Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Escalating War Between Packaging and Older Adults

 In the conflict between product packaging and older adults the score is something on the order of 347,805,719 to 911 in favor of the packaging.  I am proud to say that a couple of those hard fought victories for us mature humans can be credited to me.  But all the joy of those triumphs vanished this morning in a triple defeat by a single product: a tube of Crest toothpaste.

Defeat number 1 came attempting to open the box.  I’m sure that most of you who still buy toothpaste in a tube have encountered the manufacturers’ new trick targeted at social security recipients: gluing the outside tab on the end of the box to the two fold-over flaps underneath.  If questioned, I’m sure the manufactures claim this is to reduce loss – you know those desperate toothpaste thieves who open the box, put the tube in their pocket, and put the re-closed box back on the shelf.  I doubt this is a big an issue as they claim but they are certainly serious about their solution as the glue presently used is much stronger and the cardboard is now plastic coated to reduce the potential for ripping open the carton.  Simply inserting a thumbnail and pressing down did nothing this morning.  I assumed I had a defective box and flipped to the other end – same story.  I had to resort the insertion of a metal object to pry the flap loose. Product packing 1 – discouraged old guy 0. 

Defeat number 2 came when I attempted to remove the cap from the tube.  I have been doing this for almost 70 years without difficulty and have observed hundreds of small children successfully completing this task.  Today my causal grip on the tube and cap failed to rotate the cap a tenth of a degree.  I tried reversing my hands to no avail. This cap must have been tightened using the same wrench they use to tighten the head bolts on race cars!  Staring that the opponent in unbelief, I grabbed the tube with a manly grip between my legs while bending over and the cap in my right hand as if I were advancing a large screw into aged oak.  It did finally break lose and I would have shot toothpaste halfway across the bathroom except for problem 3.  Product packing 2 – feeble nursing home candidate 0. 

The third defeat, and possibly the most humiliating, came when I saw this little piece of aluminum foil covering the opening of the tube.  What the #&%@ is this?  Does some idiot who works for Crest believe that someone is going to break through the end flaps of the box and have a wrench in their pocket to remove the cap so they can tamper with the toothpaste?  Really!!  Completely bamboozled by the presence of this little dot of aluminum, I surrendered to the notion that I will have to remove it if I want to brush my teeth and get to work before tomorrow.  Being unusually observant for my advanced years, I notice that the little dot has a tab projecting from one side. For once, I think I have caught a break and can easily remove the little bugger.  Wrong again.  The little tab is so little (and so slick) I cannot get a grip on it with my thumb and forefinger.  Yes, I tried both hands.  No, I am not going downstairs and get a pair of pliers from the tool box.  I figure that since my teeth are the ones which will benefit if I ever get the “product” open, they should help out.  So, my front teeth bite down on the micro-tab and I pull the tube away from my face using both hands.  It comes loose.  I notice that the little dot of aluminum foil is layered with Mylar to make it more tear resistant.  Good for the maleficent design engineer.  Product Packaging 3 – shriveled up ancient homo-sapiens 0.

Several years ago at Christmas time, I was introduced to Sarah Groves song “Toy Packaging” and we fell in love with it because it is so true.  Since then, I have become more aware of all kinds packaging and how much harder it is to open it, especially for older folks.  This seems like a simple thing to fix: just notify the manufacturers and they would be glad to correct the problem. Right!  Well, that hasn’t happened and, in fact, it is getting more difficult.  Being a bit of a skeptic, I began to think there must be some reason for this.  I don’t have enough proof to nail this completely, but there seems to be a secret conspiracy at work.  Companies involved in marketing directly to consumers have been, through dummy corporations, purchasing large blocks of nursing home stock.  They have also engaged services of attorneys representing population limitation advocacy groups.  There are draft laws waiting to be introduced that add another test for determining the competency of older adults: if they can’t open their packages the are judged to be incompetent and are ordered to a nursing home for the rest of their lives.  How can we fight back against this threat to our freedom?  Buy organic – Mother Nature does not do Product Packaging!

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Kindergarten Room with a Treehouse

“And then there was the time . . .”  I start this post with this lead-in as a reminder to me, and anyone reading this blog, that the stories I could tell about our son, Andy, are many.  I have chosen this one to tell on his 36th birthday because it is one of my favorites and it lets him be himself: a kid that enjoyed life and brought a lot of that joy to those who were around him.

 It was the summer of 1985 and the world our family lived in was turning upside down.  Our oldest daughter had a terrible and frightening experience in the new public high school she had been enrolled in the past year.  We met with the principal, who was well respected in the community but was a year away from retirement and was worn out. We were concerned about the safety of our daughter who had been threatened with a knife by a classmate.  The principal’s solution was to “try to keep them apart.”  Well that goal was accomplished because we removed her from that school and enrolled her in a private Christian school.  We had such a good experience there that when our church announced the opening of a new Christian elementary school in the Fall of 1985 we decided to enroll our three younger children.  Andy would start in kindergarten and his teacher would be May Drummond, an accomplished teacher and a friend we had known from church for almost 10 years. 

The first few years Christ Presbyterian Academy would use the Christian education rooms used for Sunday School.  The school as originally planned would start with K – 3 and add a grade each year (provided enough students This plan changed when the initial response was so great that the 4th grade was added, and then the 5th grade was added, and finally the 6th was added so all our children could attend   

There are a lot of things necessary for an elementary classroom that are not typically found in Sunday School rooms.  The budget for the school was limited so the parents did a lot of volunteer work building cubbies, moving donated pianos, etc.  In a conversation with May Drummond she made a comment that a kindergarten room needed some large object that the kids could sit on, climb on, etc.  After giving it some thought, I called her and told her I had an idea for a “treehouse.”  It would be a 6 ft. by 6 ft. wooden deck supported about 3 feet off the floor with a rail on all sides and a ladder. She loved the idea and I began drawing up a plan and making a list of needed materials. Dianne told Andy about the project and he could not contain himself.  Part of the excitement was generated because the first day of school, he would walk into his classroom and there would be something he was familiar with and something he “helped” to build.

I said at the start that our world was in turmoil.  I had decided to change jobs and I would start with a new company the middle of August.  I had been the manager of the Tennessee office for my former company and I had agreed to help in the transition to a new manager before I left.  We had sold our house and signed a contract to build our existing home. In the interim, we were living in a rental house on Hill Road.  One of the main reasons we had rented this house is that it had a large storage building in the back yard and we were able to store the stuff that would not fit in the house.  This was a very unique house. It was a demonstration house built by the company in the 1950s that was attempting to market “All Steel” homes.  The house was built on a concrete slab; it had all steel framing (studs, beams, and trusses); steel siding on the outside; and, steel panels textured to resemble dry wall on the interior.  It was a very loud house!

The house had a single car garage that, after moving more boxes to the storage building, left enough room to build the treehouse. We borrowed my father-in-law’s pickup and Andy and I headed to buy the lumber and hardware.  I had the lumber order written out and while the order was being assembled, Andy and I shopped for hardware, tools, and stain.  The lumber order was ready well before we finished our shopping because Andy was loaded for bear with “why” questions: Why does the bolt have to be that long?  Why do you have to have two washers for each bolt?  What happens if your drill the hole too big for the bolt?  Why do you need the L-shaped corner braces?  Isn’t the treehouse going to be too big to fit through the door? Do they have a bathroom here? (The last proving to be the most important question.)

After all the supplies were home and unloaded in the garage, we began to sort and cut the lumber. Andy sat on the floor watched and formulated his next set of questions.  I shared with him my grandfather’s maxim for carpentry work: “You can measure twice and cut once or measure once and cut twice.”  He loved it and I heard it repeated back to me many times, especially when I disobeyed the maxim and had to cut a new board.

Then the questions moved from the easy to the more difficult: How many kids will the treehouse support?  How do you know it will support that many?  If it does not, will it collapse and kill all of us? If we stand on top of the ladder and try to jump across the room, how far do you think we can jump? (Maybe this was not such a good idea after all!).

I worked on the treehouse every evening after work and by the end of the second Saturday it was complete and assembled in the garage.  We decided to use a dark brown stain to make it look more like the bark of a tree.  Andy liked this part the most because he was able to take an active part in the staining and managed to get less stain on him than the treehouse.  He was the guinea pig for testing the ladder.  We made a few minor improvements to make it easier for kindergarten-sized kids to get up and down. Once Dianne gave her approval, we made plans to move the treehouse to school.  We disassembled the unit and loaded it in the borrowed pickup.  We decided to set it up after church while the custodial staff was present and could unlock the doors.  One of the staff helped me move the bigger pieces into the classroom. 

Andy had seen all the construction so he was a real help in putting it together in the corner of the room.  As soon as it was assembled, he climbed the ladder and observed every feature of the classroom from his lofty perch.  When I told him it was time to go home, he ran to the corner where the ladder was and promptly jumped out into space.  “Dad, did you see how far I jumped?” with a big smile on his face.  Dianne and I decided we had better give advance warning to his teacher. 

This treehouse was Andy’s badge of honor during that first school year which proved so hard for him.  We had him tested and discovered that he had some learning disabilities that made it difficult for him to read and that affected his fine motor skills.  At the end of the year the school recommended that we have him repeat kindergarten.  We knew that he had wonderful coping skills but also knew he would not be able to handle what he would perceive as failure. Hence, the next year we began to homeschool our youngest and had some of the richest years our family has ever experienced. 

Treehouse in background - current kindergarten teacher
Two years ago, I attended the funeral of the man who mentored me when I became a deacon, Frank Giles.  The funeral was in the chapel of Christ Presbyterian.  When the funeral was over, I walked back to elementary wing of the education building and looked in at Andy’s kindergarten room: the treehouse is still there. Maybe today no one today where it came from but to our family it is an important memorial to our missing son! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Our Supreme Court Justices Deserve to be Retained

Hello!  My name is Mike Tant and you probably don’t know who I am.  I’m normally not a very public person.  While I may be a stranger, you probably have heard of a commission on which I serve.  For the past six years I have been a member of the Tennessee Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), the past two years as Vice Chairman. I was appointed by our Lt. Governor and have enjoyed my service to the state.  The Commission is composed of three trial judges, three attorneys, and three representatives of the public at large.  I am one of the non-attorney members. Last fall, when some of our work, (which is by law supposed to be kept confidential) was leaked to the media, we became part of a feeding frenzy about how Tennessee chooses and elects judges for our appellate courts. Our “misdeeds” have been well publicized in the Nashville newspaper and we have been sued by a former candidate for governor. We are the group that is tasked by the legislature to evaluate appellate court judges and issue an opinion to the voting public whether they should be retained or replaced.  I am writing this to share with you what I “know” about the process and the people involved.  I would ask you to consider what is presented here and compare it to the less than accurate information that have been shared by certain members of the media and even some members of the Legislature.

Just this week, according to news reports, several members of the Legislature expressed the opinion that the JPEC is just a “rubber stamp” commission that has never caused a sitting judge to be replaced.  This is a shamefully inaccurate statement.  Unfortunately, we are dealing with politicians who prefer a public lynching of judges that are on the wrong side of the current political reality.  In fact, those same legislatures have written into law the criteria that JPEC must use in evaluating each judge.  Whether the General Assembly likes it or not, those criteria do not include whether the judge is a Democrat or a Republican; whether the judge is a liberal or a conservative; or whether they are strict constructionist or not. 

The criteria, imposed by the law, which we are bound to use by our oath of office, is to evaluate each judge is to whether they are properly and in a timely manner serving the public, particularly those that appear before them; and, are they being consistent with the laws of the state.  For each judge we review the results of surveys of their performance completed by practicing attorneys, trial judges, other appellate judges, and court personnel.  Each judge must complete a detailed questionnaire on all their activities which may affect their service on the bench.  They also have to submit financial and conflict of interest information. We also receive a tabulation of how long it takes for each judge to issue an opinion.  Each judge is required to submit copies of several opinions they have authored for review by the Commission.  All of this information is by law to be held in confidence by JPEC.  Each judge appears in person before the Commission for an interview.  The meetings, during which the interviews are conducted, are open to the public. 

Following the interview process, the Commission meets in executive session to discuss the performance of each judge and take a preliminary vote. If the majority of the Commission believes a particular judge is not performing at an acceptable level, that judge is so notified in confidence.  The law is quite clear that the preliminary decisions of JPEC are confidential until they have been forwarded to the specific judge and that judge has had an opportunity to request a re-hearing before the Commission. The Legislature, in its wisdom, saw that a judge who may not have met the expectations of the office during his term, has the option to either appeal to the Commission or chose to retire.  It should be noted that during my tenure on the Commission, several judges have chosen to retire rather than choose to stand for re-election knowing they may receive a negative assessment.  By law, the Commission is not permitted to publically identify a judge who makes this decision.  (I should note that also during my tenure, there have also been several judges who retired early due to health or personal reasons.)

 When I was sworn in as a member of the Commission, I took an oath to abide by the laws governing the Commission.  I am completely comfortable that I have fulfilled that oath.  Several individuals have argued that the Commission did not follow the Tennessee Constitution because we have recommended judges for retention.  The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the Tennessee Plan, as it presently exists, is consistent with the Constitution.  The law governing the operation of the JPEC and the rulings of the Supreme Court are the things that govern our operation – not media opinions or individuals who do not like the rulings of the Supreme Court.

I have always been a supporter of the Missouri Plan (the model for the Tennessee Plan) because it keeps partisan politics out of the judicial process.  I have interviewed each of the appellate judges at least twice and I can confidently report that this group of individuals should be acknowledged as some of the hardest working people in Tennessee and as individuals whose integrity rises above partisan politics.  Though I am normally a conservative and Republican voter, I whole-heartedly endorse the retention of Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee.  They have served our state with honesty and great honor – they deserve our support and do not deserve the misleading attacks generated by out-of state political operatives.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Cold Day in December
Softly passes the days and the years,
Not much different from all those before;
But then comes that sacred day
That changed the world, our lives, when we lost what we adore!

An Advent morning bright and clear,
An Advent morning full of heavenly expectation and worship,
An Advent morning changed to mourning,
O the ripping of my heart and soul – could I have changed this day with hyssop?

Advent is a time of hope and waiting,
I have neither – only pain and unbelief;
My world has changed, my son is gone,
My only companion, most unwanted, is grief

The date of remembrance menacingly appears on every calendar,
We cannot skip or fail to remember;
The day our joy succumbed too early to death’s demand,
On this cold, cold day in December.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day That Changed America

In the early afternoon of November 22, 1963 I was a Junior at Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tennessee.  I was taking an English test.  Not too far into the fifth period an announcement came over the intercom that the President had been shot in Dallas.  Father Cunningham gave us permission to stop the test and pray quietly for President Kennedy.  We were so stunned that I’m not sure how many prayers made it out of that room.  Most of us were trying to make some sense of this unbelievable report.  It was not too long, maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, that the second announcement came – the President was dead!  Our  amazement turned to shock.  I felt like all that I knew about my country up until that time had changed.  I think that my feelings were not too different from those experienced when Americans first learned that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  As I recall, we did not go to our sixth period class but stayed together and listened to the radio reports. 

 After school was dismissed, I was scheduled to work until closing at the Cooper & Martin grocery on Gallatin Road.  When I arrived, everyone was walking around like zombies.  I don’t remember much about what happened  from 3 pm to 10 pm when the store closed.  But what happened then has stuck with me all these years.  It was my normal responsibility to follow the manager of the store to the bank to make the night deposit after the store closed.  After the deposit, he would drive home to Melrose and I would drive home to Inglewood.  That night, he asked me to ride in his car to the bank with him and he would bring me back to the store to get my car.  He had been listening to the radio as he was preparing to close the store and as he was preparing the deposit.  There was a lot of speculation that the fabric of our society had been rent and no one knew what to expect.  He wanted me with him in his car in case he experienced something entirely different from the normal. 

I think we all knew that something at the very core of our existence as a country had changed.   Yes, there had been presidents who were assassinated before (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) but it had been over 60 years since the last and none of us even considered such an occurrence as a possibility.  The Kennedy presidency was the American Camelot – how could it be attacked?  There truly was an age of innocence in America.  It is not that everyone supported President Kennedy – but almost everyone was inspired by the vision of America that he projected: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  That quote from his inauguration speech resonated with the people.  This was before Viet Nam and there was an expectation of great things that our country could do both internally and internationally.  The Appalachian Regional Commission  and the Peace Corps were vehicles for citizens who could volunteer and become involved in transforming cultures both domestic and abroad.  Somehow the hope for the future was extinguished that day and the spectrum of a conflict between good and evil became part of our DNA as Americans – and it has never left.  The America of the early 1960’s was good and a pleasant time to live.  This is more than a romantic ideal conceived in retrospect – it was very real.  But it no longer exists and may be beyond recovery with our present state of uncivility.  Pushing aside the human failings of a murdered president, the ideal of Camelot is still a worthy goal for our country.  May God have mercy.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Dangerous Pit of Task Inertia

I confess that I am not a very faithful blogger, though it is regularly on my “To Do” list.  Speaking of that list, which I have mentioned in several previous blogs, I have come to realize that for all my internal need to feel organized, it has become a form of tyranny in my life.  We’ve probably all heard the expression “the tyranny of the urgent.”  What that expression is intended to convey is that many times the “urgent” in our lives pushes aside the “important.”  I have found this to be so true for me over and over.  I put far too many things on my list – things I need to do; things I want to do; things I wish I could do; things that I wish I could say that I had done, etc. – and they obviously don’t all get done today, or tomorrow, or the next day.  By that time they have become “urgent” for me emotionally and I tend to develop a bad case of "task inertia" – the inability to do anything for want to do everything.  My daughter, Jennifer, understands this much better than I and named her blog “Doing the Next Thing.”  I feel guilty every time I click on her blog (my fault, not her’s).

This morning I ran across this quote by St. Francis de Sales from his book Introduction to the Devout Life.  It really rang true for me as I was thinking about todays “To Do” list.

“Flies harass us more by their number than by their sting.  Similarly, great matters disturb us less than a multitude of small affairs.  Accept the duties which are entrusted to you quietly, and try to fulfill them methodically, one after another.  If you attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will burden yourself with your exertions, and by entangling your mind, you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.

In all your affairs rely on God’s Providence, through which alone your plans can succeed.  Meanwhile, on your part, work on in quiet cooperation with God, and then rest satisfied that if you have entrusted your work entirely with Him, you will always obtain the measure of success which is best for you, whether it seems so or not in your own judgment.

Imitate a little child who holds tight with one hand to his father’s, while with the other gathers blackberries from the wayside hedge.  Even so, while you gather and use the world’s goods with one hand, always let the other be secure in your Heavenly Father’s hand, and look around from time to time to make sure that He is satisfied with what you are doing, at home or abroad.  When your ordinary work or business is not particularly engrossing, let your heart be fixed more on God than on it; and, if the work be such as to require your undivided attention, then pause from time to time and look to God, even as navigators do who set their course from the harbor by looking to the heavens rather than down to the depths of the see.  Doing this, you will see that God will work with you, in you, and for you, and your work will be blessed.”

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Day of Lost Hope?

Meditating on the meaning of this day – the day between the crushing tragedy of Good Friday and the exultant joy of the Resurrection, I try to imagine myself as one of the disciples who stayed with the small group at the foot of the cross watching the suffering of this incredible man. 

How could this happen?  A man who was so full of love and compassion for everyone he came in contact with.  Not only is he dead but he was put to death in the most horrible way by the very people he ministered to these past three years.  Where are the people who welcomed him into Jerusalem with loud Hosannas just a few days ago?  Were some of them part of the crowd yelling “Crucify him, crucify him”?

Now he is dead and it is time to take his broken and torn body down from the cross.  The Roman soldiers help because they want to get back to the barracks and they want to save the nails, if possible.  We use a long cloth placed under his arms and across his chest to lower him to waiting and loving arms.  How could this man who performed such powerful miracles weigh so little now?  How could this face that was so contorted just a little while ago, be so peaceful in death?  We wrap him in a white cloth and carry him to a nearby garden tomb provided by the good Joseph.  As we lay him on the rock shelf we all want to touch his body.  We spend some time washing the blood and filth away which only reveals more completely the devastation perpetrated on his body.  It is so hard to look at!  How could people hate someone so fiercely?  I weep some more.  I realize that I am weeping both for this man I love and have followed – and I am weeping for myself, now completely lost and disillusioned.  What will become of me now that all my dreams are gone for good?  Will the blood lust we saw today continue and cause us to be dragged into the pit with those wild dogs?  Yes, I am afraid.  Should I flee Jerusalem this very evening even on the Sabbath which is supposed to be about rest?  If I make the wrong decision tonight, I could be dead tomorrow.  We have to leave the tomb now as the Sabbath observance begins at sundown.  The women plan to return the morning after the Sabbath to anoint and prepare the body properly.  I am invited to come and stay with the group gathered at the tomb and with some if his closest friends.  I decide to stay – partially because I am just too exhausted to flee. 

As we gather in an upper room trying to console one another, his mother, Mary, begins to tell us her story which we have never heard before.  She tells us about her vision of an angel when she was a young girl.  The angel told her that she would have a baby without ever knowing a man and how her son would save his people from their sins.  She told us about the good carpenter, Joseph, to whom she was betrothed.  When he found out that she was pregnant, he could have put her away, or even worse, reveal her pregnancy to the elders of the synagogue.  But an angel also came to Joseph in a dream and this good and simple man took her as his wife with the commitment to raise her son as his own.

Mary then told us about what happened when they took the infant to the Temple to present him.  There was a holy man who some claimed was a prophet, named Simeon.  He met them in the temple and took the baby in his arms.  He thanked God that he has been allowed to see the consolation of Israel.  He then said to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  As she repeated these words, we all knew this had just come to pass. 

 So even from the beginning, this life now ended had been filled with miracles and mysterious happenings.  If God is really involved with this man and his ministry, it seems so incomplete and unfinished to have ended this way.  Is there something here that we have missed?  Is there some lesson here we should have learned that will allow us to go on with our lives?  None of us feel like eating and, though tired, we only doze as his good friends reminisce and tell us stories of his ministry, miracles, and private moments of prayer and teaching.  I think most of us are experiencing the oscillating emotions of grief and fear while at the same time, some of the encouragement and hope we knew when the Master would teach us. 

 As the night turns to morning most of us begin to feel that the closeness of this group is a source of comfort for us all.  The stories of Peter, John, Matthew, Andrew, and others continue to echo in our minds and there is a group feeling that this just cannot be the end – God must be doing something that we are unable to see and understand.  A number of people offer prayers for understanding and that God will not leave us in this state of grief and confusion.  We have no specific plan – we will just wait on the Lord and see what a new day will bring.