Thursday, March 31, 2005

Death of Terri Schiavo

I hope ...
I hope that Terri Schiavo finally finds peace after 15 years of physical torment.
I hope her parents and family member can find some inner peace knowing that she IS in a better place than what has transpired for the last 15 years.
I hope her husband Michael can find inner peace that his decisions were, to the best of his knowledge and the best of his conscience, what Terri really wanted.
I hope those who stood, chanted, prayer and demonstrated in Florida (on all sides) will retreat to neutral corners and ask themselves in making this case into such a spectacle was worthy of their efforts, or in the end, more demeaning.
I hope Congressional leaders will never do what they did, try to interfere in a famly matter, again.
I hope that legislation is passed - for the future - which would allow for more amicable resolutions than what the world saw.
I hope and pray for the thousands of families across the nation who face the exact decisions of Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers on a daily basis. The only different is the lack of media exposure.
But mostly, I repeat, I hope that Terri Schiavo is in heaven and is whole again, having found her peace.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Preying on victims

One of the best media columns is written weekdays by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. Always thoughtful, he presents ALL sides of the political spectrum as long as it is interesting. After all, who wants to read boring stuff?
This came from his Tuesday Media Notes Extra column on Tuesday, March 29, discussing an article in the New York Times.
"The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups.
"'These compassionate pro-lifers donated toward Bob Schindler's legal battle to keep Terri's estranged husband from removing the feeding tube from Terri,' says a description of the list on the Web site of the firm, Response Unlimited, which is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo's father. 'These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!'
"Privacy experts said the sale of the list was legal and even predictable, if ghoulish."

This is getting very little play on America's conservative talk shows, almost all of which are hysterically slanted against the court action and ALL in favor of the Schindlers. One of the arguments demonizing Michael Schiavo is a question of life insurance benefits and trust money from a malpractice settlement.
Yet this seems to be just as slimy. Some groups wants to profit from tragedy and no one is openly damning this action.
Very hypocritical. But, truthfully, tell me something in the sad episode which has NOT been hypocritical ... on ALL sides.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Wilmer-Hutchins fiasco

Ohmigosh! The number of clichés that one could rattle off the tongue that would more than apply to the sad fiasco that is the power struggle within the Wilmer-Hutchins school district.
How about “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?” Or “Cheaters never prosper?” Or “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”
Or even “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?”
In effect, by thumbing their nose at the Texas Education Agency and showing their backside to the state management team Monday night, the trustees of the W-H CISD took a giant step closer to being non-existent – as a ruling body and as a functioning district – by firing the state-appointed superintendent and taking the entire matter to the courts. I’m not sure that playing “chicken” with Austin is the correct move for a district with such a horrible history and track record.
In fact, I’m positive that it’s a huge negative. TEA has the power to wave a wand and make the Wilmer-Hutchins CISD disappear.
Turmoil is nothing new to Wilmer-Hutchins; it has been part of its fabric since the mid-1990s. But it has gotten SO out of control that nothing short of complete dissolution of the district will be able to solve anything.
It is more than clear that systemic cheating took place on the state evaluation tests in Wilmer-Hutchins. It was far more than a few crib sheets and barely audible whispers among students. This hasn’t been really denied by anyone in the district; all that has happened is plenty of finger-pointing to campus principals and subordinate teachers.
But this cliché MORE than applies: “Fish rots from the head down.” To think that a few teachers simply took it upon themselves to have initiated this course of action, or that the principals were solely responsible, is to believe in fairy tales. These things do not operate in vacuums; others MUCH higher up HAD to have known.
And in all things involving school district policy, it ultimately falls upon the shoulders of the elected representatives. That board must assume full responsibility; it does the hiring and it does the firing.
This school board was the one that rehired Dr. Charles Matthews as its superintendent AFTER the initial state takeover of the district (a direct result of Matthews’ first tenure as W-H superintendent). This school board refused to officially dismiss Dr. Matthews after his SECOND (not first) indictment for felony charges for tampering with official documents and falsifying attendance data.
There has been ample disclosure, through other investigations, where people (often directly connected through family ties) have been receiving paychecks without working one New York minute to obtain that stipend. Last spring’s torrential rains exposed how fundamental repairs and upkeep for campuses were never done – either properly or at all.
Yet Wilmer-Hutchins is one of the leading districts in the state for receiving state funding to help it do its job. It is clearly the clichéd statement of “chasing good money after bad.” Those property wealthy school districts, tired of losing money to the “Robin Hood” system of school financing, always cite Wilmer-Hutchins as the poster child for waste and corruption – the reason to trash the entire thing.
Sadly, W-H is a district in decline. Student enrollment has fallen in the past decade and the property values which account for what it can spend in the budget are the lowest in Dallas County by a wide margin. The district is totally beholden to the state for its continued financial existence but is now refusing to take its supervisory medicine.
One of the biggest blunders committed by the W-H trustees has been the failure to properly set a legal tax rate by which it can operate. Not for a year; but for five decades! One year would be an oversight; five decades is total incompetence.
On May 7, voters in the district will be asked to establish a tax rate of $1.58 per $100 valuation that will allow W-H CISD to continue operating. Without any advanced polling, I’d venture to say it’s an iffy proposition at best. The last vote by those voters completely rejected a needed bond package to upgrade various campuses – not into the 21st century but merely in the 90s. Voters spoke loudly and it was all about a lack of confidence in current management.
That same message could well be delivered a second time and if it happens, it will be lights out for the district. Wilmer-Hutchins will be forced to return to its last legally adopted tax rate (90 cents set in 1956) and the TEA management team has already said that won’t be enough money to operate the school district on any level.
The reason the W-H situation matters to other folks in the Best Southwest will be a matter of fallout. An influx of students, of ANY number, into other districts (mainly Lancaster, Dallas and Ferris) could topple delicately balanced budgets and education plans. And if the walls of the W-H CISD fall, it will happen quickly and other districts and communities will be forced to deal with it.
In the end, the truth about W-H CISD will be summed up in this cliché: “You have no one to blame but yourself.” The residents within the district chose time and again to retain these board members who have made all these bad decisions, they chose not to question the policies, and chose, ultimately, to look the other way when their children were being undereducated compared to everyone around them.
What will be SO ironic is that if the tax rate question fails May 7, those citizens will be responsible for the demise of the district.
Perhaps … as it should be.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Schiavo - America held hostage - Day ??

In the Terri Schiavo case, so-called religious “supporters” constantly try to compare the removal of the feeding tube to how humans treat their pets. Speaker after speaker goes before television cameras (which is REALLY the ultimate goal – face time on FOX) and states how cruel it is to “starve this woman to death. We don’t do that to our pets.”
Correct. We don’t. We put them to sleep to avoid such pain.
However, when a human tries to help people, with all their faculties, do the same thing – be put to sleep to avoid massive pain in the immediate future – our society places those helpers in prison.
So are these people of faith actually advocating euthanasia as an acceptable means to deal with a case like Schiavo’s?
Because one cannot have it BOTH ways ALWAYS. If life is truly sacred, then there can be no death penalty, right? Rational people know the truth is different.
And speaking of irrational people, what is this nonsense about Schiavo being “misdiagnosed” as referenced by Gov. Jed Bush on Wednesday? When do these off-the-wall, 11th hour, last-second, out-of-the-blue statements come from? And why do SO many people believe them?
Because they merely WANT them to be true. Facts have never stood in the way of a good story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Final words on Schiavo

I hope the final word on this debate can come from Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, an extreme conservative with whom I have NEVER agreed on anything … until now. This is the finale of today’s column; I’d suggest to everyone that he or she read it.
“Given our lack of certainty, given that there are loved ones prepared to keep her alive and care for her, how can you allow the husband to end her life on his say-so? Because following the sensible rules of Florida custody laws, conducted with due diligence and great care over many years in this case, this is where the law led.
“For Congress and the president to then step in and try to override that by shifting the venue to a federal court was a legal travesty, a flagrant violation of federalism and the separation of powers. The federal judge who refused to reverse the Florida court was certainly true to the law. But the law, while scrupulous, has been merciless, and its conclusion very troubling morally. We ended up having to choose between a legal travesty on the one hand and human tragedy on the other.
“There is no good outcome to this case. Except perhaps if Florida and the other states were to amend their laws and resolve conflicts among loved ones differently -- by granting authority not necessarily to the spouse but to whatever first-degree relative (even if in the minority) chooses life and is committed to support it. Call it Terri's law. It would help prevent our having to choose in the future between travesty and tragedy.”

Monday, March 21, 2005

Congress passes Schiavo bill

For anyone who respects the law and the U.S. Constitution, the happenings over the last 24 hours, involving Terri Schiavo, the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States, have been nothing short of tragic for this nation. The unwarranted intrusion into a personal matter by a group more intent on scoring political points than upholding their collective oaths to the Constitution makes me want to cry.
It also makes me afraid, frankly, to live in a nation where anyone displaying crocodile tears and getting extremist religious followers as ardent supporters can directly petition the federal government to enact legislation on their behalf. Apparently, certain parts of the U.S. Constitution (Article 3, Section 9, Part 3), which forbids bills of attainder and ex post facto laws doesn’t mean much anymore. That part of the Constitution forbids from passing laws directed at one person, but that’s no problem when you have a political agenda to follow.
Don’t like a court’s ruling? Call your Congressman and hold a news conference, notably on Fox News Channel, from which all viewpoints for the Republicans seem to emanate.
And this is what REALLY enrages me … our society now believes the best way to win public opinion is to demonize the opposition on an extremely personal basis. Listening to late night talk shows across the country, callers in support of the Congressional action took it upon themselves to ignore the facts as presented to 19 Florida judges (why is Florida the epicenter of judicial insanity?) and spread unsubstantiated and biased rumors (“Well, that’s what I heard!”) as if they were part of the Ten Commandments Charlton Heston brought down from Mount Sinai.
Add to that the personalization of the attacks by referring to people solely on a firsts-name basis. “Well, Michael, did this” and “Mike did that;” talking about Michael Schiavo, the husband.
These people don’t KNOW him; they never MET him. Yet they speak as if they were personal friends and had complete knowledge of the man’s history and motives. They did that with the Peterson case (just say “Scott and Laci” and we all knew what it meant) and with scores of other news stories.
People now tend to throw themselves into cases on SUCH a personal basis. Is it to feel something? Is the need to relate on such an intimate level THAT important?
It drives me up a wall.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Congress involvement in Schiavo

According to CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who is a lawyer, there is a provision in the Constitution called “a bill of attainder,” meaning under the Constitution, Congress is NOT allowed to pass a law directed at a specific person.
“That was dealt with in the American Revolution because the British Parliament had, you know, passed laws saying John Adams, for example, is a criminal,” Toobin said. “Under our Constitution, we can’t make laws about specific people. So, that would be an issue in the challenge to this law, if it became effect.”
There is no question that what Congress, led by Tom DeLay and other ultra-conservative Republicans, is doing is CLEARLY unconstitutional.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Schiavo case

I wish someone would ask THIS question of Congress:
Why is the federal government interceding in someone's marriage? With all the talk about protecting the sactity of marriage from harm because two people of the same sex wish to form a civil/official union, will the Feds now tell us the new meaning of "marriage?" Does it mean the husband or wife cannot legally act on the behalf of their spouse?
Or can ANYONE go ask for a subpoena when in-laws disagree with what two married people are doing?THAT seems to be lost in the Schiavo case. Typically, a few Congressmen was merely reacting to political headlines (Gosh what a shock!) and making hay while the Florida sun shines. Where were they 10 years ago when this issue first arose?Answer? Looking at poll numbers of course. Today, it's a hot button issue and guarantees facec time on TV. It's a disgusting situation for EVERYONE involved.

Steroid hearings

I must admit that my remote control flicker finger – the one that is employed to change channels – got quite a workout last Thursday. My television was constantly in motion as I switched from one NCAA men’s basketball tournament game to the Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, broadcast all day long on ESPN News.
Since most of the basketball games involved little drama (except for a last-second dunk by West Virginia to beat Creighton and a Texas meltdown against Nevada in the final two minutes), I stayed with the hearings to see who would say what, and as it turned out, who wouldn’t say what.
Like almost ALL national columnists and observers, I felt sorry for slugger Mark McGwire because his refusal to address seemed to brand him with the stigma he tried to avoid all during his career. If what you don’t say speaks volumes about what you did, Big Mac came off looking guilty as all-get-out. Yet you probably were moved that the emotion he displayed was genuine because he could see his legacy slipping away before his bespeckled eyes.
Former Ranger Rafael Palmeiro looked like someone was going to ink him to a Hollywood movie contract on the spot, Jose Canseco appeared to be a person in search of a sentence for which he didn’t seem squirrelly and Sammy Sosa looked like someone who knew he was out of his league before this group of politicians. (Odd, they are ALL former Rangers, hmmmmmmm).
The issue of steroids in baseball is serious, but “overblown” in its proportion, according to Red Sox hurler Curt Schilling, who changed his stance in light of Canseco’s recent book, after being quoted in Sports Illustrated as musing about the gravity of steroid usage. I thought that was quite telling from a man asked to chair an anti-steroid task force by Congress.
I was also struck by the inability (bordering on rudeness) of those Congressional members to pronounce the names of the men before them. The baseball commissioner is NOT named “Zelig,” and the players’ rep is not named “Furr.” If you are going to attack and impugn their character, at least call them by their right names.
Up in Plano, people have heard the incredibly sad story told by Don Hooten about his late son, Taylor, who committed suicide after taking steroids while at Plano West High School. Everyone admits that the impetus for the illegal action came from a coach (the young man was asked to “get bigger”), not McGwire or Canseco. Yet the elder Hooten holds MLB accountable for putting its bulked-up stars on a pedestal for the public to admire and emulate.
In that sense, he is correct, but baseball is not the only sport that should be singled out. And the problem with the hearing was that no other institution was mentioned for its past problems (of which they are plenty). The BALCO investigation in San Francisco began over the activities of a football player, linebacker Bill Romanowski, not a baseball player.
The committee members constantly bashed Major League baseball executives for not adopting the “gold standard” of testing – that employed by the Olympic movement. While that group holds its athletes to a different standard, and outlaws many substances that can be found in legal items (over-the-counter cold capsules and natural supplements), it has NOT prevented Olympians from trying to cheat the system. At the Athens Games, there were still a multitude of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs … and those were the ones who got caught. One would have to think there were others who did not get nabbed.
Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING … will prevent a person from taking shortcuts or cheating when there is BIG money involved. It also means that people benefiting from that performance will also ignore problems so long as the money continues to be produced.
It was also odd for Congress to ask about erasing records of those involved. In the Olympics, steroids were rampant in the 70s and 80s (that group was forced to deal with its problems when it reached such a crisis level). The East German women swimmers of 1976 were prime examples. Their doping was legendary and revealed years later. Yet those gold medals were never taken away and any record established during that meet stood until it was broken. No asterisk involved.
At times, the entire procedure made for good theater, excellent television and some level of education. You learned how lawyers talk and think, how politicians posture and act, and how celebrity always fascinates well past the point of reasonableness.
But, honestly, what can be done to prevent such material from entering this country and keeping it away from young people? I sadly say about the same chance as any other drug.
On that scale, everyone involved – lawmakers, law enforcers, celebrities and regular families, are not doing very well at the plate.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Door-to-door no more

How many times have you read something, or experienced something, and simply exclaimed, “There oughta be a law against that!” Daily? Weekly? Minute to minute?
There is an issue that would do more for Plano residents on a daily basis than almost anything currently bandied before the public. Proposed arts halls are years from reality and intersection overpasses are figments of fertile imaginations. Try this suggestion on for size.
Stop allowing strangers to traipse through a homeowner’s yard and attach unwanted junk mail in the person of advertising fliers on the doorknob. Short of that, make it difficult to allow this violation of a homeowner’s privacy.
There are many reasons to enact such a law and all of them have to do with neighborhood crime and public safety – something that is a daily concern in this city.
To be fair, the City of Plano claims that such a problem is covered. According to Paul Richardson, assistant city attorney, Plano does “regulate” solicitation and handbill distribution “within the parameters allowed by law,” and cites City Code section 11-145.
“Handbill distributors are required to obtain a permit and make certain disclosures regarding themselves and the material they are distributing. It is not legally permissible for the City to ban handbill distribution. However, citizens can prohibit handbill/solicitation on their property and the City can prosecute violations of this prohibition.”
If any of these people actually hold “permits,” I’d be willing to buy unseen swampland in the Sahara Desert. My experience suggests that cheap photo copies by some yard care company, or a pizza or Chinese food joint, are distributed by people who probably misplaced their permits that day, ya think?
Here’s what else Mr. Richardson communicated:
“The first step to prevent solicitation is for the property owner to post notice on their property that soliciting is prohibited. The notice must be at least 3-inches by 4-inches in size bearing the words ‘no solicitation’ or, ‘no handbills,’ or any similar notice that clearly conveys that the conduct is not permitted. The letters on the card shall not be less than 2/3-inches in height. The notice must be posted in a conspicuous place on or near the main entrance to the residence. Persons who properly post their property for no solicitation can file a citizen’s complaint for a violation (by contacting the Municipal Prosecutor’s Office at 972-941-2056). The filing of a citizen’s complaint will require the assistance of the property owner and may include testifying in court.
“In addition, the property owner will need to provide a copy of the materials that are left on their premises.”
That’s fine and dandy if all you want to stop is a lot of litter. But my main concern, and what should be a major concern of other Plano homeowners, is the free access for unwanted surveillance of one’s property by strangers.
As the victim of an unsolved home burglary, I take the issue of who is roaming my neighborhood very seriously. Since the police presence is minimal, at best (it took an hour for Plano police to respond to three calls after initial discovery of the break-in and the possibility of an intruder still existed), it falls to homeowners to do their best to keep the scoundrel hounds “away from the door.”
When a family leaves for vacation, the home-delivered newspaper is usually halted until their return. A pile of unread papers on the lawn is a sign of vacancy. But a similar sign would be a gaggle of unread fliers on the doorknob and there is no one to call to prevent that (the City won’t really do anything to stop it). It is a public safety issue; not free speech. There exist many avenues to get the advertising message to the consumer without having to resort to such an intrusive method.
Robbery is one thing; items can be replaced. But no one knows who these people are and what they are up to. Possible crimes could include assault, rape and … worse. It is impossible to watch every inch of each street 24/7 but a little help from the City can go a long way in crime prevention.
The City of Plano believes its hands are tied (yet can still outlaw intersection solicitation-sales for public safety reasons). Then it should require (by statute) that all printed front door property solicitations contain that permit number and full disclosure of address of the business and/or company responsible for the distribution. All persons physically engaged in placement of these solicitations should be required to openly display the permits while working and they should be registered with the City of Plano Police Department prior to “canvassing” neighborhoods.
If the Plano City Council and municipal officials REALLY want to do something that would make a difference in people’s everyday lives, the change this particular law to be in favor of the homeowner, not against us. The burden should fall upon the intruders, not the taxpayers.

Customer service: Lost art in the 21st century

Call the Sierra Club, Audobon Society and the Environmental Protection Agency. The newest of all American endangered species needs immediate help.
Look in the mirror; it’s you - the lowly Americanus consumeris (American consumer). Little by little (actually, in real big chunks lately), being a normal consumer is becoming dangerous to one’s physical and mental health.
Once upon a time, as in all fairy tales, the customer was always right. You got service with a smile. Today, you’re lucky to get anyone’s help (or attention) in a department store, a prompt checkout in a supermarket or a small dose of kindness when you spend your hard-earned money.
Businesses have no problem putting you on hold for long period of time and then ask you to hold some more while they fiddle-and-faddle for this-and-that. In reality, they really want you to just disappear into outer space so the time clock can just keep ticking.
Nope, a consumer’s dollar buys very little respect these days ... if any at all. The attitude is to take the service you get or go somewhere else ... if you can. It seems to be the all-too-common practice of the service provider.
It is also the all-too-common evolution of retail commerce, moving far away from the Mom and Pop establishments where individuals knew other individuals and their needs. What has emerged from the swamps are these mega-store, warehouse-type, big box outlets where you need a green card (as in American Express) just to get so much as a grunt.
Consumer confidence?!? How about a little consumer courtesy?!?
In sports, the fan who puts his or her fanny in the stadium/arena seat is the average customer and no group in that industry has been more abused. All new venues are being built with corporations in mind, not the in-house customer. Marketing is aimed at the casual observer - either sitting in the Laz-Z-Boy at home with the remote control in his hand or the teenager just looking for something to look cool.
The casual fan has the attention and loyalty span of the average UPN sitcom. Prices to attend games have skyrocketed (just look at how much it will cost to see a Texas Ranger game in 2005 and up in Frisco, ticket prices for the minor league Roughriders are the HIGHEST in ALL of minor league baseball). The interaction between that group (doing the charging) and the people on the receiving end (doing the cheering) has all but disappeared.
But does anyone care? Not really. This leads me to the airline industry - a victim of its own ineptitude. Two of the biggest companies – American and Delta – each reported record losses in the fourth quarter of 2004. Coincidentally, each suffered mightily during the busy Christmas holidays, inflicting plenty of pain upon passengers trying to travel around the country.
Bags got lost by the thousands, too many flights are delayed without notification, and information was not forthcoming. All the while, ticket prices continued to balloon.
Consumer choice has been reduced with each passing merger announcement - something that can be said in every economic sector. Mergers mean families are without jobs and there are fewer outlets for people to choose.
The airlines have gone begging, hat in hand, for government bailouts on two occasions, blaming Sept. 11 for all their woes without full disclosure that problems existed before Sept. 10, 2001. And no one can then explain why Southwest Airlines, expanding and providing good service, continues to make a profit quarter after quarter after quarter after quarter …
The industry has always been horribly reluctant to change and implement voluntary measures to stem the poor customer treatment. They’d rather cut OUT service (no more food and even no more pillows) than provide that which once made them so special to use to travel … SERVICE!
Here’s the bottom line: You cannot scrimp on customer service – period – in any business. It makes no sense to ignore or disrespect the people who buy your product/service. It is so simple a concept that it makes you wonder why all businesses don’t do it better.
As is the case with too many things in our society, it is all a matter of common courtesy. Fewer people are just not bothering with it any more.
Those who do are on that endangered species list, too.

Get tough on DWI offenders, killers

There is so much outrage near the Oklahoma-Texas border, it isn’t funny. The people around Sherman are struggling with the situation behind the deaths of 10 people (from two families) by one drunken truck driver.
The prosecutor has announced a potential 10-year sentence for the driver, which is outrageous considering the severity of the accident, and it has people up in arms.
The problem falls behind the law. The maximum penalty for intoxication manslaughter is 20 years in jail. Murderers, however, face the death penalty, or at least, life in prison. But drunk drivers seem to have special protection in Texas.
That same story can be played out in any region of Texas, from the time when the lives of four dead female classmates near Brock were snuffed out to something that has affected your neighborhood. It is so repetitive it has become mind-numbing. I’m sure you know of someone whose life has been crushed by a similar tragedy.
In my mind, it is murder. When you climb into a two-ton machine, unable to properly operate that vehicle, and still decide to drive, you endanger every life in close proximity. It is more than just a case of being “a little too sloshed” to drive; it is criminal.
Sadly, the offenders are often repeat offenders, even when injuries or fatalities are involved. Too much leniency is exhibited and there seems to be little in the way of deterrence to keep these law-breakers away from you and me. What happened to personal responsibility?
When someone is killed, it should be (at least) second-degree murder – punishable by the same standards of law. After all, it IS a conscious decision to begin drinking and get into that car.
It should be attempted murder. That’s the charge that was leveled in the infamous hit-and-run of an Irving waitress in the parking lot of a Bennigan’s restaurant. Being run down by a car means usage of a deadly weapon.
As you can guess, I house NO sympathy for drunk drivers, especially ones who have taken human life. I’ve known too many people who have had their lives ripped apart because of the actions of a drunk driver.
A close friend lost her father when she was just 12 and never got the chance to hear his sage advice, see her walk down the aisle to marry her fine husband or play with his two grandchildren. She would cry often at the mere memory of what might have been.
And it’s all because someone consumed too much alcohol, put their brain in the glove compartment and decided to drive a car totally impaired. For this crime, that man who killed my friend’s father was put BACK on probation. I’m sure his wrists got slapped in the process. Ouch, ooh that hurt!
But that was about it; which is a crime in itself. We treat a gaggle of non-violent, non-property offenders in a far more Jean Valjean-manner. We’ve had an ongoing, long-standing failing “war on drugs,” but have NEVER declared the same heavy-handed initiative against drunk, murderous drivers.
Since they are in their bi-anneum session, everyone should urge their state legislators, and various courts, to take this heinous crime far more seriously. Lock these people up; keep them off the road ... by any means necessary.
Please! Attack this problem by strengthening the penalties and changing attitudes. Here are a few suggestions:
• outlaw ANY kind of open container of alcohol in a moving vehicle (visual of consumption should NOT be the criteria for a ticket);
• restrict (no, actually, ban) the sale of large single quan­tity (anything over 24 ounces) bottles and cans of beer (which has been done before in Fort Worth);
• impound licenses and vehicles for initial convictions; that the loss of a license permanent if a fatality is involved (a driver’s license is a privilege, not a God-given birthright. Screw up big time and you lose that luxury behind the wheel);
• upgrade “vehicular manslaughter” to second-degree mur­der (in reality, what is the difference between killing a human being with a gun, knife, drugs or a car?). Repeat offenders should be subject to first-degree charges. If you are involved in more than one fatal DWI, to me, you’re a serial killer.
The public should put this issue on the same plateau as other pro-family issue – trying to protect the lives of children and adults. Vote out judges who are lackadaisical and far too lenient in sentencing DWI offenders, or who fail to set bonds high enough to keep these menaces off the roads.
Then perhaps many more families will shed fewer tears because unchecked potential killers will be behind bars instead of terrorizing the streets.
We’d all sleep a little sounder if these idiots were forced to walk … or take a cab.

U-Haul, Me S.I.C.K.

I hate discrimination. It’s an ugly way of thinking and a horrible way of life – be it over age, gender, race, creed, and orientation.
Or horsepower.
It makes me sick. Or better yet, it should make you S.I.C.K. - Support Individual Consumer Kvetching.
In case, you haven’t heard or noticed what has been happening, and judging by the public’s lack of response, you haven’t, here’s the 411:
More than a year ago, (Dec. 22, 2003), Phoenix-based U-Haul International, North America’s largest trailer rental company, told all of its 17,000-plus outlets not to rent trailers to owners of Ford Explorers. The Explorer is the nation’s top-selling SUV and was 2003’s sixth-highest selling vehicle, period. A lot of folks, including your South Dallas County neighbors, own this means of transportation.
In a memo obtained by the Detroit News, U-Haul said the decision was based on “negative perceptions of Ford Explorers; we are separating ourselves from the negative public perception and its potential consequences.” Apparently, U-Haul was involved in a lawsuit and out-of-court settlement last September, stemming from a 1999 accident when three college students were injured after their Explorer, operating on Firestone tires, overturned while pulling a U-Haul trailer.
So instead of thinking this situation through, and not segregating a significant portion of the American motoring public, U-Haul hauled the Explorer out of the picture without any announcement or true explanation to its outlets. Other corporations, hurt by similar product liability litigation, have not been so discriminating. McDonald’s continues to sell coffee to old women after its famous “too hot to handle” lawsuit.
Gee, you muse, it must be a safety issue, right? Nope, says U-Haul. It’s based on the lawsuits it’s lost. Then, it must be about those dang Firestone tires, which most Explorer owners, like me, had removed when informed of their problems more than two years ago. Alas, U-Haul won’t budge, or do business.
Mind you, U-Haul has NOT outlawed rentals to Mercury Mountaineers, despite the fact that it and the Ford Explorer are duplicates of one another (you know, twin sons of different mothers). And guess what tire used to sit under those Mountaineers?
My problem was more specific. I had an official, genuine, real-deal U-Haul trailer hitch installed on my Explorer (with the expressed, written consent of Major League Baseball plan) to … rent U-Haul trailers for various uses. But, alas, the best laid plans of mice, men and Firestones went awry. I sought a rebate for the aforementioned item - rendered useless with the keystroke of some bureaucrat’s computer.
So I called the local U-Haul outlet where I bought the hitch and thus began a process of runarounds that would have made Seabiscuit dizzy. My call was shuffled from the local U-Haul manager (who refused to discuss it) to the district manager’s office. I was then hiked like a football to some gentleman who turned out to be the “guy in charge of hitches.” How would you like THAT on your business card?
He then tried to send me back to the local store manager. As they say, three hikes and you’re out! All I wanted to do is what the Dallas Stars did a few years ago – get rid of my “Hitch.”
There was nothing on U-Haul’s website about the discriminatory policy and Ford was all too quiet in defending its product. Instead a Ford spokesman blamed trial lawyers, “forcing businesses to make unfortunate decisions for fear of lawsuits.” No need to drag John Edwards into this discussion.
Besides, another Yiddish proverb comes to mind, “Second liar never stands a chance.”
So I have begun a needed consumer’s group – Support Individual Consumer Kvetching - or S.I.C.K. For those of you uninitiated with Yiddish, to kvetch is to complain. When the consumer does it, American corporations avoid he or she like as if they have SARS or have been with Paris Hilton in some video.
I AM sick of being trampled upon as a buyer of American goods and services. I am sick of being taken for granted by businesses and politicians who know as much about real life as Joe Millionaire, the Bachelorette or the no talents auditioning for “American Idol.” Something needs to be done and our voices, in all their shrillness, need to be heard.
I want presidential candidates to debate it in front of Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. I’d like it to be mentioned in the President Bush’s State of the Union address so I can get a seat in the visitor’s gallery.
Sadly, U-Haul never compromised on this issue. There was no offer of a legal waiver, putting the onus on Explorer owners for the risks. Besides, almost all problems concerning trailers and accidents stemmed from overloading, improper air pressure in tires (no matter what brand) and failure to adhere to all instructions.
Explorers don’t kill humans; stupidity and carelessness usually does.
So here I sit with my Explorer and this thing sticking out its backside. It longs to be reunited with its intended – a 6-foot trailer to haul belongings from storage unit to storage unit. It wants to get hitched, but U-Haul has turned its back.
Doesn’t it just make you S.I.C.K.?

Chuck Bloom Posted by Hello

Can't teach an old dog new technology

In the foyer of my Plano home, there is a memorial to a time when modern technology did not rule the day. On a table, surrounded by old family photos, stands a Royal manual typewriter. It looks as if it came from the 1950s and is quite a bit more modern than a 1930s model I have stashed somewhere among my junk sitting in two storage units and the confines of the garage (one’s permanently attached storage unit).
I glance at it often as I exit and enter the house, wondering if it would still be able to bang out a quality piece of writing and could still fill the air with the crisp ratt-a-tat-tat staccato that only came from a typewriter on deadline. So long as the ink hasn’t completely dried up on the monochrome cloth ribbon, I probably could have easily done this column on just such a unit.
Alas, for Christmas, my loving wife gave me the one thing I probably didn’t want and certainly could have done without – a new cell phone. I had fought long and hard against obtaining the old one, but she convinced me that it would save money (as our long distance provider) and would be handy in cases of emergency. So I was the good husband, which meant mumbling lots of “Yes, dear” and an equal amount of “Oh, well” in accepting my technological fate.
I have happily drawn the line on other things. I refuse to have one of those Palm Pilots or blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, Burberrys … whatever you call those odd-looking communication devices that no more resemble a telephone than I resemble Brad Pitt.
Besides, what ever happened to having a good telephone? Why has it become necessary to have these things perform so many non-communication functions, such as transporting photos, videos, Mpegs, M3s and playing video games? Whatever happened to the simple ability of talking to another human being at one time? And what is the politically correct term? Wireless? Mobile? Cell? Appendage?
My wife then gleefully demonstrated the various (and annoying) ways the thing could “ring.” It played Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” some jazz piece, a bad version of “Happy Birthday,” the sounds of birds chirping and cats meowing thinking about dining on those birds and horns blasting.
“What about a plain old phone ringing sound?” I asked.
“I don’t think that’s included,” she responded, much to my chagrin. Great - a phone that refuses to sound like a phone.
I wish society had never introduced cell phones to the public. I can certainly do without the site of people driving in full inattention while engrossed in conversation with their hands cupped to their ears. I hate having to hear random discussions between total strangers while in the grocery line, down the dairy aisle, in department stores and at baseball games. What ever happened to my right to avoid your privacy?
If the Federal Aviation Administration actually relaxes its rules to permit full usage of cell phones on domestic flights, it will be one more nail in their carriers’ coffin – at least for me to fly again. Secondhand smoke was outlawed because of its harmful affects; secondhand phone pollution is no less toxic to one’s mental well-being.
I hope I’m not alone thinking like this. I mentally sigh at the thought. Having passed the half-century mark on this earth, I truly long for the days (and “daze”) when technology did not rule every aspect of our lives. I miss movies that were made as real movies, without blue screens and digitally-enhanced special effects that mean some geek can create a film without getting out of his chair. The calculator was fine and dandy for helping the process, but we seem to have downgraded learning the foundation of mathematics in favor of building the better (and cheaper) calculator that STILL won’t balance your checking account.
My wife’s giving me that look of disdain for being included in this piece. I’m in trouble. So her goes, “Honey, I love this gift. It’s so … cute; just like Captain Kirk’s phaser gun. Thank you SOOO much!”
I hope she bought that. Until then, I will give my Royal a hero’s salute. To a fonder time long ago, and far, far away. Before Star Trek went digital.