Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Christmas message: We can do better!

I enjoy writing a column, almost published weekly, for The Community News in Aledo, Texas, west of Fort Worth. This week that publication is becoming The Community (Good) News because there’s not enough of it to be read, seen or heard in the media these days. It’s not really the fault of the news-deliverers; it is more of a function of the society that still ogles at car wrecks on the side of the road and want to hear every juicy details of any Hollywood star’s personal problems.
If the public would insist, through its choices of music, books, films and publications, to accentuate the positive instead of morbidly dwelling on people’s shortcomings and tragedies, there WOULD be more good news to be read, seen and heard.
Parker County has its shares of good news to spread among the masses. And I would like to add a couple of words for the future: We can do better! As a collective known as the human race, we can do better! Much, much better, in fact!
People in east Parker County read too many stories of tragedy over the last 12 months – children dying too young for going too fast on roadways or being innocent victims when adults could no longer cope with everyday lives. The most graphic involved a woman, with a low-paying, mind-numbing job, stuck in poverty, living in near-squalid conditions, unable to escape an abusive relationship, who took the lives of her adolescent children before committing suicide – all out of complete desperation without anyone to help her.
In almost every case, including this one, it was probably preventable if someone had decided to help – to prevent – to avoid. Had someone come forward to help, to have pointed that person in the proper direction, taken a hand and led them to the proper agency, those would have been stories never told because that misery would not have occurred.
I was reading last Sunday’s Points section in the Dallas Morning News, and some of the facts published struck like a Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (bang! bang! on my head!). Each page made me realize how much people can treat other people much better in order to product a more peaceful co-existence within mankind.
I was stunned to learn that Texas ranked first among all states in the number of teenage pregnancies and next-to-last in the number of working poor families (emphasis on the word “working”). Texas is also third lowest in the county for its expenditures on public welfare programs per capita ($808). A full 40 percent of those in poverty are under the age of 18 – meaning children who have NO control over their environment.
One out of every four children in Texas are born into poverty and, as a state, we are third-highest in the country (behind Mississippi and New Mexico) for the number of people who go hungry, or live in fear of starvation, every single day!
If education is the answer, why is the Texas high school drop out rate at 34 percent? Why does it ranked second to last for its verbal SAT scores and only 46th for math scores? Why has the average spending per public school student slid from 25th in the nation in 1999 to 41st?
Why does Texas rank first among all states in terms of uninsured population at 24.6 percent? Why do we allow this? Surely, we can do better!
The section continues about the state’s prison population, the makeup of the youth sent to the wasteland known as the Texas Youth Commission and which county is considered totally toxic to be am American resident (answer: Jefferson). Each cold, hard fact just screams at you to begin to fulfill my four word statement: We can do better!
How? That’s a more complicated question. It is going to require more compassion and initiative from a cross-section of society. It will mean more interaction from service organizations, churches, social outreach agencies, civic groups, school classrooms and, more importantly, normal day-to-day living human beings. It will mean people of means might have to share a little wealth with those not as fortunate, or gifted, or blessed with such worldly possessions – and do so without denigrating those being assisted.
It means if you see someone in obvious need, in obvious inner pain (that a pill or a shot of penicillin cannot cure), you must try to do something to help them. Show them where to go to ask for help. Show them HOW to ask for help. Tell them if it perfectly acceptable to seek help in order not to do harm to others. Oh yes, it means that help has to be available, through consistent charitable efforts or governmental support. After all, isn’t the job of government to “protect” all the people – not just the richer ones?
Tell someone close to you that he or she can do better for their children or for their relatives. If it is a co-worker, tell them they can, and should, ask for help to kick addictions, to face personal challenges, to avoid splintering their lives into the kind of Humpty-Dumpty pieces that cannot be put back together again.
Motivate yourself in whatever manner you find acceptable – from “What Would Jesus Do?” to “If for the grace of God, go I” to “Do onto others as you have them do onto you.” Or you can simply tell yourself, “It just the right damn thing to do.” That YOU can do better in order for others to do better.
Yes, we can do better and that IS the good news I share today. We should do better; we can do better; we must do better.
For their sake … and ours.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The beginning of steroids in sports

Since the release of the Mitchell Report, sports fans are pretending to themselves that this is a scandal with parentage in the early 1990s, as if steroids in baseball, and sports overall, appeared overnight. Drugs, of one kind or another, in various forms from amphetamines to pain-killers to old-fashioned alcohol, have been part of the athletic fabrics for decades.
In 1970, former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton exposed the underbelly of baseball and its rampant pill-popping in his landmark book, “Ball Four.” The baseball establishment, led by then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, labeled Bouton as a heretic and a liar. Today, we might view Bouton’s revelations of drug use, players cheating on their wives and the overt drunkenness of superstar Mickey Mantle as “the good old days.”
However, the problems of steroid usage in baseball and other sports can be traced back to one event and a complete different sport. The year was 1976, the sport was Olympic swimming and the place was Montreal, Canada. What resulted from that competition forever changed the landscape and the methods used to achieve victory.
A small history lesson: prior to those Olympic Games, swimming supremacy has generally contested between two nations – the United States and Australia. And specifically, most of the U.S. swimmers came from Southern California, where the warm weather and long-standing aquatic tradition, allowed hopefuls to begin training at very young ages.
Many of them lived most of their lives in pools and trained for many, many hours each week. It was the training that got them into the upper echelon of American swimming, not any physical superiority. The greatest American swimmer ever, Mark Spitz, was not that physically imposing, less than 6-foot tall and around 160 pounds. But he had the perfect swimmer’s body – long arms, long legs and an elastic, sinewy build. His pectoral muscles were as flat as could be as to offer no resistance while gliding through the water.
In many cases, the contestants resembles their environments – tall, tanned, surfer boys with bleached blonde “Moondoggy” hair and girls, also bronzed, blonde and more mature-looking “Gidgets” – and, yes, you knew they were all California girls, like the song desired.
In the early 1970s, word filtered through the swimming community of world records being shattered by large differentials, from Eastern bloc countries. It became much of the talk around the pool and lockerroom area during such important national competitions as the NCAA men’s indoor, and AAU Indoor and Outdoor championships.
However, the United States was confident in its lineup, especially, the women’s roster, for the Montreal Games. The Americans were led by California sprinter Shirley Babashoff, a striking honey blonde from Whittier, who won the world title in the 200 and 400 meter freestyle. “Babs” was a gold medalist four years earlier in Munich in the 400-meter sprint relay, helping to defeat the East German women, making their initial mark in Olympic competition.
The East German women, including a 13-year-old girl from Bitterfeld named Kornelia Ender, did not take home a gold medal that year. The sports federation officials back home would be determined not to be shut out the next time around.
So in Montreal, something radical happened. Instead of the team and competitors seen at Munich, or even in the World Championships one year earlier, the East German contingent that took to the starting blocks were different – drastically, shockingly and, more important, intimidating.
When Babashoff went to compete in the 200-meter freestyle, next to her was Ender, now 17, and completely transformed physically. She has huge muscles, more like any man, and spoke in an extremely husky voice, more like any man. And many of the East German girls had noticeable hair growth on their face, arms, legs and underarms, more like any man.
Babashoff, at that time, a fairly happy-go-lucky girl, was stunned at what she saw. Ender wasn’t just bigger; she dwarfed the world champion and in the water was no match for any other competitor. Ender proceeded to win four gold medals (a first for women in swimming) and set individual or world records in each event – obliterating the former standards.
Babashoff could only muster second places in all her events until the last race of the competition – the 400-meter sprint relay. Only through sheer will did she out-touch Ender in the final strokes to earn her only gold medal of the meet.
Her lack of success was not due to poor pool performance or times. Her silver medal clocking in the 400-meter freestyle (losing to Ender) was faster than the winning time posted by another American swimming legend, Don Schollander, at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
When the carnage was completed, Babashoff began to voice her suspicions loudly and publicly about possible cheating by the East Germans. She was vilified by many in the international swim community, earning the nickname, “Surly Shirley.” She never again was a major factor in the sport, but was inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1982.
Only later, was she proven correct when it was revealed that the East Germans had, indeed, used performance enhancing drugs to win all those gold medals. East German doctors were regularly injecting athletes like Ender with newly-developed steroids to advance physical development and super-size performance. In a sport like swimming, power COULD overwhelm form, an din 1976, it did.
Sadly, the epilogue for Shirley Babashoff is inglorious. She became a single mother and wound up as a mail carrier for the U.S. Post Office in Orange County, Calif., home to some of the most successful Olympic training programs in her sport – swimming.
And what has been done about this obvious injustice? Nothing! The International Olympic Committee, that hypocritical “watchdog” over amateur athletics, has never stripped the East German swimmers of their ill-gotten medals. American sprinter Marion Jones was recently shorn of her medals, similar to the old-fashioned Army method of “branding” a disgraced soldier – tearing off epilates one at a time and breaking the man’s sabre.
But what became of all those chemists and doctors who were developing those drugs? What do you think happened to them? Most likely, they were gobbled up by pharmaceutical firms, including the German-based Bayer (with its own dubious history), and went to work on developing … steroids.
Remember, our nation’s initial atomic research program only advances upon the defection of the original nuclear engineers, refugees in the 1930s from Nazi Germany. Without the Werner von Brauns of the world, the U.S. would have been years behind in its program development.
So here we are today with the state of baseball, and other sports, at the mercy of medical and technological advances. The Tour de France has been rendered almost totally illegitimate by its drug scandals, track and field cannot hold a major event without drug scandals and everyone is questioning records and performances from the past two decades in baseball.
And to think, it all began in a swimming pool.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I’m FORD tough

Author's Note: The following column appeared in the Dec. 6, 2007, edition of the Dallas Morning News' Collin County Opinions.
As Collin County remains one of Texas’ fastest growing suburban counties (and in America), so does the level of its diversity. Neighborhoods are now populated by people of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Latin American descent – a veritable United Nations.
And then there are people who represent minorities like me. FORDs. Fat. Old. Rumpled. Democrats.
In the land of Lexus, Jaguar, Mercedes and Hummers, it is the BMW (your imagination can complete the anagram but bigoted materialistic whites MIGHT apply) that is all too often seen and heard. And too the dismay of the FORD, the BMW also rules politically; they’re just called Republicans.
Being a FORD is a family affair for me. My father was pretty much a FORD man until the day he died – the older he got, the more partisan he remained. He grew up with FDR and stood by those principles far more than anything he heard in the years afterwards. I went voluntarily into that realm; no one, including my Dad, had to coerce me.
So what makes a FORD run? We don’t like paying taxes anymore than others, especially when they surface in the new age form of road tolls – an increasingly popular mechanism amongst the ruling party in Austin to snatch money from its citizens without truth in labeling. When “See the USA in your Chevrolet” was popular, it meant driving the open roads – free from cost other than related to the vehicle. Hey, Buzz Murdock and Tod Stiles drove their Corvette on “Route 66” for nothing.
FORDs want to save the environment, but many among us care less about what’s being recycled and more about the brown stuff we call breathable air. After all, when it rains, my truck should not have more dirt ON it than before the showers began.
Mostly, a FORD cares about who made this nation strong and vibrant – the men and women who built things – from skyscrapers to bridges to the tools that created them. American workers are more responsible for the economic success and growth of this nation, following World War II (our golden jubilee apparently), than, frankly, corporate management. Sadly, too many worker bee positions have been sacrificed overseas for profits’ sake, while not enough suits-and-ties have seen the same fate. You see, workers tend now to be FORDS like me and suits tend to be BMWs.
When I was a pup, American-made meant something; for top-grade quality. Of course, I come from a time when my refrigerator was made in Amana, Iowa, my Zenith television came from Chicago, my Emerson radio was built on Long Island and the phone was made by Western Electric – an American company. My baseball glove was an American Wilson model, my shoes came from Brockton, Massachusetts and my baseball bats had “Louisville, Kentucky” stamped on each piece of wood. The cars we drove were ONLY made in Detroit because we supported the home team.
Our homes stood for American products, even if it cost a bit more than the cheaper brands. You did get what you paid for; the purchase of anything USA kept the economy strong. Wages from buying our products circulated through families, neighborhoods and businesses – to buy more American goods and hire more American workers – the ones who actually stood on that factory line.
Too many BMWs have turned the word “union,” into something dirty, unpleasant and vilified. But those same BMWs scream the loudest when all these foreign-made products, which have flooded the market because of the low, low cost-per-unit price, have begun to make Britney, Buffy and Carter (and others) sick as dogs.
Gee, that really didn’t happen when American workers made those same items, did it?
In this land of BMWs, the honk from this old FORD just can’t be heard. The local BMW drivers run everything from the courthouse to the outhouse, where many of us find our current lot in life.
I have always believed that no man needs to own a Rolex or any other expensive watch in order to tell time. A Bulova or Timex does the same thing at a fraction of the cost. After all, isn’t that the “function” of a watch?
Same holds true for being a FORD. My beliefs will get me to where I want to go; no need to own and maintain an expensive, overpriced philosophy. And when the others in this area realize that a FORD works as well, or better, than any BMW, things might get changed for the better.
Until then, I remain FORD tough. And gruff.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Waiting to ‘excel’

By a younger generation, I am considered to be “old school.” The place where I attended high school was certainly outdated and crumbling and well past its prime, and, in truth, was a piece of shit. Still, I got a better and more complete education for the times, than any child in public OR private school today. More on that in a second.
But I digress … I am an old fart – no doubt about it. I will, however, battle like Don Quixote against the forces of technology to keep that crap as much out of my daily life as possible. I’ll win some battle and lose most, which is the track record of most human beings on earth – except for the New England Patriots.
By most standards, I am fairly (but not totally) aged – although not fine, like wine or beef. I have my AARP membership card, but I don’t quite qualify for the Golden Corral senior discount meals. My eyeglasses are as thick as Mister Magoo’s and I possess enough years under my double chins to mimic that cartoon character (and his voice).
When you say “school,” I remember a time when classes had chalkboards and when purple-ish erasers that were pounded in open air to be rid of choking white or yellow toxic chalk dust. I was taught geometry, algebra, calculus and trigonometry with a plastic slide rule and the only “keyboard” we saw was attached to a manual Underwood typewriter, which weighed as much as an anvil. I learned proper English composition, as much American and world history as possible … because it was vital to the future.
In other words, I didn’t grow up in an era where computers reigned or controlled all aspects of one’s life. To me, software was what you wanted your boxer shorts (or briefs) to feel like.
So when I do things, they are usually “old school,” much to the consternation of the long-suffering, computer science-degreed spouse. She likes things orderly and digital. When she makes a list of things to do, or things to buy, or address lists, it is done of some Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
Here, I always thought “spreadsheet” was something you did to the bed after washing the dirty linens.
No … when Senor Magoo here heads to the supermarket, he carries a written list of the items needed for consumption, done in ballpoint pen (because my Scripto blue ink liquid cartridge instrument is empty) and usually on the back of a legal envelope.
No Excel. No Microsoft Word. No fancy font face. Just good old fashioned scribble that often requires a hieroglyphic dictionary to decipher. Man, you can’t beat it with a stick.
I still enjoy balancing my checkbook with a piece of paper, a pencil and doing the math in longhand. There is no need for a calculator when it is simply addition and subtraction at play. I have always thought it silly for students to compete in UIL Calculator competition (in Texas) when the emphasis should be on knowing what the machine is actually doing. When I took the SAT tests in high school, you were only allowed a few blank pieces of paper to execute the math questions. You HAD to know the process; not just the ability to punch in the numbers.
Besides, you can’t (or shouldn’t) haul a laptop around the grocery store, hitting the “delete” button when you grab a can of tomatoes. There usually isn’t WiFi in the cereal aisle, but I’m sure some snot nose is planning for that in the near future. Blackberries are next to the Granny Smiths, not in your pants pocket, sounding some horrid computer-generated song when they ring every 15 seconds.
And there is NO greater irritant that having to dodge the wandering cart pusher more interested in the conversation than steering. Oh yeah, it’s a conversation you don’t want to hear in the first place.
More digression … I have this theory, which is constantly proven to be correct, that people, while pushing shopping carts at the local grocery store, drive like they shop. Every bad habit that people exhibit behind the wheel of a Chevy, a pickup or SUV, is on full display between aisles 6 and 7 and while parked along side the green peppers. Those who drive while talking on their cell phones pay less attention to the road than should safely be permitted. Those who discuss the differences between balsamic and rice vinegar, while trying to turn a blind corner into the cereal aisle, pay even less attention to oncoming traffic.
Also, ever notice that people never look in the direction of the hand in which the phone is placed? Not only are you distracted by talking to someone else, you loose half of your sight line because that is what people do.
They also seem to do things with only one hand – either because of the cell phone or the ever-present cup of coffee in their right hands. Ever try to shop quickly (or drive) with one hand tied behind your back? Or while sipping a mocho-latte with cream?
Back on subject … The city of Plano, Texas (on the home front) has scaled back its ambitious plan to hotwire the entire 250,000 population under WiFi (presumably grocery stores, too), but someone literally put pencil to paper and determined – in an old school fashion – that it might not be economically viable. A shrill outcry (or ring tone) came was heard among geeks from the Dallas Tollway to Central Expressway.
In my advancing age, I’ve had to learn to adapt. Admittedly, I miss the clickity-clackity sound of a Royal typewriter and the ding of the carriage return. I have gotten use to “keyboarding” – which is akin to waterboarding because it is also torture when your hands are too big for the shrinking keys.
“Old school” should never infer something wrong or bad. It just means a different way to do things. For many, MANY people like me, we’d rather excel than Excel.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Texan of the Year

Every year, for the past three Decembers, the Dallas Morning News’ editorial board has chosen one person, or group, to be its Texan of the Year. Since Karl Rove earned its initial “honor,” you cannot be judged by the company you keep.
However, this year, the choice will be difficult. Few Texans, if any, have distinguished themselves for such an accolade.
Except one man.
Last spring, former Dallas Cowboys running back Ron Springs received a healthy kidney from his Cowboys teammate Everson Walls. It marked the first organ transplant involving former U.S. professional teammates.
He did it willingly and without hesitation. He did not do it for the publicity or the fame – he had already garnered plenty of both on the gridiron. He did it because Ron Springs was his friend and there was a dire need.
When it was announced, people were shocked by the bravery and sacrifice, but, after all, isn’t that what friends are for (to pardon the cliché song)?
Sadly, Springs, 50, has been in a coma for more than a week after admission to Dallas’ Medical City Hospital for what friends believed was a routine medical procedure to remove a cyst from one of his arms.
The family won’t say why or how Springs lapsed into his coma and his prognosis is, at best, termed “bleak.”
However, it does not diminish the sacrifice made by Walls and the heroism shown by one friend to another.
The story sounds eerily like the Mickey Mantle liver transplant in 1995. Despite the heroic efforts to save him, Mantle was doomed from the get-go. However, in his last days, “The Mick,” hero to two generations of young boys and all baseball fans (n ot just for the Yankees) brought needed attention to organ transplants and his sacrifice probably saved countless lives.
Perhaps this story will also help shine the light on an important factor of medicine ... and will eventually help save lives. if that happens, Ron Springs and Everson Walls will be more than members of “America’s Team” – they will be American heroes … and why Walls is worthy of the title, Texan of the Year.

Friday, October 12, 2007

When will someone tape this woman's mouth SHUT?!?

Dear Ann Coulter,
Please, on behalf of my fellow Jews, let say this as gently as possible.
Here is the report from CNN.com and the transcript was made available on Media Matters for America.

Conservative commentator and best-selling author Ann Coulter may find herself in the midst of a controversy for comments Monday suggesting America would be
better if everyone was Christian.
Asked by CNBC host Donny Deutsch what the U.S. looks like in her dreams, Coulter said it would look like the Republican National Convention in 2004 (held in New York City).
“People were happy,” she said, according to a transcript provided to CNN by CNBC. “They’re Christian. They’re tolerant. They defend America.”
When Deutsch responded, “It would be better if we were all Christian?” Coulter said “Yeah.”
Deutsch, himself Jewish, continued to press Coulter on her remarks, asking, “We should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians then?”
“Yeah,” Coulter responded, adding “Well, it’s a lot easier. It’s kind of a fast track.”
“You can’t possibly believe that,” Deutsch responded. “You can’t possibly. You’re too educated.”
“Do you know what Christianity is?” Coulter replied. “See, we believe your religion, but you have to obey. We have the fast track program.”
Later in the interview, Deutsch asked Coulter if she doesn’t want any Jews in the world, Coulter responded, “No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.”
“Wow, you didn’t really say that, did you?” Deutsch said.

This poor excuse for an American just need to find the rock she crawled from under and get back to where she once belonged, to quote the Beatles. She is a loathsome parasite who sucks the life out of any meaningful political discussion with her flamethrower attitude and disgusting personal references.
As an author, she is no even close to being in the class of a William F. Buckley, George Will, David Brooks or even that toadie, Charles Krauthammer. At least HE can write. She is more akin to what Britney Spears is to popular culture.
The only reason any conservative takes her seriously on a partial scale is that all the male neo-cons want to fuck her brains out and she gives that impression better than any hooker in Sen. David Vetter’s little black book. She appears on TV in her party girl short dresses and peroxide blonde locks and is about two days away from major botox injections.
And her face?!?!! Only a four-legged stallion could appreciate that visage. Believe me, I am being kind in my description. It could get a lot worse and far more vulgar.
I can dismiss the political crap as just the cackling of a midway carney. But this constant drumbeat for a theocracy by the crackpot conservatives, now named crackheads in my book, so offends me to the core as to be anti-American. How dare people like her, and other so-called Christians defile the teachings of Jesus, which, by the way, were done before fellow Jews, with their warped sense of self-importance. Damn, if Jesus himself were to appear in the modern world, he’d be castigated by the very folks who swear to God that they are true believers.
Hitler was also a so-called Christian and a so-called true believer.
Is she “anti-Semitic?” Who REALLY knows? Is she insensitive and really just wants the spotlight all to herself by tossing out these verbal IEDs for no other reason than to offend, stir the pot and draw attention to her? Absolutely.
If you read this posting and are offended by my comments, just think of how I, and others like me (meaning Jewish) feel? When, dear God, will this kind of religious elitism END?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Upsetting one’s Constitution

Texas voters will be asked to return to various polling sites on Tuesday, Nov. 6 to approve, or disapprove, some 16 amendments to the state constitution, and frankly, it’s going to be an underwhelming response by the electorate. Almost nothing on the ballot is on major consequence and the time and expense is yet another reason why Texas needs to scrub its constitution clean and tighten the document to reflect all the hundreds of conflicting amendments.
On the ballot will be such illuminating matters as continuing to send funds to Angelo State University while it undergoes a change in its governance (Proposition 1). Quick, name the mascot for Angelo State. (Answer: Rams).
Proposition 12 provides “for the issuance of general obligation bonds by the Texas Transportation Commission in an amount not to exceed $5 billion to provide funding for highway improvement projects” but comes at an interesting time when the Texas Department of Transportation is whining about running out of repair funds. So which is it??
Some amendments (number 13 to deny bail for people violating certain court orders or conditions of release in felony or family violence cases or number 14 to allow a judge to finish his or her term even after reaching the mandatory retirement age in mid-term) should probably best be handled through regular state law. Others involve issuances of bonds to create various institutions or help targeted areas. Four amendments concern property taxes and exemptions for rural residents, car owners and totally disabled veterans. Again, why must a voter in Wichita Falls or Marfa have to go to the polls for something essentially to be decided by the legislature?
A few propositions are just too vague to know of their eventual impact on Texans. Number 8 states, “The constitutional amendment to clarify certain provisions relating to the making of a home equity loan and use of home equity loan proceeds.” Soooo … exactly what does THAT mean? What provisions and what clarifications?
Sadly, Proposition 2 should not be on the ballot at all. “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of $500 million in general obligation bonds to finance educational loans to students and authorizing bond enhance­ment agreements with respect to general obligation bonds issued for that purpose.”
This is to shore up the Texas Tomorrow Fund because prior legislative sessions and decisions have allowed this worthy program to virtually starve to death – all in the name of some sort of invisible property tax cut that few people have seen come to genuine fruition.
Proposition 7 sounds logical but might be really confusing. “The constitutional amendment to allow govern­mental entities to sell property acquired through eminent domain back to the previous owners at the price the entities paid to acquire the property.” If an entity goes through the trouble of the hated eminent domain process (to seize property from someone for something or other), why reverse the process? If it were me, I would want something MORE for my troubles than merely the original price and a note stating, “Sorry; never mind.”
In my mind, the most important question is Proposition 19, the so-called Recorded Votes proposal, “… to require that a record vote be taken by a house of the legislature on final passage of any bill, other than certain local bills, of a resolution proposing or ratifying a constitutional amendment, or of any other nonceremonial resolution, and to provide for public access on the Internet to those record votes.”
Government conducted in secret is simply wrong – regardless of the level on which it is done. With the small exceptions allowed in the Texas Open Meetings Act, everything should be above board and plainly told to the tax paying citizens who elect these officials to represent them (not to enrich their own coffers or fatten the wallets of a privileged few).
One of the major problems in Austin is the burning desire to keep certain votes hush-hush as to not tell the people exactly what in the heck is happening in the Capitol Dome. For years, the powers-that-be have wanted many of their votes to be out of public view in order to avoid accountability. Any other hogwash excuse is just the plain, smelly droppings from the back end of a horse.
Finally, after years (perhaps decades) or trying by newspapers like the one I used to own or manage, and other open government groups, the voters will have a chance to begin holding their elected representative more accountable by making each vote cast ON THE RECORD. I strongly urge all of you to vote “yes” for Number 19 – so you will know exactly when these officials stand.
But my favorite choice on Nov. 6 is Proposition 10: “… to abolish the constitutional authority for the office of inspector of hides and animals.”
I will tell you that I am voting “no” on this.
I know many a legislator that needs his or her hide tanned. Often.

Friday, October 05, 2007

That WAS the life!

His friends said goodbye to Tom Beesley yesterday. It was a sad affair because funerals usually are that way; you might celebrate the life of someone, but you also know, in your heart, that he or she won’t be with you, or among you, anymore.
For almost five years, Tom was part of the Cedar Hill, Texas, scene as the editor of the Cedar Hill Today newspaper (while I served as editor of Lancaster Today), and often, conscience. He was ever-present with his camera, his smile, his wit and his energy. If something important was happening in Cedar Hill, from football to council sessions to features on ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things, he was there.
He was there when the television tower tragically and fatally crumbled on the morning of Country Day on the Hill. He was present when the Lady Longhorns made back-to-back trips to Austin in their quest for a Class 4A state basketball crown.
Because that was the man he was – he always wanted to be the one who was in the middle of the action; the person you could count upon to get the job done and the right photo at the right moment. That was his talent and that was his gift to us. It hurt him NOT to be asked to go somewhere – regardless of what he had to do. He would juggle it all anyway to be there where people needed him.
When he and I were like the Batman and Robin (or often the Abbott and Costello) of Today Newspapers (and later for the Frisco Enterprise and DFW Community Newspapers in Frisco, Allen and Plano), we expended our work to all the papers in the Today family.
We could be found in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day (including one game so cold and foggy that we couldn’t see the other sideline from the press box), at Reunion Arena to report on a Best Southwest legend in the pros, or at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco to watch Cedar Hill alum Derrius Thompson in action. The 1996 season of Football Saturday publications proved to be an ill-fated experiment in business terms, but it was an opportunity to practice our craft on a serious deadline basis. Once deadlines were met, we would sit and shoot the breeze, like old soldiers exchanging war stories.
Tom also loved music, he played the bass when he found the time and his choices were almost as eclectic as mine. We would see a Czechoslovakian bluegrass group (Druha Trava) one night in Mineola, and then rock out to the trumpet of Bill Tillman at the gazebo in Lancaster for Musicfest the following week.
He loved cars – fast cars – and he loved racing, having covered the California motorcycle circuit for a magazine years before. He was one of the best auto reviewers in Texas and whenever he drove a new vehicle, it, and he, usually drew attention. One night, at a Longhorn baseball game, Tom parked the new VW Beetle, previously unseen to the general public, and almost everyone in the stands forgot the game and drifted to see this blast from the past. Even the coaches and umpires wanted a peek after the game.
He kind of hated modern technology, being an old school as I was, especially when his computer inevitably crashed in the middle of deadline work. His “reactions” were often headshakers, but that was Tom. He wanted to do the best job possible, despite any gremlins that got in his path.
“I think I’ve still got the eye and the desire and some good photos are still coming out of the old man,” he told me about a year ago.
Most of all, he loved his family, notably his wife, Sylvia and his son, Jared. Nothing brought a quicker tear to his eye than to watch Jared, a gifted musician in his own right, on a stage, or on a bicycle in his short-track cycling career. They were not tears of sorrow, but tears of tremendous pride.
As I said, he was someone a person who count upon to help; which was the reason I called him on Nov. 4, 1997, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m., lying in the ICU section of Charlton Methodist Hospital in South Dallas suffering from a heart attack. I trusted no one else to make sure that the right people were informed and that all other aspects would not be interrupted. He groused initially but was the first one at the hospital and the person who cared more than anyone else.
In the last few years, Tom found another passion – sailing. It gave him an inner peace that might have been missing, despite all that he was involved with. In an e-mail, he told me how he felt:
“Fortunately for me, the sailboats are saving the day. I endure going to work so I can take off to go sailing, whereas, when we worked together, I worked because that’s what I did. I was a desperation workaholic. Now I see there are other things in life besides news photos and believe it or not, in recent months, I’ve actually gone somewhere and just forgot to take a camera along. When my blood pressure is way up and I think I feel it squishing through my brain, I get concerned and worried. So I go sailing instead of going to work.
“And strangely, I have not written a word about sailing.”
When I close my eyes and think of my friend, I go back to the Cotton Bowl on July 4, 1995, where we were covering the inaugural season of the MLS’ Dallas Burn. It was the first holiday match and was held in conjunction with the annual Freedom Festival at the old Starplex (perhaps a Huey Lewis and the News concert). The contest ended with a Burn victory and then all the fans, more than 20,000, stayed for a huge fireworks show.
Among the ones waiting for the fireworks were the Burn players and anyone else who wanted this unique vantage point – the perfect pitch (field) that was the Cotton Bowl. The field was lush green and felt like the finest carpet imaginable. Among us was Burn goalie Mark Dodd and his toddler daughter, simply playing as a father and child would. Tom took some photos and struck up a friendship.
So as two grown men, lying on the soft stadium turf, watching with childlike amazement at the color bursts high in the Dallas night, we just looked at each other, and almost simultaneously said, “Man, this IS the life!”
Tom Beesley will now forever be looking at the sun and the stars, having fulfilled that statement.

When kids simply go bad

Author's Note: The following column was published in today's ediiton (Oct. 5) edition of the Collin County Opinion Pages of the Dallas Morning News.
In this world, there is no such thing as a complete and iron-clad guarantee. I once had a roof installed on a building I owned and it came with a "lifetime" guarantee. Of course, when it needed fixing, and the reputable firm was no longer in existence, there was no more "lifetime" guarantee.
Not every car runs perfectly. Not every garment is stitched exactly. Not every battery starts each time.
And not every child turns out to be good. Some of them do bad things, no matter how good of a job their parents did. They lie, they steal, they cheat. Some they do very, very bad things … including murder.
There are probably thousands of incidents that plague today’s society — where those referred to as "good children" go so terribly wrong. When it gets as bad as it can, with kids killing kids, it doesn’t just happen in America’s inner cities, which most of us would just as soon forget about. It occurs in small towns involving young people easily described as "All-American."
In many cases, perpetrators come from broken homes without the proper parental guidance to steer them away from heinous criminal activities. In many cases, these children find solace and mis-guidance in gangs or cliques, leading to greater lawbreaking. History also begets history; it is well documented that the children of abusers themselves often (not always) become abusive. Just think of what happens when they begin to "raise" their own children?
But often parents do everything society has asked — all the proper family values are taught time and again. Yet the sad stories persist.
So what’s a parent to do? Parental responsibility can only go so far. At some point, that "child" must assume his or her responsibility for their actions. The concept of "if you do the crime, you do the time" can’t be wiped away because of a perpetrator’s age. At some point, a person has got to know better. If you rob, you’re a thief; if you kill, you’re a killer … at 16, 26 or 60.
In my extended family, there’s a couple that we adore, and they are as good as the day is long. For all their lives, they have respected others, helped people and been nary a burden upon anyone.
However, one of their sons is locked in a mental institution because of drug abuse, and another son is imprisoned for life for murdering his wife while under the influence of drugs. Yet their parents raised them correctly.
Parenting really involves throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. In their children, a parent can only instill proper morals, the knowledge and spirit of what’s right and wrong, and the importance of treating people with love, respect and kindness. You can teach them proper work ethic, the value of sharing and helping others and then, through example, you live that kind of principled, "Golden Rule" life. You can provide all the creature comforts and make the home shine with love and caring.
Then you cast them from the nest and hope, and pray that the spaghetti sticks.
Most of the time, those efforts are justly rewarded; sometimes, nothing you do matters. You can’t continue to bang your head against the wall and live with a permanent mental (or actual) ulcer about "what did I do wrong?"
Actions affect more people than realized; the pain is extended to many victims, including parents and family members on both sides of tragedies. But it would be wrong to simply go around and blanket-judge parents without garnering the full picture, just because their children followed the wrong paths of life.
Because sometimes, some kids merely go bad and there ain’t a darn thing you, or the spaghetti, can do about it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"THE WAR" -- brilliant, ugly and total genius

Ken Burns' PBS documentary series, "The War," is total genius -- those who have missed it need to see it as soon as possible.
Burns has absolutely caught the pertinent parts of all major battles and the sense of what was happening in this country. By focusing on four cities and towns, as representative of certain attitudes and problems (segregation and the heinous interment of Japanese-American citizens), he has paid honor to the contributions of everyone and sacrifices - in many cases of people's freedoms and rights. The protests of certain Hispanic groups, about being "snubbed" in the original content, seems out of line. The war was SO massive that no amount of reasonable time could do justice to all possible contributions. The protests sonds too politically correct to me ... but I digress.
"The War" is a heartbreaking storyline. Burns has demystified the notion that this was a war of honor. It was a totally ugly affair (as death usually is) and he is driving that home like a jackhammer. The Episode 3 letters from Babe Ciarlo, corresponding from Italy, and then only to learn of his eventual death at the conclusion, brought tears to my eyes and also made my wife cry. You knew damn well it was coming but it still was upsetting. That is the quality of the writing and presentation.
It is the best thing on TV of its kind since .... well Burns' baseball and Civil War series. It is so superior to anything concocted on History Channel, etc. it isn't even close.
My wife said she wishes someone would chain George W. Bush to a chair and make his watch all of this to see what really happens to men when they fight and get killed in battle. It's horrific (Burns' has found film never seen before and it is graphic) and that smessage shines like a beacon as people today think that combat is something less than ugly.
I also present a top 10 list of the best WWII movies (actually 11 in no particular order).
Saving Private Ryan
The Longest Day
Stalag 17
Mister Roberts
Bridge over the River

From Here to Eternity
Run Silent, Run Deep
The Great Escape
The Big Red One
Schindler's List

Honorable mention goes to Sands of Iwo Jima; Letters from Iwo Jima; The Story of GI Joe; Battleground; Das Boot.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jena, Louisiana: just more of the same

Having grown up in a different region of the country (Detroit, Mich.) and living through the 1967 Detroit riots, AND being considered a persecuted minority myself (Jewish) my attitude towards people of different races was shaped by direct events.
I have been the subject of anti-Semitism and open hatred for no reasons other than a set of beliefs. I've been denied jobs because I was Jewish and spat upon, called a "Christ killer" by the father of the friend I had across the street. The man physically threw me out of his house because he didn't want a Jew to that I had to treat everyone equally because NOT to do so would violate every principle I held - to act towards people the same way you wanted them to act to you (I guess it's the golden rule).
While racism and bigotry manifested itself that summer of 1967 is the harshest manner possible, it was still a shock to me to see the overt examples in the South. When I came by bus through Arkansas, we stopped in Newport for a rest break. Inside the terminal was the rest rooms - but here I saw one marked "whites only" and one reading "colored." I stood there like a zombie (I had been up for 36 hours) looking at the doors. So I asked the bus driver which one I should take since I was Jewish. He just tapped his arm to indicate skin color.
I decided still to wait.
Jena, Louisiana is no different, sad to say. You just can't wash that racist impression or that racist attitude out of people like a spot on a blouse. It has been ingrained for generations and since hatred is a learned experience, it gets passed down through future generations. You don't learn it in a book or on TV or through anything but your family.
Jena is just another example of such anti-social bullshit attitudes and it won't be the last. No amount of marching or closing one's eyes will make it go away.
Sadly, too many people have turned such bigoted feelings to Hispanics - for no other reason than a language and cultural barrier. They hate people who are different for that exact reason; they are afraid of those they don't understand and refuse to learn about them. In two generations, it will be someone else.
It just goes on and on and on ...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

FORD tough

As Collin County continues to establish itself as one of Texas’ fastest growing suburban counties, as well as in America, so does the level of its diversity. Neighborhoods are now populated by people of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Latin American descent – a veritable United Nations.
And then there are people who represent minorities like me.
FORDs. Fat. Old. Rumpled Democrats.
In the land of Lexus, Jaguar, Mercedes and Hummers, it is the BMW (blonde, materialistic white) that is all too often seen and heard. And too the dismay of the FORD, the BMW also rules politically; they’re just called Republicans.
Being a FORD is a family affair for me. My Dad was pretty much a FORD man until the day he died – the older he got, the more partisan he became. The man who grew up with FDR stood by those principles far more than anything he heard in the years afterwards. But I went voluntarily into that realm; no one, including my Dad, had to coerce me.
So what makes a FORD run?
FORDs don’t like to pay taxes anymore than any other person, especially when they surface in this new age form known as road tolls – apparently an increasingly popular mechanism among the ruling party in Austin to snatch money from its citizens without truth in labeling.
When the slogan “See the USA in your Chevrolet” was popular, it indicated the desire to ride the open roads – open as in free from cost other than related to the vehicle. Hell, Buzz Murdock and Tod Stiles drove their Corvette for free on “Route 66.” If it was good enough back then, it should be good enough now.
FORDs can want to save the environment but I might be among those who care less about what is being recycled and more about why it is easier to see the browning of the air I breathe. After all, when it rains, my truck should not have MORE dirt on it than before the sprinkles came.
But mostly, it was about how helped make this nation strong and vibrant – the men and women who built things – from skyscrapers to bridges to the tools that created them,
I believe the American workers are more responsible for the economic success and growth of this nation, following World War II (our golden jubilee apparently), than corporate management. Sadly, too many positions of those who make the products have been sacrificed overseas for profits’ sake while not enough suits and ties have suffered the same fate. You see, workers tend to be FORDS now and suits tend to like BMWs.
When I was a pup, American-made meant something; it stood for top grade quality. Of course, I come from a time when my refrigerator was made in Amana, Iowa, my Zenith television came from Chicago, my Emerson radio was built on Long Island and the phone was made by Western Electric – an American company. My baseball glove was an American Wilson model, my shoes came from Brockton, Massachusetts and my baseball bats had Louisville, Kentucky stamped on each piece of wood.
The cars were drove were ONLY made in Detroit because we supported the home team.
Our homes stood for American products, even if they cost a bit more than the cheaper brand. You do get what you pay for and the purchase of anything USA kept the economy strong by circulating money among families and neighborhoods and businesses – to buy more American products and hire more American workers – the ones who actually stood on the line.
Too many BMWs have turned the word “union,” into something dirty, unpleasant and vilified. But those same BMWs scream the loudest when all those foreign-made products, which flooded the market because of the low, low cost-per-unit price, began to make Britney and Buffy and Carter and others sick as dogs.
Gee, that really didn’t happen when American workers made those same items, did they?
In the land of BMWs, the honk of this old FORD just cannot be heard. The local BMW drivers run everything from the courthouse to the outhouse, which many of us find our lot in life. Republicans in this county deem it more appropriate to give themselves raises, where the average elected county official earns around $100,000 compared to the median salary far less than that.
And some of them bitch like little girls about not getting a slew of bonuses, out of my wallet for absolutely not a damn thing done in return. They, like all these BMW owners, believe it is their God-given right to make obscene amounts of money at the taxpayer’s expense.
Yet not a penny for the poor among us, either for health care opportunities for children or sick adults; no help for the homeless because the BMWs firmly believe that such people do NOT exist in Collin County.
I have always believed that no man needs to own a Rolex or any other expensive watch in order to tell the damn time. A Bulova or Timex does the same thing at a fraction of the cost. After all, isn’t that the function of a watch?
Same holds true for being a FORD. My beliefs will get me to where I want to go; no need to own and maintain an expensive, overpriced piece of shit philosophy.
And when the others in this area realize that a FORD works as well, or better, than any BMW, things might get changed for the better.
Until then, I remain FORD tough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TEXAS FOOD FIGHT: ketchup v. mustard

I’ve learned a “thang” or two in more than 30 years of “columnizing” – like the topics that raise the instant ire of readers. Just express personal views on one of three subjects (religion, abortion, politics) and watch the fireworks. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I add a fourth to that list – the myth that is TEXAS food.
It might not go down with the classic confrontations about chili (beans v. no beans), barbecue (mesquite v. charcoal v. gas) or which community is actually THE peach capital (Parker County, Gillespie County or Freestone County). This moment of sacrilege centers on that item declared “genuine” to the Lone Star State – the hamburger, allegedly invented in Athens. My bone of contention is not its origin, but its accouterments. It is against all principles of nature, and taste buds, to put mustard on a beef patty. The correct answer should the Reagan-era vegetable of choice – ketchup.
My beliefs were stoked recently as I ordered one of Kincaid’s marvelous creations in Fort Worth (why isn’t there one where I live?). If you've never eaten there, you don't know what you're missing!

Had I not said something at the “place order here” desk, my burger would have been violated with that yucky yellow stuff. It should be the other way around; mustard should be an add-on, not a normal part of the process.
Mustard is a bitter seed which properly belongs on sausage-type products (sausage, hot dogs, brats, pork tenderloin, etc.). It can be yellow or brown, and contain fancy names like Dijon or Cajun. A strong mustard has a very powerful (and often painful) effect on the nasal membranes “if eaten carelessly.”
From the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.com, comes this:

“The French have used mustard seeds as a spice since 800 AD,
and it was amongst spices taken by the Spanish on explorations throughout the 1400s.
Pope John XXII was particularly fond of mustard, and created a new position in the Vatican, ‘grand moutardier du pape’ or ‘mustard maker to the pope.’”

For Heaven’s sake, you want a Texas creation to be defined by the French??!!??
Beef, on the other hand, needs a tangy sweetness created by all things tomato. That means ketchup, not the more effete sounding “catsup.” It just goes together in perfect harmony.
If you’ve always wondered which reference (ketchup or catsup) was correct, according to World­wide words.org, the product was referred to as “catchup” as far back as 1690 and in Scribner’s Magazine in 1859. The general consensus is that ketchup and catsup are exactly the same silly thing.

“Ketchup was one of the earliest names given to this condiment, so spelled in Charles Lock­yer’s book of 1711, ‘An Account of the Trade in India:’ ‘Soy comes in Tubbs from Jappan, and the best Ketchup from Tonquin; yet good of both sorts are made and sold very cheap in China.’”
There are plenty of examples to flavor my side of the argument. The Chinese use hot mustard often to spike their sweet and sour sauces and it ain’t the sweet part. No one in their right mind would slap mustard on brisket and would anyone ever make a real Texas bowl of red (chili for the uninitiated) with … mustard??
Children insist on ketchup on hot dogs because, frankfurterly, they don’t know better. The real test comes at the perfect setting for a hot dog – at a baseball game. When you get one from a vendor in the stands, the proper method to serve it is steamed, on a warm (not soggy) bun and with two slaps of yellow mustard. That’s it! The relish, onions and other items should be confined to tables next to concession stands where all sort of culinary perversions take place. Sushi at a baseball game?
For the naysayers, ketchup does not belong on scrambled eggs, egg rolls, ham sandwiches or any combination in a kosher deli. Bologna sandwiches can have either because there just too much of a mish-mash in normal bologna to determine proper food grouping.
Putting a little “mustard on the ball” is a good thing for a baseball pitcher. Throwing a rotten tomato at a theater performer is not a good thing. In the board game “Clue,” one of the murder suspects is Col. MUSTARD; not Captain Ketchup!
Texas is unique as its cuisine. It was once a “blue” state and is now seen as a strong “red” state. But it should never, ever become a “yellow” state.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Looking back at 9/11 writings

Author's Note: The following are the two columns I wrote in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 for the Plano (Texas) Star-Courier. The sentiments expressed, although HIGHLY unpopular at the time, hold true today.

Exactly WHO does America go after?
A little more than seven years ago, I sat in a completely silent news room with scores of people surrounding me. It was another place, another time and a different circumstance that caused those folks, and almost everyone else in the nation, to stop, look and listen to tragic news.
That was Oklahoma City. Yesterday, it was New York City and Washington, D.C. The stunned silence was the same, the tear-filled eyes were the same and the numbness was the same.
And the questions posed were the same, “Who would do such a thing?”
In the case of Oklahoma City, where initial police and press reports suggested that the culprit was Arabic, the perpetrator was a good old boy, who wasn’t much of a man and wasn’t very good. He was one of us and that stunned the country almost as much as the act.
Who would do such a thing?
If the U.S. hadn’t learned before, it knows this morning clearer than ever – there are people, many people, more than we want to realize or accept, that do not like us and will do whatever it takes to see our country suffer. Humanity doesn’t enter into the equation. Acts like this suggest that the instigators embrace martyrdom – meaning they worship death while we have always worshipped life.
How can we overcome that kind of thinking when it is fundamentally opposite of what you know to be true?
I have asked these questions today (Tuesday) and I have no answers. The people in New York City have no answers and the government officials in Washington, D.C. have no answers. Otherwise, someone would be taking swift action ... and it didn’t happen.
All this pent-up emotion and no safety valve. People are (stupidly) ready to march off to war without fully weighing ALL the consequences. Others want scorched earth regardless of whose earth is being scorched.
So I pose it to you: Exactly WHO does America go after? Which foreign country is responsible for this act of terrorism? Do we know for sure, or would we be guessing?
And if you believe in the writings of the Bible or Torah or Koran, what does vengeance ever solve? It just inflicts more pain, injury and death upon innocent people whose sole “crime” is to have been born in another nation with a different skin color.
A pound of flesh weighs much heavier on the heart and soul than you think.
Let’s theorize that international outlaw Osama bin Laden is the power and the money (and perhaps brains) behind this well-executed and dastardly deed. OK, where is he? Where do we look? Where we would attack to capture him? Can we justify illegally entering a sovereign nation’s territory because we waive the Stars and Stripes?
Are we ready to start World War III? Because the next retaliation, if we would attack a Middle East nation looking for bin Laden, would be directed toward Israel and it won’t involve “conventional” weaponry. Bin Laden, Saddam and the other godfathers of terrorism won’t stop with a few exchange of bombs.
And no one alive is ready for that.
There was a movie done three years ago, starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis, called “The Siege.” Its premise was eerily redone on television screens across the world.
Terrorists strike New York, forcing federal troops to take control of the city, imposing martial law and interring all families of Arabic descent. The rationalization and justification used was the old, tired argument that you have to sacrifice some liberties to maintain freedom and peace.
Except, as the movie notes (in a convoluted manner), that is not how THIS country works. We have fought, and died, to have 100 percent of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. Deprivation never works.
Yes, we need to find out, with total certainty, who did this. We need to bring them to justice – American justice. We need answers and we garner them without blindly pointing fingers at various groups.
And we need to pray. Our country took a bad body blow in the solar plexus. It hurts, a whole heck of a lot.
But we are strong and we are resilient. We don’t like having this happen and we will not yield to this kind of threat.
Someone misjudged badly. Tragedy unites us ... and united we DO stand.
-- Sept. 11, 2001

Talk of war is not the right thing to hear
As a Jew, I am embarrassed by the reaction by a handful of our less-than-stellar citizens – committing criminal acts against people who happen to be of Arabic descent.
As an American, I am just as red-faced about how quickly and easily some people want to plunge headfirst into a pool where we know not the water level or contents.
I am scared for our nation by all the chest-pounding and talk of going to “war” after Tuesday’s tragedies in New York City, Washington D.C. and in Pennsylvania.
What happened was horrible, disgusting, inhumane, heinous, cowardly ... should I go through other terminology? I think you get the message. But when national leaders speak about mobilizing and enter into active combat, against an enemy that deliberately stays in the shadows, it should send shivers down everyone’s spine.
We’ve declared “war” on terrorism before, as we have against drug importing and other things most of us deem socially unacceptable. Yet all the efforts cannot stop actions of people hell bent, even to the point of death, on killing others.
I wrote this two days ago and nothing has changed. When our society and nation, which prides itself on quality of life, conflicts with people for whom death is the ultimate reward and martyrdom is the greatest achievement, there can be no understanding. It is fundamentally against our thinking and each time these incidents happen, we fail to comprehend what is happening.
And understand that terrorist attacks have happened before, even on American soil. Islamic fundamentalists tried to blow up the World Trade Center, and even had cyanide gas ready to be used (but failed to ignite) in order to inflict thousands of American casualties.
Our military bases and ships have been attacked and thousands of U.S. citizens have died prior to Tuesday. Planes have been hijacked before and, unless everyone is strip-searched and seated in handcuffs during flights, it will probably happen again - sad to say.
We’ve responded with bombing raids against alleged targets, economic sanctions and lots of blustery verbiage. But we’ve never thought about crossing the line to all-out war.
Until now. Be careful, my fellow Americans, of what you wish for.
War is not a Nintendo game; it’s far more graphic than “Band of Brothers.” At least the actors get up after the scene is shot. The real McCoy means young men (and now young women) come home in body bags.
With no guarantee that the “enemy” will be eliminated.
But I can bring forth this possible scenario, which is the worst thing imaginable. Say we invade Afghanistan to eradicate Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network (oh by the way, which country trained this guy?). We reduce the country to ashes because the Taliban won’t cough this yahoo up.
There are other neighboring nations, with leaders equally hateful of the U.S., and possessors of far more sophisticated weaponry, just itching to use their arsenal against ... Israel and even the U.S. It won’t be conventional; it will be chemical and possibly nuclear (we are going to be shocked to learn who has what capability).
One domino begins to fall and pretty soon the world is engulfed in a worldwide conflict - the result of which could be unthinkable.
If you stop to think about it.
Military responses are one thing; President Clinton tried it in 1998 hoping to get bin Laden and former President Bush faced his own crisis and criticism when he stopped short in Desert Storm of taking out Saddam Hussein. Hussein walked away untouched and continuing to finance terrorism against “the Great Infidel.”
To many in this world, that’s what we are. We will never change their minds and we should stop trying. They should stop trying to go against God’s will by killing innocent people over ideology.
And we should take a collective deep breath before doing something that could lead to catastrophic results.
I don’t think the victims would want that. We’re better than that.
Ours should be a war of wills; living well is the best revenge. And America should concentrate on living, not potential death.
-- Sept. 14, 2001
I was right then adnd I am right now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Outrage in Frisco

My wife said this better than I could EVER have EV.I upset and saddened to read of this racism in Frisco (Texas - a suburb of Dallas) that occurred on Saturday...
After reading the article, I guessed the ethnicity of the man that was falsely and unjustly accused by a bank employee and subjected to being humiliated and threatened at gun point ... with the possibility of being shot by the police who believed him to be a bank robber ...
A case of "you can make the suburbs more diverse, but you can't take the racism away so easily!" The man in this case was an African-American gentleman. I do believe he's owed a big apology from the bank and the police department. His girlfriend and her small child were also impacted by this event according to the article. He was at the bank with a friend who was seeking a loan!
If this happened to me or my husband, I would be terrified and outraged ... but because we're white, I doubt this will ever happen to us. How long will it take for the culture to change? How long will it take for racism to be something that happened long ago and is unknown to our children? It's very sad that most people of the dominant ethnic group (white) are totally oblivious to it!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Insurance non-payoffs: There oughta be a law

Author's Note: The following column appeared in today's ediiton (Sept. 9, 2007) of the Dallas Morning News' Colln County Opinion pages.
This summer has been another horrible weather period for people in different parts of the country, due to massive flooding from a host of extraordinary storms. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have YET to recover from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and one of the major reasons for that lack of progress falls at the feet of insurance companies — unwilling to pay full restoration and damages on legitimate policies. These companies, who are flush with profits to the tune of many billions of dollars have spent much time, and legal expense doing all they can NOT to pay hurricane and flood victims.
In 2005, despite paying an estimated $56.8 billion in losses (according to the Los Angeles Times and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners), insurance companies earned a record $44.8 billion in profit — a whopping 18.7 percent higher than in 2004. The figures were posted despite Katrina, acknowledged as the worst disaster in American history.
In fact, all those losses were paid by policyholder premiums, with another 7 percent added to the industry’s surplus, which was NOT touched in 2005. The industry is paying a much lower percentage on policies, going from 60 percent of losses in the 1990s, to less than 50 percent after the Florida batch of hurricanes in 2005 to about 30 percent for Katrina victims.
Oh yeah, the insurance companies themselves had disaster insurance coverage with overseas firms, and those payoffs (up to two-thirds of insured losses) were added to the treasuries.
The problem lies with flood damage, which insurance companies will not cover. Homeowners are pushed to the federal flood insurance coverage and in many areas on the Gulf Coast and eastern shore, companies like Allstate have stopped offering homeowner policies at all.
The stories of how ordinary people have been treated by those supposedly in their "good hands" make you cringe as an American. The lack of fairness — seeing hard-working citizens who faithfully paid their premiums thinking they were fully covered only to forced (by desperation) to accept pennies on the dollar for a settlement claim — is unconscionable. Something should be done on the federal level, and applied across the nation and across the board.
My legislation would provide for the following:
1) Comprehensive coverage, which would be mandatory on homeowner policies, should include all natural possibilities — under ONE umbrella. This nonsense about having to purchase different policies for wind, rain, flood, fire and hail damage, when all these can occur during storms, only enriches the coffers.
Storms produce lightning (which can cause fires), hail, tornadoes and … yes, flooding in the form of wind and rain; you can’t have one without the other. Hence, flood damage should be covered instead of pawned off to the federal government as a secondary purchase.
2) If a policy says replacement for damages is to be paid at market value, the company does NOT get to set that value. A designated third party should be the determining factor. Failure to adhere would result in stout fines — enough to make it really hurt and discouraged companies from opting to pay fines rather than pay policies.
3) If a policyholder has met all premiums according to the signed agreement, insurance companies are totally bound to pay.
4) It should take no longer than one year for a policyholder to receive 100 percent of his or her payment.
A law should bring the full force of federal penalties against those companies that violate this trust. I wouldn’t go as far as to claim racketeering within the industry, but when all these folks warble the same song-and-dance, the smell is unmistakable.
Such comprehensive coverage should be the standard regardless of region. As we’ve seen, no section of the nation is immune, from the Texas Hill Country to the Minnesota range to the Gulf Coast to Northern California.
Insurance companies are not hurting, but many of their customers are. These giant corporations should not be in the business merely to collect premiums while failing to fully pay legitimate claims.
It is time fairness returns to our rules and our business. And for that, as the old comic strip said, there oughta be a law.

Monday, August 27, 2007

What do we owe New Orleans?

As the second anniversary approaches of Hurriance Katrina, the Dallas daily newspaper asked this question: What do we owe to the city of New Orleans?
Yes, the local government and the state officials are probably corrupt and incompetent but their failures do NOT match the malfeseance and ineptitude of those lounging in Washington, DC. It is just redundant to list all the problems, illegalities and heinous responses from FEMA, the White House, etc. to a city and a people that should be treasured, not ignored, by Americans.
The federal government owes New Orleans as much as it owes Baghdad. At least New Orleanians pay taxes, goddamit. Iraqis are killling our troops while its government plays pussyfoot and bitches like little babies ("Momma, mean old Hillary pikced on me today!"). Not one much fucking dime should be spent there. Instead it should be plowed back into American infrastructure to rebuild THIS nation. Fuck Iraq and fuck the Iraqis!
The feds relocated a huge segment of the New Orleans population to the four winds, to ALL parts of the U.S., as far away as California and Utah, without asking anyone if they wanted to go there, via a ONE-WAY ticket. No honest attempt has been made to help these people return and resettle and ... rebuild. They said, "Hey you are and here you'll stay!" If you're black and from New Orleans, what is Utah or West Texas hold for you???
Billions, as has been the case in Iraq, has been squandered by FEMA and other federal departments, along with state and local officials, because, as of THIS date, no one has figured out how to deal with the disaster ... two years after the fact. At some point, this dog will get tired of chasing its tail and just stop. The feds have asked the survivors to accept shit and call it home.
But if we, as Americans, will not save and rebuild an AMERICAN city, what in God's name are we doing wasting a possible trillion dollars or so in the sands of a foreign land? This isn't xenophobic or isolationst; it's about doing for Americans FIRST and then helping the rest of the world. We show by example and how we haven't rebuilt New Orleans isn't showing the rest of the world a damn thing.
And we won't so long as George W. (Brownie, You're Doing a Heckuva Job) Bush is around. Or any other Republican.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How to be the best possible FOOTBALL FATHER

Author's Note: The following column appeared in today's (Aug. 16, 2007) ediiton of the Dallas Morning News' Collin County Opinion Pages:
This month, the son of a dear friend of mine is embarking on his high school-level football career at one of Collin County’s programs. He is a young, talk strapping lad, with dreams of sacks and tackles dancing in his head.
His mother will sit in the stands for each of his games with a singular desire – that her little boy not get hurt – because that’s what mothers do. Despite a heavy business travel schedule, my friend’s husband will be there for his son’s games, either on Thursdays or Fridays. I hope that his eyes are filled with tears of joy from the pride he will feel watching his offspring perform.
In my years of watching and covering high school football (I estimate at more than 300 games), I have seen and heard it all – much of which is not pretty or useful – from all kinds of dads – the good, the bad and the really, really ugly. You can talk all about stage mothers and little league parents, but bad behavior by a football father can be as abhorrent as it gets.
There have been fathers who have charged the field to attack coaches and officials as well as grabbing their child by the face mask or even slapping the head. I’ve heard language that would make sailors blush and seen behavior I would believe to be “certifiable.”
Here are my suggestions to be the proper “football father.”
1) Do NOT yell at your child from the stands. There are too many ears in the stands, connected with too many mouths. Such boorish behavior only makes the father look bad and such impressions are quickly spread. Besides, unless you’re alone in the stadium, or have a voice like Foghorn Leghorn that can pierce through the shrill of 5,000 others, the intended target can’t hear you anyway.
2) Do NOT live your sports fantasies through your son. He is who he is; not who you used to be … or wanted to be. Living vicariously through a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old only hampers any athletic development on his part and will ultimately be injurious to the ongoing father-son relationship.
True, they don’t understand YOUR music or why you do what you do (and vice versa), but, in most cases, they will make you, as a father, proud.
3) Do NOT criticize your son’s coaches out loud in public. Bad plays are almost always due to poor execution (physical mistakes) rather than poor play calling. Besides, if you could do better, you’d be out there with your lower-than-you-should-be-paid teacher’s certificate, listening to verbal abuse heaped upon you, working six or seven days a week for 12-14 hours daily during the season, with your job performance splashed across the sports section every Saturday morning.
4) Analyze rather than criticize. The object of post-game analysis is to learn why things went right and, if some aspects failed, to discover why they were wrong. This is the true nature of coaching. What coaching needs to promote is effort; if you try to do your best all the time, no one can ask for more out of you.
One truism is not expressed to young athletes enough – sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. There are times when the other player or the other team is just better. But if you give that total effort, then you can hold your head high regardless of outcome.
5) Be positive, be happy, be there! He’s young, healthy, and wants to be part of a team effort rather than a lone wolf. A young man can learn so much more about life and relating to other people through team sports than individual activities. Football, in its purest form, promotes that more than any American sport on the landscape.
It is true that those positions that produce the points (quarterback, wide receivers, running backs) earn the acco­lades; it’s the nature of the game. However, without a collective effort of 22-plus men (linemen, defenders and even kickers), nothing gets done, no play succeeds and no touchdowns are scored. So encourage him.
I learned the hard way. The worst summer of my life was trying to coach a T-ball team with my son as its second baseman. It was a total no-win situation because nothing I said, or didn’t say, was going to be right in his eyes. I broke too many of my own rules and it took years to right that ship. I’ve watched and learned; I’ve been there and experienced most of that – to obtain a pretty good conception of how a football father should act from what us old-timers used to know as “the peanut gallery.”
Dad, let Mom do the worrying and you do the cheering. Your son will worship you for it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Katrina anniversary: Still no help for NOLA

In less than two weeks, it will be the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and what was effectively the destruction of (perhaps) the greatest American city - New Orleans. And in that time, little has been done to revive this asset to our nation to anything resembling its former self.
If you don't believe me, simply find a copy, or watch one of the HBO channels, and see Spike Lee's genius (and humbling) documentary "When the Levees Broke," the four-hour series that will break your heart all over again. Every topic examined - from the warnings to the government's response (immediate after the rains came and in the months following) - essentially remains as it was - stagnant and non-productive. Spike could have an addendum about how the insurance companies found a friendly federal judicial panel to void any responsibility for payment of damages to NOLA homeowners (mostly midle class to poor), how those lousy, piece of shit FEMA trailers turned out to be tiny tubs of toxicity to how most of the Ninth Ward is still a pile of rubble, two years later. Spike could show how Mississippi has been helped far more because IT has a GOP governor and Louisiana does NOT.
He could show how people like Karl Rove turned their back on Louisiana because those evacuated were mostly black and not likely to support HIS boss. Spike could also show how quickly the White House responded with help, such as the Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse, and a personal visit, compared to the slow response to New Orleans' plight. By the way, the governor of Minnesota is a ... Republican.
He could also show how many people were relocated to all parts of the U.S. and not given any means - financial or otherwisae - to return to their HOMES while those homes are being bought, sold and plowed from under them.
This anniversary should not be marked by celebration, but by prayers for the shame it has brought upon our society and our nation. It is a pox on our nation's house that we STILL seem not ready to solve. And that is a crime for which NO ONE is answerable.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Confronting the homeless problem

There was an interesting question on the blog from the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News (Dallas Morning Views) - what to do with homeless people. Here was my response:
First, people must recognize that the "homeless" usually are NOT there by choice, but by circumstance. A little more compassion other than treating them as throwaway people would be nice.
Second, there must be a division as to the reasons and then those problems must be dealt with. Homeless people with children are more often economic victims and resources must be provided (private is just fine if the sector is willing and compassionate) to get them OFF the dangerous streets, into a safe and clean environment, offer some semblance of training and job placement and prepare them to re-enter sosciety as productive and independent people.
Third, for those homeless suffering from drug, alcohol and mental prolbems, there must be facilities willing to accept them and treat them. The goal is to get them help and, hopefully, after time, return them (if possible) as productive societal members.
Fourth, recognize that there are homeless in places not normally associated with sucha problem. We have many homeless people here in rich old Collin County, although the citizenry and too many elected officials, would just as soon have them disappear into thin air. They won't and it is a growing problem that MUST be confronted. Because more and more, with the growing foreclosure problems, a new breed of homeless person will emerge -- unable to cope with the rapid personal decline and unknowledgable about where to turn in troubled times.
But first, to get them OFF the streets, society must have a place for them to go and enough room and resources to handle the influx.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Keep your mouths SHUT!

In the wake of the tragic and horrific bridge collapse in Minneapolis, I'll make this short and sweet:
Here is Dallas, certain off-the-wall,non-thinking local radio talk show hosts spent SO much airtime claiming that the bridge collapse could be an act of terrorism? WHY? To stir up fears among people when it is unneccesary (certainly without a shred of evidence to prove any such theory)? I can imagine that some radical right-wing, anti-foreigner (and not the 1970s rock group, either) yakkers spread the same horseshit on a national basis.
Such irresponsibility, merely to pander to an audience, should not be tolerated by the general public. People should flood local outlets with complaints that driv ehoem the same point, "We wills topping listening to your station and this drivel."
Remember, HAVING the freedom of speech also means you have the freedom, and good sense, to know when NOT to use it.
So shut the fuck UP!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hey, Rummy, you dummy, you ARE responsible!

This is the AP lead to today's (Aug. 1) Congressional testimony by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appearance about the coverup and lying concerning the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, the former NFL star who died in combat, from friendly fire, in Afghanistan:
"WASHINGTON -- Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended himself and took no personal responsibility Wednesday for the military's bungled response to Army Ranger Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death in Afghanistan."

While, in this sungular case, it is quite believeable that he was never told the truth, it just sounds like more of the same from the Bush administration. It was this attitude, set by the leader of that department (Rumsfield) that led to having three-star generals lie to superiors in order to make bad things look better instead of telling the truth and dealing with that.
So, in that respect, Mr. Rumsfeld IS responsible. He SHOULD be held accountable... but he won't.
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers said he felt no responsibility whatever to answer for anything -- as callous a remark that can be made with the family in the same room. Such "me first" thinking is what has led the U.S. to become so hated around the world and led to the military debacle that is Iraq.
Lying - THAT is the real legacy that will be left, like so much DOGSHIT, by the Bushies. It will take decades for this nation to recover.
Goddamn them all!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How other lives, deaths touch your own life

Every day, I peruse the obituaries of the major daily newspaper delivered to my home, as well as online publications in other American cities. My sister in California thinks I’m crazy to do so, believing there is something morbid about such activity, but I have my reasons.
Much of the day’s news is often contained on who has left our earthly existence and it IS interesting to see the various contributions they made to our society. For the record, the obituary section of the Los Angeles Times (www.latimes.com) is superior to any paper in the land.
I also see if there is anyone I know, knew or, in the rare cases, with whom I had personal contact. Recently, I had three such passings that touched my life in small ways. Yet you recoil at some measure of shock to read that these people are gone.
Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine was known in Detroit, Mich. as “the Atheist Rabbi” having founded a movement known as Humanistic Judaism, celebrating Jewish history and culture but invoking the name of God. He was 79 at the time of his death from a car accident in Morocco.
Like me, he was a graduate of the University of Michigan and in 1965, he formed the first Humanistic Jewish congregation in Detroit (own mutual hometown). But before that, he was the associate rabbi (pastor) of Temple Beth-El, which was our family’s congregation. He taught little tykes like me in our Sunday school classes and presided over traditional Jewish worship services.
In 1965, he formed The Birmingham Temple in Farmington, Mich., which turned Judaism on its ear, following more of a Unitarian Universalist theme than what others knew before.
According to his obit in the Los Angeles Times, “Wine rewrote rituals to reflect a people-centric viewpoint. Thus, at Friday night services, ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ became ‘We revere the best in man.’ Poems were recited instead of prayers, and presentations on Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt replaced Torah readings at bar and bat mitzvahs.”
The small congregation expanded from eight families to 140 in two years’ time. It now claims 40,000 members worldwide through 50 “temples.”
But his passing reminded me of days very long ago. As did the death of songwriter Ron Miller at the age of 77 of cardiac arrest after battling emphysema and cancer.
If you are a fan of ‘60s music and especially, my favorite genre, Motown (the soundtrack of my youth), you might remember some of Miller’s biggest hits. He wrote “For Once in My Life,” first recorded by Stevie Wonder and subsequently, 269 times more, including a 2007 Grammy for a duet with Wonder and Tony Bennett.
He also wrote another Stevie Wonder hit, “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday,” the Diana Ross hit, “Touch Me in the Morning” Celine Dion’s “If I Could,” and “Heaven Help Us All.”
Miller was a native of Chicago, who served in the Marines before migrating to Detroit to seek his fame and fortune. Eventually Motown founder Berry Gordy spotted him at a piano bar and asked him to write and produce for Motown Records.
But before that breakthrough happened, Ron Miller made a few scheckles by teaching people to play the piano. One of those groups was the Bloom family, at the insistence of my mother, who bought a baby grand piano but didn’t know how to properly use it. She wanted to be able to play “Moon River” for party guests and after seeing Miller play at a private club, she hired him.
Working with Mom was easier than trying to instruct her musically-dense son. I was a hopeless case because, within my DNA, there is no capacity to read music. I have the same problem with foreign languages – the ability to instantly translate words and sounds in my mind within that spectrum. I mull it over in English and the thought process just takes too long.
Still, every time I heard “For Once in My Life,” I thought of my failed attempts to become Billy Joel.
And then there was Bill Flemming, a name many of you might recognize. Actually, it would be the face and voice that would stand out. He left us July 20 at the age of 80 from prostate cancer.
If you ever watched “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” or college football or any major athletic event on ABC, chances are you heard the dulcet tones of Flemming. He called the famed 1969 Michigan-Ohio State “upset of the century” game and was totally objective despite being a native of Ann Arbor and, yes, a graduate of the University of Michigan.
He also did cliff diving from Acapulco, hurling from Ireland and more than 600 events for “Wide World of Sports.” He was also a member of 11 Olympic coverage teams for ABC and was the announcer for the 1972 chess showdown between chess divas Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Back then, THAT was a major sporting event – as big as David Beckham coming to America.
When I worked as a student assistant in the Michigan sports information department, I often came into contact with Bill Flemming and always found him to be cordial, nice and never pushy (unlike some others wearing the same insignia). He took pride in his work but never took himself too seriously.
He made everyone feel at ease – from grizzled old coaches to nervous young assistants trying to make good impressions. It wasn’t necessary because Bill Flemming liked everyone, and everyone liked him.
I will continue to check the obituaries today and tomorrow – to make sure I’m not there, but also to see who is. Sadly, the older I get, the more names I know.

Monday, July 23, 2007

No full faith and credit from Austin

Under the current Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, the public has seen an abomination taking place in higher education, where those in charge have failed to put their full faith and (most importantly) credit behind two programs – the Texas Tomorrow Fund and B On Time – aimed at helping students advance toward college degrees.
By their actions and votes, Austin lawmakers think it is more important for blind people to own guns, or toll our public roads to death, or to sanctify the hamburger, than allow students to gain access to state universities and colleges. They now renege on the prior agreements made with the citizenry, and tell the public that only the privileged will have financial access to higher education at a time when increased learning, not less, is needed for society’s future growth.
The Texas Tomorrow Fund Guaranteed Tuition Program was established in 1996, to permit Texan families to lock down the cost of future college tuition and fees (five years’ worth of tuition and fees ant any state university) at current prices (at the time of agreement) for their children, either by installment payments or paying a lump sum – all tax-free. As originally envisioned, parents could enroll their children at any age.
It sounded like an excellent deal for people to plan for a child’s future education, and some 158,000 contracts were executed. TTF garnered assets of some $1.6 billion (yes, with a “B”), making it one of the state’s largest investment funds.
But poor financial planning by the state and the trickery that the legislators employed (massive diversion of ALL program funding, from state parks to gasoline taxes used to fix the roads) to deal with a budget deficit (while still trying to provide for some imaginary property tax cut).
So, in the summer of 2003, the Legislature closed TTF to newcomers and, at the same time, approved the dirtiest word in Texas education – deregulation. Austin gave the state’s 35 colleges and universities an open invitation to increase tuition at whatever level they felt like (until then the Legislature set the rates), and lo and behold, what result was a record hike in those fees – more than 40 percent over the last four years.
TTF can only pay tuition that is less than the average, not more. That means the more expensive institutions must cover the difference out of their own funds. In 2005, the six largest Texas universities had to pony up with $7 million to cover the difference for students using the Tomorrow Fund, according to the Comptroller’s report.
Now, TTF is underfunded by some $3.3 billion, according to the Comptroller’s office and TTF remains closed to anyone trying to open an account. In fact, so short-sighted has been the Legislature in its handling of this programs that TTF won’t be able to cover tuition payment through … 2029.
And now we have major problems with the B On Time Loan program, which provides eligible Texas students with no-interest loans to attend state colleges and universities. If a student meets a set of standards and specific goals, the entire loan amount can be forgiven upon graduation.
A BOT loan disappears (but appears as taxable income to the IRS so no one gets off Scot-free) if the student earns an undergraduate degree or certificate from an eligible institution with a grade point average of 3.0 or more (on a 4.0 scale), and does it in four years (five years for engineering, architecture students or other advance degree programs) or two years for community college degrees.
Alas, the dear ole Legislature fooled around and made changes to BOT’s funding for 2008-09 and there isn’t enough money provided to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to fund all the loans already approved and promised to incoming students. In fact, notification of this shortcoming only was sent to prospective students a few weeks before the start of school. Because of the budgetary dilly-dallying in Austin, the two schedules (application process approval and financial notification) didn’t jive.
When you combine all this with the alteration of the 10 percent admission policy (which allowed for the top 10 percent of any high school’s graduating class to have priority for state college admission), it becomes fairly clear that higher education in Texas will only be the province of the rich. Graduates form rural communities, and especially small-town minorities, have been placed behind the economic eight-ball when compared to the wealthier, and far more whining, suburbanites, who all too often believe that a place at UT or A&M is theirs by some sort of divine right because of their address.
Such policies and priorities are just wrong, and it is time for the public to recognize it, be vigilant and change the representation in Austin – to bring in people with priorities that actually benefit more than just a precious few.
And THAT cannot be done unless you actually VOTE to change the faces sent to Austin. Unless such policies are just fine with you and, if that is the case, I feel sorry for your vision of this state’s future.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You shouldn’t take it with you

Author's Note: This is the column that appears in today's (July 19) edition of the Dallas Morning News' Collin County Opinion Pages:
Human nature, being the bewildering phenomenon that it is, makes some of us confess to things we’d rather not make public. Almost all of us fib (just a little) to loved ones (we call them “white lies”) and on our taxes (we call them “deductions”).
And this summer, many of us Collin Countyies will take trips to special places and return with what can generously be considered “souvenirs” – those little mementos (a towel, ashtray, glass) with hotel insignias to remind you of the wonderful times while staying there.
I have my personal collection over the years – towels from the UT Frank Erwin Special Events Center, Golden Nugget and other Las Vegas hotels that have been reduced to dust by dynamite and the wrecker ball. One hand towel came from our honeymoon hotel in Waikiki and I just found an old shoe shine pad from the Hotel Thayer at West Point, N.Y., obtained during the 1972 NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
I’m no criminal; it’s just human nature … but at least one unnamed Texas-based national hotel chain which, in English means “country house or villa” (and for which there are NONE offered within the chain) is addressing such behavior. Upon check-in recently to one of its double-bedded rooms, there sat a small placard on the nightstand.
And it read:

Dear Guest,
Due to the popularity of our guest room amenities, our Housekeeping Department now offers these items for sale:
Bath towels – $20
Hand towels – $15
Bath mats – $10
Face cloths – $10
Pillows – $30
Set of Sheets – $60
Blankets/Comforters – $50

After arising from sticker shock, I continued to read:
Each guest room attendant (the new politically correct term for “maid”) is responsible for maintaining the guest room items. Should you decide to take these articles from the room, instead of obtaining them from the Executive Housekeeper (PC for “head maid”), we will assume you approve a corresponding charge to your account. Thank you.

I know what you’re thinking: no proper home is complete without a set of sheets too small to cover any normal bed and which feel like someone dump a pile of sand on them in the wash. Every child wants to dry off using a towel that feel like cat claws on tender skin and all of you have dreamt of wrapping up in those hotel comforters on a chilly night.
For $140, you can owe a set of four dingy white, overly-bleached, over-starched towels and hand towels that are too small to cover most infants and over which most of America has trampled on dirty hotel room floors – without even so much as an insignia to designate initial origin. Gee whiz, the folks at West Point Pepperell are shakin’ in their boots at the prospect of the consumer frenzy.
And there’s this “other” issue. In past years, through mental lapses (or that bad waffle mix at 7 a.m. – I’m not sure which), my wife and I have accidentally donated a few pillows of our own to the corporate cause on various trips.
I am not quite sure if the people at “The Villa” owe me anything, but by their own calculations, I figure it should be good for a $90 credit … if I follow their logic. What’s good for the goose should be equal for the gander.
Bottom line? These people think a little too highly of their laundry product. Recent changes find them washing their linen less often (under the guise of water conservation), meaning there is less to do for housekeeping. Pass the savings to the customer? Ha! The rates have all gone higher.
Want to penalize people for stealing towels and sheets? Tell them at check-in that the hotel reserves the right to add a penalty equal to one night’s stay for loss of linen. But don’t make a laundry list of charges for your laundry. That’s highly overrated, like the room you’re in.
Back to human nature, being what it is, I did something to remind me of my experience for the night.
I took the placard.
For this column. It went UPS the next week.
My guilt was overwhelming.