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.

Elvis has left the room

I want to set something on the table and anyone who bothers to read anything I write, please take a good hard look. We are living in a...