Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sorry, I Didn't Know You Are Unique.

Being unique is a failing art. People wrongly believe to be unique you should get a tattoo or a piercing or a cool car. That doesn't make you anymore peculiar than trying to sound exactly like Beyonce when you sing. Uniqueness is inside you and doesn't need adornment. Being unique is developing your own sense of who you are, even if it doesn't match anyone else's, or is politically correct. Being politically correct should be YOUR choice.

Uniqueness is not bolt-on accessories. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes we should take the freeway; other times the trail, but for sure, you take the path you want to be on. I might add that staying inside the law is a wise choice.

I hate how everyone is supposed to "do the right thing" when it comes to acceptance of things, ideals, or cultures that you don't necessarily agree with. Its better to be called  racist or homophobic, than to be fake. Get educated, make up your own mind, but for god's sake, be real. Freedom of speech is all but dead in this country.

It seems like everyone has tattoos these days. I do not. I don't care one way or the other if they have them. I remember when sailors, bikers, and pirates had tattoos and they actually meant something. These days, at least in my eyes, they mean nothing. They do not make the person unique in my eyes. I forget what their "tat" is one minute after I see it. The same goes for what they are wearing, or what brand of perfume they wear, or their shoes.

What I do remember is their personality and sometimes a casual brush with a person has lasting effects. Sure, some people are visually entertaining and would qualify for a Facebook meme, or a "people of Wal-Mart" youtube video, but that is not the uniqueness I am writing about. I am also not talking about someone everyone necessarily want to be around.

This country was settled by a diversity of colors, customs, nationalities, and people fleeing oppression. It was also settled by renegade extremists who took everything they could. They came to conquer and they didn't care what anyone thought. Years later we have laws which to have peace, we must obey, but that doesn't mean that we all have to think alike. The very fabric of this great country is exemplified by us not being the same. We are not all look alike hamsters or Siamese cats.

However, in our differences, it is imperative that we be tolerant and nonviolent with those who believe differently than us. Civil debate, if we choose to is all but gone and we see evidence of this every day in our government. If there is a difference in opinion, the name calling begins and it doesn't matter one way or the other how trivial the subject. I would rather be in Maine on vacation and a guy tell me he hates all Texans than for him to sarcastically pander. All is well and good between us as long as he doesn't decide to attack me, either physically or verbally. He is welcome to his opinion. I will find someone else to be around.

Frankly, I am sick over the term racist being used for any and every possible use of the word. If it doesn't involve, "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior," it isn't racism. If I say I don't particularly care for Russians, it is because I am a Cold Warrior and have a certificate of recognition signed by Donald Rumsfeld on my wall. Am I racist? Nope. Being Russian is not a race. Leave me alone. I earned it. By the way, I have a Russian friend. Of course, claiming I have a Russian friend automatically makes me racist.

I knew a man that hated anything Japanese because of what they did in World War Two. He was a veteran and earned his right to think what he did and I can't say I blamed him. Japanese soldiers committed horrendous atrocities. He was a very unique fellow and left an impression on me. Was he out of step with the modern world?  Most likely, but it is what it is.

The bottom line is in this country it should still be okay to think and speak what you want, even if it doesn't fit the mold of someone else. You shouldn't scream what you have to say, or use profanity, but I think you understand my point.

Where's a redneck when you need one?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Culture, Trash, and Crime Connection

I was talking to a retired Indian couple at the gym the other day before spin class started. They are totally pleasant and both have cool Indian names.  His name is Krishna and hers is Geeta. I was explaining to them that I listen to Desi music, which they explained "desi" meant home boy music.  More specifically, Desi is a loose term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora, derived from the Ancient Sanskrit meaning Land or Country.

Anything labeled as Desi, basically means you are Indian. I told them my bride finds it peculiar that I listen to this type of music and I've satisfied her curiosity by explaining that I heard it very often during the 2 years I lives in Southeast Asia. To me it is a mystical series of melodies that takes my brain on a magic carpet ride. Krishna is a retired chemist from Bayer and I forget what Geeta did, but their eyes sparkle with intelligence. Over the years I've heard southern Americas declare that the Indian/British accent is confusing, but not so for me. With a few exceptions and those being the British words, I have no trouble.

The two are gentle, cordial, and very humble and on this day, we began to talk about crime here and in the many countries they have visited. On a second note, they declared how clean all these countries have become. I was very surprised at this because my experience 40 years ago was it was almost hopelessly filthy and debris ruled. Trash and litter was a way of life, but not so today. Massive educational campaigns and strict laws have nearly obliterated litter in many countries.

The more we talked, the more I realized that as Americans, some of us just don't get it. Geeta and then Krishna pointed out that crime was almost non-existent in major cities in India and Japan because punishment was so severe. I knew that Singapore was this way and quite surprised. He said you could walk down the darkest alley in India without fear. The United States is almost a criminal's playground in comparison. Our laws and freedoms have all but tied our hands when it comes to criminals taking advantage of us.

For instance, in Singapore, smoking in public, chewing gum, spitting in public, littering, jaywalking have hefty penalties. Its a crime to even sell gum there. Annoying someone with a musical instrument, flying a kite that interferes with public traffic, singing obscene songs in public, selling porn, connecting to someone else's wi-fi without permission, forgetting to flush a public toilet, and feeding pigeons will get you a fine or jail time. Singapore may just be the cleanest and most law-abiding country on earth.

This discussion makes me wonder if there isn't a connection between culture, crime, and litter. Are people who litter criminally minded? Maybe not, but it is certainly a crime to litter and some folks do it daily. They have a culturally anti-social attitude about it too. For most of us reasoning humans, the act of unrolling a car window and throwing trash out is about as likely to happen as winning the Powerball. Is it possible that in 2018 some person doesn't litter intentionally? I don't think so. They may throw that beer can out alongside the road to keep from having an open container in their car or truck, but that just makes them a double criminal. They don't care that society likes a clean appearance over piles of garbage strewn everywhere.

As a unpaid litter abatement specialist, I subject myself to the same punishment as those who are serving community service when I pick up someone else's litter. Believe me when I say I do this almost every day and I am just one of many who carry a trash bag when I walk. A trip into the grocery store from the parking lot allows me to drop in what I pick up after leaving my vehicle. How is it Third World countries can educate their masses to make their country crime and litter free and yet we are almost losing the battle here?

We have educational material available and everyone must attend school of some sort, so how is it some just do not get right from wrong. For instance, take the college basketball players in China who stole. One of them said he just didn't think about it until they were caught. Ten to one the man litters also. Maybe its a stretch on that, but if you can't see that stealing is wrong, what else did you miss?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Casual Fun of Trash-Talking in Media

No one should have the right to force anyone to mute moral or social implications of what they say or write in the media, or we defeat freedom of speech, plain and simple. Criticize, yes, but to forcibly stop them from writing or speaking their mind, however misguided you may believe them to be, is crossing the line. Freedom of speech is disappearing and it is a foundational right. However, this is exactly what is happening every single day not only in the free US, but around the world as we become more globalized.

Vitriolic social pressure is stifling free speech. If someone doesn't like something, they just get louder and sometimes physical. In this environment, people not only get confrontational, they feel assaulted and want to press charges. Civil debate is lost. The worst of the worse is the comments section on almost anything on the Internet. Reading peoples juvenile and vicious attacks on what someone wrote, sang, performed, or spoke is akin to a visit to a cesspool for a meal. This is one reason I have all but stopped making a comment on YouTube. It doesn't matter if it is Mother Teresa or Stephen Hawking.  658 people dislike the video and then in the comments section call the sainted woman a tramp and the brilliant Astrophysicist, a &^%$ idiot. 

It would be very easy to exclude ourselves from these folks, but the truth is many of us are guilty on some level. Pick out a popular female pop singer, famous for bawdy performances and then deliberately say something good about her to a friend. Listen to their response. Now what would be your reaction if they did this to you? Your defense is you have higher morals or ethics and you don't associate with "people of her culture." Your intolerance is showing, but you haven't crossed the line and wished her dead, or have you? Never mind that Jesus the Christ regularly rubbed shoulders with sinners and harlots with her same perceived values.

Remember the phrase, "Them's fightin' words!"? There is such a thing as inner service rivalry in the military and it is common among "friends" who have served or are serving, but its important to understand it is amongst friends, or "them's fightin' words" comes into play. This is when a person feels the threat is actually a verbal assault and it gets physical. The person who attacks your branch of service is deliberately provoking a verbal exchange with the implication of backing up what they are asserting.

At my advanced age, this is very rare, but happened to me in the grocery store the other day. I had been to the VA for a physical and was standing in line with my Vietnam Veteran USAF black hat on, when a stranger walked up to me and said, "Air Force, huh? Only the Navy counts." I turned and looked at him in a non-confrontation stare and then turned my back on him. I did 2 tours. This fellow appeared to be maybe 40. I didn't need to justify anything to this man.

He replied to my back, "You aren't going to respond to that?" I turned slowly and said, "No." and turned away. He walked off and the man behind me asked what he said. I told him, "the guy insulted me." and let it go. I posted this on Facebook to gauge reaction and most people saw it as an insult and I acknowledged that the guy was maybe joking. The bottom line was, I think I handled it well. A few years ago, maybe I would have kicked it back at him.

People are losing the ability to civilly debate almost anything and I blame technology for this. They can sit safely away and hammer anyone with anonymity and crude talk and there is no repercussion. They do it in their car too by driving without consideration for those around them. I've often wondered how long they would get away with what they do, if they were standing face to face with those they choose to slander, curse, or wish dead.

I can't change the world, but I can police myself and work on being kinder and more considerate. I can learn to accept that other drivers simply don't get it that their driving puts me and them in danger, but I may have to work extra hard on that one.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT: The Perfection of Propaganda

Until recently, I’d never heard the term Perception Management. The term originated with the U.S. Military after my time. The DOD formally defines it in stilted “Federalese”.

For those unfamiliar with “Federalese”, it is a form of English communication which requires the average person to read the same sentence two or three times, after saying “huh?”, to get the full import or meaning of same. As a matter of fact, I think I did a credible job of imitating Federalese with the first sentence of this paragraph.

Succinctly, I can sum up their 63-word definition in 13 words: Perception Management is how to lay modern, sophisticated “snow jobs” on foreign countries.

At least targeting against foreign countries was its original purpose; sophistication advanced beyond simple, old fashioned propaganda. PM evolved to the selective uses of truth, deception, operational security, psychological manipulation, misinformation and disinformation in such combinations as to get the best “snow job” bang for the buck!

Of utmost and critical importance is hiding or disguising the origins or actual source of generated PM. Even though it is a real weapon, albeit ostensibly non-lethal, any discovery or revelation of source combined with real evidence of intentional PM use would not only be publicly embarrassing, but the virtual end of the source’s credibility.
The way the originators of PM hide themselves is by using many layers of and varied means of communications and filtration methods prior to dispensing or, like biological warfare, dispersing the information they want leaked for successful and untraceable hit pieces or snow jobs. 
We should not care a wit about Perception Management being a military tool or even a government tool used in targeting countries hostile to us, or even those friendly, for that matter, especially when it’s in our national interest. 
What should concern us, personally and with enormity today is that governmental agencies, businesses and more especially, political entities, have wholeheartedly adopted and adapted the DOD/Military Perception Management concepts to domestically weaponize PM to manipulate and deliberately mislead us citizens!

Everyone knows public relations firms have been in existence for a long time to cover stenches with perfumes. But now some of these firms have been converted, co-opted or newly created to provide the Democratic Political Party funded by far-left socialist-billionaires like George Soros, other America-haters and miscellaneous ignoramuses with high-powered PM.

David Brock is one of the kingpins supporting the Democratic Party as their “Joe Goebbels” in charge of PM through a dozen and more political front organizations/PACs co-located in the same building in beautiful downtown Burbank, oops, Washington D.C. 

Though Sharyl Attkisson outed and revealed much of Brock’s dirty works and other’s shenanigans in her outstanding exposes, Stonewalled and Smear, she mostly investigated the who’s, locations and funding operations with some examples of political smears that suggested but did not really amplify the subtleties of malicious PM (e.g., attacks on Trump).

PM is currently doing a bang-up job of persuading people that Trump is evil incarnate, a racist, a dictator and a descendant of Hitler. Look at how successful PM has been in manipulating all those Hollywood intellectuals. What else, with his many successful accomplishments thus far, explain his low poll numbers? Snow Jobs!

Paradoxically as the sophisticated use of PM expands and is refined and redefined, we’ll all someday reach the point where we won’t be able to believe Dan Rather when he admits he’s lying, let alone what mom and dad tell us.

What’s deliciously ironic is that amateurish users of PM such as the New York Times, Washington Post and the other usual suspects we refer to as fake news (including CNN, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, etc.) frequently allow themselves to become easily manipulated pawns of the professionally skilled purveyors of PM because their biases and predilections are well-known and readily exploitable! Often it doesn’t work well since they’ve discredited themselves so much.

For example, the PM pros know that many of the Times and Post reporters are smug, arrogant and complacent egotists who tend to be lazy or purposely careless about fact-checking information, especially when the “information” fed them meshes precisely with their individual ideological and snarky bents.

The internet is now, without doubt, the main conduit or super-highway for the dispersal of PM by absolute professional experts at psychology, believable prevarication, invention of “fictional facts”, and embellishing, modifying and/or distorting truths.

Take a pinch of truth, add a large dollop of conjecture, and garnish with invention/prevarication and there you have a blogger’s dream and The Huffington Post to spew an “anonymous” or “reliable” source for fake news to puke.

Are we out on a limb? Who do we believe, what do we believe? The PM purveyors don’t give a damn about you and me. They are mostly concerned with non-skeptics who are easily manipulatable ideologues, the “What Me Worry?” clones of Alfred E. Neuman, people too busy with living their lives of survival and those closely watching Real Housewives of New Jersey, unconcerned with any realities beyond a cursory glance.

They are the real Perception Management targets because they vastly outnumber the thinkers, skeptics, or those who through osmosis and hard scrabble experience, like me, became Real Cynics from Somewhere.

John C. Frock, Dec., 27th, 2017

A Well Executed Plan

 I was one of 4 airman one cold fall day on the Great Plains of Montana with visions of bagging a number of pheasants. We went down to Recreation Supply and rented four 12 gauge pump shotguns and stopped at a hardware store and bought 4 boxes of shells. We had our licenses and orange vests and were ready. We had a plan... or so we thought. Now contrary to what most people believe, just because you are in the service of our country, doesn't mean you know beans about guns.

I knew a lot, because my dad demanded me practice muzzle control and I got my first 12 gauge at 14 years of age. On one instance a few years earlier, a double barrel shotgun malfunctioned and blasted both shot shells when I closed the breach. My brother Gordon was standing to my right and if I would have carelessly closed the gun without paying attention to where the muzzle was pointed, I would have killed him that day in the woods. It was a real life lesson that to this day comes to mind when I handle a firearm.

The 4 of us piled into my longtime Pineville, La friend Mark Lacroix's car and off we went, driving about 20 miles west of Great Falls. Now out there, you could fire a 7 Mag at a 45 degree angle and it wouldn't hit anything for as far as you could see. That particular rifle has the ability to shoot a bullet about 4.5 miles. There is a reason its called the Great Plains. Let me stress that we did not ride out there with loaded guns. We were driving along and I was in what is called the shotgun position, which means I am not driving, but by the window to the right of the driver and every so often I would spot a covey of quail, or grouse, or partridge hunkered down in the tall grass by the fence row. I would holler to stop and initially we jumped out and loaded the guns.
 The straw grass was tall by the fence, but only about a foot tall for as far as the eye could see. We would walk that fence line and not see a single bird, until I was accused of hallucinating. This happened about 10 times before rounding a bend in the road, we looked up a long swell of land and there must have been 30 pheasants spread out. The second we stopped and got out, they ducked into the foot high straw. We spread out about 50 paces each and slowly walked the 300 yards to the top of the hill and never saw or kicked up a single bird.

Now let me tell you something about upland game and pheasants in particular. They will wait until you almost step on them before they jump straight up in the air and fly off like an F-16. I guess it's possible for a skilled hunter to get a second shot, but most of us get one or none before they are out of range. On top of that, they scare the bejeebers out of you by making this bizarre noise. Again let me stress that we worked out a field of fire before we began because hunters shoot each other chasing flying birds.

We went home safe, but without a single bird. There is an excellent explanation for our failure. We did not know the golden rule of upland game hunting. You don't do it without trained hunting dogs. Our well thought-out plan lacked the necessary ingredient to make us successful. Now on the bright side, we did get a very close look at a red fox, which by the way is orange in color. Our venture was doomed to fail and all because we didn't do enough homework.

Isn't this the reason so many things we attempt fail? We just go at them helter skelter, like a dad trying to put together a 142 piece toy and only resorting to the instructions after a frustrating hour or more. Going through life, we encounter many opportunities which if we simply took the time to make a good plan, we could overcome, or successfully complete. So how many times do we have to fail before we get the hint? One plan every person should have is a whole life insurance policy on your kids. It is so cheap, anyone can afford it. This is one plan, you cannot afford to bungle.

As I write this column, I am speaking to myself. How many things could we do anything right the first time, if we would have simply thought it through and developed a plan? The good news is its not too late to begin.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What 50 years of driving has taught me

50 years ago, I cranked the 4 cylinder, air-cooled engine in the first car I drove and rolled out on the macadam roads of North Georgia. The year was 1967 and I was driving a 1963 Corvair Monza, which I bought using the wages I earned working at the Tastee Freeze in Woodstock, Georgia. I was 15 years old.

I headed for Canton 20 miles north, on the winding, hilly 2 lane roads so I could take my driver's license test. I shifted the 4-speed manual transmission like a NASCAR pro, having thoroughly qualified the skill on the dirt road down from my house on Arnold Mill road. My Mom would watch me pull out of our driveway and motor down a quarter mile to a dirt rod, so I could develop the skills safely and as soon as I was out of her sight, I would gun the motor and run that back road as if I had 10 Federal cars in pursuit.

I knew nothing of Ralph Nadar's book, "Unsafe at any speed", which doomed the Corvair and I did donuts and slid sideways as often as the dirt road would allow. I was learning to drive and in North Georgia at that time, it was a much needed skill. When winter arrived, I was well prepared for the black ice and using a clutch at the top of a hill to negotiate a right turn at a stop sign using all 3 pedals. I was developing skills most Baytownians would be solely lacking under the same circumstances, as this was my Drivers Education.

To date, I have never caused an accident. Maybe this is because I still keep the one car length for every 10 miles per hour rule I learned in the driver's handbook. I still do this, even on the crowded freeways. If people want to jump over in front of me to fill that void and, I let them and I don't get mad. I leave enough space that I don't even have to tap my brakes.

In 1986, my paternal grandfather's passing necessitated I make the drive from Baytown to Atlanta in winter. My brothers and I were allowed to take Bob Bailey's big Olds and we headed East on I-10 into what was heralded as the worst snowstorm in I-10's history. Prior to this, I had spent 2 winters in Montana, while stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base and had made a trip across the Continental Divide to try and bring back an AWOL Airman. I was driving my personal vehicle, a 1952 International pickup and we went up and over the Divide in deep snow and after not finding the fellow, made the return trip at night again in heavy snow. I was 18 years old.

I still remember coming to a full stop on the top of a mountain and a herd of mule deer walking slowly in front of me and my 24 year old sergeant. He was from Pennsylvania and used to heavy snow, but he didn't feel comfortable enough in those conditions to ask to drive.  On our way to Atlanta, my brothers and I witnessed very many instances of 18-wheeler trucks off the side of the road and many cars, but I kept rolling east until we slid into hilly Atlanta. During our stay there, I taught two of my younger brothers how to drive on ice and snow, as they got their licenses years later in Houston.

What in the world does all of this have to do with us in 2017 and driving in the city limits of Baytown and Harris county? Everything. It's a war zone out there. I hate it and love it. At 65, I have 50 years experience in navigating roads and streets. I admit I am very judgmental, but also surprisingly tolerant at times. If you have a handicap tag or a very gray head, I am forgiving, If you have a cell phone stuck to your face, I am unsympathetic to your lack of awareness. You will get my custom "ah-oo-ga" horn every time. My bride hates this by the way and often blurts, "Please don't!"

I am a very deliberate driver, in that I am a stickler for coming to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights and if you tailgate or try to pressure me by getting on my bumper, you are going to get a very good look at my Vietnam Veteran license plates and a good squirt of my windshield washer fluid as it blows over the top of my Jeep. If you are too close to me, I will slow down, inhibiting your progress. Driving too close to another vehicle is like walking one foot behind someone on a sidewalk. It's very rude and I do not tolerate rude behavior on almost any level. I make no apology for my reaction when operating a moving vehicle.

I think drivers forget that they are actually hurtling through space when driving and forget they are risking their and your life so they can get where they are going. This is why they do everything under the sun when driving. They accelerate to a red light and never think braking is the solution to any situation. Lord help you if you try to pull out in front of them, as they will automatically accelerate to close whatever gap was there. Here we are about to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ child and you would think that maybe, just maybe, the spirit of this gift would play into their thoughts.

We have a few days left to be kind to each other before Christmas and then a whole new year to make changes in how we approach the simple act of driving a car and the people around us. How about we start today to be more considerate and slow down? Leave a little earlier and when someone wants to change lanes in front of us, we let off the gas and let them in. Merry Christmas.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

The intricate web of integrity and ethics.

Integrity and ethics are two very sticky wickets which can ensnare us if we are not careful. Doing the right thing should always be our intention, but we let deviations into our lives which can break these subtle rules. A simple example is we criticize people for not coming to a complete stop at a red light and then taking a right, or maybe they do not use their turn signal. Later in the day, we break both of these rules because we are distracted or in a hurry. We protectively excuse ourselves, but go right back to criticizing others.

Practicing what we preach is not as easy as it sounds. We rationalize and excuse our own deviations and that is the gray area I'm writing about. I personally battle this all the time. Throw in the Golden rule and I'm really in violation.

Let's take a look at ethics just to be clear. Ethics is the "moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity." Ethics is how we deal with what is right and what is wrong. With the disintegration of the traditional single marriage family unit, conventional spiritual training has taken a back seat to the necessity that both parents work. This essential childhood grass root training doesn't exist in many people in 2017. Right and wrong was learned in day care, school, peers, television and most of all, Social media.

This pretty much explains what we see and hear that goes on around us today. If you've ever wondered why people can't distinguish between right and wrong, there is your answer. They want it, so getting it is simply a matter of taking it. Their idea of ethics is so far removed from the Greatest Generation's teaching as to be unrecognizable. Their world and wants are the only world that matters to them and once again, the easiest way to see this in action is to get in your car and drive.

Now, let's look at another human value that is disappearing - Integrity. Integrity is the "firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values". One of the most insulting sayings I know to describe a person with no integrity is that they are "anybody's dog that will walk them". If money can shut your mouth - you have lost your integrity and this is especially relevant today. If you have been so shamed and violated that you claim to be traumatized, no amount of money should be able to set you straight. By taking the money, you just became a prostitute. I would use the language Ann Coulter uses, but I'm not that good of a writer.

How can you have integrity without a set of ethics to live by? Social Media on one hand can be a guide, but on the other, it can be horribly destructive. There is a group on Facebook concerning Baytown that I refuse to join and it starts with the word "Nosey". People use profanity and are rude in many cases and after one day on it, I felt it violated my ethics. I refuse to eat at that trough. If I want to discuss things in Baytown on social media, I'll do it on or through my FB friends. If people are rude, I simply block them. "I ain't got time for dat" and my personal code of behavior keeps me in check, especially when I am online.

A battle takes place in my mind concerning my code of ethics and personal integrity and I think it sums up how all of us should think. If we truly have a code of ethics, we should be very careful if and when we decide to bend them. It can be the smallest of violations, like when someone shows you their ugly child's photo and you decide to not tell them the truth. "What a cutey patooty!" you exclaim, while inwardly cringing. After all, your code of ethics is to not lie, right? Yes, I know, it is silly, but you get my point. The next day you find a woman's purse in the parking lot of the new grocery store and in plain site is a bank envelope flush with hundred dollar bills.  Man, that sure would help Santa out this year, right? My code says I return it regardless of how much money is in it... I think.

"You touched me inappropriately!" "Okay, here's some money. Don't say a word." "Okay, I won't."

Remember this, if money can buy you, it can buy you at any level. It can shush you for the most heinous of crimes and social violations. All they have to do to de-rail you is raise the amount high enough for you to discard your ethics and integrity. The news programs are showing us examples of it every day and I do think it is important to understand this. Politicians, actors, singers, office workers, business partners - you name it; if they pay out or take money they lose all integrity. Both parties are guilty.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Cesspool Politics is the Hand we are Dealt

Navigating the muddy waters of the great Mississippi River back in Mark Twain's time was risky business because of whirlpools, eddys, and hidden debris. Ship captains and pilots were skilled at identifying them for the sake of their passengers and cargo and when they failed to recognize the danger, many times disaster resulted. News of this went unreported, because the average person had no way to read about it.

In this great boat we Americans share, we are still very much dependent and at the mercy of those elected "captains" to keep us from sinking, or being offered in sacrifice for the good of the people. They are every bit as skilled at manipulating the muddy waters of politics as those salty old sailors were on the Mississippi river. They are even better at hiding the actual facts when they run us ashore or into an eddy. It isn't accurately reported because the issue is so cloudy, no one knows who to blame, or what actually took place.

We don't know what or who to believe anymore.

On top of all that, they collude with their own crowd to keep their boat afloat, often realizing the only way to keep at the helm is to appear innocent, or vilify another captain. A heavy cloud of offensive attack silt is their defense. Imagine a ship captain who spends almost all of their time on the bridge, trying to keep in the middle of the river. They have no intention of ever arriving. Their main goal is to stay on as captain. Around them are their team of pilots who make every decision appear to be exactly the right choice.

The cargo and passengers are fed a steady diet of "we are almost there" and the journey becomes the goal, not the arrival. The dangers in the river become any other ship captain who doesn't carry the same cargo. Aside from navigating the muddy water, the ship captain now spends every available minute hiding their mistakes, indiscretions, expenditures, and focuses on pontificating on projected accomplishments. Their real skill is in what comes out of their mouth and how well they navigate the muddy waters, not in actually arriving at a suitable destination.

The skilled navigators claim allegiance to one faction or another, but in reality, they all belong to the same company. This company's goal is to grow fabulously rich and for the cargo and passengers to stay in a suspended state of supportive limbo.

When they feel like they are in a safe place, they collude with other safe captains to make it impossible for unsafe captains to navigate effectively. The traffic on the river is enormous, with many boats and each of them represent a certain portion of the entire populace, but it matters not to veteran captains. What matters to them is they stay safely in the middle of the river and watch with giddiness when the less skilled crash on the shoreline or are sucked up in a whirlpool. They leap on their failure like the white whale crashed into the Pequod, spouting righteousness and indignation as a representative of the investors.

From the time they arrive as the decorated captain, the original intent of being a steward of the cargo and passengers is set aside and they begin the self-serving task of keeping the boat safely afloat. Never mind that their investors intend for them to represent. It matters not, because the river system is so well established that it is impossible for them to do anything except join the other captains in the illusion of progressive travel.

Along the way, they milk the investors until they have acquired vast personal wealth. If by chance the investors launch a rogue admiral on the river, every captain is alarmed and threatened and their only recourse is to attempt to undermine them. Collusion takes on a magnified meaning, as both sides join hands, whispering and plotting. Under the auspices of reaching the suitable destination, the pirate captains churn the waters to make them even muddier and then blame the new admiral for the cloudy cesspool they've historically called home.

When the admiral refuses to paddle along and suggests filtering the river until it's clean, the captains respond by revving up their paddle wheels and creating even cloudier water. The reason for this behavior is they are not representing the investors and keeping at the helm is their only goal. They feel threatened and exposed. Only by steering the boat can they gain the prosperity and power they desire. Investors are considered as nothing more than stupid and a means toward an end. The admiral must be discredited.

The river system is what it is. It may be too large and too muddy to ever filter. The captains control the investors and the cargo and yet, we keep pumping our money into the system wanting to believe something will change. Unfortunately for us, probably not in our lifetime.

Monday, December 04, 2017

How do you explain why you do not follow the rules

How do you explain why you do not follow the rules
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Geocaching Instructor - Baytown, Texas

This game has morphed many times in how many of us play it and aside from some old faithful's who follow the letter of the law, many of us have modified our approach to the geocaching game. Am I saying we break rules?  Nope. What I am saying is many of us now play the game instead of the game playing us. I'll be honest and admit, I bend the rules occasionally - well, maybe too often. HoustonControl is my mentor and he attempts to keep me out of Groundspeak jail, as does our reviewers Vertighost and Reviewer Revan, who are my geo-friends.

I've written a good number of primers on how I see the best way to play the game and with a few minor exceptions, I play by the rules. My fellow geocachers for instance know I mostly do not sign the log on a nano. The reason is I figure I am doing the CO a favor by not filling up his small slip of paper and second, it's a danged hassle. I'll create a field note (sorry, I mean a DRAFT!) and write something like black nano in pipe (to post in personal notes) and then I'll place the magnetic pencil eraser-size container in between my eyes on my glasses and post a photo. If they want to erase my log, so be it, but I am probably not going to sign the log.

 Now mind you, I have literally risked my life on a cliff or up in a tree to sign a log, as I believe in that aspect.  You must sign the log to get credit for finding it. Now, after saying that, I will not erase a log if the person says they didn't sign it, because this invokes another law of geocaching physics - truth in logging. I believe in telling the truth and this has brought about a bit of controversy amongst veterans down here in Houston, Texasland. This is a game of integrity, right?

Let's talk DNF's. What I see and I admit, I may be wrong, some geocachers will "forget" to post a DNF. For reasons only they can justify, they simply forget 100% of the time. Another item is posting that you used a PAF (Phone a friend) or god forbid, you called the cache owner and got the down low on placement. the log is mysteriously absent of these details. "This one took a few minutes, but I got it!  TFTC!"

Some cachers are adamant: "If I don't sign the log, I won't post it as found!" and I give them a high five.  Me? If I'm in the middle of a bayou or creek and there are 20 of us kayaking, I log it, even though I was explaining the fine points of logging to a fellow enthusiast 50 meters away. We sign as a group and off we go on a geocaching adventure.

Now I've never participated in one of the famous power trails where a group of geocachers can log a 1000 caches in one day, so the vast majority of the time, I am solo and going full legit. I'm good with both.  I carry a lot of geocaching supplies in my Jeep (Tha Choppa - 9Z1HCA) and I repair cache containers and logs as I go. I do this because I want to contribute to the game, rather than leach off it. I say "leach" as I believe some veterans have become so number conscious that they have little time to post corrected coordinates or slap a new baggie and log inside a container. YMMV and this may really rankle your bones, but I am simply saying what I have observed. "Found cache 86 feet from coords" is a poor excuse for posting better coords. At least say it was west, for golly's sake.

Let's take a look at cache maintenance. As I write this, I have 230 active caches I maintain. Because I have all but wiped out all available caches out to 20 miles, I do a pocket query for new caches, archived caches, and cache maintenance out to 40 miles. In the Houston area, this is easily a lot of caches. The rules state that you should perform cache maintenance in a timely manner. If 6 geocachers can't find your 2.5/2.0 cache in 7 months, don't you think it might be a good idea to check on it? You did when you first started hiding caches, so why not now? Some veterans actually get testy if you post a needs maint attribute on their cache! Really?

How about this rule: Cache owners who do not maintain their existing caches in a timely manner may temporarily or permanently lose the right to list new caches on Is it enforced?  Not that I can tell, but it is in the rule book.

In summation, the three top rules in my book are tell truth in logging, cache maintenance in a timely manner, and sign the log (unless its a nano!).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Geocaching Adventures in Baytown

If you have read me for any length of time, you are aware I play a high-tech adventure game called geocaching. The city of Baytown has openly embraced this game as a tourist attraction and launched an ambitious project called a geotour. Now what in the world does this have to do with you? Everything, as it is open for all ages and physical abilities, especially if you team up with friends.

Everything you need to know about the game can be learned by visiting and opening a free account or you can attend my next geocaching 101 class February 17, 2018 at the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center at 10am. At 11am, we will have a geocaching herpetologist from Precinct 4 give a class on identifying snakes and its all free.

Now what's it all about and why should you consider doing it? The game can be played by downloading a free app from to your phone. Once you a geocaching name and the app, you do a search of the area around you by using your zip code. Presto! Geocaches are all over Baytown! All of them have a scale of 1 to 5 on difficulty and terrain. Go easy on yourself and look for the ones with lower ratings.

You will need a pen or pencil to sign the piece of paper inside the "cache" container. This is a must do item. If you don't sign as proof that you were there, you cannot log it as "found" on the Internet. Geocaches come in all sizes and shapes and some are as small as a pencil eraser or as big as a 5 gallon bucket. Some caches have items for trading, called swag and the rule is if you take something, you have to leave something of equal or greater value.

When you locate the cache container, you open it and sign the log, trade items if you want and then place it back where you got it. This is very important because of our changing flora. If a geocacher hides a container in barren winter, it can be very difficult to locate after spring and summer growth. This is one reason that many containers are tethered. Make sure to write a good log of your adventure.

Geocaching, as in the geotour will take you all over town to many places you never have visited and thus it is a real kid-friendly adventure. You can get your geotour passport at Bucee's at the tourism kiosk and find your first geocache also! City parks, historic markers, old building, cemeteries, bike trails, hiking locations are all open for adventure right here in town. Some are bike friendly, others you can take a wheelchair or stroller right up to them.  One of the longest playing members of the game in the Houston area is very active and is 82 years young. He's the Yoda of geocaching here and goes by the title ParkerPlus.

Baytown's most famous geocacher is Larry Houston (HoustonControl) and he will be moving to the Hill country in the hear future. HC started playing this game in 2005 and is still very active, hiding a multi-cache this week.  A "multi" means that once you get to the coordinates, you will find another set you must follow until it finally takes you to the location with the log book. This particular one has a wireless beacon in number one which if you have a device that can receive the signal, you can proceed to the next stage. He makes provision for those who don't have the device also.

Goose Creek and Cedar Bayou have geocaches all up and down them that can accessed by Jon boat, kayak, or canoe and every trail in town is peppered with geocaches for your hiking and biking pleasure. There is another aspect of this game that adds to the fun and it is trackable items which have a code on them. When you find one of these items in a geocache, you can "grab" it, but you can't keep it. They move from geocache to geocache and pick up mileage which is recorded online by your logs. If you find one and you are not sure what to do, just take a photo of the code (don't publish the photo) and log this code to get credit for "discovering" it.

This is a game of numbers and the day you find your first geocache, you will be so proud of yourself. The next milestone will be your 50th or 100th find, etc. The next thing you know, you will be on vacation looking for geocaches and finding the neatest and coolest places that you would never see without playing this fun game. My geocaching handle is BaytownBert and all of my geocaches start with BB. Ready to play?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankfully, we have an anchor!

 Today is Thanksgiving? Already? My grandson swam in the pool Monday. Am I the only one who feels like we are hurtling over the surface of the earth at an accelerated rate? Wasn't school just let out for summer break? Christmas lights are going up in the neighborhood and one fellow just took down his Halloween stuff. Veterans Day was yesterday. Hunting season just began and already they're playing Home Alone on the TV box! I'm expecting Andy William's on the radio any time now.

When I was a kid (something like 20 years ago) everything moved at a snail's pace in comparison to what I see and feel now. I've actually tried to counteract the acceleration by not exceeding the speed limit, but everyone whizzing past me ruins the effect. I told my bride the other day that I drove down SH-146 to Webster and never went faster than 60 miles per hour. It was weird, as cars and trucks blew past me like I was Mr. MaGoo. Note: Did you know his first name was Quincy?

I was informed, more than once, that as we age, we lose reference points and it will appear that things are happening faster than they once did. I check my wrist watch - yes, I still wear one, and it clicks away second by second, so what's the deal here? I can remember some major issues with clarity, like the 9-11 disaster and baby Jessica, but I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. Heck, I can't remember yesterday.

If I don't see someone's kid for a few weeks, they are suddenly in the 5th grade! I mow the lawn and the next day it is 4 inches high again - well, I did mow it yesterday and that should hold it for spring - in TWO WEEKS! I'm keeping fairly busy, but time is either in front of me or behind. "What, it's only 2pm?  It feels like its 5!" or "7:30! Where did the day go?" I am seriously trying to sync here folks.

I've had a subscription to Popular Mechanics for quite a few years and the gadget section is always fascinating to me and one day I realized that everything they are offering is already obsolete. Technology is increasing exponentially and my ability to process is going in the opposite direction. My bride is worse off than I and its taken her a year to get used to a key fob instead of a key for her vehicle. Thank goodness my 2011 Jeep Wrangler still uses a key or I would be in the same predicament.

I think one of the main culprits in this disruptive time space continuum is technology and our instant access to it. We don't have to think or spell, or remember anything. We can simply access it via a smartphone. Lord help you if you don't have one! You are akin to an 8-track player in a streaming world. If you are really lucky, you are a 33 RPM LP or can I say it? A 78 RPM LP? When modern kids hold an audio cassette in their hand and are told it has music on it, they hold it to their ear or ask where the headphone jack is. Understanding that music is on a vinyl long playing black record would really be a challenge for them.

What is the old saying? "I've forgotten more than you've learned?" This is probably true for most of us, who grew up memorizing everything. When we bought a 33 RPM record album, we spent hours studying the jacket cover and the photos and maybe, just maybe the lyrics were included. We learned everything about the songs and the band. These days, all of that can be summed up by the famous youtube star Sweet Brown, "Ain't nobody got time for that sweet Jesus."

Thanksgiving Day is simply a day to be thankful. Memorial, Halloween, Easter, Independence day, and Christmas are debatable holidays to some, but I think all of us can agree that a day of Thanksgiving is perfectly proper. Whether you can trace your lineage to the Mayflower, or a tiny island in the South Pacific, all of us should take a knee today and offer up a great big thank you. Hug your friends and family and say all the right things and in some cases, start over.

You have a whole year ahead of you to build up material for next years Thanksgiving day, which will be here in a couple of months.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Aging is not for wimps

I finally arrived and begrudgingly have to admit that I have evolved into the grasp of the aged father time. Once nimble digits punched away on my keyboard and ordered a heating pad. Yes, I bought a heating pad. I have to confess that I had to make 3 corrections on my order because my fingers don't want to follow my brain's orders to push them all the way down or hit the keys I intended.

The old man, dressed in a white robe, long white beard and rusty scythe has taken up residence in the home 20, but has mercifully spared my bride. I detest the unwelcome visitor/resident and have sought help in evicting him. 2017 has become the year that I learned I am no longer the phenomenal athlete I once truly believed I was.

Bullet proof was a good description of me and other than the occasional fender benders our bodies experience, I always ricocheted and kept right on truckin'. I scoffed at lesser beings who seemed to be disintegrating in front of me and smugly declared that I must be living right. Being self-righteous has its moment of karma to be sure.

It all began to unravel for me in March when I noticed I had a stiff neck. I awoke early and figured I had slept in a position that caused the malady. I was scheduled to instruct an indoor cycling class at the NASA location of the gym named after the clock. I drove down and did the class and by the time it was over, I was in such pain I felt like going to the emergency room. I don't handle pain well.

To make a long story less boring, here I am 8 months later still attempting to straighten out my neck. I have what they call spinal stenosis or a narrowing of the bone channel occupied by the spinal nerves or the spinal cord. It's not uncommon I'm told and was exacerbated by injuries I incurred years ago. My VA doctor described it as "nasty neck" and that sums it up pretty well.

The VA's solution was massive amounts of steroids both orally and by neck injection and enough pills to put me in atrial fibrillation or A-fib.  At one point, my blood pressure hit 180 over 120 and they feared I was going to have a stroke. They determined I now needed to see a hematologist who prescribed me... more prednisone! I was now up to 13 meds and decided to simply stop taking all of them except my original blood pressure pill. They were killing me with medicine and actually induced gout with one of them.

I am one month withdrawn from all that and my blood pressure has returned to normal. My neck still hurts and after 6 weeks of acupuncture treatments, my 5 week long headache is gone. The chronic pain I suffered during the 5 months the VA prescribed pain pills is basically gone also. At one point I took 180 Tramadol pills in a little over a month. I imagine my liver looks like hamburger meat.

I am now being treated by a chiropractor here in Baytown with both painful and pain-relieving results. My gym visits have all but stopped with an occasional foray into spin class to keep my legs from atrophying. I have had to accept the sad fact that I am 65 and not 25 and that is the hardest thing for me to mentally digest. There is a silver lining in all of this though. I've learned to take control of what meds I will actually ingest. I now read the warnings and have adjusted what I eat and drink. I should have been doing this all along. The 5 months I let the doctors prescribe pills did not help me. I simply suffered through it.

It wasn't until I sought alternative medical help with the acupuncturist and chiropractor that I made progress. I think sometimes we need to listen to our bodies instead of turning them over to experts. I made some serious changes in my dietary habits and have rubbed enough topical analgesics into my neck to lubricate an 18-wheeler. I force myself to drink 8 bottles of water a day. So, I bought a heating pad and it seems to really be doing some good. If it means I am an old person, so be it. I need it.

My next evolution is to get a couple pairs of khaki pants, some brown brogan shoes or those tennis shoes with Velcro tabs, and a light-weight cane. So, when you see me out and about, don't be shocked, be gentle. Be kind and take control of your health.

Sorry, I Didn't Know You Are Unique.

Being unique is a failing art. People wrongly believe to be unique you should get a tattoo or a piercing or a cool car. That does...