Like 1980s liberals, conservatives lost in time

Maybe it was the wide-open field, and maybe the revamped primary schedule. But, in mid-February voters still feel they have some say in who will be the next President.

That is, except for the conservatives. Many are already feeling screwed, which is something that usually afflicts most of the populace by this time in any election campaign.

At this point the Republican race is pretty well decided, with John McCain as the clear frontrunner. Yeah, the McCain who was last seen co-authoring Senatorial bills with lefties Ted Kennedy and Russell Feingold. That McCain.

As soon as Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney stepped aside in this race, conservative talk-show hosts and callers threw the mother of all hissy fits. There goes the neighborhood, many said. Mike Huckabee is a non-factor outside the South, Romney is out of the picture, and Ron Paul (who was, to me, one of the few candidates to actually make a lick of sense around here) is considered fringe material. But McCain?

Many conservatives are suggesting sitting this election out, which is practically unheard of from that camp. Ann Coulter is making noises that she may endorse Hillary Clinton (Hillary can have her). But cooler heads are saying to go with the standard-bearer McCain, warts and all. Simple logic: Better half a loaf than no loaf at all. Suffice it to say, a lot of wagons are circling right now.

A few days ago, Cal Thomas penned a column saying conservatives should take a hard look at themselves and start living in the past.

There’s no disputing Thomas’ credentials. He’s one of the leading wordsmiths of the Christian Right, and has been since, well, the Reagan years. At one time he struck me as one of the more strident voices around, but maybe he mellowed some as he got older. Or, more likely, I was younger and far to the left of where I now sit on the political spectrum. Or even both.

But Thomas now says this: “Today’s conservatives … can’t seem to break with the past and the nostalgia for the Reagan years. Too many modern conservatives seem embedded in a concrete slab of pessimism, preferring to go over a bridge and drown rather than ‘compromise’ their principles.”

Thomas cites former Bush II speechwriter David Frum in saying that the issues today are different from those that brought the Republicans to power during the 1980s and 1990s. And this is true; back then folks were not as concerned about health care, carbon dioxide, obesity, terrorism, or immigration as they are now. Back then the great enemy was the Soviet Union, and that was on its way out anyway.

“If conservatives really want to win, they will adopt ideas based on old principles,” Thomas argues. “Conservatives are in danger of losing the coming election and future ones because they have not reinvented themselves for a new era.”

Thomas doesn’t mention this, but it’s worth noting that one of the things that helped put Reagan in power was that the liberals were living in the past. The Democrats were so busy looking for someone who would look, sound, and act like the Jack Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelts that the party was fast becoming irrelevant. Guys like Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Tip O’Neil – and did someone mention Ted Kennedy? – represented the old liberal line that was several decades out of date and really wasn’t all that promising when in vogue.

Bill Clinton did a lot more than make cigars fashionable. By his example he put the Democratic Party back into step with the times. As I recall, many old-line liberals had a hard time swallowing his ideas of coalition-building and cooperation across party lines. But in future years he may become the yardstick by which liberals will be judged, much as Reagan is now. (A footnote here, just because I couldn’t resist: Hillary is no Bill.)

I’m neither Democrat nor Republican, though my politics are decidedly to the right of where most folks accuse the media’s to be. And, while I have a real problem with McCain’s idea of “preemptive war” as is now being practiced in Iraq, I do like him. I’ve met him a few times back in Arizona, and he strikes me as a straight shooter, a transplanted Southwesterner who follows his own drumbeat. This in itself is not enough for him to earn my vote, and I’m still holding out for a late surge by Ron Paul, I’ve sat through enough November elections to know that the choices are rather limited by then.

For the conservatives who still yearn for the days of Reagan and Barry Goldwater (another straight shooter), McCain’s drumbeat may resemble a peyote shuffle in 5/4 time. But to those who realize the times are different than they were two decades ago, they may warm up to McCain yet.


Something new added to The Column

The Column, Reloaded will start running short pieces, random observations and a bit of “spot” news to go with the longer articles.

Using a service called Jott, I am able to phone these shorter pieces directly into The Column.

A few caveats, though. These pieces are going in unedited, and sometimes they will look like they were typed in by a drunken Martian. So, until I edit the shorter pieces, you can click on the “listen” link to hear my actual dictation. As soon as the editing is completed, that link will be removed.

Jott, by the way, is a very handy service. I highly recommend it if you’re a blogger.

But this will mean more frequent posts, and more variety in what The Column, Reloaded has to offer. Man does not live by hard-hitting commentary alone.

Strange sighting, North Charleston

Now I think I have definitely seen it all. A few minutes in a thrift store North Charleston, I ran across a Mexican woman sitting on a bench on the sales floor, minding her own business, breast feeding her child. Right there in front of God and everybody.

And to think you can get all kinds of static for doing the same thing in a changing room in a Mount Pleasant department store.

Random drug tests for candidates? Bring ’em on

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, we agree;
How can you judge a man by looking at his pee?”
— David Owens, Delapo’luxury

So you think legislators spend their time coming up with laws that make little or no sense?”

Up in Columbia, South Carolina lawmakers are finally debating what appears to be a good, forward-thinking idea. State Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, a Republican from Gaffney, wants all candidates for public office in the state to take a drug test.

This is really a reactive bill, after newly-elected state treasurer Thomas Ravenel was indicted on felony cocaine charges. Ol’ Tom lost his state post, eventually pleaded guilty, and now faces up to 20 years in the slams, making for a real short political career and becoming the butt of a lot of bad jokes.

The bill was brought up for debate last week, and Peeler – who had to submit to a drug test to get his commercial driver’s license — was informed that the bill was probably against the state Constitution, so it appears he’ll go that route to get it passed. This means a) clearing a two-thirds margin in both the state House and Senate, and b) passing muster with voters come November. Which, well, is bucking the odds.

Thomas Crocker, a teacher specializing in constitutional law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, says that it’s the state Constitution, not the legislature, that sets the rules for office seekers. He also believes that suspicionless, that is, blanket drug tests violate search-and-seizure provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, so this raises the ante quite a bit more.

“The citizens think it’s a great idea, but once you get to Columbia, people start picking it apart,” a miffed Peeler told the Associated Press.

Whatever happens here, this is something voters everywhere should watch. Recently, the U.S. Congress hit an approval rating of less than 25 percent, putting it below Bush’s rating. If there’s a Mendoza Line for political approval ratings, Congress is probably below it. So there’s the public trust issue.

Workers with many companies are required to take a drug test as a condition for employment, and other companies have a policy demanding that employees pee into a bottle after any on-the-job accident. Shipping companies for sure have that provision – once, back in my cab driving days, I waited for an hour for a seaman to make it off the ship so I could take him to the local clinic. The reason? He was taking a drug test, and it took that long – plus two bottles of water – to work up a sizeable stream. The shipping company paid me for my waiting time.

I’m not a great fan of drug tests. A supervisor with half a brain and the willingness to treat his workers as something more than faceless cogs on an assembly line can tell pretty quickly who’s “using,” anyway.

It stands to reason, though, that a legislator makes decisions affecting a lot more lives and a lot more assets than, say, an assembly line worker. Even more than a truck driver. Even more than an airline pilot. So if mandatory drug tests should be the thing, what likelier class of workers should be targeted than those in public office?

Being the sporting type, I’ve taken a few drug tests for jobs and passed every one of them (which I mention only for the sake of some of my readers who may have any questions). I didn’t even have to study hard for these tests.

Some years ago, the City Council of Bullhead City, Arizona, considered implementing a policy requiring random drug tests for all city employees. To this day I don’t remember whether the measure passed (did I mention I passed every single drug test I’ve ever taken?), but I do remember Councilman David Duvall, a former Marine with a Santa-sized beard, was totally in favor of it. He wanted to extend the policy to include the mayor and City Council members, as a symbolic measure. Duvall was so eager to have that part approved that he was ready to be tested right away, in front of the council, audience, and press. I’m sure if there was an empty coffee cup nearby, he would have used it.

Given that the Bullhead City Council had a history of making highly questionable decisions and was such a local joke back then – forget about being re-elected; just trying to make through a four-year term without being recalled was enough of a feat – this one was just too good for me to pass up. At the time I was writing for the Bullhead City Booster, which later became the Mohave Valley Daily News.

“This is a great idea,” I wrote of the Duvall amendment in my column. “How about (testing) before every council meeting?

Now, more than 15 years later, on the other side of the country, in a land of Spanish moss instead of saguaro cactus, I still think it’s a great idea. And for the same reasons.

A little green at the old Navy yards

Who’d have thunk it? A part of the old Charleston Navy Base is getting notice for “green” development.

Natural Home Magazine picked a 340-acre slice of the old base, being developed as part of the Noisette Creek project, as one of the 10 best green-built neighborhoods in the country. The magazine cites things such as alternative energy sources, landscaping, and housing mix as positive points in its article.

When I read this, I had to read it again. Had to. I go back a few years with the old Navy yards.

The first time I’d driven onto the old base, in my old taxi, I was headed to the “south yards” to pick up one of the students at the Border Patrol Academy. I saw the rusted-out buildings, the holes in the road, and thought the place looked abandoned.

Abandoned, hell. At that time, about the best thing for the old Navy yard was perhaps a wrecking ball and a lot of Du Pont’s finest. The place looked, I thought, like a third-world country.

When I moved to Charleston in 1997, the base had already been shut down, and saw that North Charleston was heading into his worst time. Business had slowed down all around, what with those Navy folks being gone. A shopping mall near Montague Avenue was on its way out, being populated only with a Wards store. Decaying neighborhoods near the base went completely to hell.

As part of their orientation, Border Patrol trainees were warned not to go wandering around outside the gates; you never know what can happen. Yes, the neighborhood was that bad.

As the Charleston peninsula went through its redevelopment (and resulting gentrification) over the past decade, many of the displaced moved to North Chuck. Tourists made Charleston their destination; you never heard of anybody planning a romantic getaway to North Charleston. The area had been considered low-rent, a home to a zillion apartments and mobile homes. North Charleston has made some strides recently, but a few months ago was still ranked the seventh-most dangerous city in America.
The base itself has been in a state of flux. The Border Patrol moved in, the Border Patrol moved out. AmeriCorps moved in, AmeriCorps moved out. You can almost set this to music.

Now the south yard is home to the Homeland Security academy, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (or FLETC for short). A handful of shipping interests plied their trade at what is now known as the Veterans Terminal. Ships were repaired at the dry docks, now run by Detyens Shipyard. There’s a marina on the property, though boat owners regularly complain of their vessels getting covered in coal dust from the nearby Kinder-Morgan terminal. And after much initial resistance, plans are being made to build a container shipping terminal at the base’s south end.

And now, the Noisette Creek development is getting notice for greenness. The base has come a long way in 10 years. And this isn’t an easy achievement to pull off.

For all the military does to preserve our way of life, they are not known for their environmentally-friendly practices. There is a lot of dirty work that goes on at a military base, anything from storing fuel to handling chemicals and other substances that are, well, designed to kill folks on the other side of some imaginary line. That’s a fact of life. Sometimes this stuff is spilled, or forgotten, and the land underneath – and surrounding – the base takes a real beating.

Back in the late 1980s, when I was living in California, my area had two massive pieces of land that had been home to some really dirty tenants. One, in San Bernardino, was the old Norton Air Force Base, shut down in the first wave of base closures. The other, in Fontana, was the old Kaiser steel mill. Cleanup of the Kaiser site was estimated to be about $40 million, but the Norton site, as I recall, was far more contentious to rehabilitate. The steel mill site only had several mountains of slag, a PCB-rich area where they got rid of some old transformers, and some other relatively lightweight chemicals here and there. Norton, well, it was an air base; ‘nuff said.

Now, Norton (where one of my favorite celebrities, Gen. Chuck Yeager once commanded) is an international cargo airport. Kaiser? Well, after heavy talk of building an industrial park and a series of annexation wars, NASCAR came to town. The old steel mill is now the site of the California Speedway, a track that has brought much success to Jeff Gordon over the years.

But those are easier projecs. People don’t live at the cargo airport or race track.

Natural Home Magazine’s other favorites include a mixed-use project built on the old municipal airport site in Austin, Texas, 4,700 acres of reclaimed land at Denver’s old Stapleton Airport – the largest urban infill redevelopment project in the United States, and the new High Point project in Seattle, which replaces public housing. North Charleston is in some pretty fast company.

It’s nice to see North Charleston make this kind of Top Ten list for a change, and it’s especially nice to see a little green development at the old yards.

Carriage horses pulling tourists by the ton

They’re as much a part of the Charleston scene as shrimp and grits. Spanish moss. Antebellum mansions. The smell of pluff mud and that other, more equine aroma you occasionally pick up on Market Street.

Horse-drawn carriage tours are a big ticket in town, but who knows what may happen after a proposed ban of such tours in That Big Metropolis Up North.

Last month, a New York City councilman introduced legislation to get rid of the carriage tours in Manhattan, and while it’s anybody’s guess whether this will get support from the rest of the council, you know People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is all over this one, well, like a bunch of horseflies.

If this measure passes in The Big Apple, don’t be terribly surprised to see pressure for similar action here at some point. I feel I can say this because, as falls New York, so falls Charleston. As the city grows, there is more influence from such alien powers. Like with last year’s smoking ban, some wiseacre from Up There decided that, gee, if it’s good enough for New York, it’s good enough for Charleston. That’s how these things go.

I’m an animal lover myself; in fact given a choice I’d rather eat greens and grains than animals though I partake of all of it. My dog is quite pampered (and more so as she gets older), and I’ve been known to feed the turtles that lived in the pond at my old apartment complex. To me, though, PETA represents the fringe of animal-rights efforts. Why is it that you have all the strange-O’s on the forefront of activism, the folks that no sane person would lend any credibility to? Doesn’t matter what the issue is, either. If it’s gun owner’s rights, the meda always seems to pay attention to the wild-eyed jerk who shouldn’t ever get near a handgun, rather than a Joe Homeowner type wishing to keep a .38 around the house to protect his loved ones. If it’s smoker’s rights, it’s always the tobacco companies — a sketchy bunch of there ever was one — in the forefront. No wonder activism has a bad name sometimes, with most people seeing nothing but a freak show.

With this in mind, I feel I can write about this issue more freely, now that I am out of the taxi business, hopefully permanently. Before, I could have written this and the reader would have thought, well, this guy has his personal agenda. But while the carriage tours did give a little competition for my business, they were enough of a destination that people would take a cab to get to the tour staging area. So my taxi driving was, at best, a non-issue, but it’s even less of an issue now.

The Charleston area recently felt the brush of PETA after an expose of Mepkin Abbey’s egg production in Moncks Corner. OK, the Trappist monks housed the birds in cages. A majority of the eggs produced in the United States came from the same circumstances. Last month, after PETA staged its protests, the monastery announced it was getting out of the egg business. To me, PETA’s quest was nothing more than a publicity-fueled witch hunt.

OK. Getting back to the horse-and-buggy issue, the Humane Society of the United States is also backing New York City’s proposed ban. Now, that’s a more sensible, clear-headed organization, one that actually deserves notice from the media.

A day on the job

Let’s take a look at a horse’s life in Charleston. Allegedly, the horses are taken off the streets when the temperature hits 98 degrees and a heat index (which includes humidity) of 125. In my 10 years in Charleston I’ve maybe seen the temperature hit 98 once or twice, and summers, in truth, are a lot more bearable in dry Bullhead City, Arizona, which hits 125 raw temp) every year. Last summer was a brutal one, with days close to 100 degrees and hot enough to melt your shoeshine right off. But I can’t recall any days where the streets were empty of the horses and buggies.

And I’ve seen how the horses behave in traffic. You can tell by looking when they’re nearing the end of a run — some look a bit more frisky than before, and others look just plain glazed. Just like people on an assembly line when break time approaches. And I’ve seen horses stagger under their load many a time, and wonder how they actually do the job.

How much do these carriage horses haul?

This isn’t difficult to figure out. Based on my observations, larger tour companies in Charleston use the same sized buggy, with four benches seating four people each. The driver may either sit on the front bench with the passengers, or stand in front. So that’s 16 or 17 people. Assuming (watch it) each person weighs 150 pounds (a rough estimate allowing for small kids and adults who have eaten too many Big Macs in their time), that’s 2,400 pounds, more than a ton of tourists. Add the driver, that’s 2,550 pounds — a lot of human cargo. Try to haul that many people in your car sometime — assuming you can stuff all of them in the passenger compartment — and that’s one unsteady load.

Most of these wagons are pulled by two horses, though I’ve seen a few — notably by the Old South Carriage Co. and the Carolina Polo and Carriage Co. — that are managed by one horse. However it stacks up, these horses work hard for their oats.

I’ve talked to a number of carriage drivers over the years, and many swear — tongue in cheek perhaps — that the horses are better cared for than the humans. Horses are matched to routes partly by personality. If a horse has a skittish or flighty tendency, he’s more likely to pull his loads on a route where there’s not as much traffic. While these routes are getting harder to find these days what with Charleston’s growing popularity, the heavy-traffic areas — Market Street in particular — are still generally reserved for the sturdier, more unflappable horses.

Coexisting with vehicles

But Charleston’s traffic patterns often change. Based on the flow I’ve seen while driving, Wentworth and Beaufain Streets near the old City Jail are a lot busier than they used to be. Just a few years ago both streets were one-ways, giving motorists lots of room to maneuver around a buggy. A perfect route for the flakiest of horses. Since then, though, the City Council opted to open both roads to two-way traffic in an effort to discourage speeders. Made it perhaps safer for the cars, but rougher on the horses as this reconfiguration took away all passing room and made it more likely that some carriage would block traffic. And most of the tourists — and locals, too — act like they’ve never seen a horse before, let alone shared a road with one, so that’s when they act stupid. That’s when they beep their horns, race their engines, or even try to pass the buggy with only a few inches to spare.

I’m no rookie around horses. One of my first jobs while in school was stall mechanic — yeah, a nice term for shovel man — for a neighbor who boarded her horse nearby. I enjoyed that job. Going to work I’d stop by the supermarket for carrots, and though the horse I was paid to work around got most of these goodies, I always had some for the other horses, too. Call it bribing the gatekeeper. Yes, I had horse flop on my boots at an early age.

Some of this early training clicked in when driving a cab in town, sharing the road with a horse and buggy. And I had some rules I went by. Never beep your horn at a horse; don’t want to spook him. Wait for the horse to make the first move. If I’m caught behind a buggy, just chill out and enjoy the view (which never really changes for the buggy driver). Wait for the horse to make the first move. If the driver pulls over, there’s my opening. Otherwise, I play it like passing a car, only in slow motion. I’ll wait for a big opening coming the other way, give the horse lots of room, and easy my way around. Coasting, if possible, and with my four-way flashers on. Then ease back into my own lane.

If you’re blocked behind a buggy, whatever you do, don’t get mad at the horses. They were here first. Most of the streets were not laid out for those tin boxes we drive anyway; back then horses ruled the road.

A modest proposal

I’m really amazed that there are not more accidents involving horses, and in a tangle between an open buggy and one of the aforementioned tin boxes, you already know who is going to lose. It’s like a motorcycle vs. a Mack truck – no contest.

But I’m even more amazed the horses don’t require counseling every now and again. Hey, if I was on a Charleston street pulling twice my body weight in tourists, surrounded by cars piloted by loose-footed impatient obnoxious drivers, I’d be a damned basket case. But then, I have enough issues without all that, thank you.

Charming though it is, it’s probably time to put an end to the carriage tours. Or better, ban vehicular traffic on some of the narrower streets, dig up the asphalt, and leave those for horse-drawn traffic and pedestrians only. Limit the carriages to smaller loads – say, about what a 17th or 18th century carriage would hold.

Hey, if you want to tout Charleston’s history, let’s make it authentic.

Brain marinated? Could be Too Much Information

Anyone who doubts that we are in the Information need only count the number of email messages, phone messages, and text missives he has in queue. There should be plenty.

This flow of information is such that company Basex, Inc. called information overload the top productivity hurdle of 2008, costing the U.S. economy $588 billion a year.

And the January 2008 Reader’s Digest ran a cover piece on how one can cope with such an overload. Although it’s hard to measure and a real apples vs. oranges argument to compare how much information is processed compared to yesteryear, the Digest article quotes “Getting Things Done” author David Allen here: “We now get more information in 72 hours than our parents likely received in a month,” Allen said. “Most people don’t have the skills to deal with this. They let new things in but don’t get rid of old info they wanted to act on.”

Suffice it to say, that’s a lot of stuff going into people’s heads. Enough to turn an average person’s brain into Swiss cheese? Possibly.

Many workers are graced with such executive perks as a company cell phone, laptop, and Internet connection. Right away you’d think, gee, that’s awful nice of the employer, right? Forget it. Nothing’s free. The company laptop isn’t just there for you to work on your Myspace page, or God forbid, your resume … but for you to get bombarded with more company-related information (and to do company-related work) during your off-hours. I guess I should rephrase — almost nothing is free — what ends up being “free” is the work you end up doing for the company, in your living room, on your time, on their rig. Beware ye of such gifts.

Until recently, I had the luxury of an always-on Internet connection, and I made good use of it. The best resource, if you wish to keep up with any particular subject at all, is the RSS feed. Think subscription here, and that’s the idea. Whenever something new goes into a website you wish to track, it will pop up in (your choice) email box or RSS reader. In fact, you can do that with this very blog … just click on RSS; you know you want to.

The catch is, it doesn’t take long to get swamped with RSS feeds. With a subscription to a wire news service such as the Associated Press (as I found out), you can get hundreds of articles in a day. My own RSS habit was conservative by Internet standards, but if I was away from the computer for one day there would usually be at least a thousand articles waiting for me to weigh … uhh, I mean read.

Yeah. I’ll get right on it.

My Google reader program, never fast to begin with, would get so jammed with unread articles that I’d have to wait for the screen to refresh itself when I’d scroll. Mind you, the computer is kind of old, but with a high-speed connection and an operating system I’d chosen for light weight and tricked out for speed, it takes a lot of garbage for the machine to crawl like that.

Strangely enough, many of my RSS sites pertained to how one can work efficiently with all of this information. There are some I highly recommend, — is my favorite of them — but then I’d rather collect the information than act on it. Just like David Allen said.

Due to extenuating circumstances, I no longer have that high-speed connection, and I’m torn here. Does it make my life more or less difficult? I do my Internet work at the local library two or three times a week, so I have to simplify things a bit. Which may in fact be simplifying my life; a wonderful thing if I can get just past the withdrawal symptoms.

I take care of all my email during these library visits and don’t even bother to open most of it. Family members and one close friend can shortstop this process by sending email directy to my cell phone; everyone else must wait their turn. I son’t spend near as much time on the social networking sites, Wikipedia, or all those other time-eaters. And I haven’t checked Google Reader for a while. Quite frankly, I’m afraid to. How do you say TILT in Googlese?

Going online now, I make a plan. This blog and my email are always at the top of the list, then whatever other projeI’m working on. And like at the grocery store, I make a list. It’s tough — about on the same level as giving up cigarettes or coffee — but it feels good knowing I’m sparing brain cells from an onslaught.

For a change, good online adv(ICE)

The Internet is just full of advice these days and sometimes you’ll even find some that is useful.

I’ve covered some pretty bad advice in some of my blogs – spyware programs that damage your computer, and emergency numbers that don’t work. But since I’m not a complete naysayer and debunker, I’ll discuss one Internet nugget that is actually a good thing.

If you have an email account and friends who send mass mailings, you have probably heard of putting ICE on your cell phone. That’s a directory entry, slugged as ICE (for In Case of Emergency) that you can put on your cell phone and emergency personnel know what it is should you be found unconscious somewhere.

Whether this started out as an urban legend and grew legs to the point where it became fact is immaterial here. It’s one of those things that, well, it won’t replace other means of ID or keeping emergency numbers, it doesn’t hurt either. In fact it might actually save a life, and there’s no price tag for something like that.

This ICE thing came to my attention again, during a phone conversation with my parents in California (this wasn’t the main topic of the phone call, but let’s not go there). Anyway, Mom mentioned that she has ICE on her phone, and I’m one of her emergency contacts.

Although I’m not planning to turn up with real bad amnesia in some strange neighborhood anytime soon, I too have ICE on my phone. In fact, I have returned the favor, as my parents and brother are the contacts listed. The rub, of course, is that none of the kinfolk live anywhere near me.

The last time I needed to contact family members for an emergency was 20 years ago when I went down in a rather spectacular bicycle wreck. Fortunately, all family members lived close by, and I had enough presence of mind (despite the painkillers they gave me) to choose the right family member for the initial call. This is important here. While I love my father and wish I could be more like him (and like me, he just gets better with age), he’s just not the coolest head around when there’s an emergency. So my brother Rick became the go-to guy in this situation.

Whether he wants it or not, Rick is still my default ICE number.

Here’s a trick if you wish to ICE your phone. Lead the I C E off with a punctuation character. Mine shows in the directory as . I C E with the period throwing it to the top of the list. If you make it ~ I C E it will go to the bottom of the directory, which also makes it fairly easy to find. This trick holds true with LG phones like the one I have, and also with Nokia phones. You may want to check your own, though, as your mileage may vary.

One drawback to ICE is that there is just not a lot of room in the directory for all the vital information. There are things like drug allergies, active prescriptions, and other warnings to consider. So I’ve taken the ICE step a little further.

In the “memo” portion of my ICE entry, I have the following: “More info on USB drive in R boot”

OK. This sounds cryptic, so I’ll explain. I carry one of those USB thumb drives with me all the time. All of my work files are on it, plus maybe even a whole operating system if I feel like experimenting. But there’s also a text file, easy to find, and called IN-CASE-EMERGENCY that carries all that information. This drive can be plugged into any computer, and when folks in the emergency room pull it up it has probably all the information they would ask for if I was conscious. Besides the usual run of emergency numbers, this file lists my medications, a bit of history, and allergies. This file is in .txt format so it can be read with any word processor, or no word processor at all.

This USB drive has its permanent home, in a pouch in my right boot, unless I’m using it for something else. Like writing this blog, for example.

As I wrote this, I was somehow remembering a staff requirement at one newspaper where I worked. Each reporter had to have his obituary on file. Seriously. But then, many newspapers back then kept files of celebrity obits – just plug in the date and any last-minute details and run it. This does sound beyond morbid, but there’s a point to it. It does save a lot of hassle.

My editor, the late Verne Peyser, insisted on the obits. “I wouldn’t trust anyone else to write mine,” he’d tell us. Some of the staff obits were real beauties. Usually in an obituary you don’t mention how the person died, but that’s where our imaginations really cut loose. Verne, a chain smoker, was sure that lung cancer would get him. My own self-penned obit had me being electrocuted while pursuing my musical avocation, in mid-solo by a faulty sound system. Or something.

One of our sportswriters blew off the obituary requirement, and just happened to get himself killed in a motorcycle accident in Laughlin, Nevada. We had one hell of a time gathering up all the standard information for the news story. I remember bugging the ladies in personnel for any files they had on him. (As a footnote, I was the last to see this person alive, so the cops told me I may have to ride with them to the Clark County Coroner’s Office in Vegas to ID him, but the trip wasn’t needed.)

Now, I’m not getting that far or that morbid with my USB drive. There is such a thing as Too Much Information.

The USB emergency information may well be a wasted step. This might be as useless as some highly-publicized emergency phone numbers. With my luck the next emergency room I get hauled to is one where they don’t have computers but have lots of leeches, and I don’t mean the ambulance-chasing variety either.

But, like ICE, the USB trick is easy to do costs nothing to implement, and may actually help.

REAL ID is coming and I’m not ready

Parts of this are still being roughed out, but it looks like I’ll need my new national identity card in my wallet within the next 10 years.

This is the so-called REAL ID, another of those wonderful things brought to you by the Homeland Security Department.

People born before December 1964 have until the end of 2017 to get the ID, while younger folks have until Dec. 1, 2014 to get with the program. According to Homeland Security, staggering the enrollment dates helped lower the cost of implementing the program, from $14.6 billion to $3.9 billion – a 73 percent savings.

This is still gonna get interesting, though. According to some rules recently laid out, you’d need to go to your friendly neighborhood Department of Motor Vehicles office to get the ID. OK, so you used to have to bring a bottle of water and a thick book when visiting the DMV, right? This REAL ID program is expected to double the traffic at your local office when it’s implemented, so better plan on bringing your lunch, too.

Once in place, this ID will be needed to get on an airplane or go into a federal building.

Again according to the Homeland Security Department, 80 percent of Americans are in favor of secure identification to minimize the threats of terrorism and identity theft, two things that we didn’t have to worry about 15 years ago. However, here in the South, REAL ID will be a harder sell than that. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (a man I like – he’s listed as a Republican even though some suspect he’s really a closet libertarian as if there’s anything wrong with that) said that he needs to check out the details before supporting REAL ID.

“Since (Homeland Security) issued the final rule, it’s now time to determine what we need to do,” adds South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Republican from Charleston.

I could go on about this REAL ID being another panicky attempt by our government to tag, number, and monitor the citizenry since the 9/11 attacks, but that ground has been covered ad nauseum I have no new information that points the program out for what it is, but I do have my tinfoil hat handy.

Since 9/11 I’d noticed a lot more emphasis on ID. When I moved back to South Carolina a few years ago, I needed one additional piece of paper to get my driver’s license – a birth certificate. The out-of-state license was no longer enough, even though in my case the process was a lot less involved than it would have been for a new arrival. I was already in the system, and it was simply a matter of reactivating my old license. It was still a gigantic pain in the butt to write to my county of birth and order up the copy – maybe because my original birth certificate was carved on the bark of a tree for all I know.

I don’t mind telling you I’m quite resistant to the idea of a national identity number, and this far predates 9/11. In many states your Social Security number (also known as your taxpayer ID number) serves as your driver’s license number unless you plead otherwise. On my old Tennessee driver’s license my SSN appears nowhere, and you won’t find it on my licenses from North or South Carolina either. For some damnfool reason I consider my social security number to be no one’s business but my own, though whoever signs my paycheck has some interest in it so maybe I’ll make it available to that person. I do like to get paid. But despite all the original intentions, the Social Security number has become in effect a national ID number.

Now, if the point of this so-called REAL ID was to simplify things a bit, I can understand it as a good thing. At least that makes sense – one card, one ID number that does everything. I can see that angle, just as well as I can see people trying to minimize the number of passwords in their lives. And for me, that’s plenty — one for each web site I visit, cell phone codes, computer log-in numbers, PIN numbers for bank cards, all that good stuff. To me it makes sense to reduce all that mess to two or three “master” passwords to keep things simple.

But there’s still a huge difference between keeping a bunch of pass codes and having a national ID card. With the former, I’m the only one to keep all these codes straight. With a national ID, the keeper of the numbers is that great faceless soulless entity we call The Government. Thanks, but no thanks. The whole idea may be a good thing, but to paraphrase Thoreau, when someone’s fixing to do me good, that’s when I run like hell.

But these, again, are my personal feelings, which have absolutely nothing to do with how things are run in the real world. But from what I get, you will still be able to use a passport to grab a flight or go into a federal building. OK, the passport is issued by yet another arm of the kraken, but it’s real tempting to get one and skip all that other nonsense. Call me paranoid, but it seems this REAL ID would be a good thing to avoid if at all possible.