Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A kick in the gut reaction

On Tuesday morning, the rest of the country was introduced to the quiet east Parker County burghs of Hudson Oaks and Willow Park (located west of Fort Worth, Texas) in the saddest way possible – unspeakable tragedy. The grisly discovery of four dead bodies (three of whom are small children) at the Oak Hill Mobile Home Park is now known far and wide – with the video from the mobile home park splattered on widescreens from Washington, D.C. and New York to Los Angeles.
And all points between. By mid-afternoon, a scan of all the major Texas online newspaper sites (Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Houston) led with this story, complete with photos. It was the lead video on the Los Angeles Times website and it was a major component to MSNBC and Fox News online viewing.
A friend from Charlotte, N.C. has already read it and was verbally upset by 10 a.m. when he communicated with me.
No one will ever know what really happened that morning or why Gilberta Estrada did what she is alleged to have done. That would require a time machine and the ability to undo events that all the rest of us deem as horrific and seemingly unnecessary.
But no one has invented such a device and no one possesses the power to see such things in advance in order to stop them. That is only reserved for books, fictional television or motion pictures.
Such tragedies affect more than immediate families but communities. This will shake the very core of those living in Willow Park and Hudson Oaks because outsiders will only identify the two cities with this single event. The stain will be that permanent.
I do not mean to be flippant about all this but I do wish that those contemplating murder-suicide will do all of us a favor and reverse the order of action. Try the suicide first and then see about the murders after you’re dead. Might not work out the way you plan it and perhaps some innocent women and children could be spared a horrible way to die.
I’m sure Gilberta Estrada might have had issues and problems. But to choose to erase the lives of such young children, as is being presented by law enforcement investigators, is unimaginable, especially by a mother.
In this country, you have to pass tests in order to drive a car, and in some states, present rigid proof to vote. But absolutely nothing is done to assure that people who have NO business being parents, do not have children. At least nothing is done to ask them to think a smidgen before conceiving, or go through the process of producing children.
I won’t get into any political debate of sanctity of life other than to say this: We have to care for children AFTER they are born and try to avoid such scenes as happened in the Oak Hill Mobile Home Park. Alternatives for desperate people even slightly contemplating this course of action need to be made available, and well known to all. As is usual inmost tragedies, this might have been avoidable.
So now the people of Willow Park and Hudson Oaks must live with the national exposure and pain. Empathy, not disdain, is what many people need to share with these people.
Sorry, but this is my gut reaction and it’s raw, exposed and probably totally inappropriate. But, perhaps not, wrong.
P.S. - The smalltown paper that directly serves those two communities is the one for which I do online copy editing. It's a small world some times. - CB

Monday, May 28, 2007

Farm Boy to Fly Boy

The following is a poem that one of my best friends wrote in honor of her grandfather. I blog it in his and her honor on this final hours of Memorial Day, 2007:

Apple pie and raspberries with powdered sugar tops,
Downstairs in the basement there were colorful gumdrops.
The scent of pipe and garden soil, and a hundred thousand miles
Stories he would never tell, between sighs and mischievous smiles.

I knew him, but I didn’t, in a perfectly wonderful way,
Where stories bring the intrigue of a long forgotten day.
When heroes tore the clouds open, and let the sun shine through
When my country respected the cost, and what those pilots do.

I knew him as a hero, but not for foreign beaches,
My hero made me cheesy bread, sardines and canned peaches.
My hero told me stories of five-cent movies shows
Of a quiet farm, wheat fields and chasing away the crows.

He was not a war hero, as one would think they are,
Mild and sweet tempered, I could push him awfully far.
The zoo and elephant-ears, will never be the same
And neither will the sound of an old, low-flying plane.

And, if in a dream I sit with him, back in 1942,
I’ll let him tell me everything he ever wanted to.
And I will listen intently, knowing that in time
Those stories will be all I have, cause life stops on a dime.

He will never be forgotten, though his ashes fly,
He’s left with us sweet memories that now fill up the sky.
And that’s where he would want to be if he were asked today,
“Just let me soar over the mountains and shoot your tears away.”

For my Grandpa
Col. Martin Doyle Mulligan

Jennifer Johnson

Friday, May 25, 2007

On this Memorial Day ...

On this Memorial Day weekend, as I have in past years, I will remember Robert M. Bloom.
When my father served in the U.S. Army, people called him “Doc.” He was an Army paymaster, flying along the famed Burma Hump during World War II in order to execute his responsibility. He rode in planes that were nothing more than cheap flying cigar tubes, stripped of all their protective armor in order to gain enough altitude to clear the Himalayan Mountains.
Robert “Doc” Bloom never killed another man. He fired his sidearm once at a group of Japanese soldiers who were attempting to shoot his plane one day when taking off. When I was growing up, he never really shared his feelings about how it felt, or what it was like to be shot at. It was just another chapter of his life.
The only ramifications from his war experience were two things he swore never to do — wear khaki or eat anything that contained curry powder. They were promises he kept until the end of his life.
At Dad’s commercial printing business, there was a salesman named Carl Taylor, a quiet, unassuming man who raised three sons to be fine young men and was an elder in his church. He loved baseball, and he and I would chat about America’s Pastime whenever I visited the office.
Sixty-two years ago, Carl was one of thousands of young American men waiting in cramped transport boats for the orders to invade mainland Japan. Had President Harry Truman not used the atomic bomb against Japan, he and 1 million other soldiers would have deployed to end the war.
Chances are Carl Taylor, and millions of other human beings, would not have survived to raise their sons, talk baseball and be elders in their churches. President Truman’s choice, even if it produced a level of destruction previously unseen in the history of mankind, saved lives — millions of them.
This winter, the 66th anniversary of America’s forced entry into World War II will be remembered, as it is always, at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. I visited one of this nation’s most sacred spots during the 60th year and it was a time to reflect upon all that war can wrought.
That point in human history is not remembered as it should be in a world that has thoroughly changed economically, socially and strategically. Japan and Germany are no longer military enemies — just economic rivals and ideological allies. But there are still some men, and a few women, who wore the uniform, who remember Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Midway, Bastogne, Anzio and Bataan. They aren’t just singular footnotes in history or movies to compete with other holiday entrants. They were real battles, involving real people, for the survival and freedoms we enjoy today.
Sixty-six years should be enough time to let the bitterness against former enemies subside. Six generations have since seen communist walls erected around nations and people, and also seen them crumble — brick by brick. We have tried to embrace former governments we thought would be mortal enemies. We still have men and women who wear the uniform dying in armed conflict, trying to defend our freedoms and attempting to deliver that magical concept to others.
Almost no one on Earth is left alive that fought in WWI, and too many people have a total lack of appreciation for what America went through back then or in World War II. To them, “ancient” history is Vietnam, or JFK, LBJ or Richard Nixon. Or even George W.H. Bush.
But that should change on Memorial Day, which is still an opportunity to educate all Americans about how we got to where we are today. The dropping of the atomic bomb should be a somber remembrance of what can happen when nations go ballistic. But neither should we acquiesce our history to placate another nation’s unwillingness to accept history and its verdict.
We need to honor those who gave their lives and put their bodies on the line to win that conflict; an event that changed our world forever. It was an unwritten promise made the moment the surrender papers were signed on the USS Missouri — that we never forget Carl or Doc. Because they were promises we need to keep until the end.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Collegiate football Hall of Famers

The newest inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame were announced Wednesday.
They include Heisman Trophy winner QB Doug Flutie of Boston College and TV personality Ahmed Rashad, who was known as Bobby Moore at Oregon as a slotback-receiver.
Others going to the College hall are Indiana running back Anthony Thompson, Oklahoma center Tom Brahaney, Clemson linebacker Jeff Davis, Texas defensive back Johnnie Johnson, Ohio State’s legendary quarterback Rex Kern, linebacker Reggie Williams of Dartmouth, USC linebacker Richard Wood, Notre Dame defensive tackle Chris Zorich and Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi.
Two other names are included with whom I have a personal contact.
I knew Michigan defensive back Dave Brown in college; a quiet guy who did his talking on the field. A GREAT PLAYER!
The official record will list Dave Brown as the 33rd Wolverine to be inducted and just one of 17 Wolverines to be a two-time All-American (1973-74). He had nine interceptions, 173 tackles and was an excellent punt returner – 48 returns for 531 yards (11.7 avg.), and three touchdowns.
Although drafted by the Steelers, he played 11 seasons with Seattle and four with Green Bay. He did get a Super Bowl ring for the lone year in Pittsburgh (1975) and earned All-Pro honors in 1984.
After his playing days, he coached cornerbacks for the Seahawks from 1992-98; retired briefly and then was at Texas Tech from 2001-05 when a heart attack took his life in January, 2006.
He was all of 52 – just a couple of years younger than me, but we were in the same collegiate class as students.
I will always remember Dave Brown for his kinship as a Michigan football player and being part of an unofficial fraternity known as the Den of the Mellow Men. Started by a clique of African-American team members, Brown joined after the likes of Reggie McKenzie and Billy Taylor who proudly walk among the Ann Arbor campus together and lived together in a particular house.
Brown was always seen with HIS running buddy, quarterback Dennis Franklin, two Ohio lads playing for Michigan. They could be seen everywhere in Brown’s golden Oldsmobile convertible with Brown’s prominent Afro hairstyle, one of the more pronounced and buoyant of any team member hairdo, an easy sight to behold.
Their head coach, Bo Schembechler, would often bark (he never scream but barking would be quite common), for Brown and when his defensive star would find him, Bo was actually asking for Franklin’s whereabouts.
“How would I know, coach?” Brown would ask.
“Because you don’t go anywhere without him and vive versa,” Bo would answer.
I’ve also come to learn that Deromedi was a Michigan graduate, posting a 110-55-10 record at Central Michigan (1978-93). He then became athletic director for CMU from 1994-2006.
The late Wilson Whitley came out of Brenham, Texas (as a Cub) and went almost unnoticed to the University of Houston as a defensive tackle, playing for Coach Bill Yeoman at UH.
Whitley was also a great HS pitcher and played on the same football and baseball team as Baylor’s running back Cleveland Franklin.
One of the stories I tell happened when I first arrived in Houston in 1976, and went to the Astrodome to do a feature story on the making of a made-for-TV movie, “Murder in Box 352.” It would later be aired as “Murder at the World Series” and it was a work of complete fiction since it had the Houston Astros (in those old softball, multi-orange uniforms) actually winning one.
(I got to eat lunch with Karen Valentine of “Room 222” fame and the great Michael Parks, who was supposed to be the next James Dean … but wasn’t.).
Actors in A’s uniforms were extras, including two members of the UH football team. Wearing Vida Blue’s uniform (as a right-hander not as the real lefty) was Danny Davis, an unknown quarterback who would shock the Southwest Conference in leading Houston to the Cotton Bowl.
The other was Wilson Whitley, who stayed seated in the Astrodome dugout as the long process of filming took place.
No one talked to Davis, except this brand new sports editor from Conroe (yours truly) and Davis was ready to tell anyone within ear shot that UH was going to win the conference.
“Just ask my man over there,” Davis would say, pointing to a resting Whitley, slightly larger than the average Oakland player. “Whit, are we gonna win?”
Whitley simply shook his head affirmatively, and laughed.
He became an All-American defensive tackle but never made it in the professional ranks.
When I covered UH that season, Davis and Whitley would always remind me of that afternoon in the Dome – of the prediction and the actors they found so fascinating.
Whitley died far too early in life as did Dave Brown.
Don’t we all.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Stormy weather

It was quite a night the other day when on Wednesday (May 2), yet another violent thunderstorm struck the Dallas-Fort Worth region at nighttime. But this time, it hit real close to home --- to the house actually.
Around 7:30 p.m., boom! boom!, out went the lights for the next 11 hours. A storm of intense verocity arose from the west, swept across the Metroplex around 45 mph and carried strong straight line winds of close to 100 mph - hurricane-force winds that seldom happen in a land-locked region.
At our Plano home, we could hear the rain, but never felt anything shake from such strong winds. It was the enveloping darkness and quiet that was disconcerting until around 6 a.m. the next morning when the power, which was out for more than 300,000 customers in the DFW area, resumed.
After finally obtaining a couple hours of sleep, I emerged after noon to get the newspaper and mail. I noticed some small branches and leaves in the yard and thought nothing of it. It wasn't until I took a couple more steps and saw our 30-foot tree sliced in half - as if Paul Bunyan had taken his giant ax and hit it flush at the base.
It had fallen over, taking almost 2/3rds of it with the collapse. Luckily, it really didn't hit our house all that much, nor did it touch the nieghbor's home.
But, as I discovered, we weren't alone. With winds reported in excess of 85 mph, a majority of the homes on our side of the block had similar happenings. Huge fallen tree trunks on the ground, or in one case, still a couple of stories in the other branches - just waiting to crash to earth.
Around the corner, fences were down and one house had four trees snapped, falling on a parked car.
The oddity was to see few trees across the street affected. On our side, it was like someone had that Bunyan ax and just kept swinging. In most cases, one swing did the trick.
Of course, this will all cost out of pocket since nothing is covered by anyone's homeowners insurance policy. Damn!
Lesson: Always respect Mother Nature because she ALWAYS has the last word.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Don't leave the planet without it!

The following Chuck Bloom column was published in today's edition (May 3, 2007) of the Collin County Opinion pages of the Dallas Morning News.
My wife, bless her purse-toting heart, owns (and, on occasion, uses) an American Express card. Not too often, but often enough to accumulate a certain amount of redemptive points called Reward Points. Awarded on a dollar spent-for-point basis, cardholders are permitted to redeem said points for gift certificates, merchandise or other special promotions offered to those distinguished members of the AMEX family.
And at the start of each year, cardholders are reminded kindly of such opportunities via a catalog outlining the number of Reward Points needed to exchange for gift certificates at various national and international restaurants (a few of which even exist in Collin County, such as Roy's), airline travel (on every international brand you can name), or other nice perks (shopping certificates, race car lessons not garnered on U.S. Highway 75 at noon). The card makes you feel right at home with Tiger Woods or Ellen DeGeneres – two of the company's celebrity endorserers (a made-up word that rhymes with sorcerers).
This catalog is almost like the annual Christmas book from Dallas' own Neiman Marcus, with some really exotic things offered, but not seriously considered, by 99.99 percent of the people in the land. You might want to buy his and her personalized crystal Potato Heads (by Swarovski) for $15,000. But, get serious; it's not the same as sticking plastic into an Idaho spud. A sports fantasy package starting at $250,000? That's an hour of Alex Rodriguez' time.
In the AMEX catalog, the most expensive items involve spa visits, including one to a spot at the Lake Austin Spa Resort, which can be yours for five nights, at a mere 800,000 points. Another spa in Arizona (Miraval) is worth 850,000 points, which is an awfully expensive rubdown and the best Bengay money can buy.
But they aren't No. 1. That distinction belongs to the person who wants to take a suborbital flight courtesy of the people at Space Adventures. That is worth (pause, take a breath) ... 20 million points! That's right, you read it correctly. So on a dollar-for-point basis, you will have to spend $20 million for that seat (and you don't even reach outer space). By the way, the subzero gravity flight is just 500,000 points for that weightless feeling that you can get at Six Flags.
So I ask: What can you possibly buy worth $20 million on any kind of American Express card? How much jewelry? How many cars? How much travel? Jeez!
I can't help but flash back to the Richard Pryor movie, "Brewster's Millions," where Pryor must spend $30 million in a matter of weeks and show nothing of value for his efforts, or lose a massive inheritance. If you have that kind of money to put on an American Express card in order to take a suborbital flight, why would you need to charge it?
As a measuring stick, the 2007 Maserati Quattroporte Automatic, a fine-looking piece of motor works that gets a nifty 14 miles per gallon in the city, goes for around $130,000. You'd need to buy 153 of them and there would still be change remaining. You don't have that big of an entourage, my friend.
Or you could buy actor Jeffrey Tambor's home in California. He was Hank in "The Garry Shandling Show" on HBO ("Hey, now!"). It's a nice five-bedroom, 4 ½-bath number at 4,200 square feet, a Cape Cod-style house built in 2003. It's yours for $2.9 million and, to get that AMEX perk, you would need to buy the house more than six times over.
Hey, now!
Wait a second ... Plano businesswoman Anousheh Ansari spent her own $20 million to hitchhike with the Russians for an extended space flight a while back. But this is American Express, not Moscow MasterCard, so I kinda think they insisted on cash. Or a certified check. Or, perhaps, coupons.
Of course, there's that nasty little hangup en route to space flight. Not every business takes American Express. In fact, it is a rather selective number of establishments in that AMEX circle of friends. So when the opposition card commercial used to boast, "it takes (you fill in the "priceless" blank), but it doesn't take American Express," it was merely pointing out one of the facts of shopping life. You might want to buy something, but that green card might not let you across the store's border ... so to speak.
Just to be clear, I returned to the 2006 Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog and, lo and behold, guess what? Virgin Galatic (part of Virgin Atlantic Airways on steroids, I guess) offers a seat on a charter flight ... to outer space – for a mere $1.764 million. Who da thunk you could get a bargain like that at Neiman Marcus?
Wonder if they'll take American Express for that?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Another Imusism

Please link to this lovely example of stupid, insensitive possibly racist remarks in Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Texas by some yah-hoo judge:
The story, written by Debra Dennis of the Dallas Morning NEws, speaks for itself:
FORT WORTH – A Dallas attorney has filed a complaint against Tarrant County Judge R. Brent Keis, saying the judge told him that blacks are better suited for athletic endeavors because their ancestors survived the slave trade.
Nuru Witherspoon, who is black, said that Judge Keis made the comments as he appeared before him in court for the first time last month. Judge Keis said that Mr. Witherspoon misunderstood his comments.
"After introducing myself to Judge Keis, he told me he thought slavery and the Middle Passage made my people better athletes," Mr. Witherspoon said in a written complaint that he says he
filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
"Judge Keis further stated that we are bigger and stronger athletes because weak slaves were thrown overboard and never made it to the Americas," the complaint said.
Judge Keis, who handles civil cases, said he is not racist.
"I don't see the black and white," the judge said. "We had an off-the-cuff conversation about athletics. I told him one story is the Middle Passage and the sick and weak had to be pretty strong and that provided a good genetic basis for black athletes. I don't remember what prompted it."
Judge Keis, who has been the bench 18 years, likened the remarks to comments in sports lore that he said he has heard from athletes, including Calvin Hill, a former running back for the Dallas
Mr. Witherspoon said the judge's comments were made April 16 during a hearing on a personal injury claim stemming from a traffic accident.
The judge, Mr. Witherspoon said, also made unsettling comments to his clients.
According to the complaint, the judge told the couple that "Tarrant County is made up of Republicans that think like him. He went on to explain the risks of litigation to my clients," Mr. Witherspoon wrote in the complaint.
"He told my clients that if they want to 'bet on black' it's their choice," Mr. Witherspoon said.
Judge Keis said he routinely uses a "roulette wheel" analogy when lecturing parties about the legal process but said he did not mean
anything racist.
"I tell them they're gambling," the judge said. "I told them, 'You can bet on black,' and I should have said, 'You can bet on red.' "
Mr. Witherspoon said the exchange was prompted when Judge Keis asked about the origin of his first name.
"I told him it was from Africa, and he began a lecture on slavery and the Middle Passage," Mr. Witherspoon said. "I'm not a real sensitive guy. I've developed a thick skin. People have a right to feel how
they want to feel. But my clients were more offended than I was. In fact, when we went into the hallways, they apologized to me."
He said his clients, who are white, chose to negotiate a settlement because of the comments made by the judge.
"They also told me that that was one of the reasons they settled
because they wondered if the judge would be fair," Mr. Witherspoon said. "We had some really important issues before the judge. So when he went off on slavery, they didn't feel they had a chance.
"I don't want to make a stretch and say he's racist. But he definitely has no tact whatsoever," he said.
Seana Willing, the Judicial Conduct Commission's executive director, would not confirm that a complaint had been filed.
"We have confidentiality rules. As a general rule, we'll investigate a complaint. If the evidence points to misconduct, we contact the judge and they're allowed to respond," Ms. Willing said. "The confidentiality is there to protect the investigation, and it protects the judge from having to defend himself against charges that are yet to be ferreted out."
Mr. Witherspoon listed Suzanne Calvert as the opposing attorney on the complaint, but Ms. Calvert said that she was not in the court
and that another attorney whom she would not name represented her office. Her office has a policy against speaking to the media, she said.
Mr. Witherspoon, 29, is a co-founder of Kelley & Witherspoon, a Dallas law firm that specializes in civil litigation. He is a graduate of Paul Quinn College and received his law degree from the University of Mississippi.
Judge Keis has no record of disciplinary history with the state board, officials said.
The judge said he would like to apologize to Mr. Witherspoon.
"From what I know, he is upset or angry," Judge Keis said. "I'm not sure what his motivation is. I don't want to hurt anybody. I apologize if I did, but Calvin Hill agrees with me. I'm no racist."