Fun stuff.

Taking care of the things that really matter did a great job of limiting my time on the internet and provided me with the “Cliff’s Notes versions” of all the issues that were being bandied about in all forms of traditional and social media.  To be completely honest, I thought that what was getting through the time crunch filter was bad enough, but I spent a little time perusing the web this week and I have never wanted to sell everything that I own and move out West or adopt a nomadic existence than I have over the last several days.  What I have been seeing is enough to make me just worry about my own family and let the world continue to burn, but then I thought that through and I don’t want to leave my kids to survive in a world which resembles a Mad Max film, so I’m going to give this one more shot.  Hopefully you guys will share this around and maybe we can get some healthy conversation going.

I would like to restate for what seems like millionth time that we, the general population, are being guided/coaxed/manipulated by the media in all of its forms and by giant corporations and by our respective governments to do the following:

  1. Buy things.  The movie Fight Club got that single thing right.
  2. Be at each other’s throats so that we don’t rebel against governmental systems that are exploiting us, while failing to provide adequate services or respect our basic or constitutional rights.  If we are busy fighting each other, then we can’t unite effectively against a common enemy.
  3. Buy more things.  I sense a theme.
  4. And finally, be calm, placated, productive citizens…all to the benefit of corporations and government.

If you want a quick primer, please go read George Orwell’s 1984 and then watch the news cycle for twenty-four hours.  Then it is okay to go hide in bed and pull the covers up over your head.  Trust me, you will want to do that very badly.

I know that I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so I’m not going to attempt to do an overview or even an outline.  Today, I am going to start with one simple fact: When we are watching the news or looking at the internet or reading a newspaper we are talking about other human beings.  I can not state that more simply or seriously enough.  We are talking about the lives of other human beings.  If we can’t take that seriously than we are beyond all hope.

I am going to give you a list and everyone that reads it is going to agree and disagree with some of the people and groups listed, but I want everyone to take a deep breath and really think about what I am trying to do.  I don’t want my two children growing up in the world that is left by the next great war or having to be a part of that war.

  • When we talk about refugees, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we talk about aborted babies, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we talk about illegal aliens, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we talk about executed law enforcement officers, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we are conducting drone strikes in Syria, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we read about Christians being beheaded in by Islamic State, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we talk about suicide statistics, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we talk about drug reactions, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we talk about war in the Middle East, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we talk about floods and earthquakes and storms, we are talking about human lives.
  • When we are talking about domestic violence and human trafficking and orphans, we talking about human lives.

Humans lives means other human beings just like my kids.

Just like your kids.

Just like your nieces and nephews.

Just like your parents and grandparents.

Just like your friends and family.

Just like the people who look like you.

Just like the people with whom you attend church or synagogue or mosque.

Just like your friends from the bar.

Just like the people with whom you tailgate at the big games.

Just like your work associates.

Just like you.

What you think about the Pope’s latest speech or how he delivered or who he delivered it to does not matter.  The same thing goes for the President of the United States.  Your trendy hashtag does not matter.  Your political views and affiliations do not matter.  What you think about the Clerk of Court in Kentucky does not matter.  None of these things really matter until we start respecting and valuing human lives…and I mean that in a for real, get your hands dirty, get off of your couch, get-involved kind of way.

Hashtags don’t help people.  Tweets don’t help people.  People getting active and loving other people in a real, hands-on way helps people.

We need to turn off the filters and throw away the selfy-sticks and forget about whether or not we need the need an Apple Watch or McDonald’s product or Starbuck’s coffee.  We have got monumentally serious human crises all over the globe and those have always led to two things when left unaddressed for significant periods of time: Revolution and War.

You may have read this post and think that I’m all “conspiracy theory” or “gloom-and-doom,” but I suffer from only one problem:  I read history books.  I paid attention in every history class that I ever took and we are fools if we don’t start paying closer attention to the things that we do.  If we don’t make change, it is history who will be the judge.

Dad’s Journey is Done

Dad NavyMy dad passed away at 1:40am.  I’ll probably have a lot to say about the last week and his passing at a later date.  All that I’ve got to say, at this point, is that my dad was awesome.  I would say more about how amazing he was, but it would most likely cause many people to have feelings of inadequacy about their own fathers.

So…today sucked.

The other day, I wrote that I was going to put my blogging on hold while I dealt with us having to call in hospice for my dad.  A couple of good friends encouraged me to continue to write, as it makes for a good outlet for processing grief.  At first, I was going to blow it off, but since I’ve had enough Pastoral Care and Counseling classes to know that they are right, I thought that I might defer to their wisdom in this trying time.

In case you missed it; I wrote a piece about my dad when we first started talking about hospice and palliative care in the fall of 2013.  I like to go back and look at it on occasion because I think that it perfectly sums up how I felt on the day that I wrote it.

Today is one of those days where I definitely need to document how I feel about Dad.

My dad grew up fairly poor.  I would like to offer exhibit A:Dad BucketsThis is a picture of my dad in front of my Papaw’s old house.  Those are not bricks.  That is some sort of tar-based siding which is similar to roll roofing but stamped to look like bricks.  You might take note of the ripped jacket which Dad is wearing.  Sometimes you have to wear a ripped jacket when it is cold and you are poor.  (I mean, not today, of course.  Today, homeless people have cell phones.)

My dad used to tell me about how he would hitch up the horses and plow other people’s fields for money.  When I was a kid, we still plowed certain things with a horse-draw plow and I learned how to hitch up the horse, so I know that this is something that he wasn’t making up.  In fact, Dad would often just hitch up the horse because he felt that it was too much trouble to get the tractor out.  Let that one sink in for just a moment.

My dad went from this to owning 3 auto parts stores and an interest in an office supply company.  He did this by working hard every day and not complaining.  My dad never, ever complained.  Dad had some strokes in the early 90’s which left him with some issues.  He worked through them with no complaining.  He didn’t complain when he lost his business to a real deadbeat who cost him well over half a million dollars 1999 money.  He eventually forgave the guy, which I still have trouble doing.  He didn’t complain when we had to sell the farm to pay for the outstanding business debt when his last store failed as a result of the 2004 flood. He never complained and he always did his best to keep a positive attitude.

Unfortunately, I think that I had my last real conversation with Dad earlier today.  After that, he took a nap and had a rather serious stroke.  When he woke up, he could no longer speak and it was clear that we could no longer take care of him at home.

Today, I had to help decide to move my father into a hospice facility rather than keeping him at home, even though he had wanted to remain at home until he passed.  Today, I probably had the last good conversation that I will ever have with my father.  Today sucked.

America 2.0: Rise of the Machines

There was a time when I consumed a lot of science fiction, which was composed of equal parts of books, comics, and movies.  I spent untold hours plowing through the material, and as a result, I developed a great appreciation for the genre.  Science fiction has a rich history, even though it is largely a product of mankind’s fears as a result of industrialization and later, the advent of the atomic age.  Truly, a great deal of science fiction is born out of man’s apprehensions about the inventions that he has wrought upon this earth.  However, the most amazing thing about the genre is how right many of these works have proven to be in modern America.

I suppose that the easiest place to start is with Orwell.  His vision of the future in 1984 doesn’t seem so fantastic in light of the Edward Snowden revelations.  When Snowden leaked information about the NSA spying on American citizens and collecting colossal amounts of data, there were a lot of “tinfoil hat” types who felt supremely vindicated.  After all, you aren’t really paranoid if the government is actually listening to everything that you are saying, are you?  If one stops to consider the government intrusion alongside the fact that almost all electronic devices are now sold with a camera which faces the consumer, an omni-directional microphone, and an ability to connect with internet and share everything that has been recorded; Orwell easily comes out looking more like a prophet than an artist.

This brings me to my main point.  I think that if we look at the Terminator series, along with the Matrix series, that we will see some cautionary tales that we would do well to embrace.  Although I don’t feel like we will be running from robots disguised in human flesh or finding ourselves plugged into a giant human electrical farm any time in the near future, I do feel like I am seeing elements of both franchises come true on a daily basis.

In the Terminator series, mankind was almost driven to extinction at the hand of the machines.  Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be happening, but we are seeing technology emerging that makes the idea of unmanned machinery oppressing humankind sound a little less crazy.  When we first saw the unmanned Hunter-Killer Drones in Terminator, we thought that it was the technology of the future.  Now, we are seeing unmanned drones being used by the military to conduct operations and eliminate targets around the globe.  With that in mind, it isn’t too much of a stretch to point out that with the right combination of GPS, satellite imagery, and artificial intelligence,  a computer in Utah could easily have the ability to wipe out human beings at any location on the planet.  Scary.

Next, we have the Matrix series, with mankind being subjugated and pacified by machines that use them as a power source.  While mankind is certainly still the primary power consumer on this planet and most would argue that the machines are serving us, I would ask this twofold question:  Are the machines really serving us or have we abdicated our lives to them?

Think about how we’ve structured our lives.  How many of us have a television running every morning while we are getting ready and during meals with our families?  How many of us are slaves to our phones; unable to even have a meal in a restaurant without slavishly staring at the screen of our devices?  Are we really free or are we slaves to the machines that we have built?

Look around.  Are you reading this while looking at your phone instead of your spouse?  When is that last time that you ate with your family without a screened device present?  When is that last time that you went a whole day without watching your television?  When is the last time that you went a whole day without your phone?  When was the last time that you took the time to call and actually speak with someone instead of shooting the a text message?

Let’s face it.  The machines have risen.

 

When is a single picture enough to break the internet?

When is a single picture enough to break the interwebs?

The answer is simple.  When it is this picture:Screenshot 4:30:14 2:39 PM

This is the first table read with the cast of the new Star Wars movie. The image broke the StarWars.com website.  Here is a list of the people in the photo from TheHollywoodReporter.com:

1. J.J. Abrams, director-writer

2. R2D2: R2-series astromech droid

3. Harrison Ford, actor – Reprising his role as Han Solo.

4. Daisy Ridley, actress

5. Carrie Fisher, actress – Reprising her role as Leia.

6. Peter Mayhew, actor – Reprising his role as Chewbacca.

7. Bryan Burk, producer

8. Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm president

9. Domhnall Gleeson, actor

10. Anthony Daniels, actor – Reprising his role as C-3PO.

11. Mark Hamill, actor – Reprising his role as Luke Skywalker.

12. Andy Serkis, actor

13. Oscar Isaac, actor

14. John Boyega, actor

15. Adam Driver, actor

16. Lawrence Kasdan, writer

Tonight I will be able to go to bed knowing that I will be able to take my kids to see the first legitimate Star Wars movie since 1983 on the big screen.   Thank you, J.J. Abrams and Disney for rescuing my childhood from that bad man and giving us something that I can get excited to take my kids to see.

Dewey Albert Greene

Albert Portrait

This is my uncle Albert.  He was born in 1925 and died today, at the age of 88.  He is the reason that I read and that I have an urge to learn how things work.  I was fortunate enough to spend all of my formative years with him on the farm, as he had retired from the National Weather Service and was around a lot.

I hope that I never forget the lessons that he taught me or how to be as resilient as he was.  I know that I’ll never forget the day he came to the back door after cutting off part of one of his fingers while trying to start the hay baler.  Cool as a cucumber, he told me to go get my mother.  Then, he took the time to answer some childish questions, made some small talk, and finally reminded me to go get my mother; albeit in a sterner tone.

He was awesome.  I’ll miss him forever.