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Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Car Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Classic Chevy Impala Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, June 2010

Classic Chevy Impala Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Classic Mercury Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Classic Mercury Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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“Made in the USA” does not hold the credibility that it had fifty years ago.  Today, it communicates overpriced and poorly made.  Other countries have surpassed the USA in producing the same products more cheaply.  More important, some countries have surpassed the USA in producing those products with better quality.  Increasingly, those companies in the USA who are producing qualities products that the American consumer wants are foreign owned.

There are many reasons for this decline in quality and affordable USA products.  However, one outstanding reason that must be examined and critiqued is a growing cultural comfort with personal mediocrity.  For the last 50 years, the USA has increasingly raised up children fed upon the idea that personal work ethic and effort is not important.  We have taken pride in producing a “safe” environment in our schools and playgrounds where “everyone is a winner.”

For the past few Olympics, Americans no longer pride themselves in “taking home the most gold.”  Now, we just count total medals.  It used to be that Americans and their Olympians counted only the gold medals in comparison to other nations.  However, when that comparison became more sketchy in guaranteeing that we look good, we switched to counting total overall medals.  A silver and bronze medal is something to be proud about, to be sure.  But it makes one wonder if this switch was not a subtle way of seceding our ability to be the best or another expression of “everyone is a winner.”  Of course, this change did not just happen over night.

Our young people have their whole lives chewed upon the American idea that participation is enough.  As a result, they have come to expect that participation is all that is required of them.  Everything else will be provided for them to succeed because every child deserves to succeed.  It is no longer the individual’s responsibility to succeed but the community’s responsibility to make them succeed.  At the end of the day, every one will get a trophy, certificate, or diploma regardless of personal effort or work ethic.  And the community will take pride in making another child feel good about their self.

This inbred attitude is taken into the workplace where the right of a job is expected.  Or, it is taken to the college or university where the right of a degree is expected.  Once at work or in college, the expectation is that they should pass or qualify for the job, they deserve to graduate or be promoted, and they deserve to succeed.

Talk to any business manager or owner today and you will find the same critique.  There is an attitude of entitlement in the generation coming up that does not think that personal effort and work ethic should have anything to do with keeping a job or getting a pay raise.  It seems that teaching our children that “everyone’s a winner” – regardless of personal effort – has robbed our children of a productive future rather than helped them.

The pressure upon our school systems to pass kids, raise their grades, help them achieve seems to leave out one important factor.  The desire and motivation of the child to succeed.  When parents come to parent-teacher conferences blaming the teachers and administrators for not guaranteeing their child’s success, it only reflects the entitlement culture that has been bred among us.  Instead of looking at their children and their own family life as a possible cause for their child’s personal work ethic, parents with an entitlement mindset can only see and blame others for their parenting failures and the failures of their child.

It is no wonder, then, that when these young people enter the work force they are unable to hold a job.  Coming to work on time, putting in a full day’s work, working hard to help guarantee the success of their employer, and doing their best to personally learn and grow in their field is completely foreign to them.  When they find their selves unemployed, they become angry and blame their former employers for being unfair.  After all, “everyone is a winner,” right?

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, Summer 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Try and explain that attitude to the workers in the majority world who must work or starve.  Try to explain that mindset to the business owners and entrepreneurs of the majority world where “survival of the fittest” determines whether they are in business next year or not.  Try and explain that to the young people in the majority world where getting into a college or university is a slim chance and so every effort to succeed is important not only for their own personal success but for the survival and success of their extended family.  I think you would get a lot of blank stairs.

Meanwhile, Americans feel threatened by immigrants who come to the USA and take their jobs.  They will work jobs that most Americans will not touch.  Pooling their efforts and resources together, pretty soon their own and run those business.  Then, Americans are shocked to see those same immigrants running the hotels, restaurants, lawn businesses, laundry stores, gas stations, auto repair shops, beauty salons, and other industries.  Surprised, we cry in dismay that “those immigrants” are taking over our country.  (Forgetting, it seems, that our European, ancestors were once those same immigrants with those same work attitudes and goals.)

In reality, it will probably be these immigrants and their families that will save America from going into total global economic decline or even non-existence.  Every wave of immigration to the USA has brought its challenges.  But it has also brought renewed vitality to the American economy and politics.  In other words, an infusion of fresh blood into the American family tree is probably just what we need right now.

It does not matter whether you are a Democrat or Republican, lean to the political left or right, or hold to no political affiliation and shoot straight down the middle.  Creating a societal atmosphere of entitlement that disincentivizes the individual’s work ethic, work effort, and expectations for their rewards is hurting America.  It has largely produced an uneducated, unimaginative, and unwilling work force.  Meanwhile, other world economies are outpacing us, out producing us and will soon leave us in their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) dust.

There is no excuse in America for an educational system that has poorly maintained buildings, terrible educational models and opportunities and inept teachers.  Especially when one considers that America spends three-times more per student on education than its closest competitor in the world. More money is not the solution.  Countries with worse buildings, educational models and ill-trained teachers are still creating better students and a subsequent workforce.

Is it any wonder that in the last 40 years in the USA there has being an exponential rise in home schooling?  That private and religious schools are in high demand?  And that independent charter schools have taken off?  Everyone realizes that there is a problem!  Except for those at the leadership levels of our politically charged national and state educational systems and teacher unions.

There are no easy solutions to recovering what we have lost.  One does not just simply turn around a cultural and societal problem and attitude like this as if it were a U-turn on a Boulevard.  Nevertheless, it must be done.  If America continues with the idea that regardless of work ethic or effort “everyone is a winner” then, sooner than later, no one in America will be a winner.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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A new and joy-filled season in parenting is when one gets to car shop with and for his or her teenagers.  Afterall, their unrealistic expectations are rooted in youthful optimism.  Any sense of the actual cost to operate a vehicle flies higher than a bald eagle on a warm updraft.  Who wants to worry at the very moment of selecting their image-maker-dream-come-true vehicle about such mundane things as maintenance, oil changes, tires, insurance, yearly license and registration fees?  Well, the parent, for one.   Therefore, one of the duties of parenting is to gently but firmly bring them down to the reality of terra firma.

My oldest daughter, Cara, has been so very fortunate to be saved from such painful developments.  We were saved from the excruciating painful process by a friend who gave her a 1980’s vintage Dodge Shadow.  Since I was a pastor – which meant an income just above the poverty line with no benefits – she knew the reality of getting any vehicle at all was slim.  So, she was overjoyed to have one to call her own.   It had been well-maintained and, while it did not rank high on the coolness factor, was her own transportation.  She had a certain amount of freedom that she would not have had sharing our family vehicle.  I was happy for her.

Unfortunately, the day came when the old Dodge Shadow ‘gave up the ghost.’ Its death could not be avoided.  Whether due to the mileage or the harsh North Dakota winters, it stopped running and became a driveway ornament.  This launched us on a mission to find another vehicle for her.  She had a job and school.  Coordinating those activities with her mother’s needs and my own was going to prove a nightmare.

One day, while her oldest brother, Gareth, who was on military leave from Afghanistan, and I noticed a baby-blue 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a “For Sale” sign on it.  It was parked by the Firestone store on George Washington Way in Grand Forks.  You couldn’t miss it.  The seller wanted $1,000 for it.  It looked in good condition.  It had more chrome on it than 100 of today’s vehicles put together.  The bumpers could have been used to weigh ship anchor for the U.S.S. Enterprise.  It was, truly, a thing of beauty.  Gareth and I kidded one another about buying Cara THAT car.

Now, before you judge my daughter or my family of being to proud to drive around a 1971 vintage anything, there were some practical reasons for not considering it seriously.  First, the gas mileage would make operating it prohibitive.  The plus side would have been that she could never get very far with it.  But we could not really consider something that would take a budget slightly larger than the Lithuanian’s annual GDP to operate each month.

Second, my daughter is 5’6″ and 115 lbs.  It would have taken three or four Grand Forks phone books just to get her to be able to see and drive.  We did not have that many phone books.  The plus side was that she would have been surrounded by more heavy duty metal than our troops go into battle with today in their Humvees.  They just do not make cars like that anymore.  The number one cause for auto body repair in North Dakota is hitting deer crossing highways.  The bumpers on that vehicle would deflect a small buffalo.

Anyway, Gareth and I had a good chuckle talking about and picturing Cara behind the wheel that 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.  The reality of it was that the car deserved to be owned by someone who would appreciate the cars vintage, make, and model.  It would not have gotten the respect in our family that it surely deserved.

Nevertheless, I could not help myself one day when Cara and I were driving up George Washington Way and saw the car parked alongside the road.  I saw a moment for some fun.

Hey, what do you think about that car?” I said pointing out the baby-blue Cadillac.

What?  That big one? It’s kinda’ cute.  I like the color,” replied Cara kindly but a little guarded.

You’re brother and I are thinking about getting you thatWhat do you think?” I said, pushing the idea a little more.

I don’t know,” she hesitated.  “It’s kinda’ big, don’t you think?”

Yeah,” I agreed.  “But you’d get used to it once you drove it around for awhile.”

There was a bit of a frightened look on Cara’s face now.  “I don’t know, dad.  I don’t think I want something that big.  It’s bigger than a boat!  I mean, what about the cost of gasIt’s going to suck a lot of gas.  I won’t be able to afford to drive it.”

My sweet daughter.  She’s thinking real practical.  Fear will do that to you.  But I could not just let this go.  So, I fibbed a bit to draw out the drama of the moment.

Yes, gas will be more but insurance will be cheap.  Well,” I continued, “your brother’s got the guy’s phone number and is going to get a hold of him today.  He’s probably calling him as we speak.  The guy wants a thousand dollars for it.  We’re going to see if he’ll take seven-hundred-and-fifty for it.

What!?” Cara exclaimed in a somewhat frantic voice.  “Dad, don’t let him do it.  I can’t drive that!

“Ah,” I thought.  “She’s taking the bait.”

“What do you mean, Sweetie?” I asked.  “You’re brother is offering to buy it for you with his military pay.  He wants to do this for you before he heads back to Afghanistan.

WHAT?!! Are you kidding me, right now?” came a more desperate plea.  “No, dad.  Don’t let him do it.  I’ll hate that car.  How will I drive it around town? I won’t be able to see over the steering wheel! How am I going to be able to park it?”

Of course, these were all good points.  But, at this point, I am having too much fun and I am having trouble not smiling or breaking out into laughter.

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Well, you better call Gareth,” I said.  “He’s supposed to try and take care of it for you today. He was really wanting to do this for you.  I think you better talk to him.  I mean, after all, Sweetie, it’s a free car.  He may be a little disappointed.

By now, I could tell Cara was conflicted.  She needed a car.  She appreciated the idea of her brother buying her a car.  But just not THAT car.

Now the tears flowed, “Dad, I can’t do it.  Can’t you talk to him? I won’t be able to drive it.  How about if you drive it and I drive your car?”

What?” I objected.  “No.  That would be your car.  Besides, you’d be way safer in it with all that metal wrapped around you.  I wouldn’t want to drive it.  I do too much running around.

But, dadWhat am I going to do? I’ll be scared to drive that thingPlease, won’t you call Gareth and explain?”  Cara pleaded.  “Please?”

No,” I calmly replied.  “That won’t be necessary.  I’m just kidding.  We weren’t going to guy you that car.  How would you drive something like that?”

WHAT!?” Cara exclaimed.  “Are you kidding me, right now? You are kidding me, aren’t youDad!”

By this times the giggles and guffaws had over taken me and now I was in tears from laughing so hard.  I am sure that other drivers on George Washington Way must have been wondering what was going on in our car.

Dad!  I can’t believe you!” Cara protested indignantly.  “You were pulling my leg all along?”

Through tears and laughter, I answered, “Yup.  And, boy, I really had you going, didn’t I? That was priceless.  You should have seen your face.

Wiping the tears from her eyes and with some relief, Cara replied, “Yeah.  Well, I wouldn’t have driven that thing.  You or mom would have had to drive it.

But, Sweetie, what about all that chrome, and those big bumpers, and all that metal surrounding youIt would have kept you really safe.  And, you know, your safety is my main concern.”

Now she looked at me with eyes that said, “You don’t think I’m going to take anything you say seriously from now on, do you?”

I wiped the tears from my eyes and continued chuckling to myself.  What a priceless father-daughter moment.  At least to my way of thinking.  She probably claims to be scarred for life from it.  I, however, will cherish it.

Still to this day, whenever I see a 1970’s vintage, lots of chrome, big-bumpered car, I think back to that moment.  Like this last summer when I visited the Cool Desert Nights Car Show in Richland, Washington.  There were so many beautiful old cars.  But the ones that made me pause the most were the 1970’s vintage Cadillacs.  There I stood smiling from ear-to-ear with a tear in my eye.  Some experiences are just worth living again and again.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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