Friday, July 03, 2015

What does freedom mean to you?

Is this your idea of what freedom should be like in America?

A friend once told me “you would rather disagree with something or someone, than just go along. Can’t you just be agreeable for a change?” Uh, probably not, as I disagreed with his assessment. First off, I guard my tongue and a high percentage of the time I say exactly what I mean.  In other words, I am not prone to saying things I haven’t thought through. If I do, I usually have had an experience to shape an opinion instead of just “shooting off at the mouth.”

When the subject of freedom comes up especially concerning our government, I have a very simple take on it. I will obey the many laws and in exchange, I do not want the government interfering in my life. I fully expect the government to protect me from despots, criminals, and terrorists. I expect them to provide an environment stable enough that I can accomplish life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In a time of contagion, or extreme weather event, or some other catastrophe, I fully expect my government to reestablish law and order and provide aid if I need it. They simply must or looters and criminals will prey on us law-abiding citizens. I also believe that stealing or attacking my family is an extremely risky offering if I can prevent it. I call that freedom the second amendment.

Remember when George W. Bush (who I fully supported along with everyone else including Hillary and John Kerry) posed the heartfelt question about the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan, “who wouldn’t want freedom?” What about this was inherently wrong? It sounds, well, sound. Sound in logic yes, but it wasn’t then and it isn’t now and I will explain.  When I heard it, the alarm bells went off in my head due to my witnessing the Vietnam War up close and personal.

On the surface the question is easy to answer. Everyone wants freedom. Everyone. However, when you talk about replacing a regime and turning it into our idea of freedom, it never works. Never – ever. By tearing down thousands of years of tradition and ideology and building an American version in its place, you destroy a culture and bastardize it. What is left in the wake of this “freedom” is alienation and that always leads to discord.

Didn’t we learn this when the Shah was deposed from Iran in 1979? He became so progressive in his thinking that he caused his country to take a leap backwards into extremism. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein fomented something even more diabolical and freedom restricting than his tyranny.  In some ways, many believe our country is heading towards this same end.  Too many broad changes too fast and the Internet bloggers are all screaming it.

The many new freedoms our lawmakers are pumping out are alienating a large part of our population even as I write this. Almost no one is happy about the state of affairs in our free country both here and abroad. I swear to God, it feels like the tumultuous 1960’s and anyone who remembers that, remembers how scary those last 7 years were of that decade.

Recently on Face book, I took my handsome face, removed all color from it and pasted a faint American flag across it, then made it my profile photo. It has been quite popular and I’ve had the honor to help others do it. My point is by removing my skin color and draping the American flag across it is to show that I am first an American. Skin color should not matter – creed should. 

After I did that, I copy and pasted the Pledge of Allegiance below my portrait. I don’t care who comes to this country if they do it the right way and embrace what this flag stands for. It makes us stronger. I take exception for Americans who ignorantly try to erase our history by marking themselves as dash-Americans and constantly stirring up trouble.

I am not gay and don’t understand it entirely, but if it doesn’t violate the law, then have at it.  I have enough of my own accountability to worry about.  I’ve never had a gay person try to “convert” me anyway and know a number of good folks who are gay.  On the Confederate flag issue, I figure the rest of the country can fist-fight over it.   I’m an American flag guy and a Texas flag second and like Davy Crockett told those folks, “ may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

I may not want to do a lot of culturally based things, like paint my house hot pink, or run 24 inch wheels on my slammed SUV, but I support a citizens right to do it and if it doesn’t violate the law or some HOA rule, have at it.  Just give me my space, be considerate of your neighbors, love this country above others, and we can get along just fine – oh!  If an emergency happens, I will be the first to come to your aid.  Isn’t that what we freedom loving Americans do?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Standing or falling is still your choice

"If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything" is a quote possibly going back a couple of hundred years, but is just as true today as when it was initially penned.

Maybe I am just hyper-aware of national and State news, but it appears we are all over the road in our current mission to attack anything and everything as being politically/socially offensive. In short, we are less tolerant than just about anytime in our country’s short history. Geeze, correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this the land of the free?

I think not. We are becoming a country of bondage. We now have a law protecting preachers so they can preach? Seriously? Why was this right ever encroached upon in the first place? Never mind that pesky 1st Amendment. I was always under the impression that if you disagreed with what was delivered over the pulpit, you just went somewhere else.

The Confederate flag issue is one I understand, but am I going to get all in a rabid state over it? Nope. To be honest, I would rather someone identify themselves as a bigot than try and guess if they are or not. When it comes to flying this historic banner over a state capitol, all I have to say is this: it is the deep south – duh! 

To join in the over-eager PC goose-stepping is Amazon, Wal-Mart, Sears, and eBay. All are stopping the sale of evil and heinous offensive Confederate merchandise. What? It causes me to shake my head, especially when I consider Amazon will sell you Nazi memorabilia with a giddy gladness reminiscent of a street corner vendor. If I shake my head any harder, the agitator ball will break loose.

Opportunist bottom feeding faux social activists like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has decided the American flag is next on the list of offensive symbols. "Who are we fighting today? It’s the people that carry the American flag,” Farrakhan continued. “What flag do the police have? What flag flies over the non-Justice Department? What flag flies over the White House?” More head shaking and mainly because people actually think this cursing bigot is a man of God.

I believe in the freedom this country set in motion and I do understand that initially we held people as possessions (like many other countries) in direct contradiction to said freedoms, but that changed under Abraham Lincoln. It continues on in other countries to this very day. Each of us has the moral and ethical responsibility to express our freedoms inside our laws – and to not walk around looking for a fight or a cause to get upset over.

On top of that statement, I resent anyone trying to coerce me into getting upset over an issue I would rather ignore.

If this current trend toward hostility over the failed Confederacy escalates, mark my words, it won’t be long before we rename Robert E. Lee high school to something more Pablumy.  Nothing offensive mind you. Wait?  Everything is offensive to someone.  Maybe we could just paint our school buildings solid white and in big black letters stencil the words “High School” on the side? Wait!  Why do the colors have to be black and white?  I am outraged!

The word on the street is because Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner; we need to tear down the Jefferson Memorial. George Washington, Andrew Jackson and James Madison also owned slaves, so we had better buy a bunch of bulldozers (on credit from the Chinese so we can afford Michelle’s travel money) and get busy knocking them down.

Surely I jest about Michelle’s $100,000 a day for her Italy/England trip.  It’s only 6 days honey. Don’t be jealous because you can’t afford a weekend trip to the riverwalk and you make 6 figures. She’s special and so are her kids. That $600,000 was worth it, but wait, what does this have to do with real issues, like than danged offensive piece of fabric you can no longer buy on Amazon? No, not the Nazi flag; the offensive one.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Passion versus Reality

Most of us early on in life believe we are going to grow up and go into a career field that is going to bring us massive amounts of satisfaction. Simply stated, we want to do what our passions dictate and this is perfectly normal. Many professional athletes, singers, and entertainers enjoy this for a spell, but unless they keep employed, sooner or later they are going to have to find a real job. That job will pay the bills, but most likely will just be a job.

I guess my first understanding that I wasn’t going to have a passionate job was when I didn’t get an opening into photography school in the Air Force. After I got out of Basic Training I just knew I was going to be a photographer.  In my immature mind it was a done deal and I survived the vigorous training and adjustment into military life knowing it was simply so.

When the day came when the job offerings were displayed, I was like so many other young men in my flight, totally clueless what the militarized names of the job openings meant. The military uses the word “nomenclature” to describe their words. I had never heard the word nomenclature, let alone understood that the job I ended up choosing (Material facilities specialist) was nothing more than a warehouseman.

Talk about unglamorous! I wasn’t the only one in my flight either. Almost none of the 60 of them knew what they had picked either. In our 18 year old un-military nomenclature understanding minds, we just chose something. This is absolutely bizarre now that I reflect on it. You go in believing in all your heart that you are going to get exactly what you want and on that great day you find out you are going to be a box stacker. There is a correlation here to most all of us at that same age. I can imagine how many of have similar experiences.

After four years of stacking boxes and 2 tours in Southeast Asia, I left the Air Force and moved to Baytown to join my family. It was as if I exited Basic Training all over again in the fact that I was at the point where I would choose a career path. Looking back to every time in my life I came there, I realize I could have made a better choice except when it came to choosing my mate. As my dad was wont to say, “You did good, Bubba.”

What I should have done is took a side job and used the G.I. Bill to get a 4 year degree. Pretty much all of my family except my Mom were working at Mobay for Brown  & Root (wasn’t everyone?). What I did was join them as a pipefitter’s helper making an astound lavish $4.25 per hour. It doesn’t sound like much but when I left the Air Force in late November, 1974 I had made a total of just over $2000 for the year and I had 3 stripes.

My plan became to go to college, but did I follow through? A little bit. That’s all. Later on I took more classes, but never got a degree except in martial arts. Sure, I’ve had many successes along the way with accomplishments, but for 37 years I worked shift work in a chemical plant and although it paid the bills, it never was a passion for me.

I suspect you can relate to where this is all going in your own life. Rarely does passion and reality align in a career.  If it did, then you are most blessed. My Dad surprised me a few years back. He had an incredible understanding of math and was a tool and die maker by trade and very good at what he did. He told me all the years he worked in those shops, he hated every second of it. I guess that’s why he always dreamed of finding sunken treasure, or a gold nugget in a mountain stream.

I didn’t hate every second I was a warehouseman, pipefitter’s helper, or process operator, but I sure as the Dickens didn’t want to be there. You see folks; passion is for off the job. You find it with your family, your church, and your hobbies. You work your job and strive for an excellent work ethic, but you get your kicks on Route 66.

Friday, June 12, 2015

People need to be informed, challenged

For many years now I’ve had a mantra which goes something like this: “Anyone who challenges you to define what you believe is your friend.” As my brother in law is wont to say, “in other words”, they have done you a favor by making you think about what you believe and possibly learn a thing or two in the process.

In 2015 most all of us are bombarded with catchphrases, slogans, politically correct goose steps, and stultifying quotes by the likes of Kanye West and his new mother-in-law Lola Jenner.  Along that same vein, Jerry Seinfeld was recently quoted as saying he doesn’t do college campus gigs because he believes college kids simply repeat politically correct nonsense their liberal instructors teach instead of actually deducing the facts for themselves.

I don’t claim my slogan is totally original, but I’ve made it my own because I believe it.  It sometimes comes back on me too. Like you, it is important for me to be right and I attempt to research a subject (sometimes too much) so I can give an educated reply. I am not ashamed to say I don’t know (sometimes a little to energetically).

When some well-meaning friend sends me a news item, I like to read up on it before I offer an opinion, but more times than not, I already know a good deal about a lot of things, especially if it involves freedom or ethics. Like you I categorize subjects by how they relate to me and sort of triage whether a reply is worth the energy it takes to research it. Other news like which MMA fighter will win, or how the Houston Aeros are doing goes in one ear and doesn’t leave a trail as it exits the other.

There is a website which is very good for researching whether Bill Clinton has asked Lola for a date or not and I suggest you become a regular reader of the site before you forward that juicy email to 250 other friends and further pollute the Internet.

Back 10 years or so, the Baytown Sun hosted an online forum titled Baytown Talks. After it Mike Kercher ran Both online forums were notorious rumor mills and I say that kindly and in no way slander Mike or the Sun. It was the Wild West and that is why when Mike shutdown, I was remiss to take over the job. I don’t like the drama or the proliferation of speculation, cyber fighting, trolling posts, and hyperbole.

Most of all I was very weary of self-appointed experts arguing or pushing agendas. Fortunately the newest iteration is and is running as smooth as baby feet. We have real experts, such as BPD assistant chief David Alford, Public Affairs Coordinator Patti Jett, Tourism Director Anna Enderli, Judge Don Coffey and many others to dispel rumors and dispel them they do.
Patti Jett
Many of us post ideas which we believe to be fact and different opinions are offered and it is all done cordially, as true debate allows. Facebook is my favorite place to post controversial subjects and I invite friends to comment. There is an occasional virtual fist fight and I delete the thread, maybe to start it again the next day after folks have calmed down.  I use civil discussion to help write this column and along the way either teach or learn.

Back in Abraham Lincoln’s political days people talked about issues, sometimes punching each other, but along the way they defined their beliefs. Now we just listen to Jon Stewart, or The View to find out what we believe. It’s a danged shame too.  Believe it or not Louis L’aMour, the famed writer of Western novelettes helped me define a sort of code to live by many years ago. His hero, often times operating very close to the edge, lived by a defined sense of justice.

The trouble with our current way of learning is many people do not read. I would wager to say most people on my Facebook friends list do not take the time to read my usual 8-900 word column.  It’s just too long.  Anything more than three sentences taxes modern readers.  The old 100 must read books before college entry is a thing of the past. Young people used to have a pretty good idea of how it is supposed to go before they left high school because of this list.

The only hope may just be what these days is “conversating”, a term I avoid.  People need to be informed and challenged in a civil manner and dared to define what they truly believe.  Otherwise, we all need to line up and run and jump off a cliff into the ocean. I blame the state-regulated school testing for a lot of this. Everyone learns the same thing. Beware the clones my friends.  Study different sources. Make up your own mind. Learn.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Free Enterprise? No such animal!


Here we go again!  Our freedoms are being thrown out the window again and this time it is potentially disastrous to small and large business.  The repercussions will roll forward like a rogue wave out of the Gulf coming up the Houston ship channel.

On June 1st, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of a Muslim woman in suit against Abercrombie and Fitch when the store failed to hire her because she wore a head scarf in observance of her religion.  That is the assertion anyway.

This is a blatant attack on Free Enterprise, which incidentally is easily defined as the freedom of private businesses to operate competitively for profit with minimal governmental regulation.

Now here me out before you think this is about attacking this woman because she follows Mohammed.  It’s not.  It’s because this particular free enterprise has a dress code and this woman’s head scarf violates it. 

This ruling by SCOTUS basically opens the door for anyone claiming a religious practice to force a company to hire and accommodate them.  It is Socialistic in nature and anti-Capitalistic in the extreme.  It is blatant government interference.  I wonder what their ruling would be if she had applied at a hog butchering facility.  Yes, they would force the facility to hire her and then shut the place down.

That may be levity, but I’ll wait and see.  Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to law makers or my disappointment in the erosion of what our founding fathers set up.

Let’s hypothesize a bit to express my point.  A person who follows one of the numerous religions around the world who eschew working Saturdays applies at Exxon-Mobil as a Process Technician and will be required to work shift work.  Exxon-Mobil will not hire them, but under this ruling, they have to accommodate them.  So they do, but this person does not have to work Saturdays and everyone else does.

Not only that, but they have to accommodate their dietary laws also and allow them to pray 6 times a shift, etc, etc.  Another scenario is those who believe smoking marijuana is part of their religion, so they get hired too.  What?  Yes, the IRS has incorporated an Indianapolis marijuana-smoking church as a tax-exempt religious organization on June 1st.  Now you have to hire them too and let them observe their holy use of the devil weed.

Am I against freedom of religion or smoking pot?  No I am not.  What I am against is our government eroding free enterprise and many other basic freedoms which were put in place many years ago to protect us against the government herding us like lemmings.

I was against banning smoking in private businesses for this very reason.  I felt a private enterprise should have the final say on whether they wanted to risk running off non-smoking customers to accommodate those who did – especially after the government forced them to install expensive air cleaning equipment.  I didn’t want to smell the smoke, but I hated to see freedoms disappear “for the good of the people”.

What’s next?  Mandatory hearing protection at rock concerts?  Should the government force you, the small business owner to hire someone even though they won’t wear an American flag patch on the shoulder of their uniform due to religious reasons?  It’s your company’s dress code.  Sorry, but they won’t have to.  They’ll be protected by the very government our forefathers warned us about.

Back on SCOTUS’s decision, David Lopez, EEOC General Counsel issued a statement saying, "Monday's case is the latest effort to ensure all persons protected by Title VII are not placed in the difficult position of choosing between adherence to one's faith and a job."  In Court lawyers for the government argued that it was not Elauf's  (Muslim lady) obligation to give direct notice that she needed an accommodation.

Here is the reality of that stupid argument.  Oh thank you for hiring me.  “Here is a list of my accommodations which the government will say you must give me.”  The business owner was just blind-sided and would probably try to fire the person and opening themselves up to a very expensive law suit which they would lose.

What I see in this decision is an employer stereotyping anyone they think will try to use their religion to gain access to the locker room. That person, who may or may not use religious beliefs for an advantage, will have no chance whatsoever of getting a job.  They won’t get a second interview, or another phone call.  Religious discrimination at its best.

Businesses are already operating in a stunted mode without adding this new caveat.  Many large companies have put a certificate or diploma above actual experience, resulting in people on the job who have no proclivity to actually doing the job.  Add in people claiming privilege and the standards of the company are vastly eroded.

Chemical Plants are hiring Process Techs with a 2 year certificate, many of which have never changed a flat tire or checked their own oil.  They have no work history, want to make top money in 3 years, and sit on their back-sides in the control room waiting for shift change.  They are protected though in most cases and the employer has to build a file on them 4 inches thick before they can get rid of them.

Business is doomed in America unless it allows everything from anyone.  Thank you US law makers.  You have successfully eroded 200+ years of common sense.

Free enterprise?  That’s an oxymoron.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Texas Floods, an oxymoron?

Most people envision Texas looking like Monument Valley, Utah – that is unless they watch the news.  They think all Texans pull on a pair of gaudy cowboy boots and great big cactus plants stretched out as far as the eye can see.  The truth is many of us have never seen the high desert or own a pair of cowboy boots.  The closest most Baytownians have come to a rattlesnake has been to a visit at the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center.

Most non-Texans are almost arrogantly ignorant about us and wish to blissfully remain so.  Some see the whole state as an aberration which produced two Bush presidents and a whole State full of obnoxious residents who brag on how big everything is in Texas. 

Most don’t realize that if you flipped the state horizontally (either way) you would dip El Paso in the Atlantic Ocean and Beaumont in the Pacific.  Most don’t realize that the Gulf Coast is wet year round and alligators are far more common that cowboy boots.

Recently they’ve watched the weather reports and believe all of us are drowning in our homes and to those who have suffered this fate; I don’t mean to sound flippant.  The truth is hardly any of us are at risk here in Baytown anyway if we simply stay inside.  It’s those folks who simply must get to work that are at highest risk of a water or traffic related accident.

If they knew they were heading out the door to sink their new car in 6 feet of water and nearly drown in the process, they would stay home.  Ah, but those of us who are committed to our jobs go anyway.  People in Dayton make that hazardous drive down SH-146 all the way to Texas City and on the way pass hometown folks heading north to the Chevron Plant in Mont Belvieu.

And to those poor souls who have to head west on I-10 into the Houston metropolis, all I can say is “May God be with you.”  It is bad enough when the sky is clear, but if we are having a deluge, it is ten times more hazardous.

Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do every day.  Add in the pouring rain, standing water, and distracted drivers and our soldiers in the military are safer than we are.  Bump it up with a boiling cup of coffee,  kolaches, and the Smartphone making its peculiar identification ring (should I answer this one or wait?) and you have just blasted this commute up into an all out attack on our senses.

Many Texans don’t realize that here on the Gulf Coast we have a micro-environment different than the rest of the state and our weather can be one of severe extremes.  When we get a Harris County weather report, it most likely covers Conroe to Victoria and over to Katy and back to Baytown making it wrong the majority of the time for all of us.

For some time, my bride and I have planned to zipline west of Austin and it just so happened that this past Wednesday was the day.  We kicked it back and forth and talked to those folks out there and decided to reschedule.  A no-brainer you offer?  Yup.  I didn’t think putting entertainment ahead of the very real possibility that we could suffer something negative was a particularly good notion. 

But let’s say for the sake of argument that we would have gone and something tragic would have happened.  It would be the same outcome as going to work in a deluge.  It has been an observation of mine for many years that the main reason people have accidents in the rain is they are going too fast.  Remember when cars used to wreck on our side of the Fred Hartman Bridge due to hydroplaning?  It would be easy to blame the standing water, but the reality is cars would not slow down in the rain.

I drove that stretch of road every day and knew I needed to take that section at about 50 mph when it rained, yet people would fly past me at 70.  On two occasions I witnessed cars lose control.  One went sideways down the freeway and came to a stop.  The other clipped the barrels and went down the exit.  They eventually fixed this low spot so now people can play with their life again.

Slow down in the rain folks, or if it is bad, think twice about getting out in it.  No one wants to die to get to work now do they?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Virgin ears and a sinner’s retention

Why is it that you can hear a foreign phrase of some curse word or forbidden something and it sticks with you for life?  All you have to do is hear it one time.  One time and you never forget it.  It’s what one of my old buddies would call a tapestry of justice.  Knowing to do good doesn’t negate this and I’ll be danged if I still absorb this stuff like grape bubble gum on the sole of my shoe.
I wish it worked the other way; like hearing an admonishment and BLAM – you got it!  Unfortunately we have to be bombarded with the good stuff or study to remember or memorize it to keep it and then we have to use it or lose it.

I think I was about 10 years old when my Uncle Virgil taught my brothers and I a couple of “dirty” jingles involving body odors of sorts and I can still remember it verbatim.  Truth be told, they were fairly harmless, but to my 3 brothers and I, they were flat decadent.

I was a couple of years older when a Sioux buddy of mine who was very worldly, taught me how to say a multi-syllable Spanish phrase that is still very offensive to most church people.  I guess my point here is I have a lot of words in my vocabulary that I do not use.  I won’t; not even in anger.  Nope, never.  What comes out of my mouth is what I decide and frankly I never think these bad words are perfect to express myself.
I knew a process operator who spewed what I like to call “septic mouth” to the point that if you bleeped out the cuss word, he wouldn’t make a sentence most 2 year olds couldn’t beat.  I asked him why he talked like he did and he didn’t back down one step.  “That’s the &^%$*(& way I %^&*(% I talk” is all he said.

Another man, who I respected for being very fair and intelligent also cussed a lot and when I asked him why (at one time he had been a preacher) he looked me in the eye and without defiance exclaimed that he did indeed know what was coming from his mouth.  He went on to say he had slipped away from God and needed to do better.

God or not, some words are for particular company and not for general audiences.  If you want to lace your conversation with vulgarisms, make sure you know your audience.  I was out at the Mall taking my Bride’s stuff in for alteration (she is shrinking in size due to working out at the gym) and there were a couple of people outside on the benches talking.  They obviously were not together, as they were sitting about 20 feet apart.

As I walked by I heard the older man say the forbidden word twice and the woman replied as if she didn’t notice the vulgarity and she was wearing the garb of a medical worker.  On my way out, he used it again and then she did.  Both of these people were in their 50’s.  Under no circumstances would I consider this kind of speech at this volume, acceptable to friends, let alone strangers. 

I won’t watch the Daily Show because Jon Stewart still thinks saying curse words is funny.  It isn’t and he’s a very bright guy, so I do not understand why he thinks it is.  The talentless idiot Kanye “Yeezus” West got censured most all of his act on Billboard magazine’s award show because they couldn’t take the chance he would violate FCC rules.

Call me a fuddy duddy, but I like my virgin ears.  I like the concept that I control what comes out of my mouth. I don’t want to hear crude language in public and for the most part, in private.  I like words like scuppers, abrogate, gerrymander, polymer, churlish, and mitosis and the ability to articulate my thoughts when I speak.  I like to learn new words so I can expound on the world I live in.

8 years ago I wrote on this subject and you can find it here:  My opinion hasn’t changed one bit.  Dandy Don Cunningham is my daily read to get a dose of Godly logic.  Don doesn’t use profanity or curse and he gets his point across quite well.  Each day he posts a parable and each day he feeds a whole lot of people with good socially acceptable speech.

However, if I was a betting man, I would wager that Don knows a lot of words he wishes he didn’t.  He just chooses not to speak them.