One Step Forward, Two Steps Back with the iPhone

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Photo courtesy of 123RF

The Huffington Post is onto something.

In a recent report, the website listed seven things that the iPhone, first released to the public only seven years ago, has made obsolete — though there are surely plenty more than seven.

Up first, says the website: roadmaps. Thanks to Google Maps, which anyone can use on his or her cellphone, nobody uses paper maps anymore.

I can’t begin to imagine how much stress this is saving vacationing families.

Pre-Google-Maps horror stories were legend when I was a kid in the ’70s: Neighbors who thought they were heading east to the beach unwittingly headed west and had no idea of their error until they hit Indianapolis.

I remember being lost for hours in our station wagon, several maps sprawled across the dashboard and front seat, my father grumbling to my mother, “I knew we should have hung a Louie at Breezewood!”

Yeah, good riddance to paper maps.

That brings us to another item made obsolete by iPhone innovation: the alarm clock. Every cell phone has an alarm app now. I use mine all the time — particularly on the road.

Though the website didn’t mention this one, the wristwatch has also been made obsolete. Since I always have my cell phone nearby, clearly displaying the time and date, I stopped wearing watches years ago.

In fact, the only time I missed having a watch was last week. I was out of the country on business and deactivated my cellphone for the week. Lacking a clock of any kind, I was perpetually late, or way too early, for the bus I took from my hotel to my client’s office.

Cellphone technology has also made obsolete most cameras and music devices, such as the iPod, which made CDs obsolete just a few years ago. Many phones can store thousands of songs and come with high-resolution cameras — which, in my opinion, are making modesty, compassion and good judgment obsolete.

Hey, just because your cellphone has a camera doesn’t mean you have to use it — you don’t have to take “selfies” while drinking adult beverages without your shirt on. And you know who you are, seemingly-90-year-old Geraldo Rivera.

The selfie is enabling human nature to display its ugliness at never-before-imagined depths— such as the lady who included in her selfie a distraught suicide victim about to plunge from a bridge, or the coy student who selfied himself as his pregnant teacher was having contractions in the background.

Our attention spans have also been made obsolete by iPhone innovation, says the website, and isn’t that the truth. Why, that reminds me of, um — oh, never mind, I can’t remember what I was going to say.

One thing I can remember is that it’s impossible to have a serious, face-to-face conversation with anyone under age 30 without him or her obsessively pressing both thumbs against a small keypad while making intermittent eye contact with you. That is because, says the website, another victim of the iPhone is table manners.

How much longer will it be before entire extended families gather for Thanksgiving dinner — three or four generations sitting side by side — and nobody is talking, but each is texting someone at somebody else’s Thanksgiving table in some faraway city or state?

How did we so quickly descend from the invention of the typewriter keyboard, a grand 19th-century advance that efficiently transfers thoughts to paper using multiple fingers, to bastardizing the English language using only our thumbs?

That’s the odd thing about human invention. For every step we take forward, we seem to take a few backward at the same time.

As much of a visionary as Apple founder Steve Jobs was, I wonder if he doubted his own inventions at times — which he surely might have, had he still been alive when Geraldo Rivera tweeted his selfie.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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The Key To New Year’s Resolutions

us capital

Photo courtesy of vgm8383 / Flickr

There’s a reason why only 8 percent of New Year’s resolutions are kept: Too many of us make resolutions that lack resolve.

“Resolve” is a powerful world. According to one dictionary, it means “to solve a problem, or to find a satisfactory way of dealing with a disagreement.”

Bill Gates elaborated on the concept in his 2007 commencement address at Harvard. He said the first order of business in resolving a problem is seeing it. Then all you need to do is cut through complexity, so you may solve it.

Gates made it sound easier than it is, of course. With virtually all large problems, simplifying complexity requires a great deal of work — a great deal of resolve.

Solving problems in the private sector is really no different than solving them in the public sector, or any sector, really — if your interest is in actually getting to the root cause of the challenge, so you may see and understand it, and then in coming up with a solution that produces real results.

I have done work for many information technology firms and marvel at their ability to use technological innovation to solve problems. They study old, complex business processes — the way large global organizations source raw materials and parts to support global manufacturing operations, for instance — and replace them with fast, new processes that slash costs and bolster productivity.

These technology successes are not applied only in the private sector, either. Though government generally lags behind, many ideas that are perfected on the private side are often introduced to government programs and processes, as well — to the benefit of the government and the taxpayer.

In any event, in the past few decades, America has led the world in simplifying complexity. Thanks to Google, anyone can enjoy instant access to information with a few taps on a keypad — oblivious to the complex back-end systems that must perform seamlessly to get you the information you are after.

Anyone who has worked with the very smart people who deliver such miracles daily, then, is frustrated at recent events — in which complex systems are being made MORE complex!

ObamaCare offers a fine example of that. The reason why health costs have been running so high has to do with complexity. The way to address that complexity is to get to the root cause — or, in this case, multiple root causes.

But that is not what our political leaders did. They actually ignored the root causes of the high cost of care, piled on complexity — atop a heap of good intentions and unrealistic wishes — then hoped for the best.

And we see how that is turning out.

The great worry I have is that if our government was so ill-advised in its approach to one-sixth of the U.S. economy, how on Earth is it going to fix the many other complexities — tax reform, entitlements, spending, debt and deficits — that need to be addressed?

There is only one way I can see government officials doing it right.

They need to put politics aside for a good long while and address the incredible mess that our country is in.

They need to work together to solve our problems and “find a satisfactory way of dealing with a disagreement.”

They need to make some serious New Year’s resolutions to fix our country next year — resolutions that go well beyond partisan politics to get to the root cause or our problems, so they may fix them.

And their resolutions better include some serious resolve.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Are These the Top 5 Best Toys of All Time?

Number two on the list of top five toys of all time: box. Photo courtesy of Motorito / Flickr.

Number two on the list of top five toys of all time: box. Photo courtesy of Motorito / Flickr.

Boy, do we need to get back to the basics in America — especially with our Christmas toys.

Consider: In the basement of any kid’s home you’ll find once-trendy, dust-collecting gadgets that are no longer played with.

So I was delighted to stumble across a Geekdad.com article by Jonathan Liu that ranked “The 5 Best Toys of All Time.”

First up: the stick, a simple branch or hunk of wood you can find in your own backyard.

Though doing so is no longer acceptable today, when I was a kid I made several slingshots out of sticks that could fire a small rock a long way.

I also tried whittling a flute once with a Swiss Army knife, but that was before kids did jail time for getting caught with any kind of a blade.

Which brings us to Geekdad’s second-best toy of all time: the box.

Boy, did we love a good box in the ’70s. We used the box that a giant, new refrigerator came in to make a fort out back. It was a terrific structure — until the first rain came along and our father made us drag it to the curb for garbage pickup.

One of the great ironies of modern times is that no matter what trendy toy you buy your kids, you’ll soon find them playing with the box it came in.

Here’s third-best toy: string.

Though Geekdad says kids can use string to hang things from doorknobs, make leashes for stuffed animals or play Cat’s Cradle, I don’t recall having any interest in such things.

Geekdad is right about tying a long piece of string to two empty cans, though. When the string had tension, one can would carry your voice to the other can several feet away.

So cool is this still, I’ll bet today’s average kids would set down their smartphones for hours while trying to perfect the can-string audio.

Which brings us to Geekdad’s fourth-best choice: the cardboard tube.

The little tubes that hold toilet paper or paper towels were always great fun. We taped them together to create little horns, which we could toot out of — they had the faint sound of a kazoo — until our father couldn’t take it anymore.

The best tubes, ever, were the kind that architects carried their drawings around in. They were hard to find, but would pop up occasionally when some architect dad would toss it in the garbage.

With some aluminum foil or small mirrors, some tape and a pair of scissors, an architect’s tube could be made into a periscope, allowing us kids to see around doorways and into windows from three or more feet away.

Top that, Apple Inc.!

That brings us to Geekdad’s fifth-best choice: dirt.

In my early years, despite being warned by my mother to avoid dirt, the only thing I loved more than rolling around in it was rolling around in mud puddles after a rainstorm.

Could you imagine how much less stressed Americans would be if we rolled around in dirt and mud puddles at least once every week?

In any event, there is a moral to this toy story, I believe.

Despite all the trendy gadgets that clutter the basement in every kid’s home, kids are still drawn to the most fundamental playthings — simple things that allow them to imagine and discover on their own.

Heck, the best things in life really are simple and free.

Rather than give our kids a bunch of trendy gadgets for Christmas this year, why not pick up some sticks, boxes, string, cardboard tubes and dirt and give them the gift of creativity.

This is an excerpt  from Tom Purcell’s new book, “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” available at amazon.com

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Breaking News: Men and Women Think Differently

Photo courtesy of TZA / Flickr

Photo courtesy of TZA / Flickr

A new study has come out that finds men and women really do think differently.

According to The Independent, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania used a new and very precise brain-scanning technique, diffusion tensor imaging, to create a neural map of the human brain.

The technique has found that male and female brains are wired differently.

“Researchers found that many of the connections in a typical male brain run between the front and the back of the same side of the brain, whereas in women the connections are more likely to run from side to side between the left and right hemispheres of the brain,” reports The Independent.

Why is this important?

Because “the brain could play an important role in understanding why men are in general better at spatial tasks involving muscle control, while women are better at verbal tasks involving memory and intuition.”

Which reminds me of my sister Lisa’s favorite joke: “Men are only good for one thing! But who cares about parallel parking, anyway!”

The fact of the matter is that men and women are and always have been wired differently. It’s written in our DNA.

Women tend to be more intuitive than men. Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Independent why.

“Because the female connections link the left hemisphere, which is associated with logical thinking, with the right, which is linked with intuition, this could help to explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks,” she said. “Intuition is thinking without thinking. It’s what people call gut feelings. Women tend to be better than men at these kinds of skills, which are linked with being good mothers.”

In this nutty world, it is considered sexist, in some places, to compliment a woman for being a good mother — or to insist that mothers have some unique parenting skills that fathers likely lack.

But don’t ask me, ask humorist Dave Barry, whom I will now paraphrase: The difference between fathers and mothers is that mothers are far less likely to drive off with the baby still sitting on the roof of the car.

Many other studies over the years have gained insight into the differences between men and women.

Take dust. Whereas the male brain is more wired for navigating outdoor activities, such as hunting woolly mammoths, the female brain is wired to notice more sensory detail. Men are less likely to notice dust, which, women tell me, is a mix of fine particles that settle on furniture.

Listening offers another important distinction between men and women. One brain imaging study shows that men listen with only one side of their brain, whereas women use both. (Women would be shocked if they knew how many other things we do using half a brain.) Since women listen using several regions on both sides of their brain, they are more likely to remember things — in particular, every single wrong thing we men have ever said or done.

The Independent reports that the brain-mapping technology used in the University of Pennsylvania study will not only help understand differences between men and women, but also provide more insight into neurological disorders, which are often gender-related.

It’s a grand thing that modern researchers continue to make strides into human biology and behavior. It’s just too bad that we need studies to affirm what most of us have always known to be true.

That men and women are different — and we should celebrate our differences rather than pretend they are not so.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Why There’s Lots to Celebrate This Thanksgiving

Photo courtesy of fotolia

Photo courtesy of fotolia

Sure, the country isn’t doing so well at the moment, but there are still plenty of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving.

I sit at the “big people’s table” now, just to the left of my father. It took me years to earn that coveted spot, and for that, I am thankful.

Everyone in my family is healthy this year. My parents are 80 and 77, and doing well, and for that, I am surely thankful.

This will be my 51st Thanksgiving. I’ve celebrated most of them at my parents’ house, with various relatives, my sisters and their children and grandchildren.

My father fell head-over-heels with my mother the first time he met her. He was a football star at Carrick High School and she was a cheerleader.

We marvel over their wedding pictures. My dad’s hair was thick and black. My mother was stunning. As a couple, they looked like two actors in a 1957 Hollywood production.

They had no idea that day that their union would produce six children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

This is what I celebrate on Thanksgiving.

For so much of the year, we focus on what is not right. To be sure, lots of things are not right in our country, and civilized debate is needed to get us back on the right path.

I worry about spending and debt and dismal economic growth that is not producing enough wealth to pay our bills.

I worry about our rapidly growing government and the basic freedoms it is taking away. As the unintended consequences of ObamaCare rear their ugly heads, I am being joined in that worry by many others.

But that is not what Thanksgiving is about. It is a day to set politics aside. It is a day to remember what we have done right.

Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors, points out that Thanksgiving is still one of the least commercial holidays we have.

Sure, there are ads for turkey and cranberry sauce. Sure, more retail stories are opening their doors on Thanksgiving night, which is regrettable.

But then again, there are no Thanksgiving greeting cards that have to be sent, no gifts that have to be exchanged. For most, Thanksgiving is still a simple day when you enjoy a traditional feast with your family.

One of my favorite parts of the day is when my father, at the head of our three or four tables, says grace.

My father, who has never enjoyed speaking publicly, stumbles through the words every year, but they still hold a great deal of meaning to me.

The first Thanksgiving was about thanking God for a plentiful harvest. That is the traditional meaning of the day.

As the American experiment produced tremendous results — as our free republic produced unimaginable wealth — Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning.

Over many years, millions have flocked to our shores, asking for nothing but the freedom to pursue their own happiness.

This is what I celebrate still on Thanksgiving.

I love the commotion of the day. My father has to rent a couple of tables and several folding chairs to accommodate our family.

Everyone shows up with a plate of some kind — my new job is to make the second turkey and bring that with me — to contribute to the celebration.

After my father says grace, we toast loved ones who have passed. We pay tribute to Grandma and Nanny, Aunt Jane, Uncle Mike and Uncle Jimmy. We share humorous toasts and laugh out loud.

And then we dig into our feast.

We are thankful because we are together — because we know that everything we really need in life can be found sitting next to us at our Thanksgiving table.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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The Quiet Sacrifices of Wives, Daughters, Sisters and Mothers

Photo courtesy of The National Guard

Photo courtesy of The National Guard

Ida Ayres never served a day in the armed forces, but she knows a thing or two about the sacrifices of war.

When we think of war and conflict, we think of the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way, as we should. But what about the parents, children, siblings and spouses who are left behind to worry and pray?

“Through four wars, I have been the daughter, sister, wife and mother of men who served their country,” Ida explained to me.

During World War I, Ida’s father, Sam DiRenna, fought for the Italian army. DiRenna, who was born in a small town near Naples, was captured by the Germans and spent four years in a concentration camp. He survived by eating potato peels and garbage scraps. The Germans branded his forehead — a scar he retained for the rest of his life.

Thankfully, he lived. He was declared a hero in Italy for overcoming the brutality. He eventually settled in America. He sent for his wife. They gave birth to Ida and two sons, Angelo and Pasquale. Life was hard during the Depression years, but Ida’s family prevailed.

But then America was thrust back into war — a war in which both of Ida’s brothers would serve. In 1944 Angelo enlisted in the Navy. Pasquale followed in 1945. Angelo was stationed on the LST 1040 and Pasquale served on a carrier.

Their letters home arrived every three or four weeks, then Angelo’s letters stopped coming. Six months passed without a word. Ida was distraught, her mother barely able to function. Finally, word came that Angelo’s ship had been in a typhoon. But he survived.

Both brothers returned home and the world was finally settling down. The economy grew at record rates. Ida eventually would marry and have two sons. Her husband, Harry, had fought in Korea before she met him (he’d doctored his birth certificate and found himself on the front lines as a 16-year-old kid). After they married, he was called to serve another tour in Korea. Thankfully, he returned home safe.

But in 1966, her husband was called back again. This time he left his wife and two sons behind to fight in Vietnam. As an Army major, he was lucky to survive 12 months of dangerous air missions. In one battle his best friend had both arms and legs shot off right next to him.

In 1968, Ida’s oldest son Sam announced he was eager to join his father in Vietnam. Fresh out of high school at 17, Sam enlisted and became a medic. The young man saw some of the worst horrors that that war produced, horrors that are with him still.

Thankfully, both Harry and Sam made it home. Finally, she hoped, life could get back to normal. And for the most part, life did get back to normal. America went on to enjoy an amazing run of prosperity. We were riding high until 9/11, when we were thrust into conflict again.

And now Ida’s youngest son, Major General Tom Ayres, my childhood friend, has completed several deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. Army recently awarded him his second star and appointed him Deputy Judge Advocate General.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring deceased military personnel, who died serving their country. Veterans Day, however, is about thanking and honoring all members of the military, whether they served during times of war or times of peace.

This Veterans Day, as we thank and honor those who have served, we should also pay homage to people like Ida Ayres — the parents, children, siblings and spouses who have quietly sacrificed for their country.

This is an excerpt from Tom Purcell’s new book, “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” available at amazon.com.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Incomprehensible Sums

Phot courtesy of Joe Mazzola taken on December 2, 2013

Phot courtesy of Joe Mazzola taken on December 2, 2013

I remember when a billion used to be a number so big nobody could comprehend it, though it is still a massive number.

According to Snopes.com 1 billion seconds equals 31.7 years. A billion seconds have elapsed since 1981.

One billion minutes is equal to 1,901 years — which would take us back, almost, to the time Jesus Christ roamed the Earth.

One billion hours is equal to 114,000 years — which would take us back to the Stone Age.

In more recent times, our inability to comprehend the sheer magnitude of 1 billion has been eclipsed by our inability to comprehend 1 trillion.

One trillion is equal to one thousand billion.

Our federal deficit has been averaging nearly $1 trillion since the collapse of 2008 — causing us to rack up more than $5 trillion in new debt.

In order to cover our nearly $4 trillion annual budget, the U.S. Treasury spends about $1 billion every two hours — accumulating $1 billion in new debt about every eight hours.

ABC’s Jake Tapper tried to simplify these incomprehensible numbers. He compared America’s finances to a typical American’s finances. By removing eight zeros from America’s $3.8 trillion budget, he came up with a sum of $38,000.

Now if you are a retiree, you are probably getting by OK if you are able to spend $38,000 a year — unless your finances are as messed up as America’s.

Though you are spending $38,000 annually, your income is only $29,000 — you are growing your debt by $9,000 every year.

What’s worse is that you already owe nearly $170,000 to creditors. Paying off that amount of debt with $38,000 in income would be hard under any circumstances.

But of course your income is $29,000, not $38,000, so you must borrow about $175 a week to keep up with your expenses.

In other words, the U.S. government is growing our debt by $175 billion a week, which is producing around $1 trillion in new debt every year.

Still not comprehending how much $1 trillion is? Then you’ll like this description by Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors, from his book “Notes from a Big Country.”

Bryson asks his readers to guess how long it would take to initial and count 1 trillion dollar bills if you worked without stopping.

“If you initialed one dollar bill a second,” writes Bryson, “you would make $1,000 every 17 minutes. After 12 days of non-stop effort you would acquire your first million. Thus, it would take you 120 days to accumulate $10 million, and 1,200 days — something over three years — to reach $100 million. After 31.7 years you would become a billionaire. But not until 31,709.8 years elapsed would you count your trillionth dollar bill.”

We all understand that very large numbers are OK so long as they add up. So long as we have trillions of dollars coming in to the government to balance out the trillions of dollars we have going out, we should be OK.

But that is the frightening part. We are not even close to covering our spending. Our economy has not recovered enough to generate the growth and tax revenue we need to pay our bills.

Piling on new entitlement programs and lots of new regulations, rules and mandates certainly isn’t helping the recovery.

And so we limp along racking up debt and our leaders are doing little to address this incredible challenge. In fact, we have racked up more than $11 trillion in new debt since George W. Bush assumed office in 2002. We are the proud owners of nearly $17 trillion in debt, a startlingly incomprehensible sum.

Yet too few people worry about it. Who can blame them? After all, $17 trillion is only 17,000 billion dollars.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Why I’m a Republican

Photo courtesy of Stuart Connor

In these partisan, highly divided times, people ask me why I’m a Republican.

Here’s why: I like parting my hair on the side and wearing penny loafers without socks, with real pennies in them. I like showing up for meetings on time, balancing my checking account and retiring for the night before 11.

But part of me longs to be a Democrat.

I love buying rounds for the whole pub — to heck with fiscal sanity on the weekend! I love making grandiose promises, particularly to women, that I know I can never keep.

I have had my struggles as a Republican.

Sometimes, I’ve been proud, such as during the Ronald Reagan era, when real reforms simplified our tax system and unleashed American ingenuity and economic miracles.

I was proud when Republicans took over Congress in 1995 and brought discipline to Washington. With the economy firing on all cylinders and spending restrained, our government soon began producing a surplus.

But I’ve often been disappointed.

In the early 2000s, a Republican Congress spent carelessly and basked shamelessly in the perks of power and corruption. A Republican president got us into an aggressive war with Iraq that would divide the country, give Democrats control of Congress and eventually help put a novice, Barack Obama, into the presidency.

Democrats have their flaws, too.

Democrat politicians are like Santa Claus. They love to give “free” things to people, then bask in the resulting praise.

Thanks to Democrats, college kids, even those from high-income homes, are qualifying for — and happy to accept — food stamps.

Democrat politicians thought health-care reform would win them praise. Their plan, essentially, gives people the goodies we all want — care for all, no more pre-existing condition concerns and so on — without worrying about how we will pay for it.

I love to be generous, too — but, being a Republican, I have never figured out how to do so using other people’s money.

The truth is that both parties have good and bad sides. How can they not? We have, essentially, two parties to represent almost every interest, good and ill, in a country of 300 million people.

Radical Democrat wing nuts occupy Wall Street and poop on police cars. They chain themselves to trees and curse at lumberjacks.

Some Republicans have their own nutty ideas. A few think a woman can’t get pregnant if she’s raped. Others say federal funds should be used to provide marriage counseling — as though the institution of marriage is not in enough trouble already.

By and large, though, most Republicans and Democrats are good people who go to work every day, pay their bills on time and want what is best for their country.

Most Republicans are not the unsympathetic rich, white caricatures that some people, particularly “objective” journalists who work for big-city media outlets, wish they were.

In any event, at this point, as America is about to go over a fiscal cliff, it is good to be a Republican.

Look, Democrats, have shown regrettably little aptitude for — or interest in — getting our fiscal mess in order. Our debt is soaring under President Obama. Is anyone confident that he can fix this problem?

Republicans, though, are finally doing some good work again. Republican governors have been bringing fiscal sanity and order to state governments — the very thing we must do at the federal level.

I hope the Republicans win the presidency, get our affairs in order and pave the way for another era of robust economic growth.

That’s why I’m a Republican — and also because I like tucking my Oxford shirts into my pants, even though nobody does that anymore.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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In Europe, Prosperity on Vacation

Boy, our friends in Europe sure know how to vacation.

If they get sick while taking their employer-paid vacation, their employer now has to pay them to take another.

According to The New York Times, all 27 countries within the European Union, and all employers within them, must abide by that recent vacation ruling by the EU’s highest court.

My hat goes off to my vacationing pals overseas.

Take the French. Their government mandates that every employee get at least five weeks of paid vacation. The French average 37 days of vacation every year — and 22 paid holidays on top of that.

Virtually all European countries have government mandates that require employer-paid vacation of four to six weeks — whereas America has no government-mandated vacation requirements.

European employees enjoy all kinds of additional workplace perks and benefits, too.

Canadian weekly Maclean’s reports that:

• “Spanish workers get an extra two weeks off for honeymoons, and 20 days of severance even if they’re fired with cause.”

• “In France, companies must give extra paid leave to staff who work 39 hours per week instead of the statutory 35, even if the workers are paid for the overtime.”

• “In Italy, firms that lay people off during an economic downturn can face years of costly legal proceedings. … Rome is proposing a law requiring employers to pay laid-off workers a whopping 27 months in wages.”

Vacations are way different in America. CNN says the average employed American worker got about 18 vacation days in 2011, but only used 14 of them.

And unlike our European counterparts, we never really “leave” work. Fearing for our jobs, with the economy still in the tank, we stay in touch with the office.

According to Rasmussen Reports, 72 percent of Americans use email, smartphones and other electronic devices to keep themselves accessible to their employers 24 hours a day.

It’s even worse for America’s small-business owners. According to Business News Daily, fewer than half take a week off during the summer. With the economy so uncertain and revenues down, many are afraid or unable to hire. They are picking up the slack by working two or three jobs themselves.

But we Americans are workers, I suppose. We’re so different from our European friends.

In tough times, we are happier working hard and keeping revenues coming in, rather than spending lots of dough at hoity-toity resorts.

We don’t like our government telling us or our employers how we ought to conduct business or how many vacation days employers must provide.

Heck, if our Supreme Court ruled that employers must not only provide paid vacations but pay for them all over again if an employee gets sick while vacationing, many Americans would take to the streets in protest.

Americans protest loss of their freedoms. Europeans tend to protest meddling with their government-mandated benefits.

At least that used to be a distinction between America and Europe.

Our government has been so busy handing out goodies to citizens, it’s just a matter of time before the freedom lovers are overrun by the benefit lovers.

It will be a sad day when that happens. We’ll have an even more anemic economy, just as most EU nations do now, and all of us will struggle to pursue happiness and wealth.

Oh, well, at least our employers will have to pay us for another week off if we get sick while we’re on vacation.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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How to Improve the Summer Olympics

Photo courtesy of Clever Cupcakes

“Those Harry Potter fanatics actually want a made-up game to become an Olympic sport!”

“Ah, yes, you speak of Quidditch, a fictional sport invented by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. It requires a broomstick between one’s legs at all times. According to Time, fans have established real Quidditch leagues.”

“Well, Quidditch may as well become an Olympic sport. There already are lots of nutty ones.”

“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes on which sports to include or drop. This Summer Olympics feature 26 sports with 39 associated disciplines. Some may not be as popular in America as in other parts of the world, but you don’t want to be jingoistic, do you?”

“Look, how can the IOC drop croquet, a sport designed for rich people who can afford mallets, but keep badminton, a sport best played at summer picnics?”

“Badminton was invented by the British in the 18th century. It’s played all over the world and requires a mix of cunning and athletic skill.”

“If they want picnic sports, why not horseshoes? You spill a lot less beer playing horseshoes. And how did pingpong become an Olympic sport?”

“I believe you mean table tennis, an intense sport that requires incredible reflexes, power and quickness.”

“No, I mean pingpong, a parlor game invented in the 1800s by rich British people with too much free time on their hands. The IOC ought to ditch that one for a game Americans could win with ease: beer pong!”

“Well, what about soccer, the most-watched sport in the world?”

“Maybe the rest of the world watches it, but fewer than 10 percent of Americans do. What’s with the skinny players falling down, writhing in pain, every time someone bumps them? Our football players play with broken bones and joints and never complain.”

“Boy, you are tough. I admit I was sad to see baseball and golf dropped from the Summer Olympics. But the IOC can include only so many sports.”

“Such as field hockey! I so enjoy watching players with dinky wooden sticks chase a hard ball on turf. I think it was invented for people who accidentally left their ice skates at home. But at least it’s less nutty than the modern pentathlon.”

The modern pentathlon is unusual, combining pistol shooting, fencing, freestyle swimming, show jumping on a horse and cross-country running. It originates from Greece, where it was intended to showcase the skills of an ideal soldier.”

“They ought to modernize it to reflect the skills of an ideal soldier today. Have them jump out of helicopters, raid heavily guarded compounds and capture terrorist leaders while getting shot at.”

“I hear your complaints, but you have to admit there are a lot of wonderful traditional contests in the Summer Olympics: boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, diving, fencing, tennis, track and field, gymnastics, triathlon and more.”

“Fair enough, but what the heck is rhythmic gymnastics? People jumping around with hoops, batons and pieces of fabric? It may be beautiful, but it looks more like a Vegas show. And synchronized swimming would be more entertaining if somebody tossed electric eels into the pool!”

“Despite your misgivings, millions around the world will enjoy the Summer Olympics.”

“They’d be enjoyed by more if the IOC brought back tug of war. Put free-market capitalists on one side, big-government socialists on the other. I’d pay good money to see that.”

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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