Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

A modern day Air Force TI
I remember my first Christmas away from home.  I was 18 years old and the year was 1970.   I spent the Christmas holidays sequestered in an Air Force Basic Training barracks at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio shining my boots.

With me were 57 other airman.  We were no longer considered new troops, as we had been in training about a month.  At the time and it may be this way still, new recruits were called Rainbows.

“Rainbow, Rainbow, don’t be blue
Your TI was a Rainbow too!”

I made the terrible decision to join the Air Force at the end of November, which meant I would be in Basic Training over the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years’ holidays effectively extending my time there by two full weeks.  My “Flight” had been in training long enough that our TI’s (Chief Military Training Instructors) left us to enjoy Christmas with their families and we spent the four day holiday cleaning our equipment, the barracks, and shining our boots.  I thought it was a rough deal and a lonely time and like the other recruits there, we passed the holidays in near silence.

One year later and one short visit home, I was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in the Strategic Air Command way up in icy cold central Montana.  It is a Minuteman Missile base and when Christmas rolled around, I drew the short straw and couldn’t fly home for the holidays.  Airfare, flying military stand-by, was a whopping $65 one way and who could afford that on Airman’s pay anyway?

Due to the holidays, the base was being manned by a skeleton crew, except for the missile launch crews and seeing that I worked at a Forward Supply Point in the Missile hanger, I was deemed essential.  I remember walking in the snow to the Chow Hall on Christmas day 1971.  It was so cold and dark that I felt like the world had abandoned me.  I was 19 years old and by the standards of those days, a man and my dad taught me to “suck it up”, but that didn’t stop me from feeling alone up in the Big Sky country that day.

Stepping into the Chow Hall, I was surprised to have a server place a pair of stuffed pork chops on my plate.  They were two inches thick and cooked to perfection.  I had never seen such and to this day, remember that meal; far from home that only a few of us special people were served.  A few months passed and I was told I had received orders and I reported to Base Operations to get them and seeing I had this specialty training in Supply, I was told I needed to process out immediately to go to APO 96337.  I had no idea what these numbers meant and was told to cross reference them on a chart, which I did.
Back at the barracks, I approached a veteran sergeant who I trusted.  “Where is Danang AFB?” He laughed knowingly and told me it was “Rocket City, Vietnam.”  I wanted to cry and finally did when I called home that night when talking to my mother.

It was early 1972 and the war was “deescalating” but almost 2400 of our military perished in Vietnam in 1971 and this was nothing to take lightly.  I listened to my peers as they talked about running truck convoys from depot to base armed to the teeth and rockets landing at random in the warehouses and if I said I felt brave, I would be lying.  My orders meant I was going into harm's way.

Providence stepped in and once again, my specialty prevailed.  Instead of going to package up the departing 366th Gunfighters squadron, I was sent ahead to Central Thailand to help set up the Forward Supply Point there.  I spent 21 and a half months there, working 12-hour shifts in the jungle heat.  I remember both Christmas’ and accepted the fact that being a G.I. meant you could not be with your family at special times like this.

Segue to the December 2013 holidays and here I am once again at work.  Since I left home to join the war effort in 1970, I’ve either been away from my family or worked 37 of the 43 Christmas holidays.  Am I whining, complaining, or lonely?  No.  I’ve accepted it.  Has it made a Scrooge out of me?  Maybe.  Do I still remember the true meaning and spirit of celebrating the coming of the Christ child?  Sure, of course, but the thrill of gift giving and festivities isn’t there.  It died a slow death a long time ago.

Sadly, for me it’s for the most part, nothing more than overtime or holiday pay.  It’s mammon to pay for the stuff we’ve bought and fodder for upcoming taxes and that is the real shame of it. 
I want my Christmas ghosts to give me back what I lost.  I want what they took from me.  I want to be a kid again, excitedly opening my eyes after a near sleepless night and rush down to a bright tree full of presents.  I want to eat until I'm sick and then eat more.

The reason I write this is I'm not the Lone Ranger on missing the Christmas holidays and certainly not for pity or sympathy.  Nope.  All around the world this holiday season are thousands of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers working in far away countries defending our way of life and they can’t come home.  Say a prayer for them.  Right here in Baytown, we have many men and women working in the chemical plants and refinery’s doing the same thing as I have all these years.

Our restaurant workers, fire fighters, medical professionals, and police officers are working overtime and swing shifts and will miss the Christmas holidays also.  The fellow at the convenience store told me that if I needed something on Christmas day, they would be open and he will spend the day behind the counter talking to strangers and away from his family.

My point in all of this is, if you can be with your family on these special days, take a moment to cherish it.  Enjoy how fortunate you are.  Hug those around you and tell them you love them.  Merry Christmas to my fellow Baytownians and Happy New Year to you too.  Something tells me I am going to spend Christmas 2014 with my Bride and family and it’s going to be a terrific year.  See you in 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is Google the Anti-Christ?

Note:  This column is linked to many current philosophies and by-phrases being implemented in our country by progressives and our government.

Forgive me for going geek this week in my column, if you can.  I am a nerd, who hides it well most of the time, often posing as an outdoorsman who loves the woods.  If sci-fi, computers and robots are not your cup of tea, please do not stop reading.  Please listen to me on this futuristic environment we are flying into with apparent abandon and with welcoming arms.

What?  You say you are not in this group?  You say you are still old school and read a real newspaper that is thrown on your lawn and this proves you still like the old ways, right?  Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but what we discriminating papyrus readers see as normal, the current and future generations will see as antiquated and frankly, a waste of renewable resources.  An eTablet reader is acceptably sustainable while pulp-based reading is wasteful – and eventually even… sinful.

No, not sinful!  Wasting resources will become criminal, like smoking tobacco…   What?  Smoking tobacco isn’t against the law.
No, not yet, but for the good of the people, it will be.  It’s inherently unhealthy and everyone has been drilled ad nauseam that second-hand smoke is more dangerous than the actual drag off the cigarette, right?  How we’ve collectively inhaled that dubious fact is beyond even kindergarten logic
Never doubt how powerful the written word is and when you add a seasoned orator like our current top executive, it becomes exponentially powerful.  The man could sell Edsel, Yugo, Pinto and Corvair cars and people would line up to buy them.  Why?  Because he has a team of fantastic speech writers and his delivery is convincing, even if most of us reasoning folks can see it is nothing more than political smoke-blowing rhetoric.

Enter Google.  Google changed everything for most of us.  Back 20 or so years ago AOL had the Internet by the throat and most people gladly paid to use it.  I, like almost every computer geek I’ve known thought it was stupid and worked the Internet without it.  I used Netscape to browse and Eudora as an email client.  Netscape morphed into Firefox and I still use this fine and free open-source browser and thumb my nose at Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  Okay, okay, I’m getting geeky, but for a reason.

Google introduced Gmail and blam!  I was on it.  No more AOL,Outlook or Yahoo folders for my email.  No more sorting and cataloging.  Google is a search engine and so is Gmail, so I archive my messages and then when I want to find one, I simply type in the person’s name that sent it or a catchy word and there it is.  Literally everything Google has done has made my surfing the net better, but about three years ago, I sat up and took a look at what was happening and that is when I half-jokingly predicted that Google may just be the Anti-Christ.

BigDog - The Most Advanced Rough-Terrain Robot on Earth

Now, with their acquisition of Boston Dynamics (Google it!), I’m feeling the hackles beginning to rise.  This military grade robotics company first came to my attention about five years ago when I watched a video of their robotic Big Dog jump over a section of ground, then walk across ice, cinder blocks, and deep snow without falling down – and that was five years ago!  It could carry 350 pounds while doing it too.

Now, back in the ancient days, required reading for college included Ray Bradbury’s incredible book, Fahrenheit 451, which I’ve read maybe 3 times.  In this book, the protagonist fears one thing more than anything else – a mechanical dog that once it is on your scent, it never ceases to stop looking for and killing whatever it is looking for.  His lone crime was reading books.  Books were outlawed and he had 20 of them.

Boston Dynamics also has a robotic animal called “Cheetah” which has been clocked running almost 30 miles an hour and an 11 pound robotic sand flea which can jump 30 feet straight up in the air.  How would you like to have one of those weapons land on your head?  Bear in mind that these are military grade robots which could be used against “terrorists” both domestic and foreign.

It’s been reported this is the 8th robotic company Google has bought in 6 months and with their collective brain-power and inexhaustible revenue, they are more powerful than many nations.  Add in Ray Kurzweil’s terrifying vision he dubs The Singularity where artificial intelligence surpasses humans in 2045 and you have The Terminator.  Oh, so you think it can’t happen?  It can and Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robots won’t protect us.
Raymond "Ray" Kurzweil is an American author, inventor, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google.
I may be wrong – I hope I am.  I hope these advances will be used “for the good of the people” as much as I hate that mantra and not against us, but power is a heady drink and with the global environment becoming more and more unified, I can see nothing good coming from a lot of this technology.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The American Free Enterprise travesty

This week in Colorado, an administrative law judge ruled against a privately owned business, forcing the owner of a Lakewood bakery to go against his Christian beliefs and bake a cake for a gay couple celebrating their marriage.

When the polite refusal was voiced, the intimidation began. According to Phillips, the two both stood and stormed out of the store, one of them by his own admission making an obscene gesture and swearing something about an “(expletive deleted) homophobic bakery.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint against the owner; effectively violating his rights, so it could represent the rights of the gay couple. What?

So, now they are going to get a delicious cake, right?  I doubt it and this is stupid to put it mildly.

First, let’s throw out the complicated issue of the two men wanting to marry and let’s look at a private business and you and me. Let’s say you go into a private business and the owner smells like a barnyard, or the place is filthy, or the guy or gal takes one look at you and crunches up their face in disgust and proclaims he doesn’t serve people like you, whatever that is.

I’ll tell you what I would do. I would turn around and walk out of that place – especially if they served food or I was going to request they create a food item for me.

Would I go to the American Civil Liberties Union and file a complaint? Heck no. I would boycott the place, which incidentally is my strongest option and tell everyone I can influence to do as well.
I know, as well as you, that the word discrimination is a vulgar four-letter word, but let’s take a look at it.
1. The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, age, or sex.  
2. Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.
I discriminate on a daily basis, especially when in public. Does this mean that I discriminate unjustly?  Unjustly and prejudicial here are the key words. In my inherently righteous mind, I do not.

I pick and choose how I react to other humans by past experience and my spiritual guide. Take for instance my view on crime and criminals. I discriminate against criminals, especially those who prey on society or commit acts of violence.

I discriminate against people who appear to be criminals or are about to make me a target. I discriminate against people who attempt to force their will on me or violate my space.  
I discriminate against anyone trying to force their religion on me, or make me violate my religious beliefs.

Does the American Civil Liberties Union really believe that the judge’s order is going to make gay people or couples rush down to this bakery and announce they are gay and request a delicious cake?  Not one in a million will do it.  Why?  I shouldn’t have to explain, but for the sake of argument I will.
To put it mildly the cake might contain undesirable ingredients. Bakers sell cakes because the public wants a delicious treat. The public also wants to believe the baker wants to sell more cakes, not make them sick.

On the other hand, the baker’s stand against what he believes is a violation of his religious views, might just cause a flood of supporting business.
There is another side to this that I feel needs to be brought to light and it is the same stance I took when the smoking ban issue was brought before our fair citizens. Neither the bakery in Colorado, nor a private business here in Baytown is owned by the U.S. government.
People shop in both places because they want to. The heart of free enterprise and capitalism is the business owner’s right to serve who they want. I still believe free enterprise allows the owner to put a sign in the front window which reads “No shoes, no service” or a sign which reads “Caution: tobacco smoke may be present.”

I agree that posting a sign which reads “White (black, fat, red, yellow, brown, short, ugly) people will not be served” is wrong, but if I knew I was not welcome there, why in God’s name would I go there in the first place? Again, I feel I must point out the obvious. I don’t want anyone spitting in my cake batter because they don’t want me in their private business and made that clear.  I just won’t shop there.

Free Enterprise: Freedom of private business to organize and operate for profit in a competitive system without interference by government beyond regulation necessary to protect public interest and keep the national economy in balance.

How in the world is it protecting the public interest to force a business owner to serve anyone against their religious beliefs, which SURPRISE, violates the First Amendment rights of that very person.  

It’s a travesty of the intent of the law and if it really is the American Civil Liberties Union, they represented the wrong party.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Resisting a Bully – Part Two

 I am still in contact with a good number of student friends in North Georgia through a mailing list I started about 12 years ago at the urging of my sister and a classmate.  We call ourselves Friends Forever and on this list is a fellow named Alan Dempsey.  Alan was always like an older brother to me when I lived there, a welcome change from the extremely anti-Yankee attitude that prevailed at the time.  He was also a real charmer of the ladies and this, of course made him the target of every jealous boyfriend.

Alan was also a scrapper and although you couldn’t find a nicer guy, he seemed to always be getting in fights and was pretty danged good at defending himself.  Back in 1967, if you were caught fighting, a number of things were going to happen, but none of them involved dragging your parents to debtors prison, like is common today.  First, you were going to get “pops” or a paddling and you may end up going to the gym and putting on boxing gloves and get pops from the coach to boot.  In extreme cases of multiple acts of fisticuffs, you could get suspended or even expelled permanently.

The last time I saw Alan before we moved from Georgia, he was running across the breezeway and his face was bloody.  He stopped long enough to tell me he had just successful “beat the fire out of someone,” and kept going, fearing he would get pops.  Knowing Alan like I do, I can pretty much tell you the fight was by a jealous boyfriend.  Alan wrote on our mailing list today, asking for more details of the fight I wrote about last week, so here it is:

 Alan, it was Eldridge Bentley.  Someone had (reportedly) paid him $10 to beat me up, and then go after my younger brother.  I was his first target and in 3rd hall talking to a pretty girl when I saw a large crowd coming.  Eldridge was in the lead and the oddest thing was I had missed the bus and rode to school with him that morning in his car and we had arrived early, easily beating the long bus ride of 20 miles.  He was very strong and I was a full grown young man and he grabbed me by the front of the shirt and partially lifted me off the ground.  My back was to the edge of the lockers and he said "Me and you are gonna fight."

 I said, "Okay, but what for?"  I'll never forget his answer, "That's none of your danged business," and he hit me.  I bounced back into the corner between the locker and the wall and landing back on him, I wrapped my left arm around his neck and popped him in the face as hard as I could, maybe 6-10 times before he laid a wicked and wild hay-maker on the side of my jaw.  His thumb went under my jaw, hooking it and cutting my neck while breaking his thumb and wrist.

 It took me a few days and the help of a witness to figure out what happened when he hit me the second time.  The strike turned my head and I slammed my nose into the corner of the locker and I remember being on the floor trying to get up, but not going down.  I laid there for what seemed like a minute as my head spun, but was probably closer to five and in the meantime, the bell had sounded and first period already started.

 I got up slowly and I remember staring at the pool of blood on the tile.  I looked to my right and the teacher was in plain view, but to this day, I can't tell you her name, again a product of moving from school to school.  I gathered up my books and went to my desk.  My face and shirt were bloody and I couldn't breathe through my nose, as I thought it was broken.  No one looked at me and the room was very quiet. 

Now, let me back up a bit.  A week before this happened another muscular bully insulted me in front of Mr. Crockett's classroom in the hallway and again I was talking to a pretty girl.  I was in 10th grade and he was in the 9th and he also played football.  Seems like his name was Bobby something, maybe my brother remembers.  He said something really vulgar and I asked him what he said, as I had had enough, but being a Yankee from Ohio in North Georgia in 1967 made me lay pretty danged low, as there were just too many people who wouldn't mind seeing the Civil War end with a Rebel yell.

The fellow, who lifted weights and looked impressive, smacked me hard in the face and I was always under the ignorant belief that you let the other guy actually hit you before you fought back.  I threw my books to the side and hit him with a left, then a hard right as he went off-balance and I knocked him onto the floor on his back in front of everyone.  To my surprise, he grabbed up his books and took off and I grabbed mine and hurried into Mr. Crockett’s class before he arrived. Mr. Crockett was known for his ability to lift grown high school boys off the ground with his paddle and it was his answer for every altercation.
 I now believe this was the impetus for the Bentley fight.  The rest of that story I’ve already told and the odd thing was, I never got in another fight at Cherokee High School and everyone who was afraid of Eldridge Bentley steered clear of me and this is why you always resist a bully.  They only feed upon the weak.
My brother sent me this note:  “The kids name was Bobby Croft. I think he thought if he whipped you he would be some kind of hero. After the Eldridge Bentley fiasco, I was fishing at the little creek down from our house and Eldridge came along with his pole and sat by me. He told me what inspired him to fight that day. Our redneck neighbor from North Carolina, Mr. Lott offered him $5 apiece as a bounty to beat us up. Eldridge never got paid and he was sorry that he took the offer. He was the starting tailback on the football team and that ended his playing. I was walking in the 9th grade hall when I suddenly was picked off the ground from behind by the back of my shirt. Eldridge wanted to know where you were as he was going to go kick your butt and then come back for me. By the time I got over where you were Eldridge had already been there.”
Am I advocating fist fighting in school?  No.  I am advocating standing up for yourself and this may include learning to defend yourself, but it will for sure call for an adjustment of your attitude and that only comes by confidence, careful planning, or anger.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, so friends, choose your path wisely.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Habitat for Humanity nominee - Ken Pridgeon

To All,

Could someone help direct me to how to submit Baytown's Fallen Hero's Artist  Ken Pridgeon for a home since his old house is leaking and fallen down around him... Ken has did so much for so many in Baytown TX and for many KIA families in Texas and it would be nice to surprise him with a nice home...
Thank you for what all of you do..
Warren Fitts
Baytown TX Veteran
Life member in VFW, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veteran, member in AMVETS, American Legion, S/E Patriot Guard, Rolling Thunder...

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