Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bush's plan to build new refineries on old military bases

President Bush’s proposal to build new refineries on abandoned military bases sounds quite desperate for someone having spent much of his life in the oil “bidness” in Texas. It has all the trappings of “let’s throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” political thinking by people who have no clue what to do to lower gasoline prices at the pump.
Aside from the shocking visual of belching smoke coming from places like Kelly AFB in San Antonio, or in the mountain states or at the Presidio in San Francisco, there are two practical problems.
First, it will take years to build refineries and will do nothing to halt the march toward $3 per gallon of unleaded gas. It simply isn’t practical and other options would be smarter.
Second … while it is true that the U.S. NEEDS more refining capacity, there probably ARE abandoned refineries that can be refurbished sooner than building new ones.
Point of example: I used to live in the small town Texas town of Nixon, 50 miles east of San Antonio and there, in a city of less than 2,000 where poultry processing is the major source of revenue, sits a refinery – closed for several years.
Built in the early 1970s, it was the first minority-owned refinery, financed by the Small Business Administration. Sadly, the truth revealed the owners to be fronts for a Dutch oil company, needing to get its hands on U.S. refineries (illegal at that time).
The refinery, which closed in the early 1980s during the recession, shut down a second time after the faux owners were indicted on federal fraud charges and the whole thing fell apart as the price of oil dropped like the temperature in Alaska in January.
There must be other small communities with idle refineries, made dormant because of economic conditions. However, many oil companies seem unwilling to invest big gobs of money to update these places (meeting stricter EPA standards), regardless of the price of crude.
THAT is where ONE solution lies. Then many capped wells will re-open when it becomes profitable to refine.
Perhaps NOT holding hands like a little girl with the Crown Price of Saudi Arabia would be a symbolic start to a practical solution. The image does NOTHING to dissuade critics who claim that the Bush family is in bed or cahoots with the Saudis.
After all, you go from holding hands (first base) to who knows what. But if the metaphor fits, and hitting home plate is you-know-what, then that’s already happened to many Americans, who are tired of getting screwed in the wallet.
Which is located too close to your …

Monday, April 25, 2005

THE most dangerous man in America

If you ask me, the biggest threat to the security and welfare of the United States does NOT come from abroad. The most dangerous man is NOT Osama bin Laden, or the leader of North Korea or whoever is in charge of Iraq or Iran (So Faraway).
The most dangerous person sits in Colorado, claims to be a doctor and shows open disdain for anybody who disagrees with his personal perception of individual lifestyle, philosophy, religious doctrine or anything else.
I refer to Dr. James Dobson, leader of the ultra-right religious group, Focus on the Family, an oxymoron if there ever was one. Since the 2004 election, this blowhard thinks he has been personally empowered to dictate the nation’s morals and values to all of us who dare say “I don’t want to think like you.”
Among his targets are gay people, judges, non-Christians and liberal Americans. Which roughly covers half the country … maybe more.
Just a few examples of what I am writing about:
A McKinney (Tex.) woman was forced to cancel a special event concerning economic empowerment of women because she had the audacity to book that 1970s disco group, Sister Sledge to sing their one-hit wonder, “We Are Family.” Where’s the harm, Dr. Dobson?
Oops, one of Dobson’s most frequent targets is the We Are Family Foundation, which he claims to be pro-homosexual and helps promote a gay lifestyle. The validity of his argument is not relevant because the song and the foundation have NOTHING IN COMMON. However, his attack on the group was confused by potential conference attendees and tickets sales dried up, forcing cancellation and some economic hardship upon the organizers.
“My bad,” was all that a spokesman for Focus on the Family could muster.
A report two weeks ago from the Air Force Academy, just a couple of minute from FOF’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, found many complains that evangelical Christians have so much influence at the military school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive, according to the Associated Press reporter.
AP reported that 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the last four years have been made, including cases in which one Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a “Christ killer” by a fellow cadet.
More than 90 percent of the 4,300 cadets claim to be Christian and a 2003 cadet survey revealed that half of them had heard religious slurs and jokes, and that many non-Christians believed Christians received special treatment.
“There were people walking up to someone and basically they would get in a conversation and it would end with, ‘If you don’t believe what I believe, you are going to hell,’” said Vice Commandant Col. Debra Gray.
“They are deliberately trivializing the problem so that we don’t have another situation the magnitude of the sex assault scandal. It is inextricably intertwined in every aspect of the academy,” said Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, N.M., a 1977 graduate who has sent two sons to the school. He said the younger, Curtis, has been called a “filthy Jew” many times.
Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa conceded to civilian overseers that there was a problem.
“The problem is people have been across the line for so many years, when you try and come back in bounds, people get offended,” he said during a recent meeting of the Board of Visitors, the group that oversees the academy.
The commanding general acknowledged a problem, but not Dr. Dobson’s group.
Tom Minnery, an official with Focus on the Family, disputed claims that evangelical Christians are pushing an agenda at the academy, the AP said, and complained that “there is an anti-Christian bigotry developing” at the school.
From whom I ask! Just because a few Americans wish NOT to be bludgeoned over their non-Christian heads with teachings and philosophy they find contrarian does NOT constitute anti-Christian bigotry. If anything, the shoe is on the OTHER foot.
But there is more. Dobson has likened judges who disagree with him to the Ku Klux Klan and has called for the most drastic of measures to remove them from the bench … merely for disagreeing with their rulings. Regardless of the validity and the legal standing, if you disagree with Dobson, you are unpatriotic and should NOT be allowed to exercise the same freedoms as guaranteed in the Constitution.
Dobson is the main advocate of impeaching federal judges he does not like and eliminating all federal funding for their court’s operation in order to force them to comply to his will.
Sadly, many conservative Republicans, too afraid of Dobson’s ability to rally voter support from his sheep-like followers, condescend and follow in lock-step behind these fascist rantings. They are the weakest of the weak because of the potential power they wield and destroy lives.
Lipstick fascists like Ann Coulter are not the threat to many Americans; she is merely a sideshow in a mini-skirt who would rather drink and party than affect long-term change. Dobson is a true believer who wants to alter the axis of this earth toward his warped philosophy of exclusion and discrimination. Because he can command votes and raise money for that purpose, he IS dangerous.
It would be woeful for liberals, Democrats and ordinary free-thinking Americans to dismiss men like him. Each time in mankind’s history when THAT has happened, the result has been tragic and horrific.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Disgraceful persecution of US reporters over Plame

This past Tuesday, a full federal appeals court in Washington Tuesday continues to perpetuate a travesty of both justice and the U.S. Justice Department against two American reporters over a case that no one in Washington seems to want to address.
The court rejected a request from the two journalists who had asked the court to reconsider a decision by a three-judge panel.
Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of The New York Times had refused to disclose their sources to the prosecutor investigating another reporter’s leak of the name of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency operative – the now-infamous Valerie Plame case.
Cooper and Miller still face up to 18 months in jail for failing to reveal their confidential sources to a federal grand jury.
The case may not move to the Supreme Court and with THAT group, all bets are off.
Here’s the background (notably coming from CNN reports): Justice Department special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been investigating the source of a leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to news reporters. Her identity was revealed in a July 2003 newspaper column by Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times (and a noted extreme conservative CNN commentator), who, in his column, cited two senior Bush administration officials as HIS sources.
In a 2003 op-ed piece in The New York Times, Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, sharply criticized President Bush’s claim in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium in Niger.
The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger in 2002 to investigate and he had reported back that Baghdad hadn’t purchased uranium yellowcake, which can be used to develop enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Wilson accused the White House of using discredited intelligence to justify the invasion in Iraq and said the leak about his wife was in retaliation for his criticism.
Now it gets interesting. Cooper wrote an article in Time about Novak’s disclosure of Plame’s identity; while Miller “researched” the topic but did not write about it. Read that again. One reporter wrote about ANOTHER reporter’s story and the other reporter RESEARCHED the topic.
Meanwhile, these two people face jail for refusal to disclose sources and Novak, nicknamed “The Prince of Darkness” for his extreme views, continues to rant and rave on CNN and in print without fear of anything. You have to wonder what HE has on these investigators and people in Washington.
Fitzgerald said in court papers his work was done except for resolving the issue of the two reporters’ testimony. New Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has left the matter to Fitzgerald to resolve and is playing Pontius Pilate on the entire matter.
So far, no one in the Bush Administration, State Department or any branch of government is being held accountable for the illegal disclosure of the name of an active CIA operative. The only serious threats have been made against one reporter who wrote a story about another reporter’s work and another reporter who conducted unpublished research.
Such actions are worthy of third-world dictatorships, not a nation that supposedly prides itself on freedom of the press.
It is disgraceful and should not be allowed to stand. But there is NO guarantee that the Supreme Court will side with the First Amendment.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Remembering Oklahoma City 10 years later

One of the more moving experiences I had in the past 12 months was seeing the Oklahoma City Memorial site in person during a driving vacation with my wife and youngest daughter. I thought of what I had seen during today’s 10th anniversary memorial service on television.
For anyone within driving distance of Oklahoma City, it is a trip well worth taking. The memorial itself is unique among American sites and is a tribute to the community, the state of Oklahoma and the U.S. Park Service, charged with its oversight. While we were unable to tour the actual museum inside the surviving structure, that was not as important as walking the grounds, looking into the reflecting pool, standing midway between the two arch-like structures with “9:01” and “9:03” inscribed on either side, seeing the 168 small chairs on the south side of the grounds (one for each of the victims inside the Murrah Federal Building that day) and the tree that survived at the blast site.
It was important that I was there with my daughter, Kelsey, a typical teenager in that she lives her life blessedly unaware of most world and national activities that don’t involve school, boys and … more boys. It was a rare opportunity for a father to impress and impart some wisdom about what happened in 1995 and why she needed to see it and learn from it.
She was told that there were, and are, people who are capable of doing this without funny Arabic-sounding last names. These things can be done by people who look like her, whom she might associate herself with and that she might have friends who had family in Oklahoma City that were affected by the tragedy.
The man who did this was a former soldier, allegedly sworn to defend the nation, not try to kill its own citizens, many of whom were too young to barely articulate what it meant to be an American, let alone to be alive.
We spent about an hour on the grounds, took dozens and dozens of photos on what was a gray, overcast summer Monday morning. It was quiet, with few visitors joining us. I thought at the time that such solitude was probably appropriate; one needed to be alone with his or her thoughts.
I know I did the right thing last year to take Kelsey to see this. She might not appreciate it today, or even understand it completely. I’m not sure anyone will fully understand what happened, but it DID happen. Before 9/11, there was Oklahoma City and in many, many ways, it was a more dangerous signal of what could happen to us … by us.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Life in a fast food lane

I am sitting in this long, LONG line at a local sandwich joint, waiting patiently for a little movement toward obtaining something simple to eat.
Very patiently.
And getting longer.
I have been in line for such a long period of time that I have the opportunity to dictate this column while I wait. And that is NOT a good thing.
It is just a simple order - a sandwich with a few minor adjustments, a bag of chips and a soft drink of the diet variety.
Yet, I sit and wait while some child not yet out of high school decides if my order will arrive intact and in place. My money is on “not.”
So as this tape recorder whirls, I will whisper some thoughts about state of food service in America ... because yelling will only upset the other drivers (and lots of them) waiting behind.
Perhaps not as patiently as I.
First - Is it REALLY “fast” food if you are in line for 10 to 15 minutes?
I thought the entire concept was to make it real fast and deliver it even faster. There are sit-down restaurants where your order (especially at places like Bennigan’s and Applebee’s during the lunch hour) arrives far quicker than wasting gas in a fast food drive-through.
Second - If you sit for 10 minutes, why does it ALWAYS seem as if you order still comes late when you pull to the pay window?
Again, the dictionary says the word, “fast” should mean “lasting a short time.” And in my dictionary, short doesn’t mean late at the window.
To go with that thought, why can’t simple orders get delivered correctly? Is it THAT tough to leave off a slice of tomato when requested? Not when you are in such a hurry that the brain never makes the connection. As is the case with most things, failure to take five extra seconds to insure correctness often results in more anger and resentment toward a company/business.
Next - Why can’t fast food joints offer more than ONE diet drink? If more people (especially children) were weened off sugar, everyone would be better off. Besides, there might not be anything less tasteful than a diet drink from a fountain. The differences between a sweetened syrupy soft drink and the no-calorie variety is akin to the difference between Barry Bonds and any T-ball baseball player.
Fourth - Why don’t these places hire enough people to handle the customer load at the peak times? Do restaurants REALLY think they save money in the long run by short-staffing registers and cooking areas by forcing potential customers to turn away at the site of unmanageable and slow lines? All the best major sit-down restaurants (i.e., The Palm in Dallas) overwhelm you with service personnel. A customer need not wait for great food and makes him or her feel totally appreciated.
Fifth - Why aren’t prices the same at each outlet for each product? Should a Biggie drink at Wendy’s ALWAYS be the same price, instead of gouging the customer? Yet different outlets of the same franchise charge various prices. Instead of avoiding that particular outlet, people often avoid the entire chain.
And if you have a 99-cent menu, don’t list items for which you’ve hiked the prices past 99 cents! How rude!
Sixth - Why is it easier to throw a sponge ball through a brick wall than it is to get a straw into the blasted drink lids? Putting a straw into a drink can more of a traffic hazard than putting on makeup in the morning. My experience says Jack in the Box is the worst.
And why are some drive-through lanes so close to the main entrance that you have to dodge fearful pedestrians merely to exit? Whoever designed these some of these stores must have been playing one of the weird video games at the time.
Finally … a word to my other lane occupants: Bumper stickers with expletives as part of the message make you look really ignorant, cheap and trashy. Then again, class isn’t a product you can order through the drive-through, is it?
Ah, finally, at the window and ... oops, wrong order. Never asked for the lobster combo with potato cake and orange drink. Go back to the line, don’t pass “Go!” and don’t collect those freebie Beanie Babies that promotions promise, but stores never seem to stock.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More insanity from Florida

Why, oh why, does it seem that ALL the craziness in the country eminate from Florida? Must be all the sun, sand and water.
Now comes a story from Okeechobee about a woman arrested for allegedly forcing her 12-year-old daughter into becoming a prostitute and attempting to sell her 14-year-old daughter ... for a Mercury Cougar! (Don't think Alan Jackson had THAT in mind while singing the praises of Mercuries).
This idiot, all of 39, has been charged with aggravated child abuse (you think?!?) and sexual performance by a child for selling her youngest child for sex in order to get food and an occasional shower at the home sof the various men involved. And how low are these schmucks to have sex with a 12-year-old????????
The 14-year-old girl refused to go along with Mommy when she traded her for a Cougar. The guy who "bought" the girl WAS arrested but no word on these men who had illegal and illicit sex with a child.
The little girl was an A-B student when Mom yanked her out of school at 11, forcing her to hit the streets. She wants to go back to school but that might be difficult. It seems she is 3 months pregnant.
The dilemma is compounded. Do you force a child to have children? Isn't this, in effect, rape? Or do morals of other force her to be an incubator and go through labor at the age of 12?
The girls are in the "protection" of Florida Department of Children and Families, with its own dubious track record.
You need a license to drive a car, you need to register in order to vote and you have to apply for a credit card. But you don't have to take any kind of competency test to have a child. You have have to be fertile.
It seems so ridiculous as to make you cry. But apparently it happens time and again. Stupid parents hurting little children. When will it end?

Betting on the perfect solution

Author's Note: This is the original version of the column published in the Dallas Morning News, Wednesday, April 13, 2005, in the Collin County section's Opinion Page.
So there I sat, listening to the spirited exchange between questioning citizens and feisty county commissioners over the level of health care provided to Collin County’s less-than-fortunate residents … and I began to think about the topic.
The forum, sponsored by the Plano/Collin County chapter of the League of Women Voters, covered many bases of a complicated subject and, for most of the attendees, without easy solutions.
Unless, of course, you possess a mind that seeks out the unusual, that gravitates toward the weird. A mind like mine.
As the volleying continued between the citizen/member critics and the astringent politicians, one of those thoughts took root, complete with choral introduction and orchestral arpeggio. A light suddenly shone through the room and put a spotlight on my legal pad.
Then a voice, which sounded very much like James Earl Jones (much more than Jerry Jones), whispered, “Build it and they will bet the come.” It was telling me that there was one of the cross-marketing solutions to provide better health care for the thousands of Collin Countians who are without any kind of coverage, or who are woefully underinsured.
Hey, gang, let’s build us our very own … casino (somewhere north of … Prosper, which would be appropriate, don’t you think?). And let’s earmark all the revenues from that establishment for county health care funding.
No mess, no muss, no waxy building streaks and no tax increase. Plus lots of fun to be had by all. As can be heard on the casino floor, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner.” Take it one step further and let’s dedicate the revenues from individual table games for specific causes.
People will be invited to play Mental Health Roulette (closer to the truth than people realize), Child Care Craps, Immunization Blackjack (you actually receive your shot with a “21”), Vision Care Video Poker, Geriatric Keno, Dental Care Bingo, and the rising star of our Weezers Palace, Indigent Care Texas Hold ‘Em Poker (actually it’s more like Blind Man’s Bluff).
Not only would the casino produce revenue without that dreaded tax hike, but here’s the real kicker. Employees would come exclusively from a pool of residents who fall below the U.S. poverty level. Those workers would, in turn, have a chance to actually the kind of living wage to afford decent coverage for their families. They’d be OFF the poverty list and no longer a factor for officials to worry about! How great is that?
Some of you might be wondering how kosher this plan actually sounds. True, some Republicans AND Democrats have demonstrated recently in Austin to stop casino gambling, or any other increased form, from polluting the state treasury to fund public education, highways, you name it. But our governor, Rick Perry, doesn’t seem to be one of them; at least not overtly. He DID float a trial balloon for more video slot machines at race tracks during the 2004 special session (it was shot down) and recently he was quoted as saying, “The idea that we’re not going to have any gambling in Texas, I think, is a fairy tale. You’ve got a substantial amount in this state. There’s probably a lot of gambling going on the golf course right now.”
While a four-ball canasta won’t fund much in Texas, it is obvious that many of Austin’s leadership are looking for “safe” reasons to approve the “distasteful.” My concept would simply localize it for a specific purpose (ring up that choral group again). A casino would also help that Nashville public relations firm help discover more things for outsiders to do around Plano, aside from parking all those Lexuses next to the Western Warehouse.
To solve difficult problems, a person, or a group, such as the county commissioners, need, at times, to think and act “outside the box.” Even if it is a craps table.
Ain’t inspiration wonderful? Ooh, there’s that orchestra again.

Friday, April 08, 2005

God Bless Republicans!

God Bless Republicans! After SO many years of wanting unfettered rule in this country, and having succeeded in obtaining it, they quickly forget one of the golden rules about politics.
“Anything you say, can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion and disclosure.”
It crosses all state lines and all issues and simply means you MUST watch what you say and to whom, because in this day and age, with such instant access to every little tidbit of information and speech, one slip of the tongue will haunt you for awhile.
Example No. 1: Texas junior Senator John Cornyn. He was a nondescript state district judge, a nondescript attorney general and a nondescript State Supreme Court justice.
Today, he is a nondescript U.S. Senator with a nondescript personality. Ask almost ANY Texan, save the diehard GOP base, and no one can name him as a Senator. They’d have a better chance naming the leftfielder for the 1971 Washington Senators (Frank Howard).
But Senator Cornyn truly made a name for himself this past week with one of the most ridiculous utterances ON the Senate floor (to no one in particular since it was empty, like his thought).
Speaking about judges making “political” decisions rather than enforcing laws (such as the bogus thing that oozed out of Congress about Terri Schiavo), Cornyn said the following:
“I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up to the point where some engage in violence.”
This from a former judge? Does he think ALL decisions were met with standing ovations?
A few days later, Cornyn mused, “I guess the other lesson I learned was not to wonder aloud on the Senate floor.” You think? Here’s a quote to chew on from Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Of course, Cornyn, though denying any connection, was carrying water for that branch of the GOP who wants to see judges reigned in when THEIR decisions are in lockstep with the extreme conservative Republican wing, led by the slimy likes of Tom DeLay.
Senor DeLay, a former exterminator, continued his deflection off his own ethical problems, before the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration, with a taped address. By the way, the leader of this organization is hawking a book called “In Defense of … Mixing Church and State.” Tell you all you need to know.
Quote Congressman DeLay: “Unelected, and all too often, unaccountable courts have invented out of whole cloth previously invisible and unasserted constitutional rights to privacy, abortion on demand and same-sex marriage.”
He thinks federal judges should be impeached for “wayward” decisions – in other words, if you disagree with me, regardless of the law, I want you gone. How democratic of you, Mr. DeLay.
Hopefully, people are seeing DeLay for what he is. All this guy is doing is wrapping himself in the bosom of his extreme supporters to shield him from all these “other” problems he claims to be conspiratorial against him. But a good bug man should know that there are reasons why roaches appear and you need to get rid of the prime source in order to eradicate the problem.
One of those conspiracies, according to DeLay, with this Schiavo legislation talking points unsigned memo that Republicans claimed was a fake. They, plus every muppet conservative pundit to be found, loudly suggested that it was a dirty trick from the Democrats.
Oops, wrong again! It was written by the LEGAL COUNSEL for Florida Senator Mel Martinez … a Republican! Martinez had the gem quote of the week when he said, in admitting the documents authenticity and origin, “I just took it for granted that we wouldn’t be that stupid.” You think?
None of this happens in Washington by accident. To think that Martinez had NO idea about this memo (hell, he gave a copy of it to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin), that DeLay has no idea why the press and other Washington insiders keep coming after him and that Cornyn’s statements would not be met with resistance is pure nonsense. It’s all part of the new game in D.C. and there are different rules in play.
“Anything goes” and “the end justifies the means” are the main rules, not just clich├ęs. But my rule at the start of this piece still goes. Say it in public and it will bite you in the ass one day.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

TV tidbits

I have been a major league “West Wing” fan since Day One, but I was bitterly disappointed with the Season Six finale last Wednesday night.
It needed to be two hours in length in order to tie up more than a few loose plot lines (the stranded astronauts; rescue or not?) and to elicit more texture on how the writers reached the show’s climax. It all seems too rushed because it was just one hour long.
I hope Season Seven simply goes from the conventions through Election Day and takes its time getting there. Like the entire season. Then let the outcome (Bush v. Gore-like delay) be the next cliffhanger.
Also, I’m sad to see “Third Watch” cancelled but not surprised. It was a rare cop show these days; it dealt with the people involved more than CSI-like evidence chasing.
However, good news does appear (no, American Idol is NOT cancelled, dammit) as “Boston Legal” has been renewed by ABC. Other than Al Swearengen, as played by Ian McShane on “Deadwood,” is there a funnier main character than William Shatner’s Denny Crane?
Oh yes, “Deadwood” will return for a third season. Hooray! For HBO!
My personal CAN’T MISS shows (in no order) are: The Sopranos, Deadwood, ER, West Wing, 24, House, Lost, Alias, Third Watch and Carnivale. My guilty pleasure is “Las Vegas” … for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Harder to cross the border

In the coming years, by 2008, any American citizen wishing to travel outside the borders will need to have a passport on their person at all times – much like one carries a driver’s license or their Sam’s Club card. While this has been the case to travel OVERSEAS (to Asia, Europe, South America), it has NOT been the case to step across the adjoining borders to neighbors Mexico and Canada.
That, my friends, is a drastic change in policy and, as has been the case in all things considered, is linked to the aftermath of 9/11. The announcement was not made by the state department but by the Office of Homeland Security, from which we see too much information about our personal lives flow.
The new policy is “designed” to keep terrorists from “exploiting the relative ease of travel in North America.” The next thing will be intrastate passports, I guess; people in Texas are automatically suspicious of ANYONE entering the state south of the Red River.
But truth be told, the policy is technically in place, at least where Canada is involved. Last summer, I spent three weeks driving through the Midwest with my wife and daughter, and one of the stops was in my old hometown of Detroit, Mich. (the answer to the trivia question of being the only spot in the U.S. which is NORTH of Canada).
It was my wife’s birthday and, on a whim, I thought it would be neat to eat dinner in a foreign land. So we headed through the U.S.-Canada tunnel to Windsor, Ontario for a nice, juicy steak.
Not so fast, we were told at the Canadian side. All we had were driver’s license and my 15-year-old daughter merely carried a student ID with her photo on it (let’s not rush her behind the wheel just yet). That vexed the Canadian border people to no end. We were herded to a holding area, had our Ford Escape swept by guards and dogs and taken to immigration officials, who admonished us for not having the proper documents.
When I mentioned the last-second aspect of the visit for a mere meal, some guy behind thick glass snapped back that next time, we needed full documents, meaning a passport. Driver’s licenses would not be adequate. I think I mumbled something about not being a “next time.”
I also noticed that people of Middle Eastern appearance, even those in Canadian licensed cars with Canadian papers, were also told to wait and had their vehicle searched. I guess skin color covers paper in a variation of that game.
At dinner, I asked the waitress about how Americans were being kept from Canada despite such attractions as casinos, restaurants, cheaper shopping and nightclubs. She said the impact on the Windsor economy could definitely be felt since 9/11 and it had gotten “worse” in the last year.
This is one of those sad effects of 9/11, where we have been forced to alter our way of life out of fear. One has to wonder how many people in Michigan, or across the U.S.-Canadian border (or those U.S.-Mexican border towns), have taken the attitude of not being a next time.
Will this eventually lead to a national ID card that will be required possession for ALL citizens, regardless of age? And where will THAT lead us to, Mr. Orwell?

Save us from booty-shaking cheerleaders

A bill that allows the state education commissioner to “intervene” when someone is offended by the antics and motions of high school cheerleaders somehow won unanimous approval last Tuesday in the Texas House Education Committee.
As crafted by State Rep. Al Edwards (D-Houston), the bill originally would have cut off funds to those schools that failed to discipline its dancers, cheerleaders or drama students for performing in ways that were “too sexually suggestive.”
After some House members insisted that the legislation was too harsh and it failed to define exactly WHAT was inappropriate, the whole thing was scaled back, but did not disappear.
This is yet another example of lawmakers trying to legislate individual morality while refusing to deal with the real important issues in Austin.
And, ladies and gentlemen, despite any claims to the contrary, this kind of legislation is potentially racist (despite Edwards being an African-American), and here’s why.
A few years ago, when poor little Wilmer-Hutchins ISD (it seems as if all bad news involves the same district) was a Class 4A school, it was redistricted with Lancaster into a grouping of East Texas communities, including Athens, Corsicana, Ennis and Palestine. Prior to that two-year period, the East Texas schools pretty much kept to themselves, avoiding those dreaded Dallas area schools and students.
“The Hutch,” as it is called in the Metroplex, is a minority majority district and views things … differently. Their band program was modeled after several successful black colleges, including Southern, Grambling, Florida A&M, Prairie View A&M and the kind of performances as shown in the movie, “Drumline.” Lots of motion, hip-shaking and upbeat music, compared to the stoic show tunes or military-style often seen in non-African-American marching bands.
When W-H played a football game IN Palestine, and the visiting band performed, it “horrified” the local patrons. It revived racist comments such as “jungle music” and the like and the Palestine school officials lodged a formal complaint with the district, asking that the Eagle band be banned from performing in Palestine again, as to NOT offend the fine Anglo folks of that community.
Nothing ever came of the complaint and W-H simply shrank down in classification to Class 3A.
But, as Bob Dylan wrote MANY years ago, the times they are a-changin’. Musical and performance expression should not be legislated from Austin. Besides, all any adult has to do is LOOK at the modern cheerleader’s uniform to know that very little of a high school girl’s body is covered up, which is suggestive enough for some of us fathers.
Here’s the real problem: Too many parents STILL think that football games are played in order to have a band march at halftime, to see girls wearing two tons of makeup dance at the 50-yard line and for cheerleaders to “shake their booty” to enhance school spirit.
No amount of legislation will change that type of mindset.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The passing of Pope John Paul II

As a Jewish man, I find it difficult to speak as to the emotional impact of the Pope John Paul II’s passing. I’m not sure anyone, other than those who are Catholic, can accurately describe what this individual meant to them and to their religion.
Without saying, the Pope is the most recognizable religious leader in the world. Because of that, he is also the most vilified. Those very conservative non-Denominational, or Protestant, church leaders, who often complain about their public treatment, know nothing of what a Pope faces.
One Sunday morning while I was driving through Amarillo, I actually heard a “preacher” refer to Pope John Paul II as “the Son of Satan” and called all Catholics “members of the world’s most dangerous cult.” He then claimed to be a loving Christian, which confused me because as a Jew, I thought those who believed in the teachings and words of Jesus Christ belonged basically to the same club. It has always amazed me how Christians can hate (and disparage) other Christians where they essentially believes the same teachings. I guess it’s all in the execution.
I vividly remember John Paul II’s 1987 visit to San Antonio and the mesmerizing effect he had upon everyone, including this Jewish man. Seventy-two hours before his arrival, a ferocious wind storms arose and destroyed the intricate metal scaffolding that was to be used for his outdoor mass. People were stunned and church officials were totally panicked over what to do.
As it turned out, it was a blessing. A backup system was used and it allowed more people to see the Pontiff that originally planned. He even took note of it during the event.
The sight of his glancing past the Alamo in his Popemobile, of listening to Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis (of the Fifth Dimension) sing to him during a special event at Municipal Auditorium and of the unbelievable outpouring of emotion and love to him was breathtaking to watch all day and night – from touchdown to liftoff of his airplane on San Antonio television.
The mass was held in an area called Westover Hills; you know it today as … SeaWorld and a marker notes the event at the park.
Regardless of religious affiliation, any human being HAD to admire this man’s fervor, commitment and spirit toward peace and helping mankind. In this day and age, that should be regarded as saintly.