Sunday, December 31, 2006

Baytown ready to fight back!

Baytonians are fed-up with violent and senseless crime and are waking up. Baytown Sun reporter, Kirk Ehlig reported crime has risen 7%, but it feels like 70% to most of us who read the police reports and the local news. The online forum, Baytown Talks, sponsored by the Baytown

Sun has numerous posts every day about the crime and what is happening around town. We Baytonians are taking notice. We are watching.

The heinous serial rapist at large is something most of us thought would never happen here. Now little Baytown, turned big city, has big city crime. Armed robbery has become commonplace. Abductions in broad daylight, shotgun-wielding robbers, burglaries, beatings and as many as four hit and run accidents are reported daily in the police reports.

Honest hard-working citizens are buying guns and taking the concealed handgun course out of desperation. I regularly travel around town with one of my handguns, something I used to do only when I hiked. When my wife and daughter leave the house, I warn them sincerely to keep an eye out, also something that used to be rare. I have the CHP and we plan to enroll the rest of my family soon.

Some common questions I’ve heard lately are: Is Baytown chock full of evil and criminal people? What is happening here? There are plenty of jobs, if a person wants to work that is, so why are we experiencing this wave of violent crime? Should we blame those “displaced criminals from New Orleans”? Are drug crazed youth breaking into homes and accosting people at knifepoint, so they can feed their habits? Where are the cops and how come they can’t protect us? Why isn’t the Baytown Sun publishing stories about the crimes here?

In reading the police report online, I see that many of the criminals are from distant areas, doing their dirty work here in Baytown. They drive into town off of I-10, or SH-146 and exit onto Garth Road and begin their “shopping”. They steal cars, rob people, take stereos and belongings from parked vehicles and then skedaddle back the same way they came. Well-meaning, but trusting citizens continue to leave their cars unlocked, or running (while they just run in) allowing thieves continuing opportunities. Purses, Laptops, and even handguns are left in the car while folks dine.

Being the observant person I am, I witnessed a lady exiting a local office supply store. My wife and I had just parked and the lady was coming to her car, parked directly beside us. I told my wife “look at that lady digging in her purse. She is totally oblivious to her surroundings and the perfect target for a robber”. Much to my wife’s dismay, I voiced this to the lady when I exited my car within ten feet of her. She never stopped foraging or even looked up, but laughed and shook her head at my temerity. I walked off in disgust.

I probably should have minded my own business, because my wife was very upset at me and the lady thought I was arrogant and out of line.

Criminals look for their targets. If you walk across a public parking lot, rummaging through your purse, or preoccupied with children, you make a mighty tempting target for a would-be assailant. It’s far better to walk with purpose, key in hand and scan the area around you constantly, then to allow a bad person to catch you unaware. If you suspect something is wrong, then by Jiminy, it is. Turn around and go ask for an escort. If a well-meaning citizen points out to you that you are making yourself a target, by all means take it to heart. We are creatures of habit and some of our habits work just fine in a law-abiding society, but will get you robbed or killed in the real world.

When you are driving around town, keep your car doors locked and instead of yakking on the phone, look around and watch your mirrors. If you are in line at a drive-through, stay aware. Do the same thing when pumping gas. Look, look and look again. Criminals avoid people who are paying attention and move on to easier game. Keep your garage doors down and house doors locked and install outside lights. Get a dog. Do whatever it takes to protect your family. If you see something suspicious, call the police.

Hopefully, 2007 will be a better and safer year in Baytown.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Strong Leadership in America

Folks say Donald Rumsfeld went out in disgrace. I don't see it that way. I applaud the man for attempting to win the war on terrorism mainly on strategy and technology while minimizing the unnecessary loss of life.

The old way of aerial warfare was carpet bombing and even though some may believe it is still the strategy we should embrace, I beg to differ. For every “bad guy” killed by saturation bombing, non-combatants fell in droves. With a few exceptions, targets are now annihilated where they set and often by a single bomb. This leads to spectacular demoralization of our enemies. Don’t think for a second that it doesn’t.

There's no telling how many lives on both sides are spared by fighting this way. Donald Rumsfeld is the main force behind this philosophy. Rumsfeld has been a very strong leader, especially to our enemies, as has Bush.

No one bats one hundred percent in the decision making department. An old rule of warfare says “make plans for everything and then toss them out after the first shot is fired, because they won't work in that particular situation anyway”.

In this country, if you take second are a loser. NBA all-star Karl Malone once said "Yesterday, they loved me, today, they want me fired". In this country, we mock our leaders and slander our politicians using the excuse of free speech. Well, I have yet to see a bunch of folks standing up with the answers, but a whole lot with nothing more than criticism towards our leaders. Reactionary politics won’t save our country.

Partisan politicians can complain all they want, but if they don't have a solution, it's all hot air, in my opinion. I think Secretary Rumsfeld did the best he could and when he held firm in his tactics, he shouldn't be viewed as a loser by Americans, but one who did the best with what he had. I do however think it was time to try something else and I’m glad we are.

After 9-11 Americans were screaming at our government to “do something”. Dick Cheney asked what the chances were of Al Qaeda using a nuclear device inside our country and the answer was one percent. This became known as the “One Percent Doctrine” and anytime a perceived threat popped up, if there was a one percent chance of it happening, our leaders decided the American people would want them to see it as a credible threat.

If I as a father thought there was a one percent chance of someone abducting my children, would I dismiss it and still be called a good father? If my kiddos were taken, would my justification be reasonable when I stood before a judge and swore I didn’t think it was enough of a threat to take seriously?

The enemies of America want to see us fail in Iraq. Economically competing countries want to dampen American domination. Everywhere our military goes, a journalist and a video camera record the event. Some well-meaning Americans sit on their couches and point fingers at our troop’s decision to shoot a fallen enemy, instead of rendering first aid. Never mind that five minutes earlier, this same fallen insurgent was shooting and trying to kill our boys. We hobble our military with our demand for up to date war news. When the Israeli’s go to battle, they boot the journalists out and we need to do the same. Don’t call me a jingoist; I’m a realist AND a Veteran.

I’ll be honest here folks and tell you that war dictates we violently kill the enemy and if the threat is still real, we should shoot them again. It’s time to shut off the video cameras. Our terrorist enemy videotape their “kills” and use the footage to inspire more terrorists, but our videos are sterilized to be politically correct and thus, show nothing, or worse, show our soldiers and Marines doing something wrong. I am against war crimes, but shooting a fallen enemy to make sure they are truly dead is called war and I personally would not fault our soldiers, if they did it.

I voted for George Bush and I am appalled that it has become chic, hip and cool for folks to make him look inept. Leadership at that level is extremely difficult and when the cameras are pointed at a person 24-7, there will be times when they say something that can be taken wrong. President Bush gives ample ammo to critics, but our enemies are counting on us making him ineffective as a leader. We should not confuse parody with reality.

As scary as it sounds, we are probably in the fight of our Country’s life and many of us are totally clueless. Partisan politics are more important than security at home, accumulating possessions, team sports, and hobbies take a front seat in our thoughts and all the while, someone somewhere is thinking about bringing us down.

That is all they think about and will continue to do so until we fall. Allahu Akbar…

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Perfect Christmas gift

When I was a kid, I thought the perfect Christmas gift was something having to do with toy guns and the Army. My generation was the baby-boomers of WW2 and the Korean conflict and we watched Movie Stars save America from the Axis countries on TV, most every night. My brothers and I wanted to join the effort to fight the bad guys, so we all asked for toy guns so we could practice.

As I entered Jr. High School and “Stingray” bicycles came onto the scene, I wanted one of those real bad. Real bad. The high handlebars and banana seat on a 20 inch frame was the coolest thing I had ever seen. A couple of boys down the street had mini-bikes, but that was out of the question. All I wanted was one of those bikes. It was the perfect gift.

Along the way, gifts came and went. Baseball gloves, penny-loafer shoes, varsity-style jackets, dart boards, board games, and “groovy” school clothes. Christmas was all about what I received and I took little thought to what I gave. It was about me and “the perfect gift” I would receive and I reckon this was normal, as sad as that sounds.

Years passed and the Texas lottery arrived, I occasionally gave into the temptation and purchased a couple of tickets. If the amount was 4 million, or 50 million, I would daydream for hours about what I would do with all that money. I would entertain myself with what “perfect gift” I would buy for myself and it usually would go full circle before I thought about what kind of gift I could give family and friends.

A new car for this one, fix up the house of that old lady, buy some groceries for a poor family, why, the list was a mile long and I soon realized I couldn’t fulfill all the needs before I ran out of money. I would then devise ways to make anonymous “gifts” which couldn’t be traced back. I spent quite a few hours mulling this over. It became tedious.

All the while, I would return to that “perfect gift” I would buy for myself. A new giant pick-em-up truck with all the trimmings, so I could be secure in my new found riches. Of course, I would need a giant house built for my bride and then set up some kind of management system, so the “gifts” would keep rolling in. I would need a Harley and a big bass boat (and I don’t even fish).

About 3 years ago it suddenly hit me that I didn’t want to win the lottery (not that I could turn it down). I think it would mess up my life. About the same time, I discovered what was meant by “it was more blessed to give, than receive”. What a novel idea! I had heard and read this so many times in my life, but never took it at face value.

I guess honest confession is good for the soul.

I live a comfortable life with very few needs and truth be known, very few wants. As I age, I realize it’s not in the abundance of earthly pleasures that gives meaning to life, but in the abundance of peace and tranquility that truly defines happiness. A warm smile, a thank you, a hearty laugh from a stranger, a sunny day with a cool breeze offer me more than all the gadgets usually found under the tree.

As the year comes to a close, I’m hoping and praying that the gift I am able to give to friends, family and strangers is me as a better person. I’m a man of strong opinions and it usually erupts volcanically in the form of acerbic and downright mean remarks. People who truly know me often suffer from my angry outbursts, sardonic gibes and sullen nature and for that, I am truly sorry.

So, for Christmas this year and the future, along with the conventional gift-giving, I hope to make this world a better place by giving the perfect gift and the only one I can truly control, me as a kinder, gentler and friendlier person. Merry Christmas everyone and may the Lord Jesus Christ bless you richly!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Gift of Knowledge

I just survived 5 days adrift in the Philippine Sea with the crew of the USS Indianapolis and I must say, it is good to be back on dry land. The constant threat of shark attacks along with the absence of fresh drinking water had me gulping down gallons of the precious liquid as I turned the pages of: “In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis”

This was quite a change after last weeks jaunt around Europe as I traveled with Saddam’s bomb-maker. We were buying up components to make Iraq a nuclear bomb. Thank goodness, Dr. Hamza saw the insanity involved and defected before the program came to fruition. It’s all documented right here: “Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda”.

2006 has been a busy year book-traveling, but one I wouldn’t trade for all the Plasma TVs China can produce.

Why, back in November, I got a first hand look at the trouble in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Vietnam through the eyes of war correspondent Philip Caputo. I was right there with him when a bullet struck him in the leg. Back in 1977, I went along with Lt. Caputo as he fought his way through the Mekong Delta in “A rumor of war” and man, have we lived since those days! You can go with him too by reading “Means Of Escape: A War Correspondent’s Memoir of Life and Death in Afghanistan”.

Jon Lee Anderson led me through “The Fall of Baghdad” and the acrid smell of cordite is still irritating my nostrils! Frankly, I’m surprised we survived that chaotic event and if I hadn’t been witness to Saddam’s Iraq through the eyes of Zainab Salbi, I wouldn’t have understood the reaction of Iraqi’s to his defeat. Saddam’s methodic rise to power and control of once liberal Iraq is told in “Between Two Worlds: Escape From Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam”.

The Middle East adventures were taking a toll on me, so I went to Barsoom, Mars to battle four-armed green giants. It was kind of amazing, really. Because of the difference in gravity between Earth and Mars, I found I could jump 30 feet in the air.

No one can tell a story like Edgar Rice Burroughs and even though he has been dead for over 50 years, his books are just as good today, as they were when they were published. My open admiration for the brave John Carter and his beautiful maiden, Thuvia, kept me on Mars through thirteen consecutive books. You’ve got to love science fiction!

My sweet Mom gave me the birthday gift of knowledge, by bringing me into the old west with Larry McMurtry’s “Telegraph Days” and also Wesley Clark’s “Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire”. I Don’t know which author has the most experience with battle, but Mr. McMurty has a twisted need for excessive violence in his books. After reading five of his books, I think I am finished with him

Current events and the war in Iraq caused me to turn my attention once again to the Middle East.

Feeling the need for something a bit meaty, I plunged off into the ancient Ottoman Empire to rub shoulders with Lord Kitchener and Winston Churchill. We sailed around the Mediterranean with the other British royalty and surmised we would control the area for the next 2000 years. Little did they know they would lose it all in less than 20. It’s all here: “Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East”. Like I said, it’s “a bit meaty”.

John Miller explained to me in “Inside Iraq: The History, the People, and the Modern Conflicts of the World’s Least Understood Land” how the Iraqi people think and how much the average Iraqi loves their sweet tea, Turkish cigarettes and an evening debate on the Koran. It made sense. Without the violence, it might not be a bad existence.

My Dad always had a book in progress when I was a kid and he went to bed each night reading. My Mom made sure we had extra money for the book fair and the Weekly Reader specials. Without us realizing it, we were learning that reading books was the key to adventure and knowledge.

This Christmas, remember your loved ones and kiddos by giving them something that lasts; give them… books.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Greatest Gift

Every day at work, I wash down the bird droppings from the pigeons and dove that nest in my area. I’ve thought about ways to keep them out of the covered areas and really want to do it in a way that isn’t harmful to them. Their droppings are surely a health hazard and I get aggravated when each day, I drag out the water hose to flush it into the Plant sump.

Yesterday, I saw a pigeon all fluffed up, sitting on the ground and I instinctively knew it was sick. Instead of feeling justified, I felt nothing but pity. Under my breath I whispered a short prayer for its recovery. I guess I’m getting old, or mellow, or something. In my earlier days, I wouldn’t have given the poor bird much thought, as sad as that sounds.

Each day in the media and the online forums, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is tossed back and forth with a detachment that is as bad as my former aloofness concerning sick birds. We complain about the war and the way it’s being handled and all the while “our boys” are in the thick of it, facing another Christmas away from home.

We want it to go away, so we can resume our lives, shop for Christmas and attend a joyous New Years party. I truly wish it would go away and we could experience peace on earth and good will to all men.

The troops in Iraq and other war zones occasionally have access to the Internet and most of them have a MySpace account. Being the techno-geek guy that I am, I too have an account and I regularly read what my son and other soldiers write. What I’ve experienced in my own life as a G.I. overseas in wartime has brought depth to their casual remarks.

“Life isn’t supposed to be this bad when you’re still young”.

“I figure I’ve been through the worst of it and I’m ready to start living again”.

“This is the worst place on earth”…

Christmas is approaching and for many of us Christian people, it marks the greatest day of the year, both for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child Jesus, but also as a time of gathering together. We exchange gifts, eat a lot of fattening food, and generally indulge ourselves to the point we all go on diets beginning January one. As my daughter Melody loves to say: “Good times!” and it surely is.

As an Airman, I spent four Christmas’ away from home. One in Basic Training, another in freezing Malmstrom AFB, Montana and two at steamy Takhli RTAFB, Thailand. I lost something in those four years and those that are away serving our country will lose something also.

* “He went to fight wars, For his country and his king, Of his honor and his glory, The people would sing.

Ooooh, what a lucky man he was…”

The truth is just the opposite. Our boys and girls come back old men and women and some bear physical and mental scars they will carry for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the scars are not apparent and surface many years later. Sometimes the scars are too hard for loved ones to bear and a separation takes place while the Veteran sorts it all out.

My son will be returning to Fort Sill, Oklahoma on January 7th, if everything goes as planned and after 10 days of “reintegration”, he will be able to come home on leave. I looked this Army term up, as I found it peculiar and this is what I found: “The automatic energetic process, whereby the projected double is reintegrated with its physical/etheric body”. In plain old Texas talk, what this means is, these soldiers have to be eased back into society, a little bit at a time. It’s supposed to take 10 days.

The greatest gift I could possibly get this Christmas season is the boy is still alive inside the man. He left for Iraq, a Veteran of Korea and Kuwait, but after 66 combat missions and a Purple Heart medal, I do not know who this man might be when he comes back. God willing, my “boy” is still in there somewhere.

* "Lucky Man" Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hunting Texas style

Hunting, firearms, reloading, rifles and shotguns used to be a passion I enjoyed every hunting season. The nine months leading up to it was used to sharpen my skills. I voraciously devoured hunting journals, magazines and books by great hunters and firearm experts. Skeeter Skelton, Dan Wesson, Bill Jordon, Peter Capstick and Elmer Keith all taught me, through their hunting and firearms books.

My three brothers and I bought RCBS reloading equipment with its famous Rock-Chucker press and before long we were building rifle, revolver and pistol loads tuned to the firearms they were intended for. We built special life-sized antelope targets and took them to Turners range, where we punched precision holes in them at 200 yards.

I obsessively studied ballistics and could argue bullet drop compensation; the effect wind velocity has on a 150-grain boat-tail bullet at 300 yards. I could tell you in no uncertain terms why the .30-06 is THE rifle to buy, if you can only afford to buy one gun. If you wanted a big-bore single-action Ruger magnum revolver, but wondered if the .41 Mag Blackhawk was a better choice than the .44 Mag Super Blackhawk with 11 inch barrel, I would tell you the .41 Mag has more “felt” recoil, so if recoil was a problem, go with the bigger caliber.

I took the Texas Hunters Education course at Lee College taught by Jimmy Johnson and enjoyed it so much I became an instructor. I went to the Y-O Ranch and other great places around the state, learning hunting ethics, first-aid, survival, marksmanship, etc., etc. To sum it up, I was very much like 15 people you know and maybe…I am describing you.

I felt I could shoot well and on one particular “meat-hunt”, I harvested 3 spike deer at 140 yards, with two of them on the run…using my magnum-velocity hand-loaded .45-70 Marlin 1895 SS and 4X scope. This rifle’s recoil would ring your bell.

Where in the world am I going with all this blabbering and personal bragging obsessions, you ask? I’ll tell you and it is exactly the crux of this story and a confession.

I made a terrible blunder on a hunt in Hondo, Texas, that except by the grace of God should have left me paralyzed or dead.

The reason I talked about all my qualifications is to show no matter how much you prepare and how much knowledge you possess, it can all be voided by willfully ignoring hunting safety. I know. I was a hunter education instructor. At least that’s what the shoulder patch on my camo coveralls proclaimed.

My church brothers and I were on a giant lease. There was so much land per hunter that we split up to hunt sections, with the long dirt road back to the cabin, a no-shoot zone. I spent the morning in a ground blind and not seeing anything, I decided to mosey down the road towards camp, a distant mile away and have a cup of Joe. Joe is coffee. Strong black coffee is a staple in the Marshall family. Walking on the road was OK and agreed upon. So off I went, strolling and taking my time.

I was toting my loaded custom rifle, magnum revolver and daypack and generally enjoying myself, when I noticed a game trail snaking up the hill beside a barbed-wire fence. The temperature was about 40 degrees and it was sunny with no wind…perfect weather. I could plainly see deer tracks on the path and the scrub oaks and sagebrush began calling my name.

This is when I made my first mistake.

I left the road and eased up this trail thinking I shouldn’t do it. No one knew where I was at this time. I was breaking the rules, but my desire to hunt, trumped my judgment. I told myself I would only take a peek and then come back. I walked about 200 yards and right before me was a belly path under the fence where deer had been crossing. I could see deer hair on top of the wire and on the bottom. Stooping down, I searched the area with my eyes.

50 yards to my left was a tree stand and I instinctively knew it was the perfect ambush site. My trip off the road was so far in the back of my mind, that it “might’ent been there at all”. Using proper safety technique I pulled a rope from my pack and after unloading my rifle, I tied it all together. Taking one end of the rope in hand, I carefully climbed the 15 feet to the platform, cautiously squeezing under a limb and testing each step. The last thing I did before mounting the platform was duck under a 2X4, which was an intended shooting rest.

Once situated in the tree stand, I noticed the tree limbs had grown so low, I would have to lie flat on my stomach to see the fence and then be out of position to shoot. Oh well, there’s no free lunch today I thought. Maybe I could find a position on the ground that would put me in a better position.

My rifle and pack were still on the ground, so dropping the rope, I eased off the stand backwards, as is standard practice. Placing my feet on the rung, which later I calculated to be at least 10 feet up, I ducked under the 2X4 brace and steadied myself by grabbing the 2X4... Everything after this happened at light-speed.

The top half of this one, untested piece of timber snapped off and I began my backward descent better known as terminal velocity. Instantly I was flipped head down by the limb, I had ducked under. My final thought before impact was “Oh great! Now, I’m upside down too”. Now if you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past, you will remember my martial arts training. Besides Karate, I was fairly well versed in Jiu-Jitsu and Hapkido and the only benefit I realized, was the instinct to tuck my head.

I slammed into the ground with all the force gravity could muster and hopping to my feet, I yelled out “Praise God, I’m alive”! I then sat down.
My head was pounding and I was becoming drowsy. I knew this was a bad sign, so I figured to wait it out and sit down by the tree and gather my strength (and believe it or not, get in a little hunting). I sat at the tree fighting sleep and watched that fence crossing. I looked at my watch and it was 3-something, so through the fog I realized I had sat at the tree for about 3 hours.

Standing up and looking around, to my surprise I could see the camp house about a quarter of a mile away. I made a beeline towards it, head pounding, stumbling and wondering if there was aspirin available.

I arrived at the camp and when I entered; my buddy’s Dad was standing in the living room looking at me with a strange expression on his face. I asked him if there was “any aspirin, cause I have a headache”. He said “You better look in the mirror, because it looks like it’s worse than that”.

I did and to my total amazement. I had an egg-shaped bump on the side of my head and my face and clothes were almost black with dried blood. I had no idea.

After I got over the concussion and thought it all out, I determined to never again let my judgment be clouded by raw desire. My case was one of thousands and many hunters can tell you similar stories. I fortunately lived to learn from mine.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

America takes one on the chin

Back in December 1941, America was deep into isolationism. Hitler was rolling across Europe with ease, swallowing up whole countries with his lightning war offensive. It was Europe’s problem was the common consensus; why should we be bothered with it?

Japan had been building its war machine compliments of American steel exports (mainly our junk cars, which Americans found hilarious) since it invaded Manchuria in 1931, then China in 1937 and although analysts warned of Japan’s war intentions, Americans were in no mood for “fooling with them”. We saw ourselves as invincible and a self-sufficient “island”.

We took one on the chin, when Japan wiped-out the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor and forced America into the war.

At the Tehran Conference, Winston Churchill warned Franklin Roosevelt that placating Joseph Stalin would have repercussions impossible to correct. FDR chose to ignore that excellent advice and we entered into 40 years of contention with the Soviet Union, “The Cold War” and the nuclear build-up.

Once again, we took one on the chin for failing to act on the obvious.

With the immense technological development of the atomic bomb in our pockets, we were once again blind-sided in 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 into orbit. The negative military implications of an orbiting rocket brought the very real possibility that our WWII ally could drop “the big one” on us. The Space Race began and even though American Robert Goddard was the world’s leading expert on rocketry, “the scientific community, the public, and even The New York Times scoffed at him”.

CRACK! We took it right on the chin. Only our resiliency and entrepreneurial spirit saved us. The technology and jobs created from the Space Race launched us into the lead.

All signs point to the fact we are in a period where blind-folded America will take it on the chin again. We are a resilient bunch, but why must we always take a beating before we take measures to break the cycle?

The next threat we will face will come from with-in and it’s in the way we educate and graduate students.

We are graduating students with general education certificates and the second they exit the podium, they either go straight to college, or into the military. A few have jobs lined up, a couple go into a convent, but the majority wonder what in the world are they going to do next. Years ago, before this country became so prosperous; adults encouraged their children to learn a trade and took pride in this.

Today’s parents encourage their children to prepare for college, which in itself is not bad, and the curriculum of most high schools is aimed specifically at college entry. Back up 30 years and students entering high school were given an option of learning a trade or skill that could enable them to earn a living right out of school. This trade skill was also real handy for paying their own way through night classes, should they decide to do so.

Today’s parents would be embarrassed to admit their child was in a high school program to be a plumber or carpenter when asked at a social gathering. “What? They aren’t going to Texas A&M (where I’m sending mine)”? “You mean they are actually studying to use their hands and not their brains”? “My, my, my, my, my”! “Joe, did you hear? Ol’ stupid ain’t sending their kid to university, or even, dare I say, Lee College”!

Folks can’t seem to connect the loss of jobs going overseas, kicking out the migrant workers, and the general malaise of our youth, to the fact that graduates have nothing going for them when they exit high school. They are stay at home kids, looking for an entry level $30 an hour job (with bonus’ and lots of benefits) that will support the lifestyle their well-meaning parents have built for them.

In an article in USA Today dated 12/5/06 titled “U.S. Manufacturers getting desperate for skilled workers” the author details this epidemic. Businesses are sending work overseas not because of cheap labor, but because they cannot fill the ranks here. They are paying for untrained Americans schooling and increasing pay rates. Businesses are turning down contracts or outsourcing to meet demand.

On a local level and on a for instance basis, Austin Industries is paying the fees of night classes to train workers in job skills, something that hasn’t been seen in 30 years.

We are in a period I call a “jobber’s market”. There are so many jobs, folks are “dragging up” and hiring in with ease. Chemical Plants are losing Engineers and Operators at an astounding rate as they seek better benefits and higher pay. The last time I remember this being the case was the mid-70’s. A craftsman could quit a job at noon and be hired back on before the work day was over.

It’s difficult for a business to even find a craftsman these days, which is less than 40 years of age. My hat is off to all who are under 40 and actually working as craftsmen.

We need an immediate overhaul of our school system which gives strong focus on teaching vocational/technological skills, allowing graduates the opportunity to exit high school with a trade and prepared for college.

Baytown could lead the effort in Texas.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Failing to launch

I’m told there is a movie about a 30-something year old son, failing to leave the nest. He not only doesn’t “launch”, but also according to my slim research, doesn’t plan to. The parents have to take subversive and subliminal action to make the almost middle-aged man…get out and join adulthood.

This is probably a hilariously funny movie and I would most likely enjoy watching it, if it were not for a sneaky suspicion that it is a sad American reality. Kids aren’t leaving when they turn eighteen, or nineteen, or even twenty. Why should they? Mom and Pop give them plenty of spending money, set them up in a new car with all the do-dads, and pay their monthly credit card bills.

Every kid out there is toting a mobile communication device with features Captain Kirk wished he had (thanks Dad!). As their late model cars and trucks zip around town, heavy pounding bass rumbles out (thanks Mom!). New X-Box or PS3 just hitting the market? Don’t worry kiddos (18 to 30 age bracket), there’ll be one under the tree and if Santa can swing it, one of each…with games (thanks Grand-parents!). MP3 players, wireless Blue-Tooth gadgets, and Laptops keep Mom and Pop working till the cows come home. Our kiddos deserve it!

We claim we don’t want them to suffer or be without the things we didn’t have. The actual truth is harder to swallow and involves denial, suffering and a good dose of parenting. As parents, we should deny them things, as this motivates them to work and earn the things they want. As parents, we should let them “suffer” without every gadget that comes along, as this build character.

Years ago, a barber at the Trophy Barber shop told me “A kid will never grow up until they have to pay rent”. I did not have the foggiest idea how true that was when I heard it. I thought kids naturally left home after high school to pursue their own interests and be “free” of their parent’s rules. Off they went to college, the military, or moved in with a friend. Because young moral adults wanted “stuff”, they learned to work for it. They started acquiring furniture piece by piece and as time passed they began to change out old stuff, for newer, all the while experiencing the normal maturity process, replete with patience and denial.

I’ve often wondered what the next vehicle evolutionary step is for a 16 year old, when their first car is, say, a $26,000 Toyota Camry. Do they go to a Denali, or a Hummer H2? Oh, the shame of downgrading! Imagine their embarrassment and suffering if they had to drive the old Datsun, instead of that Maxima! We as well-meaning parents will not allow their self-esteem to be bruised by such deprivation, so we willingly give them what they rightfully, should earn.

They repay this generosity by staying at home; nursing off their parents for everything, without realizing their natural development process has been retarded. They have no need to leave the nest because everything they have ever wanted or desired has been handed to them. We, as parents are failing our children by not pushing them from the nest and the worst part of it is we don’t even realize it.

Throw into the mix; the parent(s) who are rediscovering their own youth and the “failure to launch” cycle starts anew. The parent becomes the child’s “buddy” who then also needs an MP3 player, a maxed-out motorcycle, breast augmentation and super-beefy stereo components in their own car and now we have kids being raised by adults acting like the spoiled kids they couldn’t be when they were teens.

Our school systems punch out carbon-copy graduates with no work related skills. We are so busy making as much money as possible so we can keep them “supplied”, that we forget the part where parents teach their kids a work ethic. Our high school graduate stands one foot from the podium and suddenly realizes the safest place in the world…is right at home and home is where many of them stay. We accommodate, care for, and placate them as we dream about their future.

The bottom line in all of this is simple. We are not preparing our children for adulthood by providing them with everything. To leave would be a giant step down and an 18 year old just isn’t going to give that up to start over.

A News commentator made an observation about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears cavorting all over town in less than acceptable social attire. They said “With these two celebrities acting like this in public, who can our children look up to for role-models”? The answer is simple.

It’s parents, parenting and that means preparing our kiddos to safely “launch”, not draining our bank accounts to keep them at home.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Casting Bread

I received an email from a lady who didn't understand why she hasn't received a reply for the numerous packages she's sent to G.I.'s overseas. As far as I know, she is not referring to anyone in particular and she was questioning me, because she knows I am strong on Veterans issues and follow the war in Iraq closely.

This is what I told her and if anyone reading this has wondered the same thing, maybe this will help you understand the unique predicament of our troops in combat areas. Please keep in mind that the war on terrorism is completely different than WW2, or even Vietnam. In this war, there are few boundaries and all military members are potentially a prime target for violence.

Concerning the soldier’s apparent apathy and non-existent replies, I offer this:

One day, while talking to my son on the phone, I explained how important it was to reply and thank people who took their precious time and money to send an email, letter or package. His response surprised and educated me, when he became very passionate and upset.

He told me they were “fighting a war, in danger constantly and under terrific stress for days on end”. He said “if folks just have to have a response after they send something, then don't send anything at all”. He said it wasn't a game over there. One soldier put it this way “We are in the worst place on Earth”.

He said of course, he’s thankful. He just couldn't keep up with replying. Not when they were constantly on the move. Their life was so overwhelmed that many times, it would be days after receiving a package before they had access to the Internet and then it was in the foggy past.

It’s important to note that if a Soldier/Marine/Sailor/Airman is wounded or killed within 25 miles of their area; all Internet communication is shut down, until the military can contact next of kin. As anyone can plainly see by watching the news, this happens quite often.

The Bible says: “Cast your bread upon the waters, and you shall find it after many days”.

When we support our folks overseas, this is the way we should do it and if by chance, a thank you comes floating back right away, we should consider it a blessing. A kind word, a short encouragement, or even an old fashioned “snail-mail” can do wonders to boost the morale of a G.I. far from home.

I spent 654 days in central Thailand during the Vietnam War, working 12 to 16 hours a day in the sweltering heat and monsoon rains. Every day was like living a National Geographic Special, with smells, views, language, people, insects and reptiles so foreign, it didn’t matter which way you turned a camera, you had a memorable picture. As often as I could, I would go to the Base Post Office and check for a letter. If by chance I had one, here is what I (and everyone else I knew) would do.

Immediately, I would feel a sense of rescue and excitement. People who have never been cut-off from all you know as normal and placed in a foreign country, think they would rip open the letter and read it right then. This is almost never the case. What actually happens, is you leave with the letter secured in a pocket, or maybe clenched in your hand. The letter can only be read when everything is just right. It’s that special. It’s extremely important everything is “just right” before you read the letter.

I would usually go back to my hootch, take a shower, get a cold brewski from the machine (which in peacetime would be Cokes), adjust my rotating fan so it was blowing the heat of the tropics off me…and then, and only then, carefully open the envelope. It didn’t matter whom the letter was from, I would read it, then re-read it and then I would read it again. Before the day was over, I would read it a couple more times. If time permitted, I would immediately write a reply. I had the luxury of sleeping in the same place every night. One of my younger brothers told me he still has my old letters.

I guess what I am telling this well meaning lady is, don’t think for one second, that your letter or package is taken lightly on the other end of its journey. The recipient might someday be an old, fat, balding guy fondly remembering the “bread upon the waters” that got them through the hard times and the guardian angel that cast them.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Not all DJ’s are created equal

On my way to work this morning, I surfed the FM radio stations, trying to decide if I wanted Talk-Radio for a heady blast of political commentary, or music. I usually find my way over to Donna MacHouston’s smooth Jazz station, KHJZ 95.7 and if Donna McKenzie is at the microphone, I know I can find just the right mix of smooth, relaxing Jazz music and soft dialogue. To be fair, KHJZ is replete with good DJ’s.

Let’s back up a bit. I grew up literally hating AM radio and so many disc jockey’s on air today reflect the AM DJ mentality. They call themselves “On-Air Personalities” as if the average lone commuter is starved for company. “Hey, BB! Mind if I ride along with you and blab senseless nothings while you wait for me to play actual music”? I know I could put in a CD or get Satellite radio, but please bear with me, while I plead my case.

If the song starts or ends and the DJ is talking, I brand them as an AM DJ.

Maybe I am being too hard on today’s DJ’s, as many did not experience AM radio and the industry standard of playing five 3-minute songs per hour. The rest of the hour was an equal split of commercials and jabber-blabber-clabber by the DJ, who sat like a potentate on the throne of power, dishing out meager music portions. Radio music for young people was dominated by whoever paid the radio station the most money, so in the 4-6 songs you heard the same one might come up twice. I hated it, but that is all there was, so I persevered.

Unless it is a drive-time radio program, a DJ should never forget that radio listeners are listening almost exclusively for music and any time a DJ is talking, it better be worth it. Donna Mac first caught my attention on Classic Rock 93.7, because her silky voice pours out of the speakers. She works it. That scores big points with me, as she is so pleasant to listen to. However, I, like all audiophiles, want the “Jams”; we want what we came for --- a lot of music. She dishes it up too.

Classic Rock 93.7 had a number of “good” DJ’s, but what really made Donna Mac shine was when she talked, she actually had something to say. She was always giving out choice tidbits of rock trivia and short bios about the Bands and music industry, which kept me listening. Short, sweet, to the point and then BAM, more music.

If the DJ talks too much, I brand them as an AM DJ.

My first foray away from AM radio came in 1969. Using my after school job money, I bought a small cassette player. I bought two cassettes, The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” and Glen Campbell’s “Galveston”. Led Zeppelin hadn’t begun its journey into the depth of my soul yet and Glen made Galveston sound like heaven on earth. Then came FM radio!

My first recollection of FM radio came one year later. K101 in Houston, Texas, which later became KLOL, blasted on the music scene and I was hooked! K101 played underground music, the likes of which, I had never heard. We listened to “Crash” Collins, the DJ who hardly talked, scratched vinyl (real bad), and generally sounded like he was barely able to keep going. He was the first real FM DJ I remember hearing. Crash would finish a record and sometimes it would be cold silent for 30 seconds, then you would actually hear him remove the record, sometimes scratching it severely (maybe it was a sound effect) and then you would hear “K-101, Crash, on the radio” and the next cool album cut would begin (sometimes with a skip). It was truly awesome radio.

If the DJ believes they are more important than the music, I brand them as an AM DJ.

When “Crash” was resurrected years later on KLOL, he was an “On-Air Personality, AM-style DJ, like “Outlaw Dave”, “Stevens and Pruett” and 93.7’s “Dean and Rog”. I know these folks have/had a terrific following, but to me, they’ve lost the essence of FM radio by switching to this format. Donna Mac hasn’t and that is why she is the focus of this article, that and the fact that she has “The Voice”. Whether she spins Rock & Roll or Jazz, she stays true to vintage FM radio.
Someone recently asked me what was so good about this area and asked me if I could name one thing.

Well, here is just one of the many good things I enjoy about “this area”…a REAL FM Disc Jockey. I hope she never leaves us.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My American flag

Call me a dumb redneck, but I love the flag of the United States of America. I own a good-sized flag and I like to fly it on patriotic holidays and whenever I want to show support for our country. Sometimes, I fly it when one of our soldiers is captured, or dies. Sometimes I fly it just because I want to. It means a lot to me.

“I Pledge Allegiance to the flag”

A couple of years ago my wife and I drove to Washington DC, so we could see “The Star Spangled Banner” in all it’s antiquity and glory. While we were there, we took in all the monuments also; the Lincoln Memorial being the most magnificent.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why any citizen of this country would want to deface our flag. I don’t even want to debate it and I love a good solid educational argument. Someone may say it is a symbolic gesture of protest when they put a match to the edge of “Old Glory” and I can see that. Someone may argue it is really just a piece of cloth that over the history of our country has changed many times and I can see that also.

”of the United States of America”

What I can’t see is why they would entertain that avenue of protest or artistic expression, when there are so many other ways to get a point across. Our enemies burn and deface our flag. Watch a demonstration in a foreign country and sure enough, out will come an American flag and the next thing you know, someone is lighting it off. Never mind that the good old US of A has nothing to do with what they are mad about. Something in me both cringes and angers when I see the symbol of our freedom go up in smoke at the hand of a person who has no idea what this country is.

Recently in Clarksville, Tennessee, home of the U.S. Army’s Fort Campbell, an art student of Austin Peay State University by the name of William Gentry exhibited, of all things, a deep-fried American flag, complete with peanut oil and black pepper. His inspiration for the piece was the result of his deep concern for the wave of obesity in America. This didn’t bode well in Clarksville, as most of the citizens there have loved ones who defend that piece of material in the very countries where it is burned.

“and to the Republic for which it stands,”

The exhibit featured three U.S. flags imprinted with phrases such as "Poor people are obese because they eat poorly" and more than 40 smaller flags fried in peanut oil, egg batter, flour and black pepper.

When the Museum Director took it down, just 18 hours after it appeared, Mr. Gentry was quoted as saying "I hope they are upset, but I hope they don't miss the point".

Now it’s time to show my indignation to Mr. Gentry, or what I like to call plain old common sense. I missed the point, because I could not see past the oily American flag.

I’d like to have a word in the back room with Mr. Gentry and as Louis L'Amour was fond of saying
“read to him from the Book”. Our freedoms and liberties allow us to do some things that common sense and propriety should forbid. I want to repeat that, because in this day and age of putting political correctness ahead of everything else, we forget what American liberty really means.

”one Nation under God, indivisible,”

“Our freedoms and liberties allow us to do some things that common sense and propriety should forbid”.

Many, many American servicemen and women have died or been beaten for that red, white and blue, star-sewn symbol of our liberty and freedoms and it is the ultimate insult to cheapen it, regardless of how artistic or outraged a person is. Abusing our flag as an expression of free speech just seems wrong to me.

”with liberty and justice for all.”

Freedom of speech is often cited when someone in our country wants to destroy or deface our flag and I can’t and won’t argue the legal issues involved. What I will argue and defend is what this great country stands for and our share of the reward, blame and responsibility as citizens. We should never forget the blood sacrifice our flag represents and if we can do that, we will never entertain the idea of turning it into a peanut-soaked exhibit or set it on fire in protest.

I grew up in this country, starting every school morning, by putting my right hand over my heart and pledging allegiance to this symbolic piece of cloth and in my heart, I still believe the message in the pledge.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Holiday 2006

Well, here we are, another holiday and for some, a 4 day weekend, compliments of our obsession with stacking days off when a holiday falls on a Thursday, or a Tuesday. The true meanings of our traditional holidays are falling one by one, to the delight of those who capitalize on our desire to purchase more earthly goods. Black Friday here we come!

With new “special recognition” days being pushed on us all the time, we need to stop a minute and think about what days like Memorial Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day and Independence Day meant to our forefathers and why they set them aside as special. “Talk like a pirate day” can wait.

Many of us present day Americans think sacrifice is skipping an ice cream late-night snack, or not getting a new automobile every three years. We are the most self-rewarding generation in the short history of this country. We want our “goodies” now and danged if we will wait. We truthfully have never really lacked for anything essential and the closest thing to starvation we know, is watching a National Geographic special on Somalia, or someplace we don’t care anything about.

We attempt to supersize/turboboost every holiday pleasure into a modern version of entertainment, three or four day weekends and power spending, because our excess in most every area has deadened our sensitivities. We crave more - give it to me, we cry out! Going to the local park and swinging on a swing set has been replaced by getting in a slingshot ride in Galveston, which catapults a pair of pleasure-seeking people at mach five. Christmas has become for many, a time to buy extravagant items that take months to pay for. Thanksgiving is binging and gorging --- and then binging again. Holidays are viewed as excuses to take time off from work and their intended purpose is long forgotten in excessive eating and revelry.

I am as guilty as the next person and all this brings me to a real life experience, that years later came home completely different, from when it happened.

In my arrogant youth, maybe 1973, I was walking through a tropical hamlet in central Thailand with a fellow Airman. We stopped at a street vendor and I purchased “Thai BBQ chicken”. The Thai’s have a peculiar way when it comes to cooking chicken on a brazier pit. They take a whole cleaned and de-feathered chicken and chop it up with a meat cleaver, bones and all, with seemingly no understanding of the anatomy and bone structure of the bird. So what I bought, resembled a cooked piece of strange-looking spicy meat with splintered bones sticking out in every direction and held together with two bamboo sticks and twine, all wrapped in green plastic film and newspaper.

I was accustomed to this after a year “in-Country”, as we G.I.’s called it, paid my five baht (25 cents) and started down the dirt path beside the highway. Suddenly, 8 to 10 filthy rag-covered children, ranging from 6 to 10 years old and every one of them wanting my chicken, accosted me. I was surrounded and overwhelmed! While half of the pint-sized thieves or “ca-moys” grabbed at the chicken, the other 50% attempted to relieve me of my wallet, watch, pocket change, lighter, smokes and worst of all, my dignity.

All this in broad daylight, beside the only blacktopped road in the hamlet.

My Air Force buddy, who hadn’t purchased food, was taken in surprise as much as I jumped back and I did my dead level best to keep all of my belongings, which basically was impossible. After a noble struggle on my part, which lasted all of 10 seconds, I tossed the hacked barbequed yard bird into the air and watched the street urchins dive on it head first. First come, first serve, evidentially. Looking around, I saw many Thai’s watching the whole episode and realized they empathized with the orphan band of brothers.

I was angry and felt violated and made a big show of yelling and gesturing and I’m ashamed to admit it, I cursed and swore at the little “street-rats”. I wanted to strike out and defend my mystery-meat snack, even if it wouldn’t have passed inspection by the most calloused diner here in the States. But they were little kids you say and this was a consideration, that and the fact that I had about 25 witnesses.

I eventually got over it, but kept the same view of the incident for many years, not understanding until much later, the kids were famished and had no resources to draw from. I had plenty and they knew it. To them, it was survival. To me, it was an inconvenience. If I remember correctly, I stopped a few minutes later and bought more “Thai Chicken”.

This year, I intend to take time to truly look at my wonderful family and friends as we gather and give thanks to God, for the inexhaustible Horn of Plenty we enjoy. We are a tremendously blessed Country and it’s time we recognized we are enjoying the benefit of years and years of past toil and sacrifice that has brought us to this place in 2006. I pray we do not become so caught up in self-indulgence that we forget our forefather’s intentions and begin to believe “all this” has come about by our own hands, as that is the time we will surely lose it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Longhaired Hippies

I remember the first time I saw real hippies. If I remember correctly, the year was 1968 and the band calling itself “Canned Heat” was on an afternoon music program. They were playing a song that was hitting the AM radio stations called "On the road again". This particular song was nothing like the later version Willie made famous. Canned Heat’s version was untamed and hypnotic, as was their appearance. They had long straggly hair. I mean real long and they dressed funny. It was disgusting and invariably “cool”.

*”Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It's gettin kinda long
I could have said it was in my way”

It’s commonly reminisced that longhaired hippie types were common in 1968 and maybe they were in some small parts of the country, but mainstream America viewed the Beatles cutesy hair over the top of the ears, as real hippie fodder --- and it wasn’t. Long hair on young men didn’t really catch on across the country until the 70’s. I know, because I lived it and remember it as well as younger people can tell you the day they heard Tupac Shakur had died.

Back in 1964 when Ed Sullivan brought John, Paul, George and Ringo into our homes and Beatlemania swept almost every young person in this country off their feet, I imagine Barbers in every town let out a groan. The Beatles had hair hanging on their foreheads and their ears were plainly visible, but to hear people talk, they had hair “down to there”. It was just the beginning.

“But I didn't and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
Cause I feel like I owe it to someone”

Almost every parent hated the Beatle haircut and since I wanted to be cool and hip, like the Beatles (and everyone else), I quit wearing the “Flattop” haircut with that sweet-smelling pink “Butch Wax” pomade. More than once I walked out of the barber shop only to get turned around by my Dad, so I could get more hair cut off. He was determined I would get a “regular” and I was determined to have “bangs”, but the thought of wearing a ponytail never entered my mind…at least not for a few more years.

Long hair on men and the hippie persona was a strong attractant to most young rebels back then, but not in the Houston, Texas arena. Here, folks were comfortable in traditional western clothes and proud of their redneck ways, as the Marshall Tucker Band would later say and the very appearance of longhaired hippie boys, absolutely meant something unpatriotic and worthy of a good “licking”. Wearing that long hair cost a number of young men a few bruises.

“But I'm not giving in an inch to fear
Cause I promised myself this year
I feel like I owe it to someone”

By the mid 70’s I fit in quite nicely with the longhaired cowboy rednecks that unwittingly had adopted the hippie look (with cowboy boots, of course), thanks to Willie, Waylon and the boys. No longer did I have to fear getting a good beating because of my ponytail, but I, like most longhairs, instead had a good chance of getting a Gilley’s sticker on my truck bumper.

The country was exiting the Vietnam years and there was a lot of wild living going on. It was a time of optimism, debauchery and religious revival. Hippies were no longer called hippies, but “Freaks” instead because of the drug culture, and Willie and Waylon were doing their share to knock down that bridge also.

Hippie/Freak/Cowboys. Who would have believed it ten years before?

“When I finally get myself together
I'm going to get down in that sunny southern weather
And I find a place inside a laugh
Separate the wheat from the chaff
I feel like I owe it to someone”

In 1975, I found the Lord and inevitably gave up my heathen ways and my ponytail, freak-flags, and all the trappings that went with it. Long hair on men was already doomed anyway, as Lou Reed had launched the album “Rock and Roll Animal” in 1974 and on the cover; Lou had an almost shaved head. Punk Rock had arrived. It took 10 years for people to catch up with old Lou and even though I never shaved my head, I never grew that ponytail again.

*ALMOST CUT MY HAIR - David Crosby

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The truth is stranger than fiction

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and I would like to share some personal experiences, some good, some, well, read on.

I saw a dog with a broken back walking around on its front legs, like a human. It would even stand still while it waited to cross the road.

Back in 1975, while working for Brown and Root at the Mobay Plant construction site, I witnessed 3 millwrights inflating a cherry picker tire when it suddenly popped. 15 seconds later, an orange hardhat came floating down and landed on the ground. It had been blown about 100 feet straight up.

I watched a man plow his pick-up truck into the side of a Volkswagen Beetle on a construction site parking lot, because the other fellow hadn’t followed the normal protocol of every other car.

I witnessed a little boy sitting in the crook of a tree holding a monkey. The monkey jumped out of the boy’s hands onto a passing cat and before the cat could react, jumped back into the boys lap holding the cat. I even took a picture of it. I had a wild monkey attempt to wrestle my expensive SLR camera from my hands in Thailand (I won). I saw a monkey remove a wrist watch and retreat before the man could react and it was ten feet away when it began its move.

My brother and I watched a guy throw a longneck beer bottle over the top of his car and it smashed against the south entrance of the Baytown-La Porte Tunnel. It was so unexpected and bizarre all we could do was laugh.

An orange-robed Buddhist Monk in Thailand offered me a drink of water from a cistern, when I was out hiking. I was severely parched. He pointed into the large clay vessel and looking into it, I saw a snake swimming around. He dipped out about a liter and taking a small brass container from his pocket, “thumped a dab” of pink powder into the water and shook his head up and down, signally it was okay to drink. I raised my eyebrows (as we could not converse in each others language) and he nodded. I drank it down and thanked him.

I saw a snake the size of a full-grown boa constrictor in a creek in northern Georgia 35 years ago while hunting snakes. I nailed it with .22 bullets twice before it slipped off the fallen tree into the water...and then I ran like a Carl Lewis.

I didn't see this, but Baytonians Catfish Jack and Lovey Randolph, both long gone, swore they once had a friend who owned a pet javelina. The little stinker went everywhere with the man and get smoked cigarettes! The fellow would pull two smokes out of his pocket and light them, then put one in the javelina's mouth. They both swore the animal inhaled the smoke too.

Years ago a buddy and I drag-raced our beat-up pick-up trucks out in the country. We went about 115 mph before we shut them down. This area is just north of Lowe's and Home Depot…Garth Road.

My brother and I rode to work one day with an older fellow named Frank Briethaup, who owned a mint 1957 Chevy wagon (no, not a Nomad). It was just like it was sold, except there was a lot of refuse on the floor. We were headed towards Baytown on old 2-lane Hwy 225 when we came up on Miller-Cutoff Road, red light as usual, with about 10 stopped cars in each lane. Frank mumbled something about hating that *&^% light and onto the right shoulder, we blew through that light like we had a flux capacitor in our 'DeLoreon'. My brother and I were flabbergasted and we all broke out in a fit of laughter. We never rode with old Frank after that and he is long gone. God bless him.

I had a new .22 rifle and it was loaded. Dogs were killing my chickens and I had already lost close to 20. A friend came over whom I hadn't seen in a long time and he wanted to look at the rifle. I told him it was loaded and we stepped out on the porch. Directly, he shouldered it and fired before I could stop him. To my total surprise 2 birds fell out of the tree and he said "Well, lookie at that"! I snatched the rifle from him and still to this day do not know how he did that or why.

When I was about 16, I was riding in a friend’s car when we hit a section of 'black ice' just as we went into a corner. We spun round and round, then off the road, around a large tree and then back onto the road past the curve going backwards before we stopped. It was so wild we did it two more times.

I had a friend who had a giant old Buick car. One evening a load of us guys were driving out of the Washburn tunnel and ran right over a queen sized mattress, which immediately hung up under the car. My friend decided to do what all red-blooded American guys do and that was to put the accelerator to the floor. I think we lost the mattress somewhere around 80mph.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bring back the Commies!

I miss the good old days when a person could hate a Communist and everyone felt like it was good for the country. These days we’re stuck with hating terrorists and it’s just not the same. Man! Bring back the Commies! They were easy to prepare for. All you needed was a bomb shelter, a good supply of K-rations and daily nuclear fall-out drills and you were good to go.

I miss the good old days of escorting a guidance control canister for a Minuteman missile into the vault at Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls Montana. Yes sir! Security Police stood around me with locked and loaded M-16s while I punched in my part of the code. As soon as I finished the Officer of the Day entered his code, then the Policeman and finally the Maintenance officer. We knew we were under the Commie Threat and we took this business serious. It was great and it was satisfying.

The Commies were easy to hate. They were sneaky and had secret agents who worked for the KGB and the Politburo. They were taking over the world and Americans didn't like it. They had the bomb. We had the bomb. We had more bombs. We had dropped the big one more than once and by jiminy, we would do it again. The Commies were bad, real bad. They were going to take over the world and outer space!

General Jack D. Ripper put it best in the excellent Commie-scare movie, Doctor Strangelove and I had his words printed on an extra large coffee cup, just so I can get the old Commie-fear fix working again, it was so satisfying:

"I can no longer sit back and allow communist infiltration, communist indoctrination, communist subversion and the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all our precious bodily fluids".

He really brings the feeling home!

The Commies wore uniforms with red stars and they lived on the other side of a border somewhere. Sometimes they wore black pajamas and a straw hat, but you could tell who they were by their AK-47s. They lived where it was either real cold with snow or a steamy jungle. If we wanted to find a Commie, we knew where to look. When I watch footage of Iraq or Afghanistan, I cant figure out who is an insurgent and who isn't and it looks like a no-mans land; all rocks and sand and can someone please explain why folks lived there before oil was discovered?

I want to look in the back of a Mechanics Illustrated magazine and mail order a set of plans to build my own fall-out shelter, like god-fearing, Commie-hating Americans did in the 50s. Gee whiz, with today’s modern conveniences I could go down there, when my wife was mad at me, and just play Solitaire for hours while I waited for the big one. If I got hungry, I'd just toss a Hot Pocket in the microwave and drink a couple of diet root beers. Why, I could wait for weeks if need be.

I'd probably dial up the White House and let them know I was ready, in case they needed to recall me, even though I don't know if they need a 54 year old, Supply Sarge, who is, ahem, slightly rotund. Of course, I would do some push-ups and stuff to get in shape, in between the Twinkies and Oreos. I could maybe get some reloading gear and make me up some special "Commie loads" while I'm in my bunker and I'd share them with our boys, if they need em. I would be doing my part to stop the flow of Commie doctrine, just like the old days and I gotta tell you, it would be a good feeling.

A far better feeling than the one we have today. Our current enemy, radical Islam, has us sitting around waiting for something to happen and for some reason hates America, Israel, Canada, England, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America and heck-fire, I guess even France.

Yes fellow Americans, I need to find a Commie, so I can feel secure again.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Up in smoke?

I think everyone agrees inhaling smoke of any kind is bad and detrimental to ones health, but should it be regulated and penalized into a criminal act? I say no. Smokers know they are under attack and old habits are hard to break. Most smokers would quit on a dime if they could, with success.

We Americans (and I say we) want everything and we want it right now. It’s almost a curse. Stemming the tide of new tobacco users and helping long-term smokers quit is going to be a war of attrition and that war is going to be won by education and programs that help smokers quit, but only when they are ready.

I have to say, in this entire anti-smoking furor what really irks a smoker and should irk most ex-smokers is the self-righteous indignation non-smokers exhibit toward the smoking problem and it IS a problem that all smokers already recognize without constant reminder. Smoking is not illegal, but smokers are becoming labeled as social criminals and most smokers fear eventually, they will not be allowed to smoke in their own homes.

Let’s back up a bit and look at some history.

Tobacco usage is nothing like it was 40 years ago, but in today’s arguments, nobody seems to acknowledge that fact. Smoking is deeply ingrained in American culture and it’s just been in the last 40 years that the government has made inroads into educating people about its dangerous side effects.

When I was a teen in Georgia, I got my first job sacking groceries. What is now recognized as the gum and candy bar display, was then, filled with snuff, plug tobacco and chewing tobacco. Another equally large display was for cigarette tobacco, rolling-papers and many different cigars, pipe tobacco, and various paraphernalia for consuming tobacco. Behind the counter were cartons and individual packs of cigarettes.

95% of the store customers bought some sort of tobacco product and many times a kid came into the store with a note and took home a plug of “ta-backer for Paw” or “some smokes for Granny” and it was just the way it was back then. Everyone smoked, it seemed, and Americans were daily subjected to smoking commercials and movie stars with “cigs” hanging out of their mouths. They weren’t even the bad guys, unless it was a German officer holding his cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, or a Japanese officer with his cigarette holder and of course all cowboys with black hats smoked.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond character smoked seven packs a day. J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters smoked pipes. Smoking was a normal adult pastime.

I discovered an intense fascination with smoking earlier than most and began my tobacco romance with one of my Mom’s Kent-brand cigarettes, with the now infamous “Micronite filter”. The “Micronite filter” was marketed to cool down the hot smoke and make the smoking experience just that much better. Later when it was discovered that asbestos was harmful when inhaled, the “Micronite filter” was replaced (with something that was marketed as an improvement).

By the time I was eleven, I always had a pack of cigarettes on my person and in 1965 at the ripe age of 13 (and a committed smoking veteran of 6 years) I saw my first anti-smoking commercial. It was of a man sitting against a tree smoking, with his small son next to him. The man laid the cigarette pack down and the small boy looked at it. A voice and text pronounced “Like father, like son”. My Dad and Mom smoked, as did all adults, it seemed, and this was my first inkling that smoking was not something that adults did because they were adult, but rather...a vice.

All through school I was punished and grounded for smoking, but never quit. I particularly enjoyed “Viceroy’ cigarettes for some reason. I was told smoking was bad for me. Nothing deterred me though and my Dad told me the day I graduated from high school, I could walk through the door with a carton under each arm and pack in my pocket…and I did, except I couldn’t afford the cartons.

Within 3 years of smoking to my hearts content, I quit cold turkey. I was overseas in Thailand and G.I. cigarettes weren’t taxed, so I could buy them for 23 cents per pack and I quit anyway.

What caused me to start in the first place was I wanted to be an adult or a “grown-up” as we called them in the day. I wanted to be like everyone else and everyone else smoked. That’s the same reason I learned to cuss, swear, curse, use profanity, whatever you want to call it and in later years I eliminated that bad habit also. I found out that being adult was actually about responsibility and it was up to me to fulfill it in my own life, regardless of what other “adults” were doing.

The reason I quit is, I already hated cigarette smoking and wanted to quit. The day I took my first Karate lesson was the day I quit. I couldn’t breath. Smoking had already taken its toll and I was suffocating. I decided right then, that if there is a choice I can make between smoking or Karate and health, I was going to lay the cigarettes down and I did and never looked back.

Non-smokers need to reevaluate their stance on smoking and smokers and realize their problem with smoking is shared by those with the addiction. Our old enemy, time, can be our friend if we just let it do its effectual work.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Let's join the crowd!

Years ago, back in my formative years, I wanted a pair of hopsack pants. I wanted them real bad. They were becoming very popular and I whined that “all the kids were wearing them”, which as any parent knows, is fodder for objection, resistance and parental instruction. My Dad was (and still is) an expert at bringing fuzzy thoughts into focus. He was fond of explaining to me at times like this that “if everyone was eating mud sandwiches, would you want to eat one too?”

His actual version is a tad graphic for my more sensitive readers, but the point is, he had a way with words that always left me thinking and of course, I didn’t let on at the time, but I was ‘getting it”, albeit slowly.

I went on to get a pair of burnt brown hopsack pants anyway and I was so proud of them. I just knew my Dad didn’t have it right this time.

One memorable day, my really hip and cool-looking britches openly betrayed me and although I was horrified at the time, it is quite funny now. Hopsack is this rough material that is woven and can be made from a variety of materials. This pair decided, evidentially on its own, to separate in the seam between the back pockets and gave my fellow students a generous view of my Fruit of the Loom’s.

I remember thinking it felt rather breezy that day as I sauntered down the hallway heading for another class. I was cool and hip as usual when I was in my burnt brown hopsack britches and paisley shirt and I just knew I was viewed as such, when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said those most grievous words “Your pants are split out in the back, Bub”…

Reaching around at a speed that was something akin to Mach one, to my absolute horror, I found the great divide. Yikes and double yikes! With my face a crimson red, I headed directly to the boys bathroom.

Across the hall from the restroom was Home Economics class and my 911 plan was to have someone take my britches over there and have them sewn up, while I waited in the privacy of the bathroom. It was a good plan and the first student who came in that I trusted, was handed the offending pants and off he went, me peeking out the door in my “under draws”.

“Oh, why didn’t I wear my Levi’s to school?” I groaned, as only a youth can, when they think they are experiencing a real emergency. The bathroom door opened time and time again as high school boys came in and each one looked at me like I was a freak pervert until I hurriedly explained my situation. It was traumatic. It was awful. I was embarrassed beyond words and what made it even worse, was the girls across the hallway were laughing and carrying on and I just knew it was me and my britches that provided the entertainment.

Well, I finally got my pants back after a half hour of agonizing and donning them, scurried off like a defeated warrior-child. The hopsack pants weren’t “all that” after that experience and looking back to this one incident many times in my life, I always use them to judge whether I will go along with the crowd, or go my separate way. It sounds trivial, but true; it became for me, a life lesson. Dad was right again!

Over the years, my military buddies all went and got tattooed. I didn’t and tattooing back then, was only for Sailors, motorcycle riders, rebels and pirates and a sign that you were a bonafide hard case, but I still wouldn’t get one. I went my own way. Today’s youth all seemingly want to be tattooed and pierced and when my two teens professed an interest, I told them a version of what my Dad told me back when I was a teen. I also posed them this question:

“If everyone is doing something to stand out and be different and you don’t follow suit, who is actually the trend-setting person?” Adam Sandler is a perfect example of what I am writing about. He has no adornments at all and his peers practically invented the adornment industry. He proves my point. Less is more.

My Dad taught my sister, brothers and I to be our own person, even if it goes against the crowd and that’s the greatest gift he could have given us. The crowd is not always correct, even though they appear to be in the majority. If everyone wears lots of jewelry and you don’t or if all have tattoos and you chose not to, who is exercising the greater choice? Of course, some would rather “just fit in” and that is fine also; just not for me.

The bottom line in my life has been to shun group decisions that I feel are only fads and go my own way, especially if it is a long term decision, as in a tattoo or financing the latest cool car. If all are adorned with “extras”, then the one with the least amount of “extras” is ultimately, the best adorned and the least likely to follow the crowd.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Baptist Convention told: Muslims 'are here to take over our country'

I think there is going to be a groggy, but steady awakening in this country of tolerance that something is really, really wrong and is not going to go away.

Radical Islam has declared Jihad, or holy war against the world with the intent to dominate and enforce its brand of radical religion.

These radical Muslims plan to use our freedoms against us with no intention of assimilating into American culture. They are actively recruiting malcontents inside our country.

Many believe it is all caused by the Bush Administration, even though angry and violent Muslims have been killing and blowing up people for 30 years and is literally happening in every country including Muslim states. See the timeline here.

I remember a few months ago I posted an actual scenario where Muslims out-numbered everyone else in a Michigan city and instituted daily calls to prayer over a loud speaker system. I asked if people in Baytown would vote it down or what they would do if it came here and I was called a bigot by the liberal faction on the local forum.

When the local Mosque had a big open house, I called it an evangelical ploy and a recruitment tool and was again called a bigot and politically incorrect.

At the Baptist Convention in Missouri, Rev. David Clippard said the Saudi Arabian government and royal family had funded teaching positions and 138 Muslim student centers on university campuses across the United States, three in the University of Missouri system in Columbia, Rolla and St. Louis. "What they are after is your sons and daughters," Clippard said. "They are coming to this country in the guise of students, and the Saudi government is paying their expenses."

“Clippard said that Muslims were hoping to take over the United States government one city at a time, and that they were starting with Detroit, where there is already a large Muslim population.

"They are trying to establish a Muslim state inside America, and they are going to take the city of Detroit back to the 15th century and practice Sharia (or Islamic) law there."

In an interview Tuesday, Clippard said he believed the Islamic "strategy for taking over America" was to wait until there was a Muslim majority here and then "eradicate those who don't conform to their religion."

Of course there were immediate denials and excuses offered by liberal opposition. However, “Usama K. Dakdok, an Egyptian Christian and founder of Straight Way Ministry who calls himself a "Muslim evangelism specialist," said Tuesday that "every word (Clippard) said is true. It's time for us to wake up. They are not here to be in our welfare system, they are here to take over our country."

We as Americans have to take one on the chin (and often) or we go right back to buying and selling, like our prosperity will never end. We are the “fatted calf” blissfully ignorant that we are the next meal and the fallacy that we can not fall as a world power is just that, a fallacy.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Technology and Capitalism

I set out to buy a digital camera and came home with something only a distinguished member of MENSA could fully operate. I wanted a Microwave to heat up my food, bought one and to this day only use about 3 buttons, even though it will decipher advanced mathematics and quantum physics, whatever that is. Remote controls? I got a whole herd of them and they are as much of a mystery to me now, as they were the day I unwrapped the plastic they came in. Gawd forbid I actually hit the wrong button!

K.I.S.S. is an acronym for “keep it simple, stupid” and its one manufacturers of electronics have long forgotten. Every company is attempting with success to pack as many features into their gadgets as is humanly possible and we, like the techno-geeks we think we will become, throw down our hard earned money like a crazed gambler at the horse tracks. It beats all logic I can muster, to figure out how we got in this predicament.

I recently decided I did not want to pay for cell phone features I hardly used. Bear with me please, because I know many people “just can’t live without my cell”, but I’m trying to make a point. My phone had all the gadgets, camera, text, blah, blah, blah! Phooey! I just want to make a phone call occasionally and maybe receive one. I called all the phone companies and told them I wanted a simple plan and simple phone, no extra stuff that I couldn’t figure out how to use and wouldn’t anyway and was told by all they could not give me what I wanted. I told them the Israeli’s have a “kosher” phone that comes free with the contract is about $15 per month…unlimited minutes. No cigar.

Is Google the Anti-Christ? Come on! I say that jokingly, but computers and the Internet are being forced down the throats of 75% of this country and before long, you won’t be able to buy, sell or trade unless you have the Internet. Sounds bizarre don’t it, but wait a couple of years and you can throw your cable modem bill away, because the Internet will be free. You will HAVE to have the Internet, because it will too expensive to talk to a computerized voice, so you will need to key it in…then you will get the computerized voice so you can repeat everything AND you will have the option to hear it in Spanish most likely.

My 1989 Honda Civic Wagon has 200,000 miles on it and I have the original manual, which has about 60 pages and 6 inches by 9 inches in size. My wife’s car, which is already 3 years old, has three manuals and each one has, oh, about a gazillion pages, give or take a few. I’m surprised her car doesn’t fly it has so many gadgets!

Back to my digital camera! My camera has close to 200 settings and I use maybe 5 of them and it takes fantastic pictures! I could have bought the entry model that was $200 less and only had 75 features, but I did not want the entry model, which incidentally has the exact same 5 features I use and looks pretty much the same.

A friend at work asked my advice because he was buying a new laptop for classes he’s taking at college and I’m the local PC guru. I asked him what his requirements were and since he has two desktop computers already, he told me he was pretty sure he needed wireless capability and maybe CD writing function and he was going to use it for college only, no music, no movies, just basic Office software. We pulled out the Dell catalog and the entry-level laptop was about 50 times more computer than he needed and would last him well through his college courses. I told him $399 plus shipping and the laptop would be his. Perfect, easy and simple. More than he could use.

He came to work today with news of his new $750 plus shipping laptop and he told me he decided to go with this one because it had so many more features and “was a better deal”. I told him “I surrender” and throwing my hands up in the air, I walked away laughing.

When is the madness going to stop? More features that no one bothers to use or learn are not a deal, nor is it needed. Technology and Capitalism are driving me to derision, folks.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Iraqi Freedom and the price of Freedom

On October 15th, my son, Sgt. Nicholas Marshall was wounded in Iraq by an improvised explosive devise, commonly called an IED, while commanding a 60 vehicle convoy south of Tikrit. This same day, the Baytown Sun ran a column I wrote on the meaning of being a Veteran, which included this quote: “my son is a U. S. Army Korean War/Iraqi Freedom/War on Terror Veteran and is most likely running convoy escort as I write this, in the Country of Iraq”.

The explosion sent fragments through the side of the vehicle, injuring all three soldiers and through training and fortitude; they were able to drive to a safe area where they exited the heavily damaged M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicle. All three will be awarded the Purple Heart “Red Badge of Courage” for the injuries sustained and will fully recover.

The Army M1117 Guardian ASV is armored to withstand a blast equivalent to 12 pounds of dynamite.

We greatly appreciate the prayers and outpouring of support, as I'm sure my son does.

The 15th of October was a Sunday and Nick’s name came up several times in prayer requests and the visiting Preacher told the congregation that a miracle would happen that day and it would be outside of the Church proper. I can’t help but believe God had his hand on my son and his soldiers. Some “expert” claimed recently that prayer has no recordable effect whatsoever. I guess he missed it this time.

I would like to say something. My son is no more important than any other son or daughter is to their loved ones and the injury of your children is just as difficult to you, as it is for Nick's Mom and me, when we received a call from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I do not like to hear about anyone’s child being injured or killed, as it hurts my soul.

Americans who answer the call to duty serve a higher purpose than many of us do on our jobs, as do fire fighters and law enforcement and that makes it doubly hard when they suffer injury or death. We should never forget this sacrificial fact. That is why my brother Terry and I attended the dedication service for Pvt. Wesley Riggs of Beach City.

Incidentally and on a lighter note, Sarnt (Sergeant spoken Army style) Nick was almost miffed that the Army made him call home. This kid has had his nose broken about 5 times in karate and Robert E. Lee HS sports and he was more concerned about his buddies’ injuries than his own. After a minute on the phone, he settled down and realized WE were worried and needed to know how he was fairing.

He reported 3 lacerations on his face, one requiring 10 “Army” stitches and bruises from the concussion. He will attend an EMT class for the next three weeks while convalescing and then only have about one month left of his one year tour in Iraq. The October explosion happened on his 65th mission and he told me early on, that running these convoy missions was physically and mentally the hardest thing he has ever done.

I have followed the war in Iraq from day one and am an avid reader of history. I realize all wars are fought over land and money and this war is no different and I've stated that many times. The sectarian violence in Iraq is not a civil war in the normal sense, but one between 2 religious factions (Sunni and Shia) and the vast majority of Iraqi's are caught in the middle, as are our troops.

Part of me says we need to pull out and another part tells me “circling the wagons” and letting the two sides shoot it out is the answer. 10 soldiers were killed in Iraq yesterday and 100 Iraqi’s are being executed or blown up every day and this news is being over-shadowed by a few school shootings and N. Korea posturing, amongst other things (not that those are not important).

Americans are tired of the war, so it’s not big money-making news. The whole effort is increasingly beginning to smell like Vietnam to me and our support for a corrupt and inept South Vietnamese government, which fell exactly 44 days after we pulled out.

The Iraqi government needs to get off their duff and take control of their insurgent factions and get weaned of the United States military. Religion-based wars are the worst kind of fire to put out and we are finding ourselves in the same mess Winston Churchill and Lord Kitchener faced after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The English had no answer for it, just like the French had no answer for Ho Chi Minh and what makes us think we can do any better? We should fight the battles we can win, for whatever reason Governments fight wars, but this one needs some changes.

If we ARE going to stay on in Iraq, then we need to do something that truly makes a difference and do it fast.

The real poop on the Ukraine

Mitt Romney’s top adviser, Joseph Cofer Black, joined the board of the Ukraine energy firm, Burisma, while Hunter Biden was also serving on ...