All week long, I’ve been missing this place.

I miss having my favorite place to eat.  I miss the food.  I miss the people.  I miss Jenny and her unique brand of service.  I miss Stephen playing with my daughter on breaks from the kitchen.  I miss Tom’s food.  I miss hanging out there with my friends.

I want a Diablo with wedges and a ginger tea.  I want fried pickles and about a gallon of Tom’s homemade ranch dressing.  I want a buffalo chicken sandwich with fries.  I want Burgermeister’s.

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Seriously?!

I would like to give you folks a little barometer on where our society is, as a whole.  We have a mobile home for rent, so I am fielding calls from potential tenants.  Here’s part of the last call:

Lady Caller: Do you rent to sex offenders?

Me: Ma’am, this home is within seventy-five feet of elementary school property.  North Carolina law states that a registered sex offender can not live within one thousand feet of school property.

Lady Caller: So you don’t rent to sex offenders?

Me: Ma’am, state law prohibits sex offender residence within one thousand feet of school property.  Seventy-five percent of our properties fall within that parameter.

Lady Caller: Yeah, but is that the only reason you don’t rent to sex offenders?

Me: Ma’am state law is what it is…I don’t have to go beyond that.

Lady Caller: (Hangs up)

That, folks, is the bait and switch that every landlord and/or law enforcement officer must deal with on a daily basis.  A person fishing for the basis for a discrimination suit while I’m trying the protect the interests of the community.

There are so many kids in our biggest mobile home park that it empties a bus when they drop-off in the afternoon.  Would you put a sex offender in the middle of a community like that?  I bet your answer is no.  However, if you were to flatly state that you don’t rent to sex offenders, then you would find yourself open to a lawsuit.

This is the tightrope that we have to walk.  The fine line that exists between protecting the community and getting sued.  Fun stuff.

Public Service Announcement (If you don’t ever use power equipment, skip this one)

Sometimes I get busy and don’t catch problems until they cost me money.  Recently, I’ve been noticing problems with some of my power equipment.  I was immediately suspicious because all of my small engine equipment is Stihl (and not Stihl purchased at a big box store, Stihl purchased from a commercial Stihl dealer).

All of my equipment went from starting on the second or third pull to starting after a lot of work, if at all.  My string trimmer was the worst, so I took it in and after two trips to the shop, replaced the carburetor.  After that, the problem was solved.  The culprit…ethanol blended fuel.

As it turns out, ethanol blended fuel is devastating for power equipment.  This is especially true for two-cycle engines.  If you use ethanol blended fuel, you can expect to keep replacing your carburetor on a regular basis (which isn’t cheap).  Consumer Reports started documenting the issue about three years ago.  You can find their first article on the issue here.  Now, every major small engine producer has some sort of warning on their products or website.  This is great for consumers purchasing new equipment but not so great for those of us with older gear, as we have missed out on the warnings.

Fortunately, their is an easy (although somewhat inconvenient) solution.  You have to find gas stations that still sell pure gasoline, without any ethanol.  They are getting pretty scarce, but you can find them by visiting this website. It may mean some extra driving, but at least your power equipment will still work.

Why is this even an issue?  Well…I don’t want to get into another political discussion, so we’ll leave it at just another example of your government at work.  You can find the complete history of the issue here.  Pay particular attention to 2003 to 2009…yep, this issue spans several presidential administrations, making it a “big government” problem.

Apparently, Mail Issues Do Matter to the Postal Service

I’m not sure what happened, but after speaking to District Management in Charlotte, it looks like there is going to be some recourse on the aforementioned issues.  The misdelivery issues are apparently something that are easier to fix, but the Greenville center causing delays and lost mail is getting their attention.

It helps to be able to give concrete examples of mail problems.  I thought the lady was going to choke when I told her about the certified mail being misdelivered and the carrier just shrugging his shoulders when he came to pick it up.

Accountability.  All jobs ought to have it.

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.

Good vs. Evil and the Need for Shared Values

I made sure that my last post was harder on Christians because I believe that a true change in the conversation needs to start at home.  For me, that was the easiest way to start inside and work my way out.  Today, I thought that I might start getting to what I feel is the root of the problem.  As a result, I’m sure that this one is going to step on some toes.

I wrote a piece on objective truth a while back.  I was going to review that for a bit, but this is the internet and it is far easier for you to just click here and go read it, if you haven’t already.  That post starts us on the road to what I feel is one of the most significant reasons that we all seem to be at each others throats with a lot of issues:  We no longer have a high degree of shared values.

I truly believe that the push for multi-culturalism and our rejection of objective morality has left us without any sort of societal moorings.  I don’t want to tie that statement to current issues for examples, because I feel that it might lose some of its weight.  Hopefully, by backing us up a few years, I can look at how we arrived at our current situation.

Let’s start with marriage.  I’m not one to beat-around-the-bush, so I’ll just get right to stepping on people’s toes.  Just about every culture had a high regard for marriage in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Regardless of religion, it was an institution which was not to be entered into lightly.  Violations of one’s marriage vows were certainly seen as taboo and often as severe, punishable offenses.  It wasn’t just the Judeo-Christian folks who made such a big deal about marriage; it was almost everyone.  Then something changed.

I’m not sure if it was the sexual revolution or our changing legal system which led the charge, but somehow we decided to allow the devaluation of the institution of marriage.  Adultery went from something that could get you a big, fat, scarlet letter on your chest to something that had any number of excuses.  Things not working out or maybe marriage isn’t quite what you thought it would be?  Just give up.  There is always next time.

Broken marriages have become so commonplace that I’ve even heard jokes made within communities of faith.  I used to know a guy from church who joked about how many times he had been married.  I’ve got news for that guy.  Multiple divorces doesn’t make you funny…it makes you a failure…at a lot of things.

The point, however, is not marriage.  It is about whether or not we share values.  The simple fact is that we absolutely must have shared values on at least some critical, core issues or there is no way that we will ever live in harmony or peace.  As much as it makes some of us uncomfortable, we have to recognize that there is Good and there is Evil.  We have to not only understand that these two things exist, but that they are in direct conflict with each other.  Then, we have to pick a side and understand that that choice will naturally lead to conflict with those on the other side.

Our media has tried to remove objective morality and shared values from our society.  The only values they promote are tolerance and non-judgement, which have been perverted in the way that have been presented to the public.  Also, they are poor substitutes for mutual respect and love.

We have been inundated with atrocious, morally destitute entertainment and news for so long that we have lost our sense of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong.  I can’t tell you how many times that I have been shocked when an otherwise sane and rational person has demonstrated a working knowledge of the cast of The Jersey Shore or the antics of Miley Cyrus or the family dynamics of the Kardashians.  Let’s think about that for a minute.  Here are what I consider to be completely reasonable people who have conversant understanding about a group of young people whose moral quandaries and substance abuse antics became the fodder for tabloids.  The Kardashians (whose main claim-to-fame is a daughter who had a sex tape released on the internet) have commanded our attention for years, now.

We have lost our minds.

I feel like I need a shower after just thinking about those folks long enough to write about them and the point is not even that the aforementioned people are evil.  They are just sad, broken people that have been made into celebrities.

The problem is that we have allowed it to happen.  The problem is that we have allowed this drivel to distract us from the real issues.  The problem is that we have allowed our moral sense to be degraded because instead of our diversity strengthening the moral conversation, it is being used to dilute it.

We have got to find a way back to where, regardless of our faith or lack thereof, we can unite as a people and agree as to whether something is right or wrong.  We have to fix our moral barometers, so that we can once again accurately grasp the difference between good and evil.  We have got to remember that in any given situation, there may be a million perspectives…but there is only one truth.

This post has two titles.

I started to lay out what I think is a very important framework for a conversation, yesterday, in a post.  Although a few people got distracted by the cute picture of the kids and how it displayed on Facebook, my hope is that most people read the whole piece.  Either way, you can go back and look at it if you missed it, as it is a prerequisite for today’s post.

Here are the two titles for today’s post and you get to choose which title to apply, based on your own personal convictions:

The Necessity for Mutual Respect

or…

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I chose the titles because each lends itself to a particular reader.  I won’t bore you with details, but one title is for Christians and the other is for those who are not Christians.  I know that those are really broad parameters, but for the purposes of what I’m trying to illustrate, I think they are adequate.

Yesterday, I wanted to lay a foundation of the fact that we are all human beings and that as such, we have equal value.  I wanted to cut through the whole “us” versus “them” paradigm which seems to permeate all of the coverage of each and every event that we are currently being fed by all forms of media.  If we are ever going to find healthy solutions for our problems, any of them, then we are going to have to approach them from a “we” perspective.

The simple truth is that we can have no progress unless we all respect each other in the process of finding solutions.  I know that issues quickly become quite complicated, but we have to start from a position of mutual respect for others as human beings.  This is a truth so simple that it is evident in almost all of children’s media ever produced.  We have to respect each other, despite our differences, if we are ever to get along.  Beyond that, we must seek to find common grounds from which to build relationships that will lead to solutions.

I chose the Christian/Non-Christian distinction to start with because that seems to be one that is currently in play in most of the discussion that I have seen.  Also, it is one with which I have had the most interaction.

I can only speak briefly to those in the Non-Christian camp in regard to many of the current conflicts.  To those folks, I would merely like to point out that we must have mutual respect for each other in order to find solutions.  Whatever your religious, political, ethical, or moral underpinnings, you have to be willing to engage in civilized, respectful communication and trustworthy negotiation in order to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.  As we may or may not share much in the way of moral, ethical, or intellectual convictions, I am left with appealing to any sense that you may have of justice, fairness, or love.

As for Christians, I could go all day on this but I will keep it simple, we are required to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Actually, we are even commanded to love our enemies.  Boy, that’s a tricky one, huh?  We like to discuss the story of the good Samaritan, but we often stop short of realizing its full implications.  Jesus was telling this story to a primarily Jewish audience.  An audience which hated Samaritans.  In fact, I think that it is important to note how often Jesus interacts with Samaritans, both as illustrations and as people.  Samaritans were the ultimate “those people” to the Jews of his Jesus’ day.

Take a minute.  Think about a people group that you dislike…maybe even one that you hate.  That is your Samaritan.  Here’s the hard thing to hear:  Jesus loves those people, too.  Now, here’s the hardest thing to hear:  Jesus expects you to love those people, as well.

Ouch.  That really stings, doesn’t it.  That’s one heck of an expectation.  It creates a lot of uncomfortable situations.  I makes us have to love people who have a lot of qualities that we really don’t like.

I’ve got to be honest.  When I take a minute to make a list of people that I can’t stand, that list comes really easy.  Liars, thieves, adulterers, hipsters (we have a lot of those in Asheville), guys who wear wear pastel Polo shirts with khaki shorts and boat shoes with no socks, most white people with dreadlocks, people with a sense of entitlement, and on the list goes…

I have to work every day to try and love the people on my list.  Some days, I do pretty well.  Some days, I don’t do well at all.  The problem is (and this is the reason for this whole series of posts) that the internet and how our society works gives us a perfect venue to make complete jackasses out ourselves in about thirty seconds with a comment on a post or a couple of words on the street.  The crazy thing is how often we do it and still feel good about ourselves.

I know that we’ve got some serious issues that are at stake, but if we are descending into a state of becoming raging jerks, then we have lost the ability to bring anything positive to the situation.  This isn’t just about keeping one’s composure while secretly hating someone in the back of your mind, this is about seeking to find a way to lovingly relate to another human being with whom you potentially totally disagree.

I know this is a lot to ask and that this post is being harder on Christians that on those who are not, but we are commanded to go that extra mile.  If we are blasting people on the internet or in any public forum, then we are falling woefully short in following that command.

Next time, we start digging into the hard stuff.  I promise to be an equal-opportunity offender before I get done with all of this.