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Central Hardware, St. Louis history

St. Louis-based Central Hardware was one of the first big-box home improvement chains. It peaked in 1993 at 39 stores in six states in the midwest, employing 3,700 people. It was once the 19th largest hardware retailer in the United States.

Central Hardware’s motto was “everything from scoop to nuts,” a play on the English idiom “soup to nuts,” which means beginning to end. Their inventory was over 40,000 SKUs, comparable to today’s home improvement stores. Its stores regularly exceeded 50,000 square feet. That’s about half the size of a typical home improvement store today, but it was large for the 1970s and 1980s. Traditional hardware stores ranged in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. Its employees wore orange vests so customers knew who to ask for help.

Read More »Central Hardware, St. Louis history

The rock, or the hard place?

I have to confess I’m paying minimal attention to technology these last few days. I’ve been watching the goings-on in the Middle East. I saw the headlines that Intel’s newest chipset is buggy, but that won’t go down as the biggest news of 2011. A revolution in Egypt stands a chance. And it could have a domino effect.

Read More »The rock, or the hard place?

Just because you can afford it now…

Today, the sermon at church was based mostly on Nehemiah 5. Nehemiah 5 talks about the ruinous financial situation of the children of Israel at the time the book was written. Check out Nehemiah 5:4-5.

“We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

In other words, in order to pay their bills, some had resorted to selling their children into slavery. Sadly, some Americans find themselves in that situation today. Or close to it. At least it’s uncommon enough that we’re offended when we hear about it.Read More »Just because you can afford it now…

What’s wrong with Iraq this time around

Iraq was about all we talked about at work today, before the grisly incident of today became public. Actually I should say other people talked. I didn’t do much but listen.

This is about all I have to say.Last time around, I wouldn’t say we were above reproach, but there was something very different. Last time around we were liberators. George Bush went on the air and told the Iraqis we treated their prisoners with kindness. We stood in stark contrast to Saddam Hussein. We got in, did our work, then got out. We fought more like Israel than like the United States of the late 20th century.

Whether we were justified in going back in and going after Hussein isn’t an argument I want to broach. Someone asked me several months before we did it what I thought. I said I knew we were going to have this war. It was just a question of when, and how long.

It’s been a lot longer than the last go-round.

The stories of brutality to prisoners ignited controversy. Who’s responsible? Was it justifiable? As I listened to people arguing about it, I tried to place myself in the role of a soldier guarding these prisoners. Let’s say a superior told me to do something to them. If I’m the one doing the smacking around, it doesn’t matter if I was just following orders. The guys in the Nazi death camps were just following orders too. They have a conscience. They’re guilty.

But the Nazis worked in fear of retribution, you say.

Do you think our soldiers had no fear of retribution if they didn’t carry out orders? Doing the right thing might not get you killed on the spot in the U.S. military, but do you think it might keep you from getting promoted? Do you think you might be the one picked to go into harm’s way? There’s still plenty of room for retribution in today’s U.S. military.

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk. It read, "The buck stops here."

Today it’s not very clear where the buck stops. It’s pretty clear who those Islamic militants blame. All of us.

So what’s the right thing to do now?

Part of me wants to go back to George Washington. Washington warned against getting too tangled up in international affairs. World Wars I and II were different–we were dragged into those. Kicking and screaming all the way, in the case of World War I. We haven’t fought many good wars since those.

Part of me says it’s a different world today, and it’s not realistic to be the world’s only superpower and ignore international affairs.

Part of me asks what I would do if I were Donald Rumsfield or George W. Bush.

Well, I’m a Promise Keeper. One of the Promise Keepers’ mantras is that the man is responsible for what happens in his house. Even if someone else in the household does it, the man had something to do with it, so he has to bear some of the responsibility. That same attitude goes into the workplace, and any position of authority.

Frankly it keeps you honest.

If I were Secretary of Defense, I think I would have to step down. Not because I want to, and not necessarily because people were calling for me to. The reason? To send a message.

So, what of these militants who did this despicable and, frankly, disgusting act?

Some will call for a war on Islam. That’s not the way to show what freedom is all about. If I may go back to my childhood for a minute, when I was growing up, I was always told I was representing more than just myself. I was representing the orgainization I belonged to–be it the Boy Scouts, or the school I went to. So I needed to show people what those things were all about, through my actions. I didn’t always do it perfectly, and I still don’t. But I can honestly say that I did at least try.

Through our actions in the Middle East, we need to be showing these people what Freedom–yes, capital "f"–is all about.

We sure did a better job of that in 1991 than we’re doing now. Sometimes I wonder if we’re trying.

So what if we change our ways? Will we win them over? Not tomorrow we won’t. Freedom isn’t free. In this case, it’s starting to get really expensive. But I think it might have been cheaper if we’d done it right from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong: Either way, it would have been a long and painful process. But maybe it would have taken one century instead of twelve.

We got our man. We got his obvious successors. We didn’t find what we were looking for. We accomplished some worthwhile things, but we kind of look bad too.

I think we have to decide whether we are willing to pay the escalating cost, or go back to George Washington.

An airport story

I found a link to a six-week-old story by Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) about an adventure at an airport.
Long story short: Jillette got grabbed in the crotch by a security guard. Whether it was intentional or not, when Jillette pointed it out, the guard went on a power trip. But touching someone’s crotch without permission is assault. Even if you’re a post-9/11 airport security inspector. The big question is whether someone can be charged with assault while working that particular job.

A juicy quote: “[F]reedom is kind of a hobby with me, and I have disposable income that I’ll spend to find out how to get people more of it.”

As I read it, I couldn’t help but remember some stories Charlie told me about flying in and out of Israel. I don’t recall whether he said he was searched, but he was interviewed. It’d be a whole lot better if he’d tell the stories, but he said at the end of the interview, he felt like a terrorist.

They’d point at random people and ask if he was with them, and if he answered yes, they’d ask for the person’s name. If I were traveling with a group of 50 people and just met some of them, I’d get uncomfortable. (I’d also answer the question wrong.) Sometimes they would say the other person had told them something outrageous about him.

That line of questioning would make anyone with pure motives uncomfortable. They didn’t seem to be as interested in Charlie’s answers as much as they were interested in how he answered them.

Now, when I go through airport security here in the States, I always get screened. Maybe I set off some kind of religious zealot alarm or something. I don’t know. But they always want to test my shoes and my carry-on for explosive properties. And I’m always carrying lots of electronics (a laptop computer, still and video cameras, and, with me, you never know what else), so they want to see them working, to make sure I haven’t figured out how to build a bomb into a Micron TransPort laptop.

So it’s not much fun for me to get onto an airplane. I try to be as gracious as I can, because I know these guys get more lip from people than probably anybody else in the world and I know giving them more isn’t going to get me anywhere.

Neither will putting vile and disgusting things in my luggage so that they have to touch them when they look through my stuff. That’s really immature.

There are some things I’d be packing anyway that probably do work in my favor. There’s my Bible (single white Protestant males aren’t exactly known for blowing up airplanes), and when I think to do it, I wear a cross, for the same reason. I figure since, legal or not, constitutional or not, politically correct or not, there’s profiling going on and nothing’s going to stop it, so I might as well make it work in my favor.

The last time I went through airport security I had a brief and nice conversation with the security cop about video cameras. Yes, I have had a nice conversation with an airport security troll. It’s possible. I hadn’t given him any trouble so I guess I seemed like a fairly nice guy, and he liked my camera, so he asked about it. And let’s face it, by asking me about my camera he was paying me a compliment.

I try to be as polite and nice as possible to everyone I can, whenever I can (there are times when I’m not very capable of that). And I’ve found that most people–not all people, but most–want to be nice to strangers and will be if given the excuse. They’ll just as quickly be not-nice if given the excuse. That’s true of the checker at the grocery store and it’s true of the airport security troll.

Now I don’t know if Penn Jillette got an attitude with the guy in the airport or not. I wasn’t there, so I have no way of knowing. I can think of some people I’ve had the misfortune of meeting or corresponding with who’d have real problems in an airport because of their attitudes. Some of them are twice my age, but they still need to grow up.

Personally, I’m willing to give up some convenience–within reason–to keep the plane I’m on from becoming a missile. The problem I have with a lot of civil liberties advocates is that many of them forget that my individual rights end as soon as my exercise of them starts infringing on someone else’s individual rights. Sometimes one individual’s rights trump another’s.

If the owner of an airplane doesn’t want me on the plane because s/he doesn’t like the color of my shoes, then that’s his or her right. If I want to carry an armory with me when I travel, then I can get my own plane. Most freedoms have always been for those who can afford them.

The biggest problem I have with the current state of airport security is that I think there’s a better way.

One, take the feds out of the equation. I can’t think of a single airline that can afford the financial hit of having an airplane blown up at this point in time. Airlines have a whole lot more at stake than the federal government does. Let them handle their own security. If the feds want to “help,” then fine. Give the airlines money to pay the salaries of their security people. But make the security people accountable to the airline, not the government.

Two, change the approach. The U.S. approach looks for weapons. The problem is, that’s changing all the time. Weapons used to be guns and knives and pipe bombs. Then it was anything that could cut. Then it was shoes. It’s a moving target and it’s always just a matter of time before some terrorist organization gets around it until we cut off the terrorists’ air supply by not buying oil. Since we like our gas guzzlers too much, that’ll never happen.

The Israeli approach doesn’t look for weapons. It looks for terrorists. And it doesn’t really differentiate between armed terrorists and unarmed.

Israel definitely has its problems, but safety on its airplanes isn’t one of them.

The most disturbing story in the Old Testament

Probably everyone who’s ever been to Sunday School is familiar with the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
Matchbook-cover version: To test Abraham’s faith, God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his long-promised son, born to him and his wife Sarah when they were aged 100 and 90, respectively. He was their only son. Abraham loaded them up, and as he prepared to slay his son on the altar, an angel came to him and stopped him.

Did you know there’s another case of human sacrifice to God in the Old Testament, and the Bible is a whole lot less forthcoming on whether the burnt offering actually happened?
Read More »The most disturbing story in the Old Testament

Trolling ’round the ‘net

I’m not feeling nauseous enough so I’ll go troll some news sites and see what I find.
Foxnews: “I think the value of life has been really reduced when a person who strangles their child gets less time than you would for killing a pet.” This person is surprised that there are people who value the lives of our pets more than the lives of our children? The spoils of our past 30 years are coming home to roost. I hope everyone enjoys them, because it’s only going to get worse.

Remember that homo sapien plot to take over the world? No need to worry about it. Even if they do manage to take over the world, they’ll squander it because all they want to do is kill each other.

London Telegraph: Israel arrests and holds 100 Palestinians. Be glad that’s all they’re doing. History will look back at today’s Palestinians as the 21st century’s answer to the Nazis. (Just another case of the homo sapiens killing each other for fun and profit.)

Bah. That’s enough for people to talk about. I’m going to bed.

More on Katie…

Brad called me last night. I was about 3/4 asleep, but he woke me up pretty fast. Katie (her real name is Katelyn, but I’m not sure how she spells it so I cheat) had tests yesterday. There wasn’t anything good that came of them. She’s sick, with a virus. Illness and surgery aren’t a good combination. That’s just common sense. There’s more hardening around her heart than they expected, which will make the surgery harder. And there’s a growth around her heart, so they’ll have to go in again in six months to a year. And (I’m getting sick of that word) the part of her heart that needs to function for anesthesia to work normally doesn’t. I’m getting this third-hand, so I don’t know if that makes any sense or not.
The odds are stacked way too heavily against her.

Brad was pretty down about it. A lot of people are. I am too.

“Maybe the surgery isn’t supposed to happen tomorrow,” I said at some point. Hey, I don’t know.

Brad asked if stuff like this makes me question my faith. Absolutely it does. Then I got philosophical. What else was there to do? Besides pray, that is. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

From the dawn of civilization to today, more than twelve billion people have lived. Twelve billion people! And God knows all of their names. Not only that, He knows everything about those people, down to how many hairs are/were on their head. God knows when they lived, and He knows why. And He can run all the possible scenarios in His head. Someday I can ask God, “What if I’d lived in Israel during the time of Jesus? Would I have followed Him?” and God will know the answer!

It’s pretty easy to determine when we’ll die. The instant we’re worth more to God dead than alive, it’s over. We’re gone.

Brad and I can imagine scenarios where Katelyn is worth a whole lot more to God alive than dead. What if she went in and beat all those odds, then 15 years from now, stood in front of a group of people and told her story?

God knows the answer to that what-if. He knows who would be there, and who would react in what way. God also knows what would happen if He miraculously healed her, instead of letting her go into surgery. And God knows exactly how much pain and grief He would save her by pulling her out of the game and taking her home at any given point.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get over that bit about God knowing more than 12 billion names. I do well to remember five. Not five billion. Five. So I need to trust Him.

I told Brad about a surgery I never had. I was in second grade. I had a bad case of tonsilitis. Not as bad as my sister had about the same time, but bad enough I was missing school. The day before I was scheduled to go into surgery, my doctor checked me up one last time. He looked in my throat, and where he’d previously seen walnuts, he saw two normal tonsils. “They look good to me,” he said. “Let’s just leave them there and see what happens.”

What happened was nothing. It’s 20 years later, and I’ve still got ’em. I missed a few days of school since then, but never on account of a sore throat.

Miracle? Who knows? And why was God doing me any favors? Who knows? Am I worth that much more with my tonsils intact? Only God knows. He knew that 20 years later, I’d need some reason to trust Him. For all I know, that’s the only reason.

God can do for Katelyn’s heart what He did for my tonsils. Or He can do something else.

Please excuse me while I go talk to Him.