Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ball of Confusion Redux

 Back in 1971, the Temptations had a popular civil rights song labeled Ball of confusion. In the song, they lament how downtrodden black people are on a broad scale. They exposed the underbelly of America 46 years ago and made some strong points. The problems cited were the very same ones we hear about today: Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation.

Why is it after 46 years nothing has became better? In recent times we had 16 years of  liberal Presidents and it seems like every major city has a police chief or mayor that has minority status, including Houston.

"The sale of pills is at an all time high. Young folks walkin' 'round with their heads in the sky," hasn't changed, in fact it's worse, especially if you add in Smartphone distractions.

Please help me understand how the progressive liberal constituents are liberal and progressive when all their representatives do is poke sticks in the wheels of anything that they do not like? How have they made things better? When you have Hillary Clinton refusing to accept that she wasn't elected and fomenting first one accusation after another  and Barack Obama openly criticizing much of what Trump does. How on earth is this what is best for unity and America? It's destructive and expands confusion, especially to those who won't think for themselves and it does appear this number is growing.

"Cities aflame in the summer time, and oh the beat goes on. Eve of destruction, tax deduction, city inspectors, bill collectors, evolution, revolution, gun control." It's the same complaints of injustice magnified. This song came out at the height of racial tension when we were in a prolonged war and black men were feeling singled out to do the fighting. Today the same claims are still being made, but now its the police beating them down and its not one cop doing it either. According to Black Lives Matter, it's all cops.

Talk about stereotypical rhetoric! Every day someone is screaming their 1st Amendment rights allow them to do whatever they decide to do and then will shriek down or strike someone with an opposing view. Our liberal press does a real fine job of showing us them doing it too, but it's okay because the conservatives are racist, misogynic, homophobic (insert anything that makes them feel justified).

Everything from erasing our history to tearing down traditions is going to have such a negative impact on future generations that they will not know what to believe. Mom and apple pie you say? There's bound to be something about it that's hateful. Violent clashes with police do nothing to further a cause, except to expose it for what it is - violence. How can a plight be understood if they are looting a store in the name of civil and racial injustice and carrying away flat screen TV's and Michael Jordan b-ball shoes?

The constant reinforcing of negative stereotypes imprints the exact opposite image of what any of these movements are trying to achieve. Rallying and loudly chanting while refusing to hear a rebuttal is sad, shameful, and counter productive. Debate? There is no debate. The very act of civil disruption, whether its taking a knee at a sports venue, or throwing a brick at a police car only widens the chasm between us, convincing no one that the plight is anything other than angry people tearing away at our laws, traditions, and liberties.

Other than assassinations, we are reliving social upheaval as bad as the 1960's and in some ways worse. I fear assassinations are the next level of "social disobedience." Forget terrorism. We have our own war here and its an open attack on traditions and values. Disrespect is quantified by many, as the end apparently justifies the means. I think that is what propelled Hitler forward. It was the Final Solution.

We here in Baytown and Houston have been blessed to help each other out regardless of our differences, but apparently, it will take a disaster for people to learn that we all have a lot more in common that we may have thought. I saw a selfie of a young black man with a joint in his mouth looking in his camera. Behind him was his friend shooting the finger at 2 cops in a patrol car. Let me say that these 2 men do NOT represent mainstream black America, who want the same things I want. They want an education for their children, a safe neighborhood, a good job, and a family vacation, etc.

Our country needs a spiritual healing and politicians who care more about the people they represent and less about keeping their butt in office. Agitating fear and personal vindictiveness toward the opposite party needs to cease. Its not helping any of us. If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all.

"Round and round and around we go, where the world's headed nobody knows. Great googa mooga, can't you hear me talkin' to you, just a Ball of Confusion that's what the world is today."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

What, me read? Isn't that a 4 letter word?

I had an appointment this week at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center to have an echocardiogram, which by the way is an EKG times 10. It's a very thorough heart, artery, and vein exam. Contrary to what you may have read about the VA, these people are very good to Vets. By the by, I passed and was told I could continue to be the stud of a man that most people believe I am. Scratch that one off the list, as I am still good in that department.

I made my way up to the 3rd floor of the matrix of hallways and clinics and held up a Louis L'Amour novel, 2 copies of Reader's digest and 2 issues of Popular Mechanics and asked the 50 or so people in the waiting room, if anyone wanted something to read. Not a single taker in the bunch. Seriously? The western was Rider of Lost Creek; an awesome depiction of the 1870's gunslinger era in the old west.

I laid them on the table and sat down and chatted with two grisly old Vets my own age. One had flown in from the Philippines and was suffering from congestive heart failure. The other one lives in Vidor and they are lifelong buddies from the Vietnam war. I had already read what I brought to augment the usual "stuff" that is on the tables in this place, so I simply chatted and exchanged experiences of my time passing through the Clark Air Force Base on my way to the war.

Joan Martin hit the proverbial nail on the head with Tuesday's column titled "Writing & training my brain" and I told her so. I love to read and spend a great deal of time exercising this skill every day. Yes, I call it a skill, because evidently, it is vanishing. I call what I do exercising because as Joan stated, it does indeed exercise our aging brains.

"Writing is like reading, on steroids." I quote myself. Writing is a seriously bumped up version of reading, because writers create. We pull words out of thin air. We weave stories and ideas to fill the need of readers and ourselves. I literally see the stuff I write and often will read and reread my own column 10 times before I submit it. I write because I must. I read because I can't stop thirsting for knowledge and adventure.

But what about those who never read more than they have to? They read street signs and food brand names. Restaurant menus have become a challenge to  many unless they have pictures with a number beside them. They read Tweets and one sentence paragraphs. They speed read everything, making Reader's Digest look wordy. If you ask one of these many what book they last read, they look at you with a thousand mile stare, once reserved for combat veterans.

Online programs such as Twitter are actually making people stupid.  Texting four word sentences, if you can call them that, are promoting the same degenerative retardation of our cognitive abilities. To prove a point in how low we have fallen, take a look at this column.  I write in very short paragraphs, or no one will read it. If a friend sends you a joke and it is more than 3 short paragraphs, do we read it?  Highly unlikely, right?

Reading books is already a socially diminishing skill. Those of us who still do it are vanishing dinosaurs and when and if we pass on to the next life, what does the future hold? Like Joan Martin said, each of us has a story inside us. Each of us crave to have that story told. Reading and writing go hand in hand and if you have a keyboard and a computer, start writing stuff down. You never know who will read it down the road. You may discover that as a reader, you are also a writer and to me, that is something special.

Truth be told, if you are reading this... you are a reader and like I pointed out, you are much in the minority. Reading is a dying skill being replaced with someone or some piece of technology talking to us to tell us what to think and what to do. "Press 1 for this, press 2 for that. Punch in this code and then leave a message."

Smart phones have us reading everything in micro-bytes and using our fingers to communicate. Do everything virtually for happiness. Press 1 for extra happiness. Press 2 for self-gratification. Pres 3 to put your brain in neutral. Lord help us in the future.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A most welcomed epiphany

Sometimes things come to us at the oddest of times.  A thought, a word, a television program, a lyric, or something someone says. This thought came to me in my evening shower. I was soaping down in my usual military way, which means I have no wasted moves. I soap down and rinse off... period. In and out in under 4 minutes tops and I have no reason or desire to change that.

However, today it was different. It was as if I received a special message or understanding; an epiphany if you will. I suddenly understood that most conclusions I arrive at are the product of living and experiencing a wide range of conclusions based on my 65 years. Sounds almost obvious if you stand back and look at it, but guess what? There's more and that is the marvel of it all.

Each second of every day we are hurtling through the space time continuum and each of us are in a separate place from those around us. For instance my bride, although at my side, is 7 years behind me in this plane of existence. The things it has taken me 65 years to understand, she won't really comprehend for 7 more years.

Now wait a dang minute Bert, you are reaching out into the cosmos there with some kind of Neil Tyson Gegrasse mumbo jumbo!  Maybe, but maybe not. To be sure, many of the things and thoughts we share we have learned and transferred back and forth, but following the rule that experience is the best teacher, I have 7 years of experience she (and others her age) have not yet been exposed to and that was the epiphany.

This beautiful woman married me September 16th, 1977 and Pastor L. S. Marcus tied the knot and he tied it tight. She was an innocent 17 year old girl and I, a worldly 25 year old man who had served 2 tours in the nasty confrontation in South East Asia. In many ways, I was almost a father figure to her without realizing it and only through many years of living together has it became apparent to me that I should be more of a husband and lover, than an instructor.

To this day I am very protective of her, but not in a jealous way. She is my number one priority in life and I can't imagine living without her. Life would lose meaning for me. It would open a fissure in my space time continuum and I would fall in. I'm honest in saying, I may not survive the fall. 40 years is a long time to suddenly have the light of your life extinguished. I want her to live my 7 years and then pass me at least 8 or more.

My revelation is more than what I have experienced with my bride, but carries over into many other facets of life. Someone once said that 99% of genius is correcting mistakes and trying again and again. Oh, that was me. It is my standard answer when I explain how I can repair computers. The mistakes are mine and I keep adjusting until I get the answer, but isn't that a pretty good explanation of how we should deal with life?

I constantly sift information and refuse to fall into a groove, which is basically a casket with the ends knocked out. I have a lot more to give and who better to give it to than the people I encounter? There is no greater mission in life than investing in people. I wish for the life of me that I could have warned Crystal Dowell what was coming her way when I talked to her in Spin class, but I didn't know. We all walk a precarious path and I do not want to waste one moment when it comes to lifting up a friend.

I admire people like Ken Pridgeon and Don Cunningham who are devoting their life to edifying anyone who will listen. They received the gift of the epiphany long before I did. People are our biggest investment. Don't set your sights on accumulation of stuff that doesn't matter. It won't mean anything down the road, as we have learned. People's lives are what matters. People.

The woman in the grocery store looking at the different cans of Wolf brand chili I talked to the other day. Her life matters. The garbage men I gave the cold Coke to - their life matters. The young couple, Preston and Tina Masichuk who are moving into their new house in Mont Belvieu with their two babies.  Yea, I was glad to have to a chance to rub shoulders with.  Every person counts.

My 65 years of experiences can be utilized for good or cynicism and it is up to me to make that choice.  Boy, what an epiphany! 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Finally, weather we can love

I love hot weather. I love the sun. Unfortunately, my skin is spotted in places to prove my affection for the golden orb. On a side note, I guess I am an idiot for ignoring the advice to stay out of the sun so much, but that is that. Two winters in Montana taught me that the sun is my friend. We have had a hot summer and if it were not for the humidity that comes with it, I wouldn't mind the 80 degree nighttime temperatures.

For years I've watched our nighttime temps and knew that when they failed to drop into the upper 70's by morning, it was going to be almost unbearably hot the following day. Thank the Lord that during Harvey our temps stayed in the 70's, unlike Hurricane Alicia, where all of us cooked for days and weeks afterward. It's a small silver lining to some, I agree.

I'm a person who over the years has had a revelation that moderation in almost every facet of life results in a pleasantness, I never knew existed.  I don't want it too hot and I don't like it too cold. I suspect as I ripen, the too cold side is going to slowly edge higher on the temp scale.

I remember interviewing Lindsey "Zeb" Wilcox a few years ago in his room at Remington House. He was a survivor of the USS Indianapolis tragedy. It was about 85 degrees in his apartment and as I sat there recording his words, sweat dripped off my face. I am now beginning to understand the correlation in ageing and feeling cold. It felt comfortable to him. To me, it was hotter than the gates of...

This morning it is in the 60's outside and one of my favorite times of the year. Dry air and cool temps on the Texas Gulf Coast make me drink coffee on the patio as the sun comes up and honestly? It doesn't get much better than that here. A friend once joked that home is where you hang your head, but home is where you are most comfortable. I am most comfortable with my bride, in my home, with my 2 dogs and cool dry weather just bumps it up to a whole new level.
 We pretty much only have a couple of seasons here.  Hot and humid and cold and rainy, but 2 times a year it is dry and cool and god help us if we don't take advantage of it and step outside and simply enjoy the absence of humidity. Forgive me, but I think the good Lord is sending it to assist cleaning up what Harvey brought. This brings up another point and it was pointed out by someone who apparently doesn't believe in "a Christian god", because that is the way they worded their cynical question.

"If you are a Christian, how do you explain why god would do this?" I can safely say that it rains on the just and unjust. Good people have bad things happen to them. It's called "life" and it is the hand we are dealt. What we do with it defines our religion, whether your are Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or Christian. I want to add in that we are Texans and in my book, that doesn't make us better than anyone, but shows other states how to respond to chaos and adversity.

The weather can be a blessing or a curse, but this cool morning temperature sure makes me smile. Like everyone here, I sat inside for 5 or 6 days and watched the pounding rain and to be honest, I simply endured it like a toad under a mushroom. I am not a fan of gray weather, although I know it is integral to our planet health. I know I sure appreciated not having to water all the stuff we have growing... but COME ON!

We can't always get what we want and the Rolling Stones have reminded us of this for 50 years, but this cool weather couldn't come at a better time. I love it. With my imagination, I can be any place in the world and be just as happy as if I were there. Home is not where you hang you head. It is where you choose to hang your hat.

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