Monday, May 15, 2017

Federal "grant money" is still tax payer money

There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money. - Margaret Thatcher

I have long decried the local municipality paradigm of looking to the federal government for a source of funding for every pet project.  Not every single "good idea" or even "nice idea" needs to be funded at the public expense.

I remember one local mayor that was praising a US Congressman for constantly helping get road funding for his little town from the national coffers.  I have a better idea.  Instead of extracting the money from local taxpayers to begin with, why not leave the money in the pockets of the populace so that the local governments can finance their own expenditures?

I am so tired of the mentality that keeps people and lower levels of government dependent upon Washington, DC for their monetary needs and desires.  I have seen this here in my little town of Selma, NC.  For years the town has repeatedly looked to the US Government for loans and grants to fund water, sewer, roads, building renovations, and now even a civic center.  Our town only has about 6,000 residents.  We already have a parks and recreation department, a local Lions Club building that the public can rent, and an entire former school complex that is used as a gymnasium, workout center, meeting place, and can be used for civic events.

An old gymnasium has been re-incarnated as a utility contractor's building and was later given to the local American Legion, who in turn sold it to the town under the guise of building a civic center.  OK, this is a nice idea for our little town, but I sure don't want to spend our tax dollars on it.  The town was already hoodwinked into paying $60,000 for the facility.  Well, that facility needs an additional $300,000 in renovations in order to be usable.  The concept was sold to the town that private fundraising could bring in the money necessary, but a couple of years later, no such thing has happened.

The town has applied for and is waiting on the results of the grant application from the USDA.  The USDA?  Why is the US Department of Agriculture involved in any way, shape, form, or fashion in the funding of a small-town civic center?  Of what importance is this to the topic of agriculture?  For that matter, why has it been the USDA that has been involved in our town's loans for sewer line projects?  I fail to see a single provision in the US Constitution that allows for Congress to make provision for any such program or projects.  Why should someone in Montana be paying tax dollars to help renovate a civic center in Podunk, North Carolina?  I commented on this very project on my TV commentary as far back as 2015.

Whenever a town gets money from the federal government, it is still money extracted from the pockets of taxpayers.  When a town borrows money from the feds, it is even worse.  We have to be taxed to supply the funds lent to the town.  Then we have to pay taxes to the town to repay the loan to the feds at interest, so we get doubly taxed on all such subsidies and loans.  The only good thing about a grant is that we pay the tax money once, not twice.

I, for one, am tired of seeing small towns attempting to suckle off the federal government teat and often settling for the crumbs that fall from Caesar's table, instead.  I am tired of seeing our government run money laundering schemes and overtaxing the citizenry for the sake of retaining power over people and local governments.  I am tired of local politicians agreeing to be beholden to the national pork barrel spending projects that are bleeding us taxpayers dry.  And I am tired of seeing the national government spend money upon projects that are wholly unconstitutional.


Fountain pen advice for newbies

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Road to Smurfdom

You may have heard of the book "The Road to Serfdom" by F.A. Hayek. I am thinking about writing "The Road to Smurfdom" since I discovered the formula a few minutes ago.
1. Open the mail containing several ink samples among other things from The Goulet Pen Company.
2. Open another package that has a pen you have been drooling over for a while and finally got.
3. Open a sample tube of Noodler's 54th Massachusetts blue ink.
4. Find that the breather/filler hole on the Waterman Carène will be a bit higher than you like and so you tip the sample tube to try to get a good ink suction going. No, I did not pay anywhere near as much for the pen as it shows in the link I just provided.
5. Only get some bubbles with very little ink.
6. Set down the sample tube without putting on its lid while you clean up the pen with a paper towel.
7. Tell yourself that you were stupid for not trying the nice bottle of Waterman Serenity Blue ink you had on the shelf.
8. Knock over the open vial of sample ink, thereby confirming your negative self-affirmation.
9. Attempt to clean up the spill using more paper towel, Windex, and even Clorox bleach spray cleaner.
10. End up with blue hands and a now permanent blue stain on your beige colored desk.
11. Fill your new Carenè with the ink you should have used, to begin with.
12. Enjoy the new pen and realize that for this one, you need bottled ink and never sample ink vials.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Lesson learned about ink

I am still learning about fountain pens.  I watch a lot of videos and read a lot of reviews, web sites, and do research on pens that I have just purchased or want to purchase.  I want to learn from others who went before me, so have spent some of my spare time reading and watching.


One thing on the Lamy 2000 I discovered today is actually good news. I used to have a bottle of Waterman ink which I eventually depleted and found a bargain blue-black ink by Hero. I have been using the Hero ink for a couple of years now, since I only had the one fountain pen that I was using regularly. So that was the only bottle on hand when I started buying other pens and use it to ink them as well. The good part of that is that I got to see how they compared one to another using the same ink. The bad part is that I was disappointed a little bit in the Lamy with the Hero ink. I ordered a bottle of Diamine Oxyx Black ink that arrived today. Not knowing if I would like it or not, I got a small bottle to try. The first pen I inked with it was the Lamy. I excreted out the old ink, flushed the pen well, and put in the Diamine ink. The Lamy writes much better with that ink than with the other, so I am at least happy that my higher priced pen is writing nicely now rather than being a bit of a downer.

Also, my little town has a lot of antique shops. It is known for having that theme for its downtown shopping, so I figured I would start looking in those stores to see what vintage fountain pens I could find. I picked one shop to visit today and we looked around. We only found one fountain pen, an old 1960's Sheaffer 304 cartridge (later called a "Student") pen. For just $4, I figured I would give it a shot. I probably need to clean the nib since it still had an old cartridge in it. While there I also found an old Warren Mfg. 1890 dip pen, which is also in the picture.  I will see whatever finds I can hunt up over time. I have primarily been finding pens via ebay, web sites, and private sellers so far.

 

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Adventures in fountain pen ownership

I love fountain pens.  I always have.  Ever since I first wrote with one, I liked the feel and flow.  I remember buying my first one, which was a cheap one at Wal-Mart or some other department store in the stationery aisle.  It was dark green and took ink cartridges.  When I could no longer find cartridges, I stopped using it and threw it in a storage tote along with other pens I owned.  Recently I found it and can't even find the brand name on it, so I don't know what brand of cartridges to seek or if it will take an international cartridge.

A few years later, I bought a Waterman gift set that had a nice Waterman Phileas that came with different color ink cartridges and a bottle of ink.  It has been reliable, writes well, and has been my favorite pen for almost two decades.  Sure, it was nothing fancy.  What would I expect for a meager $40?  Of course that forty bucks was a lot to me at the time.  I still use it often.

Recently I decided to buy some more pens and see what ones I liked.  I bought a JinHao fairly inexpensive pen from China.  It was a sturdy pen that wrote fairly well, at least for the first little bit.  Then it stopped writing.  I may work on it some eventually.  I tried some cartridges from JinHao since the converter would not pull in ink, but it still won't write.  I probably need to work on the nib feed path some.

For Christmas I bought my wife and my mother-in-law each a cheap fountain pen to see if they liked them and would figure on getting more expensive ones if they like and actually used them.

I have been doing a lot of reading online, joined some Facebook groups, bookmarked a lot of pen web sites, watched YouTube videos, and read some more.  I learned about nibs, filling systems, brands, and found that not every pen is worth the money, but many are.  I found that some less expensive pens can out perform more expensive ones.  I found that some pens that write well are inexpensive ones that I might want to use when I travel since they were only about $5 and I won't fret over losing one.  From personal experience shopping in fine jewelry stores, I found that Mont Blanc pens are still considered some of the finest and along with that comes a high price tag.

From there, I decided that since I no longer have any real hobbies, I might want to collect a some pens.  I bought a few of them and tried them one by one.  I asked for some recommendations from friends on Facebook in case anyone was into fountain pens.  I got a few suggestions from one guy in particular.   He had two primary suggestions for a Pilot Metropolitan and a Lamy 2000.  I got the Pilot Metropolitan a while ago and I like it so far. For the price, it is hard to beat.

I did some research and found that just about every big time collector and pen expert rated the Lamy at the top of their list of quality for the price and some of them, it's their favorite of any pen they own. I kept searching for a decent deal on one, and especially for a medium nib. I seem to like medium more than the fine or extra fine nibbed pens I have purchased so far. I have bought some cheap pens, some "not as cheap", and been looking for a new favorite. I kept looking and waiting while picking up some pens by Parker, Hero, an old Sheaffer (that turned out to be unusable), JinHao, Platinum, and EastVita. Out of those, the Platinum Preppy and the Pilot Metropolitan were my top picks. Still, my old $40 Waterman that I have had for nearly 20 years has been my favorite, though those other two are nice and I reach for them as well. Yesterday my Lamy 2000 arrived with a medium nib. I inked it and tested it. So far, I really like it and will keep using it to see if it becomes my new favorite.

Many of the pens that I have I simply ordered on ebay.com.   If you are willing to wait, you can get cheap pens from China for a dollar to five dollars.  Beware, though.  I bought a pen from IsleofPens.com that purports to be a Parker Sonnet but is instead a cheap Chinese knock off.  Well, I could have ordered a Baoer 388 from China for an eighth of the cost and that is the exact same thing, just sold under a different name.  It even has the Parker clip on it and came with a medium nib instead of that cursed extra-fine one that the Parker impostor pen had.

The Sheaffer Imperial I mentioned earlier as unusable came in the mail just fine.  I bought it off ebay and it is from pre-1947, which means it is pre-Touchdown model production (1949).  The reason I know it was circa 1947 was that it had a written note on the box of being a gift to someone in 1947.  It came as a set with a mechanical pencil, which is still in excellent shape.

The Imperial was full of crusted, dried ink.  The lever was hard to move on the lever fill and I heard crunching.  I moved the lever again and again, freeing it more and more from the crusted ink.  I could not disassemble the pen since it was crusted together and I figured it was just junk at that point.  I messaged the ebay seller to let them know that the pen was pretty much crapped up and unusable.  He offered to refund my money if I returned the pen, but I just held onto it as a lesson learned of caveat emptor and as a personal challenge.  I got all sorts of ink dust and dirt out of the pen as best I could and soaked the nib trying to clean it up and see if I could ink it.  Nope.

I put a Pyrex measuring cup of water in the microwave for two minutes and got the water to about boiling then set my pen in it.  I had already been wondering about its anatomy since it had to come apart somehow.  I was reading about what a pen sac was, having seen the term used by a seller on ebay.  He is selling "vintage" fountain pens, i.e. old and used pens.  He kept saying that his pens had a new sac.  I saw it especially on the lever action pens, and my Sheaffer is one of those types.  Well, if the sac can be replaced, my pen must come apart, hence the soaking.  I figured that I had nothing to lose and I was not willing to pay for someone else to fix it.  I looked at this as a learning experience.

I ordered some new sacs online, along with a sac sealer.  Those will eventually arrive, but for now I got to play Mr. Disassembler.  I got some rubber jar lid grippers and worked with the nib housing in one hand and the pen barrel in the other and finally the pre-soaked pen came apart.  Just as I was figuring at that point, there was no sac left.  It was probably original to the pen, some seventy years ago.  I soaked the parts a little more and scraped off what was left of the sac neck from the pen and even used some brake parts cleaner (I know that some pen aficionados are cringing right now) and tried cleaning out the nib path and any crusted up ink in the barrel.  Hey, what did I really have to lose?  I know that videos listing mistakes that pen owners make included soaking the nibs or pens in rubbing alcohol or turpentine.  I figured that I am not soaking the pen in this stuff and the brake cleaner was really helpful in getting dirty firearms clean for me.  Well, no crusty ink or ink stained liquid came out.  So, I went back to soaking it in water for a while after thoroughly flushing the pen with water in the sink.

The lever action now works much better than previously, the pen seems fairly clean, and I am waiting on the new sacs and sac sealer to arrive.  I am hoping to give putting it back together a try and seeing if I can resurrect this old gem.  If it writes finally, I will have a sense of accomplishment.  If not, I learned something about fountain pens.

I still have my sights set on a nice Mont Blanc Meisterstuck pen.  I fell in love with its elegance decades ago.  I have bid on some on ebay but have let people outbid me since I am in no hurry to get one and I want to get a bargain, especially if it is used and there are no guarantees as to its quality.  I did OK with the Lamy 2000.  I saved anywhere from $40 to $80 by getting the Lamy used.  Maybe I can find a good one.  I am nowhere near being a major pen geek, but I do like nice writing instruments and do prefer fountain pens over ballpoint ones.

A few pens that are already on my hit list are
Pelikan M800 or M1000
Lambrou LB5
Sheaffer Ferrari series
I am sure that I will add many more to the list over time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Don't settle for high costs of diabetic testing supplies

I have seen a lot of people decry the high cost of blood glucose testing supplies lately, especially under the ACA and declining coverage. This is the second time I will share this tip. eBay. For the second time, I scored some test strips at a bargain price. Diabetic testing supplies are OTC items at the pharmacy. WalMart has meters and strips right on the shelf. But even after insurance, my testing supplies were outrageously high priced. My last purchase was for lancets and test strips. I scored 400 lancets and 300 test strips for $111 cheaper than what my online pharmacy wanted to charge me for fewer supplies than that. They work fine with my meter and spring-loaded lancet device. I still have 100 days worth of test strips on the shelf and I just opened a vial of 50 to put with my meter. I just scored 8 vials of test strips (50 strips per vial) for $80 including shipping. That for me is 400 days of test strips plus the 150 I still have, so I am stocked up for a while. I will eventually have to buy more lancets since I have about 250 left, but that will last me more than another 6 months. My point is simply that you can find supplies if you look hard enough and for a price that will not kill the bank. Also, if you buy off eBay and then submit the receipts to your Rx plan, you may or may not get reimbursed. If you don't, the total can still be counted against your out of pocket maximum for the year. That is what happened to me last year. Another thought is that I previously had purchased a brand new (still sealed in the original packaging) duplicate meter that I keep as a spare, use at my work desk, and take with me when I travel.  It was only $10 for a second meter of the exact same model that I was already using. Just a tip.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My little town providing free public internet?

There are a few issues that I have with the idea that the Town of Selma will be providing free public wi-fi.  First, there is no reason why we have to hire a "consultant" to do this for the town when there are high-speed network providers that can do the job right here already.  Furthermore, one of these same providers already does networks like this, and I use their services regularly to connect to computers and networks hundreds of miles away.  I have my company computer on this very desk connected 24/7 to do the very thing that the town is spending almost $60k to do.  This can be done for far less money.  Next, I have a problem with providing wifi hotspots at public expense, especially "the public would be able to have free Wi-Fi service up to two blocks away from all 10 public buildings".  Some of these buildings are near residential housing and businesses. That means that I will be subsidizing tenants, homeowners, and business owners with free internet while my neighbors have to pay full price for theirs.  With internet providers abound and mobile data plans in plentiful supply at reasonable prices (even free if you know where to look), why are we taxpayers funding internet for private citizens and businesses?  It is one thing if private businesses wish to provide free wifi as a way to attract, keep, and placate customers.  Different data carriers even provide free hotspots around the country for their own customers.  But a town government should not be giving away that for which we who fund the town have to pay.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Watched the inauguration

We watched the inauguration today. I watch regardless of who it was that takes the oath. Donald Trump gave a decent speech today. Still, I would love to hear the shortest inauguration speech in history that would go something like this.

"Moments ago, I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. All federal officials, including the Vice President, swear to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; several of which are on this very platform with me right this very moment. GAME. ON."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Musings on private interpretation

Over the years, I have run across a good many political liberals as well as theological liberals.  Here in the USA, we have a set of founding documents and principles.  In Christendom, we likewise have a set of founding writings and principles as found in the Holy Bible.  I have found a lot of parallels in the mindset of both sets of liberals, and they often coincide.

What I find in the world's system of politics in our nation, state, and local governments is the tendency to have one's personal affections and behaviors, then look for a way to justify them within the law.  And if the law doesn't quite fit, you merely either explain it away, or twist it through interpretation until it fits your desired liberty.  For example, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington stretched the concept of implied powers to get a national bank even though it was not an enumerated power in the US Constitution and both men were there when the document was crafted.  In Marbury vs. Madison, the US Supreme Court found a liberty that did not exist for them in the form of the power to declare laws as unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court found the right to kill unborn children while still in their mother's wombs via an unwritten nor intended right to abortion.  The SCOTUS has also found the right to "freedom from religion" and the "separation of church and state" where none exists and the ripping of old writings far out of their obvious context and applying it to a court case.  The constitutionality of Obamacare, Social Security, welfare, and homosexual marriage (not to mention even the concept that government has any business in defining marriage) etc. has been fabricated to justify what used to be considered deviant, sinful, or abhorrent behavior.  I could point to many examples in holy writ or even today's news about examples in the Church.

Just yesterday, I ran across a Twitter Troll that attempted to use the logic that I must be wrong about the US Constitution if a judge or even panel of three disagree with my reading of the scope of a constitutional amendment.  He assumed that one cannot have any true knowledge of the document, founding truths, original intent, or grasp of the text and yet proceeded to inform me of how he has to be correct because of his "interpretation" if a few judges happened to agree and ergo anyone else must be wrong.

Now, this may be a simple approach on my part, but I believe that the text of a law or of the Constitution, much as in the Bible, pretty much means what it says when laying out principles, guidelines, and the like.  A knowledge of both written context and historical context are helpful in understanding the meaning or intent.  And yet if someone wearing a robe, whether judge or clergy happens to render an opinion, then it must be accurate.  If those opinions are inaccurate or built upon a falsehood, those who stand for the truth of the text and disagree are vilified as being ignorant, pseudo-experts, legalistic, pharisaical, or simpletons.  A common one nowadays is to use the label of ___phobic; just fill in the blank.  Effectively, this is an ad hominem attack in that if you disagree with the elevated expert, commentator, or potentate then you are obviously wrong and therefore the veracity of your argument or position is likewise in error.  I instead stick by the quote of John Adams, "Facts are stubborn things." 

I find it hypocritical to assert that someone cannot be knowledgeable because they disagree with their chosen perspective or expert and that something must be interpreted in order to grasp it.  No, some things need no interpretation since they are self-evident and clearly written with a concise meaning.  To find liberties where there are none, dismiss prohibitions that clear, and excuse and accept as normal some abhorrent behavior is not enlightenment nor being saintly.  It is being loose with the truth.  Sadly that is the norm today.  But keep this one axiom in mind.  If you see it in our government and our society, it is because it was first allowed and accepted in the Church.  As the Church goes, so goes the nation.  I choose to stand against the prevailing winds of doctrine, whether in the world or in the Church.


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A Board of Education Appointment and a Conflict of Interest

The below is a letter that I sent to the editor of "The Selma News" this morning.  I attempted to send it to "The Smithfield Herald" but that paper only accepts letters of 200 words or less.  I can hardly ask a question in 200 words or less.  So, I am also blogging it here.

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To the Editor:

On Tuesday, January 3rd, the Johnston County Board of Education appointed Mr. Todd Sutton to fill the Board’s vacancy created when Larry Strickland resigned his post to serve in our state legislature.  In total, nine people applied for consideration for the open position, myself included.  I say that to stress the following point.  I am not writing this letter because I was not the one selected to fill that position.  I was under no illusion that I would be the front-runner for that slot.  There were some fine applicants, Mr. Sutton included.  My philosophy was simply that one cannot be considered if one does not apply.  I do not personally know Mr. Sutton, and from everything I have read about the man written by mutual acquaintances, he seems to be an honorable individual.

Mr. Sutton has two children in the Johnston County school system, as do I.  I am glad to see that a parent is willing to get involved in the educational system that is instructing his children, which was the same motivation I had in proffering an application for consideration for the open position. 
According to the Johnston County School System’s own web site, a news story was published the same day as Mr. Sutton’s appointment.  One of the things mentioned caught my attention.  “Sutton’s wife, Lynda, is a teacher with Johnston County Schools…”  That, my fellow citizens, is where I have a problem with the Board of Education’s selection.  Many corporations and government agencies have regulations against someone being in a position of oversight of one’s spouse or family member.  This should be no exception.  Although Mr. Sutton may very well be an excellent candidate otherwise, this one item should be a cause for disqualification for the position.  Furthermore, this was an appointment, not an election, so such a consideration is even more relevant.  My saying this is why I wrote the disclaimer at the front end of my letter.  

As a taxpayer in Johnston County, a voter, and a father of two (soon to be three) children in the   This is my only gripe about the selection of Mr. Sutton for the open school board seat.  This is a potential conflict of personal interest.  If Mr. Sutton’s wife worked as an educator in a different school system, a private school, or even one of the local charter schools, I would have no problem with the appointment of Mr. Sutton to the Board of Education.  As a matter of fact, I voted for Mr. Sutton in November’s election because of the reputation he had.  However, as I wrote earlier, I don’t know Mr. Sutton personally, so I did not know that he was running for the Board of Education while his wife was and is employed by the same school system that he would potentially oversee.  Had I known that at the time, I would not have voted the way I did.
county’s schools, I have a problem with the spouse of an employee of the school system being in a position to influence working conditions, budgets, compensation, and policies that personally affect their household.

This is nothing personal.  I tend to be objective about such things and I would have the same perspective regardless of whomever it was that got the appointment should they have been in the same circumstance and whether or not I had submitted my own application for the position.  I do know that out of the eight other candidates that applied, there was probably an excellent candidate that should have instead been primarily considered by the Board of Education.  Instead, the board unanimously agreed to allow a potential conflict of interest, and for that I blame the Board of Education, not Mr. Sutton.