Monday, May 28, 2007

Have I Lost My Dream?

I was sitting in my heavily congested library/computer room, which I call the Orbiting Command Ship Central (known to my friends and family as the OCSC) one day, talking to a friend of mine. He teaches higher math over at REL High School, something that is a mystery to me and I hold him in high regard. I call him Ike, but his given name is Jared Eikhoff. He looks young to me, but I guess his students call him, Mr. Eikhoff.

Ike is a deep thinker and when I say deep, I’m talking Mariana Trench deep. Mr. Eikhoff treasures knowledge over material accumulation. I can’t help but think he would make a terrific Zen Buddhist monk warrior because of his minimalist philosophies. However, he’s not the warrior type at all as far as I can tell and is always pondering complicated subjects most guys his age haven’t discovered.

“Gazing through the window at the world outside
Wondering will mother earth survive
Hoping that mankind will stop abusing her sometime”

Ike occasionally drops by and graces me with his presence. I always feed him of course, just as I would any other monk, but that’s not why he comes by, I’m sure. He wants to discuss ideas and philosophies and pick my weathered brain and to be sure, he picks it. I’ve watched this fellow since his middle school days and he is one of my favorites. He’s a long time running buddy of my son, Sgt. Nick.

I see so much promise and potential in Ike (and in the young people I know through my children) and call it sanctimonious if you will; I want to impart traditional conventions to him. My usual modus operandi is to challenge their line of reasoning and make them defend it. Ike inhales knowledge at an astounding rate, always has, but as I’ve told him many times, it’s not the acquiring of knowledge that makes a person a great thinker; it’s the sorting and sifting - and resifting of knowledge that determines how well you think.

I worry that Ike dwells too much on things he can’t change. I worry that he ponders stuff better left to old codgers, like myself.

Ike visits me in the OCSC and we usually talk for a few hours before he is satiated. Many young deep thinkers, like Ike, in their search for knowledge, end up turning to the gods of the cosmos (the Beatles), or mind-expanding drugs (Timothy Leary) to further their enlightenment and in the end, they realize conventional wisdom was in front of them all.

“After all there's only just the two of us
And here we are still fighting for our lives
Watching all of history repeat itself
Time after time”

Ike teaches me also; it’s not a one-way exchange.

One evening, the one I mentioned in the first paragraph, Ike posed me a conundrum. I had been busy challenging him to forget about the destruction of the world, rampant consumerism and Capitalism unchecked and to go out and enjoy his young life and he looked me in the eye and said, “Well, what exactly do you do for to rid yourself of your inner demons?” That’s not his exact words, but close enough.

Why…I had an answer; I always have an answer, but the truth was, I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t have an answer.

“I watch the sun go down like everyone of us. I'm hoping that the dawn will bring a sign
A better place for those who will come after us ...This time”

“All you do is work and study. When do you play? Where’s the balance in your life?” he said.

So…the teacher of the student/monk/teacher became the student. It’s the full circle thingy or deja vu all over again, whichever suites you best. Jared Eikhoff gives me hope in the future. My parent’s generation worried about my generation and I’m sure they thought we would fail miserably. It’s time for me to rediscover my dream and see the world through the eyes of a young man again. Life does have a bright future after all.

“Today, I'm just a dreamer, who dreams of better days”

* Dreamer by Ozzy Osbourne

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Empty Tomb

At 54 years old, I’ve never suffered the devastating loss of a loved one. I think I know what suffering is though, as I see and feel it from people who have. The deep wound of lingering pain and loss reoccurs every year on the anniversary date, so it never really heals. Their tragic loss emanates from them and affects everything they do.

I know my time is coming and I know I will handle it poorly. However, this column today is not about me, it is for all those wounded souls who have lost a loved one due to war and the effects of war.

As the dad of a boy, become man, who went off to war and was wounded in action, I have to believe that serving our nation is still an honorable thing. I truly believe in this country, still believe in the message the American flag intended and I am still proud to be an American. I hope that never changes. I love this country.

War is horribly ugly. Even so called honorable and patriotically justifiable wars become ugly after they drag on and on and on. Go back to the early 90’s when our “quick war” Desert Storm ended and American flags lined the neighborhood streets. Returning from the Arabian Gulf, Petty Officer, First Class Claudius Joseph sailed into port, dressed in his Navy whites, to cheering tens of thousands and he told me it was the most wonderful experience of his young life.

Americans were proud of our military might. It was a great day to be an American!

Patriotism was at an all time high in this country and if by chance, Claude would have been killed “over there”, folks would have honored him as a fallen American hero, never doubting for a second, that his sacrifice was honorable and – an acceptable loss and the price of freedom. No one would have dared call his sacrifice a waste. Not openly anyway.

Our country is in a terrible period of confusion – a crossroad. We’ve been at war over four years now and folks are weighing the cost and rightly so. It is our duty to question our leaders. History will tell us if it was worth the cost, but for now I, as a returning Vietnam Veteran can tell you, the G.I. will be the loser in this current state of argument – and the thousands of parents and family who have lost a son, or daughter.

Out in Beach City, PFC. Wesley Riggs’s family and friends will face the dreadful uncertainty that people will regard their son’s loss…as a total waste. It wasn’t. I don’t. I feel for them. I feel their loss. No sacrifice of our children, brothers, sisters, moms, or dads is ever “for nothing” in wartime. It’s war and even though war is awful, its participants are not. May God bless and continue to comfort our fallen and their families.

War is fought by leaders of countries and they all become unpopular – all of them. This war is no different. We as a country are slowly turning our dissatisfaction with the war into a dissatisfaction of the soldier, marine, sailor, coastie or airman. Their sacrifice should not be in vain. If you doubt for a second that this is happening, look around and see how many cars have the yellow ribbon on them, as opposed to even a year ago. Support is waning and that always trickles down to the troops.

War is indeed senseless and stupid and if everyone would just get along, we could do away with conflict altogether. Utopia, yes! What a great place! Its heaven and not this earth and this earth will never suffer world peace, but will stay in conflict till the end of its orbiting days. Our military members, sons and daughters, loved ones and those who fall in wartime should always be put on the pedestal of honor and remembered for their sacrifice. Politics, partisan or otherwise should never dictate whether their loss was honorable. It was and still is honorable for a soldier to defend their country. It’s the politician and the voter’s responsibility to insure our country stays on the right track.

The empty tomb that resides in the hearts of the parents, family and friends will dull with time, but they will continue to lay flowers at its door. Sanctioning the loss of their loved one depends on the support of their countrymen. Fill that void with prayers and your personal support.

Throughout the next year, say a kind word to them and let them know their loss was not in vain.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Computers, Puters and ugh…More Computers!

I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with computers. The majority of the time, I’m somewhere in between. I have a long computer ownership history to draw from and that can amount to a lot of lovin’ and hatin’.

I purchased my first home computer in 1981 from Don Trumps, my church’s secretary/treasurer. Don brought the church’s books into the digital age by purchasing a Tandy TRS-80 (better known later as the Trash-80) and when he upgraded to the next available computer model, sold me the TRS-80.

While in the Air Force, I operated a giant computer console called a “Remote Input Device” and it was hard-wired to the Base main-frame, so when home computers first became available, I just had to have one.

The TRS-80 had no hard drive or RAM and operated off a large floppy disk. The operating system on my particular model wasn’t anything like Windows 95, Vista, XP or Win 98, but something called TRS-DOS. It was all code and when you booted up the computer, all you saw was a blank screen with this: C:/> and it blinked, or something, I can’t really remember.

DOS was an acronym for Disc Operating System and back then everything a computer user did was in DOS. DOS is still handy, believe it or not and recently I had to break out my trusty “DOS for Dummies Quick Reference” book, so I could move around in the Windows Recovery environment. I shook my head and could not for the life of me remember how to back up one level in a directory (which everyone knows is CD..). Sheesh!

Since I’ve owned somewhere around a bazillion computers since my first one, I’ve become quite adept at ridding them of problems, building PC’s from components, upgrades, replacing defective hardware and upgrading software. At any given time I have a couple in the queue awaiting repairs.

Each one is unique in what it needs, but one thing can be applied to 95% of them and it’s a saying we are all familiar with: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For every computer I work on that has a hardware failure, I have 25 that the only problem they are experiencing is infection. Viruses, malware, spyware, Trojan horses, et al - ad nauseum, are hanging out on every corner, just waiting to grab onto your Internet browsing good time and trash your machine.

To the more worldly customers I ‘splain it like this: “you can’t go downtown and party without protection and expect to walk away uninfected”. It gets the point across right quick.

It’s only been about the last 3-4 years that I ran a firewall or anti-virus protection and the odds are most geeky types didn’t either. We knew where to go and how to get in and out unscathed, but those days are so long gone I now run 3 firewalls and have 17 layers of protection… Some stuff still gets through, but none of it is serious.

Friends, family members, coworkers and referrals drop off their machines and this is where the “I hate computers!!!” (with an exasperated & whining voice) begins to roil out of me. Most infections come in through gaming sites. What? You mean it’s not porn sites??? Nope, it’s my experience they come in through the free and innocuous poker, online games sites.

One time at work, a friend asked me in front of his buddies if I figured out what was wrong with his computer. I had just received it the day before and the truth was, I hadn’t even looked at it yet, but I got a hurt look on my face and proclaimed “Wow! Your PC is ate-up with porn, dude”! He kind of looked down and mumbled “Well, I may have looked at a little”. Ha ha! I then admitted, I hadn’t looked at his computer and we all had a laugh. Maybe I should have been a tough cop.

His computer had lots of icons on the desktop, pointing to the poker Texas Hold Em-type web sites and programs and that is where he had actually became infected. Most PC’s I work on have enough infection that it takes a bit of time to straighten them out, but a few are so badly infected, I should just wipe them clean and start over…but I usually don’t; I just trudge along and clean them up. The record so far is somewhere around 1300 spybots, and viruses.

I usually work for hours pulling peoples computers back from the edge and then undercharge them. Last year I put 14 computers, keyboards, monitors and mice into the hands of folks who otherwise couldn’t afford one and it all came from donations and spare parts. I’ve set up a web site just to help people protect their PC’s and its here: http://baytownbert.us/program.html – that’s the love of computers side of me.

Remember this, if you don’t remember anything else: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mothers Special Day

A young girl awakens and rushes downstairs to be the first in the house to check on the new baby kittens. Momma cat gently lifts her paw, so the girl may pet the new babies and then licks her fingers. The future mother watches how momma cat nurtures the kittens without realizing she will one day, use the same natural sense of caring on her own babies.

While waiting for the school bus, she hears a little bird cheeping frantically and discovers it hiding under a bush. One of her brothers wants to give it to the cat, but she does everything in her power to return it to its nest. Only when it’s safe, can she allow herself to catch the bus and then, reluctantly. After school, she checks on the baby bird, only to find it gone and she cries all the way home.

She comforts herself with her dolls, attempting to save them from future trouble. She doesn’t know why she feels so strongly; she just knows its real. She’s given eachdoll a name and they are her charge. She develops a profound sense of motherhood towards these “babies”, which her brothers think is “stupid”. She doesn’t care; she does what she must.

As the dolls are slowly replaced by an interest in “boys’, the budding woman takes on new interests and secreting begins the nurturing motions on her boyfriend, who overtime, morphs into her husband. The happy day arrives when her husband and her celebrate a baby of their own and the boy who became man, is just as helpful as he was when he saw the kittens and the baby bird.

Not so our lady, become mother. She spent a lifetime observing and imitating her mother and although she swore she would do things her own way, years later repeats her mother’s words and actions verbatim. She was born to nurture and there is no greater love in this life, than a mother’s love for her own child. Men love their children and they love them deeply, but when a child is hurting or in real need, they want Mom, Momma, Madre, Ma or Mother. Plain and simple – only Mom will do.

Mothers are housekeepers and they are nurses. They are teachers, detectives, inventory management specialists and accountants. Mothers can do more in four hours than the rest of their family can do in eight. Mom cooks delicious and nutritious food and bakes yummy cookies and cakes. If you hurt yourself, mom becomes mommy and she administers the best kind of treatment – the kind with compassion and genuine
concern. Mom kisses your bo-bos and it does make it feel better.

Mom is a disciplinarian when we force her to become one, but she also holds our parole papers in a loose grip. Mom has the power to intercede for us when Dad is ready to lower the hammer and Mom will back down other mothers when we’re falsely (maybe yes or maybe no) accused. Mothers cry when we do things we shouldn’t. My mother cried a lot.

Mothers laugh is a full symphony of wonderful music to our ears. When Mom is happy, everyone else is too. However, when Ma goes on the warpath, it’s time to circle the wagons. Mom comes through better than anyone on birthdays, Christmas, Easter and Halloween! Mom makes sure each of us get more than our share of everything. Mom looks out for us. Moms are great!

Mothers can keep secrets too, so they’re a veritable vault of information and wisdom. And you better listen to her too. She knows. She gardens because it’s the art and passion of raising things and guess what? Her garden is beautiful and full of sweet smelling flowers.

Yes friends, Moms are all right in my book. They are worth their weight in gold and if by chance, just if they are a bit chubby, that’s okay too. Just pay the extra.

Happy Mother’s Day, Moms; you truly are extra special.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Beating a Smoking Dead Horse?

Everything in my psyche (which as everyone knows is: That which is responsible for one's thoughts and feelings; the seat of the faculty of reason and of course: The immaterial part of a person; the actuating cause of an individual life) tells me to write about what is really on my mind at the time I type this present column. Smoking in restaurants is not what is on my mind.

But…this Saturday’s special vote on the smoking issue is an item which will directly affect the future of Baytown and I feel it is in the best interest of everyone in this blue-collar town, to consider all options before we cast our vote in the local election.

To recap my last article, I voted FOR Proposition One (concerning Smoking in public places) even though I detest cigarette smoke and avoid it when possible. I acknowledge that smoke of any kind is a potential health risk. I recognize smoking in this country kills a lot of people each year, something like four hundred thousand. I realize well-intentioned people with letters behind their names also throw around “facts” like they were indeed facts and use position to force people to vote away inherent American rights.

I also realize the constant bombardment against smokers through litigation and rapidly changing civic restrictions is going to boomerang and cause smoking to revive amongst those who wish to rebel against parents and civic responsibility. Then there is the black market and organized crime which will feed the smokers vice through illegally manufactured cigarettes.

The eagerness of well-intentioned anti-smoking zealots to stop smokers from polluting our atmospheric space is commendable from a health aspect, but not when it concerns reducing our rights as citizens to operate a legal place of business. Smoking is not illegal.

“Smoking IS allowed in this business – Enter at your own risk”.

Now there’s a sign we should adopt instead of forcing all businesses to exclude smoking. In the meantime, educate the masses (especially the age-old activist handle - THE CHILDREN!). God save the children! God save the earth! God save the environment!

I love children (well, I am a cranky old dude and tolerate well-behaved children only). I do believe children should be protected and that is where the signs come in. Parents will tell their children why they don’t eat at this establishment, over another because they allow smoking…or vice versa.

Let’s look at my personal history on smoking the long leaf.

I grew up in mostly a one car family with two smoking parents. We five kids complained constantly when our parents smoked in the car and we always had cigarette smoke wafting around us like fairy dust on a…Hobbit. Most likely because my parents smoked, I grew up a smoker also, starting my tobacco-inhaling career at the ripe age of seven and as I’ve stated many times, by the time I was eleven, I always had a pack of cigarettes on my person.

By the time I was seventeen; I was a one-pack a day serious tobacco herfer and when the smoke finally cleared around the age of twenty, because I quit cold turkey as it was no longer fun, amongst other things. I replaced smoking with another healthier addiction – karate and jogging!

Over the many years since 1972, I jogged hundreds, if not thousands of miles and done about a bazillion sidekicks and secret martial arts mystery stuff in this town. Rolling along the smogged/benzene-laden streets of Baytown, I’ve pedaled my bicycle untold miles, all the while gulping the pollution filled atmosphere with total abandon. Until the last few years, I’ve spent thousands of hours in smoke-filled control rooms inside the chemical plant, where I am employed.

Here are my questions and I throw them out for those that deem Baytown’s environment so hostile to the general public: Why do my pulmonary tests, which I’m required to take each year reveal I have above the national average healthy lung results? If first and second hand smoke and the god-awful filthy pollution-laden Baytown air are silently killing me, why don’t I see it in the tests I have? Here is my answer: It’s because I’ve taken steps to keep my lungs clear through cardiovascular exercise. I’ve educated myself on the adverse effects of pollution and smoke and because of this, I have clear lungs.

Americans do not need more laws to prevent them from doing harm to them; they need education and possibly a strong dose of get off the couch and exercise. Then there are those who just want to smoke and I say, let them smoke. It is America after all.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Should Baytown relight the smoking lamp?

There are few events that can divide a city like voting on controversial subjects. Citizens feel passionate about their preferences and I think the whole democratic process is wonderful. Politics and policies should be heartfelt - heartfelt enough to get folks arguing and ultimately, to voting. The more information a person digests, the better their decision will be.

Well, after much soul searching, I early voted on E. Baker at Remington Park. I voted FOR Proposition One concerning revoking the ban on cigarette smoking inside businesses. I hate smoking, let me make that clear, but I had to vote in favor of Free Enterprise, or as it’s better known - Capitalism.

My daughter questioned me on why I voted for the proposition and intends to vote against it. I laid out the concept of business ownership in America and she suddenly could see it made sense. It will be up to her on how she votes though and after making my argument; I did not attempt to dictate how she should vote.

One person spoke out in defense of the present ban, claiming property owners at one time used free enterprise rights to exclude black people from using their facilities. Allowing a business owner to operate their business within the laws is NOT the same as violating civil rights based on color, creed or sexual preference and the civil rights act of 1964 corrected the bias’ they were referring to.

Let’s take a look at Capitalism and Free Enterprise. What is it exactly and how does it apply to the situation we have in Baytown?

Free Enterprise is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit, and in which investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are determined through the operation of a market where all decisions regarding transfer of money, goods and services are voluntary rather than commanded by government. It is usually considered to involve the right of individuals and groups of individuals acting as "legal persons" or corporations to trade capital goods, labor, land and money.

Free Enterprise is the freedom to operate a business (within the law) without government interference. Our system of sales and barter is set up on this system and it works quite well. Frankly, the less government interference, the better it works.

Smoking is not illegal for Americans of legal age and government(s) should not dictate when a private business owner allows legal smoking. Obviously, marijuana falls into illegal smoking. They can however, dictate a proper ventilation system to protect non-smokers. It should be a no-brainer, but the current obsession with politically correctness, has made smoking (period) controversial. I am against criminalizing smoking/using tobacco, but I am for more education on the subject.

I can't remember the last time I walked into a restaurant and smelled cigarette smoke, but I have had fajita smoke all over me. For the love of god folks, I smelled like fajitas for about an hour after I left the place. In fact...it was second-hand fajita smoke! There was an infant child in that restaurant and I’d be willing to wager, they had smoke on them too! Where is a lawyer when you need one?

See where this could go? To me, the whole subject of banning tobacco could set off a domino block of smell and supposed health concerns in future litigation and business establishment restrictions, rules and ultimately, yes…fines. Here’s another exaggerated scenario:

An entrepreneur opens up a Pakistani restaurant and the pungent odor of curry fills the air. Someone complains and starts a movement to rid the town of curry-laced restaurant air. I have the actual solution and it’s common sense. If curry bothers you (it's not illegal), don't go in there, or appeal to the owner. What if .00014 per cent of the population is allergic to curry? Should the local government get involved and attempt to ban it? Wouldn’t it be better for the business owner to post a sign that plainly states that “curry sniffing” is allowed and in fact, encouraged at the establishment? Savvy sign-reading patrons could then make an educated choice about dining at this particular restaurant.

If the business owner decides to allow cigarette smoking inside their establishment, then THEY should be allowed to do so, even if it means conforming to the Health/Safety regulations at great cost to them and even if it means keeping a certain portion smoke-free. And yes, even if it means alienating every person who cannot abide, even a small amount of second hand smoke and losing their business. On the other hand, a business owner should have the final say on posting NO Smoking signs for their business, without fear of litigation.

It's their problem, not mine, or even the city of Baytown’s. It's free enterprise and said business is competing with other businesses for my business. If I don't like their decisions concerning their smoking policy, I can exercise my option to boycott and take my business elsewhere.

I’ve said from the very beginning of this entire anti-smoking hubbub, that there is more at stake here than just smoking. The responsible thing to do, is become and stay informed - and then vote your conscience.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Let’s Go Green, Even if it Snuffs America!

Who among us is well versed concerning the Kyoto Protocol? If you stopped to buy a burger and Jay Leno stuck a microphone through the window of your car and asked “What is the Kyoto Protocol”? What would you say? Would you get a stupid look on your face and shrugging your shoulders say “Uh, I dunno”, or would you look directly into the camera and inform the late night crowd of the particulars?

Hey! It’s about saving the earth, stupid Americans! Geeze, get with it and join the Europeans!

“The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an amendment to the international treaty on climate change, assigning mandatory emission limitations for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the signatory nations”.

It’s been ratified by almost every country on earth, except Australia and…gulp…the United States of America! What? Why?

“The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases”.

Ratification is the process of adopting an international treaty, so even though the USA has signed the agreement, it hasn’t adopted, or put it into practice.

Hey! It’s about saving the earth from arrogant and wasteful Americans! Uh, does that mean me and you?

Gee, I wonder why America isn’t playing ball with the U.N. anymore (not really, I know why). Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol would turn us into a third world country. It would basically make the United Nations our Government and I’m going to be one of the first to stand up and say I, as an American, do not want us playing second fiddle to anyone, let alone a council filled with world leaders who hate America

Everything Bill Clinton compromised to the United Nations was nullified by George W. Bush’s insistence of putting America’s interest first. Can you believe our current President would side against progress, just so we American workers can keep our jobs? What about the staving Ukrainians? How about those little people in Namibia who don’t own an X-Box 360?

If we ratify the Kyoto Protocol, you can kiss your 4X4 Diesel 4-door pick-em-up truck goodbye, right along with your lawn mower, bass boat, ATV, RV, etc., etc…if the United Nations through it’s Kyoto Protocol, says so.

We are a leading industrial nation and we do enjoy our automobiles, even if they are polluters. We need to adjust the way we drive and the kind of vehicles we decide to buy, not the United Nations. We have the right to pursue our own happiness without some yahoo from a foreign country dictating what that freedom is.

If you want to help remove greenhouse gasses, plant a tree or a garden. They breathe carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. We breathe oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. It’s a match made in heaven.

I think it’s time folks became aware of a catch phrase, dedicated effort known as Sustainable Growth or Development. “Sustainable development is the process of balancing the fulfillment of human needs with the protection of the Natural environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but in the indefinite future”.

In other words, it is the micromanagement of the Earth by well-intentioned folks, who are doing everything it their power to balance human activity for the long haul, even if it means one world government manipulation of the United States of America by foreign leaders – read the United Nations.

Think back to the 1960’s and Planned Parenthood. This is a perfect example of Sustained Growth. We in high school were warned that the earth was becoming over-populated and it was suggested we responsible young people take action to never have children. I remember it well and even questioned my mother about possibly getting a vasectomy.

She was shocked that I would consider this at such an early age and told me very good advice. She said that this is something my future bride and I should decide and not something I should do because I wanted to help the Earth’s population problem.

Over-populating the Earth was the big thing in the news back then and now, it is hardly mentioned by alarmists. The current scare is the environment. Our Sustainable Development of the Earth (read Environment) is “going to hell in a hand basket” and guess who is the real culprit (in the projected Utopian world of the future)? You got it! The United States of America and George W. Bush in particular, plus Dick Cheney – the evil meanie!

We should be responsible users of our planet, but everything must be done at a pace that keeps America first and that my friends, is the bottom line when it comes to aligning ourselves with the Kyoto Protocol and Sustainable Development.

I'm not distracted, I just can't remember.

Our country has been clobbered with a pandemic and it's not caused by mosquitoes, terrorists, or a childish Asian communist with ...