GOODBYE AND GOOD RIDANCE

December 31, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

What a year it was for Houston! We voted down a plan to save the Astrodome, but our County Commissioners, who have let our iconic Eighth  Wonder disintegrate, ignored the voters and — did nothing. Both the Astros and the Texans were the very worst in their respective major league sports. Gary Kubiak got canned. Bo Porter probably wished he was. The Houston Fire Dept. suffered its worst loss in its history when four fire fighters were killed. The snail that ate Houston was an imposter, and James Coney Island became JCI Grill.

So, as we say a good goodbye to 2013, we now know why 13 is an unlucky number. Just take a look: Former hand surgeon and TV star Michael Brown was in a court fight with his fourth wife and also with a flight attendant, then died under suspicious circumstances. The place without a sign, Marfreless, where everyone doesn’t know your name, face or fingerprints, closed.

In sports, it’s hard to know where to start with the Houston Astros. The last several years they have been the worst team in Major League Baseball. This past season they struck out more than any other team in major league history. They had the longest season-ending losing streak in more than a century: 15. (The 1899 Cleveland Spiders dropped their last 16.) The team’s 51-111 won-loss season was a record for defeats since Arizona had the same number in 2004. Alex Rodriguez made more in 2013 than all the Astros combined — a lot more. And he was MIA. The Yankees’ payroll was nearly 10 times the spending of the Astros, who shrunk their payroll to about $25 million. The team averaged a home “paid” attendance of 19,659 —  their lowest since 1995 when they were still in the Astrodome. On Sunday, Sept. 22, the Nielsen Co. found that the Astros’ TV audience was 0.0 — a first in major league baseball history.

In the midst of this disaster, the front office came and went. The franchise dropped support for the Astros Wives Organization’s Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala which raised money for the Houston Area Women’s Center. To be fair, the Astros did determine that commonly such affairs send 70 percent or better to their charity. Only about half the money raised actually went to the center, the rest for expenses. Then the new owner sued the former owner and some others involved in that fiasco of a TV network which has left 60 percent of the town unable to see either the Astros, which is just as well, or the Rockets. What a mess.

The Texans, who local sports media had hyped as worthy of the Super Bowl, imploded and head coach Kubiak got the axe. The Rockets are doing better. They inked Dwight Howard,. It would only be better if, like the Astros, more of Houston could see them on television.

A Little League game between the League City Americans and the Santa Fe All Stars turned so nasty that the Texas City police were called. Fans of the All Stars, who lost 8-0, suspected that an Americans’ bat had been dishonorably modified. An All Stars coach threw the bat in question on the ground, cracking its barrel. Said bat was sent to Little League national headquarters in Pennsylvania for inspection. The HQ found nothing wrong. After his son’s North Shore High School football team lost to Cy-Fair 9-7, Manuel DeLeon allegedly attacked coach David Aymond for not playing DeLeon’s son more. It took two officers to wrestle the father off the coach. But Owls well that ends well: The Rice Owls won the Conference USA football championship, their first outright championship since 1957.

Guy V. Lewis, UH’s long-time basketball coach and architect of Phi Slama Jama, finally got in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at age 91. Good Sportsmanship Awards: 13 year old Zach Whitener scored a hole in one at the River Ponte Golf Club in Richmond on the same day his dad, Lonnie, did likewise. It happened on Father’s Day.

Congrats to the students at College Park High School in The Woodlands for winning the FIRST Robotics world championship in St. Louis. The team, Texas Torque, beat out 397 other teams with their robot. But can it run the wishbone offense?

Look at that S car go: Panic broke out among Houston’s snail watchers when word spread that the giant African snail — a voracious mollusk that poses a potential health threat to humans — had come to town. The alarm made the papers and local TV. Turns out the big snail found in a Houston garden is beneficial, not bad. It was a rosy wolf snail, a predator of snails that devour garden plants.

On “The Voice,” Danielle Bradbery, a Cypress teen, was crowned the show’s Season 4 winner after almost three months of competition. At 16 years old, she’s the youngest person to take the title and the only one without a previous record deal. Bradbery received a singing contract and is now making recordings.

Money talks, Skilling walks: Enron honcho Jeff Skilling got10 years chopped off his 24-year prison sentence in return for 42 million of his stolen dollars given back to duped shareholders and employees, and a promise that his high-priced lawyers would quit filling appeals. See if you can cut the same deal.

Who guards the guards? Burglars broke into the northeast Houston home of Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. The burglars got away with one of his personal weapons — a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver. The FBI said two men broke into the Houston home of an FBI agent, stealing government firearms and the agent’s credit cards. The loot included a Remington 870 short-barreled shotgun and a Glock-22 handgun. Sheriff’s deputies recovered the stolen Glock during a traffic stop, and the driver of that vehicle was questioned.  The shotgun was still missing. The theft of government property, as these two weapons are, is a federal felony.

But our grand winner for 2013 is the Topic of Cancer (missionaries to the savages division): New opulent (read extremely and unnecessarily expensive) offices of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers Giulio Draetta and Lynda Chin (who is married to M.D. Anderson President Dr. Ronald DiPinho). While the rest of the cancer center was undergoing major surgery on its budget, Chin successfully requested “variances” from the University of Texas System to fund an office renovation that cost somewhere between $550,000 and $2 million, and included items such as a $7,755 Knoll sofa and a $5,000 lounge chair. Publicly, Draetta offered a bizarre explanation: “Lynda and I were both extremely concerned about moving to Texas, having never lived here and being heavily influenced by the Harvard community.” Privately, in an e-mail obtained by the Cancer Letter, he dismissed the project’s critics, asking senior faculty and administrators to counteract “the message coming from these losers.” Wow, these losers (that’s us) need to learn something from Harvard. Like condescension, arrogance and living well off the taxpayers.

 

Ashby spent the year at ashby2@comcasst.net

 

 

 

YEAR OF THE SNAKE

December 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

Campers, the new year is upon us, and what promises 2014 holds for us all. To get a head start on our upcoming next 365 days, or is it 366? — Leap Years mess me up as much as Daylight Saving Time. Anyway, I now shall predict what will and won’t happen to us in the next 12 months (or is it 13?) Clip this and save.

JANUARY –– 49 bowl games lead to couch failure, alcoholism among unemployed kidney donors and terminal ennui. Congress meets to hear President Obama’s State of the Union speech and immediately adjourns until the Easter recess. Gov. Rick Perry travels to Madrid, Paris and Hong Kong on his “farewell tour.” With so many DPS troopers working as his traveling security detail, the unprotected Governor’s Mansion is again hit by an arsonist. As scheduled by NBC, Jimmy Fallon replaces Jay Leno despite Leno’s constant spot as number one in ratings.

FEBRUARY — UT-Austin names its former president, William Powers, as the next football coach. Rachel Maddow sends Bill O’Reilly a box of valentine candy. O’Reilly’s food taster is rushed to the ER. At the Winter Olympics, the CIA team wins an old event with a new twist: snowboarding. In an emergency session, the Texas Legislature names fracking the official state savior and redistricts Austin to Oklahoma.

            MARCH — NSA warns members of Congress not to put limits on the agency, explaining: “Want to see our files under C?” A new cable network is formed and will open for business sometime between May and August. The Texas Congressional delegation is expelled by the rest of the members for voting to repeal the law of gravity. The Supreme Court of Texas reverses its decision and declares that all beaches in the state are open to the public, but only at high tide during shark season. As Jimmy Fallon’s ratings drop, NBC fires Fallon and brings back Jay Leno.

            APRIL — Enrollees for Obamacare reach two dozen. “We’re right on track,” a White House spokesman brags. Sen. Ted Cruz demands to be admitted as the 51st state “or at least as a Canadian province.” Campaigning for the GOP nomination for governor, Greg Abbott vows to be “the best governor of Texas since Sam Houston.” When it is pointed out that Houston was thrown out of office for opposing secession, Abbott calls it “liberal propaganda.”

            MAY — Local 10 o’clock TV news goes one night without showing yellow police tape. Staff is fired. Sears and Neimans are arrested in the disappearance of their business partners Roebuck and Marcus. Obamacare enrolls its100th participant, who promptly dies. The White House blames the Bush administration.

            JUNE — Harris County Commissioners Court promises to make a final decision on the Astrodome “any millennium now.” Although Jay Leno’s ratings continue to rise, NBC fires Leno and brings back Conan O’Brien. Sarah Palin admits she can’t see Russia from her front porch, but adds excitedly: “I can see my next door neighbor!” The Obamacare computers get a virus which are not covered by any policy.

JULY — Hurricane Horace Timblebrook-Hastings III (NOAA had run out of other names) hits Louisiana destroying houses, towns and crops, and inflicting $2.50 worth of damages. Two million Cajuns flee to Texas. The Fourth of July falls on July 4th. In an effort to boost sagging attendance, the Houston Astros adopt a catchy new slogan: “Remember, at an Astros game you are never more than half an inning away from major league baseball.”

            AUGUST — Hillary Clinton denies any interest in running for President. The  announcement is made by her Presidential campaign spokesman. Texas Democrats meet to nominate their gubernatorial candidate. The vote is 34 to 5. Campaigning for  governor, Wendy Davis vows to be “the best governor of Texas since Sam Houston.” When it is pointed out that Houston was thrown out of office for opposing secession, Davis calls it “right-wing propaganda.”

            SEPTEMBER — The Texas State Board of Education formally adopts the wheel.

Syrians overthrow their dictator, copy the U.S. Constitution as their own and make lasting peace with Israel, crediting the Obama administration. Fox News calls it “nothing new.” GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott shows up to debate Sen. Wendy Davis wearing pink tennis shoes. Not Davis, Abbott. The Longhorn Network logo is put on the sides of milk cartons. Teenaged hackers from Singapore break into the Obamacare computers and fix everything.

         OCTOBER — Noting its equipment needs electricity and running water, FEMA announces it will arrive in Louisiana “when everything is working.” Houston and Dallas install video cameras at major intersections to spot motorists who stop at red lights. The Supreme Court of Texas reverses its reversal and declares that all beaches in the state are open to the public, but due to global warming, high tide is now at Port Waco. The Washington Redskins change their name because “it is demeaning and embarrassing to much of the nation.” Hereafter they are called the Chevy Chase Redskins.

            NOVEMBER — Two million Cajuns refuse to leave Texas and return to Louisiana, reducing Texas’ average IQ but greatly improving its gastronomy. Texas Longhorns go 0-13. As Conan O’Brien’s ratings continue to drop, NBC fires O’Brien and brings back Johnny Carson. In a write-in campaign, Sam Houston is elected governor of Texas. In what is termed “the ultimate putdown,” the Dallas Cowboys play the Houston Texans at noon on Sunday, then play the Chicago Bears that night.

DECEMBER — In an effort to pay for its empty football stadium, UT is renamed Texas A&M University at Austin. U.S. Supreme Court rules Bethlehem, Penn. can keep its name “as long as it doesn’t involve religion.” Carefully cultivating his legacy, President Obama renames the Affordable Care Act, calling it Bidencare.

So there you have it, campers. Now let’s hide till next New  Year’s.

 

                                    Ashby says the sooth at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

TWO CHEERS FOR THE YEAR

December 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

What a year it was, fraught with peril, the most important elections in our nation’s history, rancor in Washington and Austin. I am speaking, of course, about 1860, but we like to think it was 2013 because that makes us feel important. In any event, we need to take a good look at these past 12 months and be happy we can finally view them in our rearview mirror, before Texas Monthly steals our ideas for its Bum Steer Awards.

Let’s start in Austin, which North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and his generals have slated for destruction by long range nuclear missiles. Our own People’s Republic of Austin was seen targeted on a chart labeled “US Mainland Strike Plan” in pictures released by the state-run  newspaper. Hawaii, Washington DC, and Los Angeles are also going to be taken down. Meals on Deals: Lobbyists threw a party for the 15-member House Calendars Committee and friends. Cost: $22,241.03. State troopers searched handbags of spectators at the Capitol before an abortion debate and allegedly seized tampons, bottles of feces, paint and confetti which were going be thrown on the Senate floor, but let handguns with a permit go through. However, when later asked by reporters, the DPS confirmed no such suspicious items were found.

I’m not really a district attorney, I just play one in line-ups: Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge two days after being arrested when a 911 caller reported a vehicle weaving and crossing into oncoming traffic. Video in the jail showed her to be so obnoxious and unruly that she had to be tied to a chair.

Now to Washington where Texans totally embarrassed us. Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas retweeted a Reuters article quoting Venezuelan officials blaming “enemies” of their president, Hugo Chavez, for giving him cancer. Stockman then added a joking comment explaining the cause: “Koch cancer-laser satellites.” Chavez had been in ailing health and undergoing cancer treatment before his death. The tweet was deleted only four seconds after publishing, but it was still caught.

Texans-on-the-Potomac Quotes of 2013: (Courtesy of the New Yorker  — we’ve gone national!) During his 21-hour non-filibuster, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas acknowledged his resemblance to Sen. Joe McCarthy. Despite polls showing overwhelming disapproval of the government shutdown and Cruz’s support of  it, Cruz said: “Once again, it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people.” “What is it like to be the most hated man in America?” — Foxy Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly to Cruz. Finally, he renounced  his Canadian citizenship, leaving the Birthers trying to figure out why Canada is different from Kenya.

Tasteless Tirade: “Let’s roll.” —  U.S. Rep. John Culberson of Texas compared GOP efforts to kill Obamacare to the efforts of passengers on Flight 93 to thwart the 9/11 hijackers. “Isn’t that impressive?” — U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas (naturally) asking reporters about a group of House Republicans’ ability to sing three verses of “Amazing Grace.” U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer was caught on TV berating a Park Ranger for keeping tourists out of the National World War II Memorial because of the government shutdown which Neugebauer had voted for. The ranger was working without pay. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said that Sen. John McCain “supported Al Qaeda.” Gohmert, of Tyler, warned the world that “radical Islamists” are being trained to “act like Hispanic[s]” to get into the U.S. from Mexico. Photo Finished: When the class photo of the Women Democrats in the new 2012 U.S. House was taken, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, along with three others, was absent. No problem, they were doctored in.

Houston, you’ve got a problem: Macy’s closed its downtown store and the place was demolished. “You don’t die from the flu.” – Houston City Councilman Jack Christie. The hapless Houston Texans installed two massive new video screens in an effort to lure the 2017 Super Bowl to Reliant Stadium. Cowboys Stadium, aka AT&T, in Arlington had the biggest screens, and Houston’s is about 30 percent larger than those. James A. Baker III, honorary chairman of Houston’s Super Bowl Committee, was told by the NFL he couldn’t participate in the city’s presentation to the owners because he’s a “celebrity.” So he worked behind the scenes and, maybe it was his efforts or maybe it was the scoreboards, but Houston got the Super Bowl. However, the Texans lost almost all their games and lost head coach Gary Kubiak, while three former — and also much beloved — head coaches, Bum Phillips, Jack Pardee and Darrell Royal, all went to that great fifth quarter in the sky. Bud Adams also departed.

From the birthplace of Dr Pepper: The Balcones Distillery in Waco bested nine others, including storied Scottish names, in a blind panel of British spirits experts. It was the first time an American whiskey won the Best in Glass, a five-year-old competition to find the best whiskey released in a given year.

One Minute Warning: Craig James, of Houston’s Stratford High, SMU, NFL, ESPN, ABC and CBS, was fired after one day on Fox Sports Southwest. From the banks of the Brazos: The largest volcano on Earth has been named for Texas A&M. Aggie Prof William Sager named the volcano, as big as New Mexico, Tamu Massif. Unfortunately, it’s at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and no one has ever seen it. Johnny Football, one-time Heisman winner Johnny Manzile, got paid for selling his autographs and was severely punished: he had to sit out the first half of a football game.  The Texas Aggies are building the state’s largest stadium with seats for 102,500, which is exactly 2,381seats more than UT’s Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

What kind of year was 2013? It was when the rest of the nation discovered there is a comma between West and Texas. Now on to 2014.To quote a Texas congressman: Let’s roll!

Ashby is Man of the Year (1860) at ashby2@comcast.net

 

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THOUGHT FOR FOOD

December 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE RESTAURANT — One of the joys of this booming economy is being able to go out to eat more often. Eh? You say the economy is still in the pits? Then what are all these people doing in this eatery? The place is so packed that I’m making dinner reservations for Easter. Before eating, let’s all say grace and give thanks for fracking.

Texans love to eat out, especially in our larger cities. Indeed, a Zagat Survey restaurant guide, which is the bible for us gourmets (pronounced gore-METS), says Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other American city: 4 times a week, Dallas is close behind with 3.6 per week, Los Angeles comes in at 3.4 times per week and New York City at 3.0.

It used not to be this way. Growing up in Texas, the best cooking was at home because there weren’t many restaurants in the Lone Starve State and even fewer good ones. All that changed when BYOB was replaced with liquor-by-the-drink. In quick order restaurants put in bars, their profits went up, more places opened and eventually we have what we have today: A lot of really good places to eat. Here, for example, is Le Choke & Puke, a fine restaurant with good  food, fine service and, uh, would you please speak louder? I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

This leads to my first suggestion to restaurateurs: Keep it quite, not library or funeral home quite, but silent enough so guests can communicate without having to shout or pass notes written on napkins. One Saturday night I made the mistake of going to dinner with some friends at a close and splendid restaurant. I finally had to go outside — no kidding — to rest my ears. When you have to point to items on the menu because the waiter can’t hear you, that’s loud. Remember Rule Number One around here is don’t complain about a problem unless you have a solution. No, wait. That’s Rule Number Two. Rule Number One is what’s in it for us? Back to Number Two. So here’s my solution. Just as there are state and local health standards for eateries, each one should be required to have a decibel register available on-line. Before making dinner plans, go on-line and check the location, prices, roach ratio and the current or average decibel level. That would save you a lot of shouting.

In addition, the establishment should have on its web site the current or average temperature. Have you ever reached for a glass of water and it sticks to your hand? That’s cold. As we have discussed before, the cooks in the kitchen and the racing, overworked waiters and the busboys who use the same wet rag to wipe off every table in the room, it is they who set the thermostat at 35 degrees. They’re hot and sweaty while the customers are getting frostbit. Solution: see above about the web site. Check the temperature.

It is very European to bring pet dogs into restaurants. This ain’t Paris. You can tell because our waiters aren’t surly. Some restaurants are now allowing dogs into their establishments. Solution: Some restaurants don’t get my business. Of course, seeing-eye dogs have long been allowed almost everywhere, but I have a question: These businesses have a sign by the front door: “No dogs allowed except seeing-eye dogs.” Exactly who is that sign for?

Few restaurants in Texas allow smoking inside, so that is a moot point. The change was gradual. In olden days virtually every eatery allowed smoking. Go back far enough and they had spittoons. But slowly the health police moved in to prohibit smoking in the dining room while allowing it in the adjacent bar. Then someone pointed out that having smoking and non-smoking sections was like having a swimming pool with peeing and non-peeing sections. Today most dining establishments won’t even allow guests to smoke within 20 feet of the front door. That’s the solution.

At this point you are asking why we should care about our eating establishments. Well, as noted earlier, Texans eat out a lot. According to the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA), in 2011 there were 39,296 eating and drinking places in Texas. This year the TRA projects they will have $40.8 billion in sales and account for 828,500 direct jobs, add wholesalers, bouncers, etc., it comes to 1,074,200 jobs — 10 percent of the state’s workforce.

One final suggestion. Wait. Three kids are having a food fight at the next table. Now they are running through the restaurant shouting, “I found a rusty nail in my escargot! Get my lawyer!” A nice segue. Eli Gau and Lillian Maliti were at an Applebee’s in Katy dining with their sons ages 3 and 1. The manager warned Gau, and finally called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office because, he said, the children were “overly active,” which probably means they were loud brats. Gau admitted to a local TV reporter that the two children were high-energy, probably no more than your average Visigoth. It gets better. Gau then called the police to say he felt threatened. A deputy arrived and only gave the family a citizen’s information card, whatever that is. I would arrest the parents.

None of this would have happened if, instead, the family had gone to La Fisheria in Houston because they couldn’t get in. Kids under nine are banned after 7 p.m. The move landed on ABC News. At McDaina’s in Monroeville, Penn., kids under six are not allowed. A new sushi restaurant in Del Ray, Va., rules “no patrons under 18,” and the manager says business is booming. Luigi in Hicksville, New York, has been banning kids under 14 since it opened almost 20 years ago. You see the solution to this problem.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Waiter, what’s shark’s bladder salad? Huh? Sorry, I can’t hear you.

 

Ashby dishes it out at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

December 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE LIVING ROOM — Notice this beautiful place, with a long dining table, eight straight-backed chairs, good lighting, drawers for the silver. What’s that? It doesn’t look any living room you’ve seen? Oh, you are so 1950s. Do you still like Ike, Cadillac fins and 45 RPMs? I can see you need an update: For the first millennia people lived in houses with bedrooms, kitchens, dens, living rooms and, in more recent times, bathrooms. If that particular room didn’t actually contain a bath, it was called a “half bath” where one could only bathe half way down or up.
The floor plan of the average American home changed with the arrival of the television set in the early 1950s. By 1954 some 55.7 percent of U.S. homes had television (or “TV” as we cutting-edge types call it), and the box soon took over their lives. Plans were made and abandoned when “Your Show of Shows” scheduled Elvis. Quiz programs stopped traffic as those who didn’t have a12-inch Admiral paused before store windows to gape. People would watch a test pattern for up to an hour. Soon families discovered the wonder of TV trays to put around the room at show time so children didn’t have to talk to their parents. Social scientists cite the invention of the TV tray as the first step towards the disintegration of the American family, an escalating divorce rate and teenage adolescence.
Technology kept changing how we watched “Gunsmoke” and “I Love Lucy.” First we had rabbit ears, stylishly yet awkwardly pointing to the water stains on the ceiling. Next came a gizmo on the rooftop called an antenna. Then a major scientific breakthrough arrived with the invention of the cable. With ugly black wires streaming through neighborhoods and into our homes, no wind nor rain nor nuclear blast could keep us from “Third Rock From the Sun.” A few years ago someone came along with an instrumenton the rooftop called a dish which could easily be mistaken for an antenna except that dishes fail to deliver in wind, rain and nuclear blasts. Next, no doubt, will come the newest trend: rabbit ears.
But it was our indoors that saw the greatest changes. That first TV arrived with a question: where to put it? Only one set per household was allowed by the FCC. No one had a special TV room. No bedroom could do the job, because the entire family wanted to sit behind their trays eating frozen TV dinners — three-month-old fried chicken with some unrecognizable veggies — at the same time. So the TV set was put in the living room, accompanied either by those rabbit ears, or later, black wires running across the floor. True, the big stand-alone box with its fake wooden sides and that flickering black-and-white screen didn’t add much to the decor. Actually, it looked awful, but every American family had one.
Eventually the box was moved to the den which was more informal. Over the years the TV screens became bigger but thinner, book shelves were removed, (books? who needs books, we’ve got TV!) and replaced by the Sony — sorry Admiral. Invention of the remote control allowed us to completely do away with any remaining exercise. Today in all American homes worth their underwater mortgages the den is where the action is. In my case the den is where I’ve got the fireplace, couch, wet bar, dry bar, damp bar, 120-inch TV with surround sound, DVR, DVD, CD, am-fm radio and, of course, my 45 RPMs. The den is where I plunk down in the morning to watch the news, where I listen to music later that day and where, from 5:30 p.m. till 1:30 a.m., I get my exercise — sometimes changing the programs requires pushing several buttons. All I need now is a remote with a cup holder.
Ah, but what about the living room, that unneeded appendix in my happy house? It remained the same with an occasional new upholstering, paint job, dusting. But it was never used by anyone in the family. Even friends who would drop by would walk in the front door, through the hallway and into the den, never even casting a glance at the living room. I could keep an exaltation of larks or a chine of polecats in there and no one would notice.
After a few years of the room’s non-use if not abandonment, the Texas Workforce Commission decided that if I was to continue receiving unemployment checks I needed an office. But where? Offices cost money, rent, a secretary and an hour-long commute. Each way. The solution: In came the Salvation Army, out went the living room furniture. That newly emptied space became our dining room and the former dining room became — ta-da! — my office. It has all worked out splendidly: I can commute to work in a matter of minutes, the fridge with its beer and cheese is exactly five steps away, and the rent is reasonable.
Do you have a living room? Why? Do you ever do any living in it? I thought not. Get rid of it. Ladies, wouldn’t you like your own walk-in closet to hold every piece of clothing you ever wore which you refuse to part with because poodle skirts may come back in style? Men, are your kids annoyed when you bowl down the hallway? Does your wife complain, “Do you have to do your taxidermy in the kitchen?”? Turn that unused living room into a Man Cave. Put in a wet bar, seven giant TV sets, decorate with old football helmets, team banners and have a humidor to hold your dollar cigars, then invite over 15 buddies for the game. (This is not the same as converting your garage into a Man Cave and parking all your cars in front of your neighbor’s house.) On the other hand, if you do that, your next bedroom may be at the local Y.

Ashby is living at ashby2@comcast.net

BORED OF EDUCATION

December 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Howdy, Texas student. A brief word from your beloved State Board of Education or SBOE. You are about to take yet another test which you have been studying for since the first day of the fall semester (is that the same as autume?). This schedule don’t allow you to do much else except play football, of course, but we at the SBOE know bestest.  Since your last test from we, the makeup of the board has moved left with the election of several more liberal members. So both sides have had a hand in drawing up these questions, but you can’t tell the difference.

Ready? Do you really need Algebra II? Do you even need Algebra I or any other foreign language? If a train leaves Dallas at 1 p.m. heading south and another train on the same track leaves Houston at 1 p.m. heading north, why do we need to subsidize Amtrak? Global warming is: 1. A farce thought up by scientists who need a grant to study it. 2. A scientific sertainty. 3. Just a phase the earth is going through which has already ended by the next phase, called “winter.” Textbooks for Texas’ public schools: 1. Cost too much, 2. Really don’t need covers. 3. Nesessary for the education of our youths, 4. Outdated because all the students have an iPad, Kindle or any of those black boxes that seem glued to their hands, and if they don’t have such a toy they can easily find one in an open locker.

Now we turn to government and current affairs. Circle the korrect answers: President Barack Obama is: a Muslim, a socialist, a closet Kenyan (or is it Canyon?), all of the above. President Obama is our greatest President since George W. Bush. President Obama stole the election from Mitt Romney by deliberately hanging chads in Florida.

Mitt Romney is a member of the clueless oligarchy and the top 1 percent which looks down on the bottom 47 percent. Mitt Romney is a successful businessman whose health coverage plan for Massachusetts bears no resemblance to that train wreck Obamacare the present administration is trying to foist upon the American people. What’s an oligarchy? (Several different answers may be korrect for this last question. We can’t agree.)

As co-governors of Arkansas, Hillary and Bill coined the word Hillbilly.

The Texas Legislature is made up of 150 representative and 31 senators. How many does that make? How many are on the make? How many are on the take? Wendy Davis is: 1. A state senator who wants to be governor. 2. A governor who wants to be a state senator. 3. Hasn’t a chance. 4. Has delusions of mediocrity. 5. Wears funny shoes. None of the above. Ted Cruz is: 1. A brilliant and principled U.S. senator from Texas, 2. A rogue senator who is so shunned by his colleagues he couldn’t pass a kidney stone, 3. Has counted 2,188 times headline writers have used “Cruz Control.”

Which is korrect? 1. The Affordable Care Act is a savior for the poor, down-trodden Americans who suffer needlessly in the richest country on earth. 2. Obamacare is a communistic plot to let the bloodsuckers among us continue to live. Trying to sign up for Obamacare is like: 1. A root canal without an anesthetic, 2. Listening to Joe Biden for an hour, 3. Playing a department store Santa, 3. Listening to Joe Biden undergo a root canal without an anesthetic. How do you spell NRA? If guns don’t kill people and only people kill people, why don’t people kill guns? Should all babies born in Texas be issued an AK-47s or should they have to wait till kindergarten? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck was a union member? Who is your elected member on the SBOE? (Extra credit if you include a campaign contribution with this sheet.)

Texas student, we hear at the SBOE hopes you are doing good so far. Now turn to history. Which came first, the Civil War or the War Between the States? Yes, there was a back door at the Alamo: 1. But it was blocked by Santa Anna’s sister, Polly Anna, 2. It was just painted on the wall by that prankster Davy Crockett, 3. That’s why there’s an Oklahoma. True or false? The Mexican-American War was fought solely by Mexican-Americans. Finish this sentence: Benjamin Franklin was President of the United _______. What was Lee Harvey Oswald’s middle name?

It’s time to take a brake. You may doze at your desk, talk on you cell phone while playing games, reading your email or figuring out just who is your member of the State Board of Education. Return in 30 minutes or half an hour, which ever comes first.

Back already? Now for social studies: Is smog a necessary byproduct of money or are you one of those tree-hugging hippies out to destroy America as we know it today? Is money necessary or are you one of those fat cat Wall Street typhoons out to destroy the little man? Charles Darwin was: 1. A brilliant scientist who came up with the theory of evolution, 2. A mad scientist who hatched a crazy theory, 3. Descended from an orangutan. Religion should be taught in our public schools: 1. Only by a licensed preacher, 2. By any religious leader, 3. Only by a good Christian. True or false: If God did not want Texans to feel superior, he wouldn’t have created the Aggie Band, the Hill Country and Tex-Mex. Which of these statements is NOT true? Austin is the capital of Texas. Austin is filled with a bunch of leftist traitors bent on gay rights, pot, booze but are having a great time. Austin is the intellectual capital of Travis County.

Well, that duz it. This test was brought to you by your State Board of Education. Just remember our motto: We work for the childs of Texas.

Ashby is testy at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

DASHING AROUND

November 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

 

THE DRIVEWAY – Slowly, slowly backing out from the garage. I’ve done this a thousand times over the years, neatly threading my way backwards between the brick wall of my house and my next-door-neighbors’ air conditioner. But this time my retreat is different. I have a new car, a really beautiful machine — sleek, tech-heavy, painted battleship gray, even the turret and anchors. But this car is smarter than me. It has a rearview mirror which seems to be patterned after NORAD. When I veer off course a buzzer sounds. On each side of the car is another rearview mirror that blinks orange when an 18-wheeler tries to sneak into my blind spots and turn me into road kill. Oh, a warning bell goes off, too. Backing out, I sound like the neighborhood ice cream truck.

But the peace of resistance is this TV screen in the middle of my dashboard. It’s called a Reverse Splat-Prevent Gizmo, and lights up when I put the car in reverse. Little white lines on the screen make it look like down time at the Wimbledon center court. The lines show how close I am to buying my neighbors a new a/c. With all these distractions it’s hard to activate my training wheels.

Here on the dash is the little drawer to hold coins so the valet parkers can steal them. This is my CD player where I can put in six CDs and listen to Willie Nelson all the way to the orphan auction. Odd, but the slot rejects my second CD. It only holds a single disk? Now where is the overhead holder for my glasses? This car doesn’t have one, but I have a prescription front windshield.

Somewhere hiding along here is my ashtray. Guess what. This line of cars no longer has an ashtray or cigarette lighter. The surgeon general has gone too far. Now I’ll have to toss my cigar butts out the window into passing convertibles. And where am I going to put my used chewing gum? I’ll just do as I did my old car. Stick it on the top side of the sun visor. (Speaking of old cars, if you’re looking for a good used car and  come across a 1980 Yugo with 250,000 miles on it, once flooded out by  Hurricane Ike and runner-up in the Lone Star Demolition Derby, it’s a steal — literally.)

“Turn right in one mile,” says this cozy female voice. I’d love to, cozy female voice, but I’d be late for my according lesson. Wait, who’s talking? “I am your Bipolar Directional Disorientor,” says the voice. “Just punch in the address of your next destination and I’ll tell you how to get there.” How do I do that? “There is a keyboard at the bottom of the screen, knuckle-dragger. Let’s say you want to go to the nearest barber shop. Take a left out of the driveway.” I don’t want to go to the barber. It’s almost time for my accordion lesson. Today it’s polka tangos.

New vehicles are judged by their number of cup holders. An SUV like the Dodge Annihilator or the Ford Intimidator can have as many as 10 or 12. This is only a four-cup car, but it has an icemaker somewhere. Notice that new car smell. It’s a fragrance called Freshly Killed Money. Elsewhere in the car, my trunk is big enough to carry three former members of the Witness Protection Program. Currently it holds my three-volume owner’s manual and a first aid kit in case my warning beepers fail. The trunk lid can be removed to make room for a tail gunner.

“Hi, this is Jason,” says a voice from somewhere. “Your car also comes with BluFang. I am real live person who tells you how to get wherever you wish to go. Let’s say you want to go to jail. Just….” Jason, can’t you see I’m busy? Yes, you probably can. This row of buttons is for the radio. To select a station I use a mouse. I click on an icon. “Welcome to Complicated Satellite Radio, which gives you 3,477 stations. You have chosen Radio Riga – Latvian folksongs.” My 12 speakers suddenly blare out “Death to the Russians March.”

I am telling you all of this because you, too, may need a new car after 250,000 miles or the repo man pays a visit, whichever comes first. But today, rather like my TV cable company bundles up 223 channels of which I only watch a dozen, cars are bundled, too. I have just bought more than I need or can comprehend. The printout on this model runs three pages, single-spaced, listing bells and whistles which are included without a choice, like a steering wheel warmer. Why? I have a glove compartment for gloves. I also get top lights, back lights, and, of course, bells and whistles.

The print-out shows I am spending almost 2K for “state and local taxes.” No wonder Texas don’t have income taxes. They are unnecessary to pay for Rick Perry’s traveling security detail. Above the front window is a panic button. I punch it so the cops or more probably the NSA knows exactly where I am and sends help — or maybe a drone. No where here is a fuzz buster announcing that I am about to get a speeding ticket, but on top of the car in back is a little fin which is an antenna that beeps when a low-hung overhead has just scraped it off. OK, I am now almost out the driveway and into the street in only 15 minutes. “I did it on my own,” I shout. “I overcame all these improvements!”

“I heard that,” says Jason.

“Turn right at the next election,” says the cozy female voice.

There are so many gadgets and buttons on this dash it looks like the control panel of an F-16. This last button says Eject. If I just press it….

 

Ashby’s hot button is ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

CEREAL KILLERS

November 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs

THE GROCERY STORE — Only two products can fill an entire aisle: beer and breakfast cereals. I gave up counting the various brands of the latter: Raisin Nut Bran, Cinnamon Crunch, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, 12 different kinds of Cheerios, Snap, Crackle and Pop. The average American spends about 13 minutes a day preparing and eating breakfast, and a lot of that is cereal. Do you eat cereal for breakfast, or feed it to your children, spouse, homeless former Astro? Quite probably you do. According to IRI Builders Panel data, the breakfast cereal market has a cold cereal household penetration rate of 91.6 percent and a hot cereal household penetration rate of 61.8 percent. That’s pretty penetrating.

Here’s an interesting point: cereal is relatively cheap, so when the Great Recession hit America, cereal sales went up. Now that the economy is getting better, at least for hedge fund managers and energy company CEOs, more people are returning to breakfast at cafes and to-go spots, choosing eggs benedict and bacon-with-crab-cakes. So cereal sales are stagnant, and the industry is turning some of its ads towards adults.

As you probably know, James Caleb Jackson is considered the father of flakes. He hatched a cereal called granula in 1863. It was dreadful and had to be soaked in water overnight to be soft enough to chew. George H. Hoyt came up with Wheatena about 1879 and put it in boxes, which made his product a lot easier to handle than shoveling it out of a bag. Cornflakes were created by soon-to-be-rich John Harvey Kellogg, a physician, who worked at a sanitarium — a health spa not an asylum. It was run by Seventh Day Adventists at their headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich. which ever since has been “The Cereal Capitol of the World.” The locals preferred Capitol to Capital and the Battle Creek City Council even voted to make that word official. Eventually there were 40 cereal companies in the town.

Charles Post developed Grape-Nut Flakes and Post Toasties in Battle Creek, that made him millions. Post, who had dabbled in Fort Worth real estate, then bought 225,000 acres on the Texas plains and set up a complete town called Post City, now Post, Texas. It was so dry out there that he spent thousands trying to create rain by firing four-pound dynamite charges off the Caprock every four minutes over several hours. It didn’t work. By 1924 General Mills entered the picture with Wheaties. These are still the giants of the industry.

Here is yet another shelf of cereals. Not only do they beckon children with pretty packages but they teach spelling, too: Froot Loops, Rice Krispies, Choc Fruity Dyno-Bites, Krave, Craklin’, Chex and Trix. This box teaches both bad spelling and breaking the law: Cap’n Crunch. His uniform shows him to be a fraud. Crunch is a commander, not a captain. The Wall Street Journal in jest reported that the U.S. Navy had no record of Crunch and that the NCIS was investigating him for impersonating a naval officer. These are just the cold cereals. Across the aisle are just as many cereals to be served hot: Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, etc.

Almost from the beginning the industry advertised heavily. Today the breakfast cereal ads are second only to automobiles. Originally the cereal makers pitched to adults, then to children and now, as we see above, it is turning some effort towards adults again. That explains Bear Naked Fit. But kids are still a major market. Have you ever checked children’s TV shows on weekend mornings? Tony the Tiger rules. In 2007, the average American child viewed 757 cereal ads on TV, and 98 percent of these ads promoted unhealthy cereals that would be banned from advertising to children in Britain. Some cereal companies put their brands on the bottom shelves in grocery stores so that small children can spot them. “Mommy, please can we get Choc-Sugar Honey Tarts and Tooth Fairy Decay?”

Incidentally, one story had it that Kellogg was in the horse feed business and when Americans turned to cars, he changed his horse feed to breakfast cereal, but apparently that was just an ugly rumor started by horses. Also, some economists have determined that the breakfast industry spends more on the cereal box than its contents. The manufacturers do spend a lot on paper, ink and paying sports stars who dominate the packaging (“Breakfast of Champions”), but the continuing change in international prices in corn, wheat, rice and sugar — lots of sugar — plus paying the peasants in Ethiopia to harvest them, makes it hard to compare. Still, those are good stories.

Every now and then some goody two-shoes points out that our kids are eating a bunch of junk, but nothing happens. A few years ago there was even a Congressional hearing on the nutritional value of breakfast cereals. An industry nutritionist testified that if you take a bowl of cereal and add milk or cream, some bananas, strawberries, maybe grapes, that was a most nutritional meal. “What if you just consumed the milk and fruit?” a nosey Congressman asked. There was a long silence and I don’t remember the reply, possibly because there wasn’t one.

How profitable is the breakfast cereal biz? One study noted about the early days:  “Combining cheap grains with cheap sugar was like printing money. A 75-cent bushel of grain could now yield 12 dollars worth of cereal.” Today in this country cereals are about $11.5 billion-a-year industry. To keep the bowls filled, the industry is adept at changing. Fiber used to be the fad. Americans couldn’t get enough fiber, so Tony the Tiger changed his stripes. Brans were good. Then the shelves got organic. Next healthy food came into vogue. Guess what?  Wheat and sugar are healthy. Something called Kashi is a hot cold cereal. To combat the to-go craze, now some cereals are to-go. Pass the eggs benedict.

 

Ashby is bowled over at ashby2@comcast.net

 

CEREAL KILLERS

November 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE GROCERY STORE — Only two products can fill an entire aisle: beer and breakfast cereals. I gave up counting the various brands of the latter: Raisin Nut Bran, Cinnamon Crunch, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, 12 different kinds of Cheerios, Snap, Crackle and Pop. The average American spends about 13 minutes a day preparing and eating breakfast, and a lot of that is cereal. Do you eat cereal for breakfast, or feed it to your children, spouse, homeless former Astro? Quite probably you do. According to IRI Builders Panel data, the breakfast cereal market has a cold cereal household penetration rate of 91.6 percent and a hot cereal household penetration rate of 61.8 percent. That’s pretty penetrating.
Here’s an interesting point: cereal is relatively cheap, so when the Great Recession hit America, cereal sales went up. Now that the economy is getting better, at least for hedge fund managers and energy company CEOs, more people are returning to breakfast at cafes and to-go spots, choosing eggs benedict and bacon-with-crab-cakes. So cereal sales are stagnant, and the industry is turning some of its ads towards adults.
As you probably know, James Caleb Jackson is considered the father of flakes. He hatched a cereal called granula in 1863. It was dreadful and had to be soaked in water overnight to be soft enough to chew. George H. Hoyt came up with Wheatena about 1879 and put it in boxes, which made his product a lot easier to handle than shoveling it out of a bag. Cornflakes were created by soon-to-be-rich John Harvey Kellogg, a physician, who worked at a sanitarium — a health spa not an asylum. It was run by Seventh Day Adventists at their headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich. which ever since has been “The Cereal Capitol of the World.” The locals preferred Capitol to Capital and the Battle Creek City Council even voted to make that word official. Eventually there were 40 cereal companies in the town.
Charles Post developed Grape-Nut Flakes and Post Toasties in Battle Creek, that made him millions. Post, who had dabbled in Fort Worth real estate, then bought 225,000 acres on the Texas plains and set up a complete town called Post City, now Post, Texas. It was so dry out there that he spent thousands trying to create rain by firing four-pound dynamite charges off the Caprock every four minutes over several hours. It didn’t work. By 1924 General Mills entered the picture with Wheaties. These are still the giants of the industry.
Here is yet another shelf of cereals. Not only do they beckon children with pretty packages but they teach spelling, too: Froot Loops, Rice Krispies, Choc Fruity Dyno-Bites, Krave, Craklin’, Chex and Trix. This box teaches both bad spelling and breaking the law: Cap’n Crunch. His uniform shows him to be a fraud. Crunch is a commander, not a captain. The Wall Street Journal in jest reported that the U.S. Navy had no record of Crunch and that the NCIS was investigating him for impersonating a naval officer. These are just the cold cereals. Across the aisle are just as many cereals to be served hot: Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, etc.
Almost from the beginning the industry advertised heavily. Today the breakfast cereal ads are second only to automobiles. Originally the cereal makers pitched to adults, then to children and now, as we see above, it is turning some effort towards adults again. That explains Bear Naked Fit. But kids are still a major market. Have you ever checked children’s TV shows on weekend mornings? Tony the Tiger rules. In 2007, the average American child viewed 757 cereal ads on TV, and 98 percent of these ads promoted unhealthy cereals that would be banned from advertising to children in Britain. Some cereal companies put their brands on the bottom shelves in grocery stores so that small children can spot them. “Mommy, please can we get Choc-Sugar Honey Tarts and Tooth Fairy Decay?”
Incidentally, one story had it that Kellogg was in the horse feed business and when Americans turned to cars, he changed his horse feed to breakfast cereal, but apparently that was just an ugly rumor started by horses. Also, some economists have determined that the breakfast industry spends more on the cereal box than its contents. The manufacturers do spend a lot on paper, ink and paying sports stars who dominate the packaging (“Breakfast of Champions”), but the continuing change in international prices in corn, wheat, rice and sugar — lots of sugar — plus paying the peasants in Ethiopia to harvest them, makes it hard to compare. Still, those are good stories.
Every now and then some goody two-shoes points out that our kids are eating a bunch of junk, but nothing happens. A few years ago there was even a Congressional hearing on the nutritional value of breakfast cereals. An industry nutritionist testified that if you take a bowl of cereal and add milk or cream, some bananas, strawberries, maybe grapes, that was a most nutritional meal. “What if you just consumed the milk and fruit?” a nosey Congressman asked. There was a long silence and I don’t remember the reply, possibly because there wasn’t one.
How profitable is the breakfast cereal biz? One study noted about the early days: “Combining cheap grains with cheap sugar was like printing money. A 75-cent bushel of grain could now yield 12 dollars worth of cereal.” Today in this country cereals are about $11.5 billion-a-year industry. To keep the bowls filled, the industry is adept at changing. Fiber used to be the fad. Americans couldn’t get enough fiber, so Tony the Tiger changed his stripes. Brans were good. Then the shelves got organic. Next healthy food came into vogue. Guess what? Wheat and sugar are healthy. Something called Kashi is a hot cold cereal. To combat the to-go craze, now some cereals are to-go. Pass the eggs benedict.

Ashby is bowled over at ashby2@comcast.net

TWO ON THE ISLE

November 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

GALVESTON — In the 1880 U.S. Census, Galveston had the largest population of any city in Texas. Today it is not even the largest city in Galveston County. League City is bigger. My wife and I came to the island to eat our way through most menus, and are not disappointed. Why here and why now? This is the time of year to visit Galveston: mid-week, after summer and school is in session, vacationers have gone back to League City. (Last year there were 5.7 million visitors who left $654.6 million behind). Hotel rates are lower and you can easily get a table at any restaurant.

This is Fisherman’s Wharf, with a covered dining room sticking out into the water. On one side is the Elissa, a former Greek smuggling ship, now the official tall ship  of Texas. On the other side of the room floats the Boardwalk, a 147-foot-long yacht owned by Tilman Fertitta (I keep calling him Tilman Fajita), the super restaurateur. I am told his yacht cost $46 million. Five crewmen are always on board, 12 when underway. Fajita must have big tippers.

Driving on Seawall Blvd., the main drag along the beach, other motorists keep honking at me. That’s because there are no lane stripes and it’s impossible to tell which lane I’m in, so I just keep swerving.

Gaido’s: This restaurant has been around since 1911. In the back is the Pelican Club. Same kitchen, different bar. My father-in-law was a charter member, along with Jean Lafitte. Membership can be passed down. Today my son-in-law is the family member. I’ll see if I can put the bill on his tab. You know how waiters come to your table and say, “Good evening. My name is Lance and I’ll be taking care of you.” My waiter’ name is Armageddon. Is that like having a bartender named Borgia? “Let me just add this secret sauce.” After Ike swept through, knocking out the power to Gaido’s refrigerators, the staff set up tables on the parking lot and invited all the exhausted and hungry first responders for a meal. Long tables were set up and cooks, waiters and busboys in stiff whites, doled out what must have been a fantastic free meal. I hope insurance covered the cost.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a New Jersey TV reporter said, “This is the worst national disaster ever to hit America.” Silly provincial. Never mind Katrina, what about the Galveston Storm of 1900? Some say 5,000 people were killed. Others say 6,000.  Galveston never fully recovered and Houston took over.

The weather is all-important when eating your way through this town. A slightly cool breeze, blue skies, outdoor cafes. So it is a perfect noon here on Postoffice Street (Postoffice is one word). A few years ago you wouldn’t come near this street after dark. Now, like Austin’s East Sixth Street, the place has been transformed, complete with shops, sidewalk cafes, bars and shops with sidewalk cafes and bars. It’s like New Orleans’ French Quarter without some drunk throwing up on your shoes. This is Gumbo’s, where I’ve been told to go for gumbo. We order a cup to split. The waitress brings out two large bowls, which is a cup to split at Gumbo’s. Quite good.

Galveston had Texas’ first structure to use electric lighting, the first telephone and the first baseball game. The Galveston Daily News, founded in 1842, is the state’s oldest continuing daily newspaper. People were sitting in these cafes reading the newspapers while sipping wine when, not too far west, other Texans were getting scalped.

On to our second lunch, at Benno’s on the seawall. Barbequed crabs (this is crab season). Two cabernets arrive in full beer steins. Galvestonians don’t chow down in a small way. The place to be on Sundays noonish is the Hotel Galvez’s brunch. One price, all you can eat plus free champagne, mimosas and wine. The spread is enormous. I have one of each. The bill arrives and we’re charged for the wine. Huh? Some staffer gave us bad info, so the wine is comped. What a great town.

Thanks mainly to George Mitchell, Galveston had a nice trolley system. Ike knocked it out and all that are left are steel tracks. Now that Mitchell is gone, if only some wealthy person with island connections would fix the trolleys and get them running again. Maybe someone with a 147-foot-long yacht. At this point you are wondering who was Galveston? Bernardo de Galvez was a Spanish general who helped the American Revolution, and fought against the Brits in Louisiana and Florida, but today we know only that his name sounds like a beach resort. Galveston is named for someone who never settled the place and may have never even set foot here. Like Dallas. But Jean Lafitte was here; for quite a while he made the island his HQ. Lafitte’s entire pirate crew supposedly held parties on Bolivar Peninsula, thus starting a tradition that drunken frat rats continue to this day. At least one former pirate, Lafitte’s cabin boy, Charles Cronea, stayed and is buried there.

This is the Bolivar Ferry, a fun trip, passing all the huge tankers, watching the porpoises diving and playing in the ferry’s wake. The peninsula was also thoroughly devastated by Hurricane Ike, aka the Bolivar Twist. Since then, hundreds of spiffy new beach houses have been built which will be swept away with the next storm. Do we have to pay every time? Couldn’t FEMA send them the bill? Our quest is a landmark here, the Stingaree restaurant, which is back in business. We called ahead to make sure they had barbequed crabs. Lots of them, except now they are out of them.

Finally, we’re heading home, full and fit. Sea food is not that fattening, except fried, with potatoes, rolls and dessert. In the back seat we have a visitor: a load of barbequed crabs.

 

Ashby is crabby at ashby2comcast.net

 

 

 

CLUBS ARE WILD

November 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE CLUB — Welcome back, old shoe. Sorry we had to temporarily revoke your membership in Club One, a fellowship obviously made up of the wealthiest Americans who live in the top 1 percent. But you did take a tumble when you had to pay that billion dollar fine to the SEC. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Member after member and untold corporations have been writing checks to the feds to stay out of the slammer. Notice almost none of them are serving time for stealing billions. Silly Madoff and Stanford should have been jailed for simply not hiring the right lawyers.

Waiter, we’re a little dry here. Now where was I? Oh, yes, you were asking who and how many qualify for membership. Forbes‘s list of the world’s billionaires has added more than 200 names since 2012 and is now at 1,426. The United States once again leads the list with 442 billionaires. That’s us.

On the other hand, the IRS figures to make the top 1 percent only requires an income of $369,691. Not bad, but it’s less than the minimum annual wage for a decent halfback. If that’s all it takes to climb to the 1 percent bracket, there must be a whole lot of poor people down there, although we don’t have much to do with them, of course. Still, that figure is more than five times the $69,126 you need to enter the top 25 percent and more than 10 times the $34,338 in income to make the top 50 percent.

Now about us. We’re doing pretty well despite the Great Recession. According to an analysis of IRS figures dating back to 1913 by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University, the very wealthiest Americans earned almost 20 percent of the country’s household income last year. That’s our  biggest share since 1928, the year before the stock market crash. Meanwhile, incomes of the very richest, the 0.01 percent, shot up more than 32 percent last year. Indeed, the gap between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America is the widest it’s been since the Roaring ’20s. As for the bottom 99 percent, the income of that group went nowhere between 2009 and 2011. That’s why we call ourselves “job creators.” I had to hire another food taster. Win one for the gapper.  Which reminds me, where are our drinks?

How did we do so well? The rising stock market, mostly, which is ours. The Dow Jones industrial average more than doubled in value since it bottomed out early in 2009.   About half of households hold stock, directly or through pension plans and such. But the richest 10 percent of households own about 90 percent of the stock. Actually, it is we who occupy Wall Street, a fact we don’t like to broadcast.

Another way we have practically commandeered the American economy is through corporations. Corporate profits hit a record this year as a share of U.S. economic output. And we chief enchiladas did wonderfully well. In 2012, according to the Economic Policy Institute, chief executives of the nation’s largest companies earned 273 times as much as the average American worker. Back in 1965, the typical CEO earned only about 18-20 times what the average worker took home. What are the unions going to do about it? They’re dying. Union membership has dropped from 23.3 percent in 1983 to 11.3 percent this year, according to the Labor Department. Obama shouldn’t try to drag down the top cats, but rather lift up the great unwashed. Remember, a rising tide raises all yachts.

We’ve all heard, time and again, “Half of Americans don’t pay income taxes.” Keep saying it long enough and people will believe it. Actually, the figure is 43 percent who don’t pay federal income taxes. They pay lots of taxes directly or indirectly: fees and fines, property taxes, school taxes, sales taxes, taxes on gasoline, pitchforks and torches. Individual income taxes only contribute 45 percent to the fed’s budget. Everybody pays the remaining 55 percent. Just remember, in Texas no one pays a state income tax, but Austin still wrings billions out of us.

Most members of Congress qualify for our club. There are currently 245 millionaires — 66 in the Senate and 179 in the House. Obama is in the top 1 percent, but don’t expect us to invite him in the club. Rick Perry’s net worth is estimated at just over $1 million, which is not bad for a poor boy who has been a Texas state employee most of his adult life. Well, let’s not get bogged down in numbers, as I was telling the IRS auditor. Besides, we pay our taxes. According to the IRS the top 1 percent of earners received $1.5 trillion in 2010. We paid $355 billion in federal income taxes, for an average tax rate of 23.4 percent. Or as Leona Helmsley told her housekeeper, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Helmsley later went to prison for federal tax evasion, which is why we bounced her from the club. I mean, getting caught, really.

That brings up two former members, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They had to go. Wanting to increase taxes on us, giving away their fortunes to feed starving children.

As a member of Club One, there are a few secrets, sayings and such you should know. Stand before the mirror and work on, “Do you have any Grey Poupon?” Use “summer” as a verb. As in: “This year I’ll summer in the Hamptons.” Change your children’s nicknames to Muffy and Skip. Be sure you know the secret code for your bank account in the Cayman Islands, not to mention Zurich. It is virtually required that you don’t have a front license plate on your Lamborghini. They so mess up the grill, don’t you think? Ah, here come our drinks. Thank you, Mitt.

 

Ashby is  taxed at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MENCHIE’S CELEBRATES GRAND OPENING OF NEW HOUSTON LOCATION BY GIVING AWAY FREE FROZEN YOGURT FOR A YEAR

November 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

EVENT:           MENCHIE’S CELEBRATES GRAND OPENING OF NEW HOUSTON LOCATION BY GIVING AWAY FREE FROZEN YOGURT FOR A YEAR

DATE:              Saturday, November 2 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

PLACE:             Menchie’s, 5000 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77056

DETAILS:        Menchie’s will celebrate the grand openings of its newest Houston location in Post Oak with an afternoon of fun and excitement for their guests by giving away free frozen yogurt for a year. Ten lucky guests will walk away from the Grand Opening events with free, best-in-class frozen yogurt for the next year.

Menchie’s is also encouraging customers and neighbors to give back to the community by donating gently used Halloween costumes and leftover during the Grand Opening events at the store. All collected items will then be donated to DePelchin Children’s Center
 in Houston and contributors will receive one dollar off of their purchase.

Menchie’s will also celebrate the grand opening of its River Oaks location (1944A West Gray Street) on Saturday, November 2 with free frozen yogurt for a year   and will be accepting costume and candy donations as well.

CONTACT:       Ahna Gavrelos
ahna@integratePR.com
                       (409) 893-7547

Food & Wine Restaurant Reveiw

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

CRISP

CRISP in The Heights, with its homey entrées and foodie-friendly pizza, garners rave reviews.

by Tom Flynn

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Tucked away in a Shady Acres neighborhood, CRISP has brought new life to an old grocery store.

The renovation to the abandoned supermarket is extensive: the dining room has tremendous ambiance, with brick walls, large murals, dark woods, old stone and wine barrels. Outside is a 5,000-square-foot patio nestled among the townhomes towering over it. Plenty of seating and a central location make CRISP popular at lunch and happy hour; it’s a great gathering place.

Come prepared to relax—the friendly staff is in no hurry to serve. I’ve had several business meetings here and usually find lunch is over before it’s served. Plan on a 45-minute wait for your entrée, but an impressive selection of wines and craft brews will keep you entertained until food arrives.

At first glance, the food appears expensive: beer can chicken, $18; braised short ribs, $24; beef tenderloin, $30. But the portions are massive and can easily be split into two meals. Pizzas are the signature dish. The stone deck–fired, hand-tossed pies come in an array of designer combinations, including Cluck you BBQ, featuring beer can chicken, smoked Gouda, pickled jalapeños, grilled red onions and a Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. Pies feed two and run from $14–$17.

Sunday brunch is a hit at CRISP. Short rib hash is the star of the menu and mimosas flow freely. Brunch entrées are $10–$12.

CRISP

2220 Bevis

Houston, TX 77008

713-360-0222

www.crisphouston.com

Travel

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

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S is for Snow

A Chilling Adventure in Canada

by Andrea Stroh

He shouted, “Gee” and “Haw,” to the dogs as he guided them through the Canadian Rockies; riding the sledlike, century-old, prospectors trekking through mountains searching for gold. The Canadian Rockies seem bigger, better and less traveled than Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Range, a must see for sportsmen and nature lovers. In the Banff/Lake Louise area, you’ll find an unexpected confluence of frontier and modern activities.

The Canadian alpine adventure begins at Bush Intercontinental Airport with a direct flight to Calgary, followed by an hour-long drive to the heart of Banff National Park. Our first “camp” is Deer Lodge, a historic, hand-hewn log lodge built in the 1920s as a teahouse. Its rambling layout and scattering of parlors and antique furniture mirror the character of the national park surrounding it.

Wayward travelers used to stop by Deer Lodge for a good meal in the 1920s; they still serve some of the best food in the area. Charcuterie trays with smoked and air-dried buffalo, peppered duck breast, game paté and elk salami, served with exquisite homemade mustard-melon pickles. Entrées include grilled buffalo rib eye, maple seared pork belly with roasted pepper spaetzle and slow-braised bison short ribs with blueberry port reduction and couscous. The culinary experience alone makes the trip worthwhile.

ADVENTURE

We are in rough, beautiful country; you can die seeing the sights, and many have. In the early twentieth century, the Chateau Lake Louise hired Swiss guides to help their guests safely enjoy the Canadian Rockies. The hotel closed during winters, but the guides stayed and soon introduced locals to skiing and ice climbing. By 1917, the Banff Ski Club was formed and the Banff/Lake Louise area became a year-round destination. The Chateau has continued the tradition and resident-guides take guests cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, ice-skating on the lake and stargazing.

Our resident Mountain Heritage Activities guide is Bruce. He is leading our small group on a snowshoeing expedition. It starts with an interesting and enjoyable tutorial on the origins of the snowshoe and how First Nations tribes shaped and sized them. We practice walking and turning. The biggest beginner mistakes are trying to walk bow-legged, or alter your gait. As long as you focus on keeping your center of gravity over the center of the shoes and keep the tips out of the snow, you will quickly become a snowshoe maven.

We venture through the trees, and along the lake’s edge. Under our snowshoes is 12 feet of snow, and yet there is never a feeling of falling through or losing your footing. Extraordinary views of the glacier, the Chateau and surrounding mountains greet us at every turn. Sounds of an avalanche reverberate through the valley, and we turn just in time to see the snow careening off the glacier’s face. Snowshoeing is excellent exercise and a magical way to experience pristine snowfall in the forest.

After our expedition, we enjoy a proper English tea in The Lakeview Lounge of the Chateau. Over sparkling wine and fruit salads drizzled with Cointreau, we choose from a dizzying array of teas and enjoy the extraordinary views of the frozen lake and glacier out of the mile-high windows.

Another form of frontier transportation is the dog sled. We hook up with the only dog sledding operator allowed within the Banff National Park, Kingmik Mushers. We opt for the Great Divide tour along a 16-kilometer trail through some of the park’s most stunning scenery to the Continental Divide and back.

These are not the fluffy dog teams of Disney movies; these are the real, working, Alaskan huskies of Iditarod and Yukon Quest fame. When we arrive, the dogs are having lunch, resting and rehydrating from their morning trek. We’re encouraged to interact with
them and the crew; we learn about the sport and the fascinating animals that are bred to pull sleds. When it’s time to go, our musher, Cody, buckles us in the sled and harnesses the team. The dogs bark, howl and downright squeal with delight. They hop straight into the air and strain against their tethers in anticipation of their turn to be harnessed. The dogs are so excited, it would be cruel to make them miss the trek.

When Cody releases the brake, the dogs spring forward at a full run. The barking ceases as they concentrate on keeping up and doing their part. The trip is eerily quiet except for the swishing of the sled rails and Cody’s succinct commands. We glide through the snow-covered forest amid mountain peaks, taking in the scenery all the way to the Great Divide. On the way back, we take turns riding on the back of the sled and controlling the dogs. It is the thrill of a lifetime.

For our next adventure, guides
from Discover Banff Tours hand out
ice spikes for our Johnston Canyon ice
walk. The path through the forest and along the rivers leads us past six Johnston Canyon waterfalls, which have frozen into magical formations. The trek is not for the faint of heart. Walking on sheer ice would be near impossible without the ice spikes, but the reward is 100-feet-tall, frozen waterfalls and a good dose of local lore from the guides. For a similar experience at an easier pace, the Columbia Icefield tour uses a specially designed bus they drive on the ice.

SKIING

Lake Louise is a world-class ski resort. With snow from November to May, it has 8,650-foot peaks, 4,200 acres of skiing area over four mountain faces, 139 marked trails and countless bowls. The longest run is five staggering miles long. My Ski Friend is Rob. (Ski Friends is the first volunteer, host program in North America; it provides free, guided, ski tours for skiers of all abilities.) Rob has been skiing these trails for years, which means I never had to dig out my trail map. He’s able to gauge my ability and guide me through trails matching my skill level. There are so many lifts and trails, there’s rarely a wait at the lift, ever. Our last stop is après ski in The Lodge of Ten Peaks, an imposing log cabin full of stuffed bears, cold beer and charming Ski Friends.

Sunshine Village was the area’s first downhill ski resort. You don’t see ski trails until you take the scenic gondola ride to a valley formed by three mountains. Here, trails run in every direction. It’s higher than Lake Louise at 9,300 feet and 12 lifts lead to more than 3,358 acres of skiable terrain. You can ski all day and not see the same run twice. In fact, you can go half a day and not run into another skier.

Sunshine Village has unique accommodations at the top of the gondola. If you are staying at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge ($150 per night also buys you two complimentary lift tickets), you check in at the parking lot, drop your luggage with the concierge, grab your ski gear and spend the day on the slopes. At the end of the day, you’ll find your luggage in your room and après ski by the stone-covered fireplace in the lodge. You’ll find reasonably priced, exceptionally good food and beverages in the saloon, sports bar and their fine-dining option. You can also stay at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, world-class ski lodge, set atop piles of snow from November to May—it has nine acres on Tunnel Mountain at the edge of Banff. Our room has a modern bathroom with a fabulous clawfoot tub and slate shower, a well-stocked fireplace and a breathtaking view of the mountains.

Mount Norquay is the closest ski resort to Banff and one of the oldest, established in 1926. The Cliff House at the peak of the mountain was built in the ‘50s; the beams had to be hoisted up one at a time on the chairlift. Along with the ski trails, Mount Norquay has a snow tubing park. Sliding down the mountain at shockingly quick speeds will get you in touch with your inner child!

I’ve never experienced one place that had so much to offer; the winter entertainment options are endless. Sleigh rides, skiing, ice climbing, snowmobiling, helicopter tours and the new sport of snowkiting are just some of the activities. Pack warmly, plan for adventure and don’t forget “gee” means right and “haw” means left.

A Part of Your Community

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Loves Conquers All

An Ly and her fiancé Hiep Nguyen find love.

by Laurette M. Veres

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An Ly never gave up on love. She met Hiep Nguyen at the gym and it took him a while to get the courage to speak to her. She knew he was the one on their very first date.

On their second date things turned sad. Hiep found out both of his kidneys had been damaged by disease and he needed a transplant. The 26 year old luckily had a sister ready and willing to donate a kidney. Even luckier, the organ was a 100 percent match for Hiep.

An was impressed with his positive attitude and how he grew as an individual as he dealt with the fate he was given. “I fell in love with him during this time,” she says. “After five strong years of learning, growing, maturing and loving, we knew we were ready to take our life and relationship to the next level.”

An is a fan of the creative graffiti walls in Austin. Hiep used the public art she loved as a canvas for his proposal. Her cousin helped him set the stage. As she walked toward the wall, she saw pictures of she and Hiep; he got down on one knee, and the rest is history.

QSCZPV_LZCc7ZLUTqtXCbpvA1Mg3AZjRwHVJWv_QznoAmid tones of ivory, green and coral, she will walk down the aisle at the Heaven on Earth event facility in her Mori Lee gown from Ventura’s Bridal this April 12. Following the service, An will host a traditional tea ceremony in her home. Symbolically and culturally, this is where the couple’s union becomes official—they will then be able to call each other’s parents “mom” and “dad.” She will wear traditional Chinese red and gold at this event, then change back into her wedding gown for the reception at Ocean Palace. One final change will bring back the red and the couple will visit each table, personally thanking their 400 guests for attending.

The bride-to-be is a graduate of Cypress Ridge High School and the University of Houston. She works as a project coordinator at Weatherford. Hiep is in new home sales at Cinco Ranch.

An is the latest real bride-to-be selected by the Bridal Extravaganza Show to appear on billboards citywide. “I would love to showcase to the world what true love and happiness are all about,” she says. “Being the Billboard Bride proves true love does exist and anyone can turn their dreams and fantasies into reality through hard work and commitment.”

 

 


To Africa with LOVE

Houstonian Ida Franklin re-visits an African orphanage with a local church.

by Laurette M. Veres

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How would you spend a million of your hard-earned frequent flyer miles? Houstonian Ida Franklin spent her company’s to transport friends to Africa to lend a hand at a local orphanage.

Franklin, the owner of Venus Construction, spends her days roofing houses, finishing granite island kitchens and any other number of construction projects. However, this summer, she visited Bulembu, Swaziland, with Katy’s Creekside Community Church to help more than 300 orphaned children living with AIDS.

This is the group’s second trip to this area; on a previous trip, they built a playground. “We finished our first playground just as the children came home from school,” says Franklin. “They ran to the swings and started playing. After a few minutes, they all stopped, turned to face us, and sang to us as a thank you,” she recalls fondly. Franklin and her friends’ efforts this summer were to enhance the playgrounds they built in 2009.

Tim Douglas, pastor at Creekside Community Church, says Franklin’s heart is pure gold when it comes to helping others. “She’s a very giving and loving person. She’s been a great driving force for us by donating her time and money. She always goes above and beyond. Ida’s amazing,” he shared.

 

To help with Franklin’s efforts, donations can be made at www.TheCreekside.org.

 

Person | Provenance: Impression Group Show at Esperson Gallery Features Houston Cinema Arts Fest Film Producer’s Still Photographic Art

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

Group exhibit will showcase photography by criminal defense attorney Kent Schaffer, forensic scientist-artist Jennifer Hannaford, and new work by Houstonian Kelley Devine

Houston, TX— The Esperson Gallery, located in Downtown Houston’s Mellie Esperson Building (815 Walker Street, Suite 125, at the corner of Travis and Walker Streets), will exhibit “Person | Provenance:  Impression,” from November 1 – December 4, 2013.  The group show will feature photographic work by Houston criminal defense attorney Kent Schaffer, impressionist “police blotter” works on paper by New Yorker Jennifer Hannaford, and charcoal and painted pieces on literature and canvas by Houstonian Kelley Devine.

The nearly all black and white works are grouped to allow the viewer to observe and analyze both close-up and from afar the perceptions created both at first glance and upon more extensive analysis.  The artists’ works help the viewer to evaluate surface reaction versus deeper discernment about the subjects, timing, and circumstances.

Schaffer’s photographic works, which include silver gelatin prints, giclées, and direct aluminum prints, display persons and places that may seem easily identifiable, but in some cases have back-stories that reveal more.  Hannaford, who has for nearly two decades analyzed latent finger prints for crime labs in California, Massachusetts and Texas, creates impressionist works on paper and canvas.  Hannaford utilizes only her fingerprints and black ink to reveal stories of persons who, in many cases, were arrested for standing up for personal beliefs.  Devine creates striking, detailed images of faces, in charcoal, atop literature that ranges from Daniel Yergin’s “The Prize” to more personal documents.

“The images were captured in various countries, and some were shot here in Texas,” said Kent Schaffer.  “They are single moments, or, a grouping of many moments, and the conditions that surround each person or place remain open to interpretation by the viewer.”

Schaffer was also an Executive Producer of, An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story; (directed by Al Reinert) about Texan Michael Morton who was exonerated after serving 22 years in prison for the murder of his wife.  The film, a SXSW 2013 Audience Award winner, will air in 2013-14 on CNN and Discovery Channel, but will first show at the November 2013 Houston Cinema Arts Festival at a separate, Cinema Arts Fest-managed venue during Schaffer’s Esperson Gallery exhibition.

“Kent’s work brings a unique twist to the Esperson show,” said Jennifer Hannaford.  “As for the work I’ll present, each ‘mug shot’ creates its own story of passion and purpose – whether it’s Rosa Parks who stood up for herself and human rights, or on a much lighter side, Jim Morrison, who stood for free speech.  The experiences gained from my work in fingerprint analysis units across the country definitely spurred interest in the motivations of different characters – some heroes, and some classic bad guys.”

Artist Kelley Devine has created new work that will complement the group exhibition via her collection of charcoal-based, intensely detailed faces drawn on literature that has been secured to canvas.

“You can expect some fun pieces to show up on serious works of literature, and some rather intense faces to stare out from fairly lighthearted prose,” said Kelley Devine.  “This is a good preparation for a solo show we’re having in December.”

The artists will attend the opening show – open to the public –on November 1, 2013, at Esperson Gallery.  Schaffer will present a producer’s talk about the film, An Unreal Dream, on a date during the exhibition (to be announced).  To learn more about exhibit or for more information, please visit the Esperson Gallery facebook page or email info@espersongallery.com.

Gallery Hours and Information:

Monday and Friday: 11a.m. – 2p.m.

Tuesday – Thursday: 11a.m. – 6p.m.

And by appointment.

Special Saturday and Sunday hours will be held during the Houston Cinema Arts Festival.  Check Facebook for details.

Tel.713.515.0526

www.facebook.com/GalleryEsperson

 

The Esperson Gallery, in Downtown Houston’s Mellie Esperson Building, is located at Walker and Travis Streets.

THE WENDY CITY

October 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

            In one of the best political movies ever, “The Candidate,” a starry-eyed do-gooder named Bill McKay, played by Robert Redford, is persuaded by a cynical campaign manager, Marvin Lucas, played by Peter Boyle, to run for California governor even though the contest is hopeless. “You’re free, McKay,” says Lucas. “You have a chance to say what you want.” His promise is sealed with a contract scribbled on the inside cover of a matchbook which Lucas hands to McKay. He opens it. “You lose.” Maybe someone should give Wendy Davis such a matchbook cover, even though she is the flavor of the month among Democratic politicos who see her as their best chance to take over the arson-challenged Governor’s Mansion.

            By now we all know her rags-to-pink-sneakers story. Married at 18, divorced with a baby and living in a trailer park by 19. She worked before and after classes while  attending Tarrant County Community College. Davis received a scholarship to TCU where she graduated tops in her class and then graduated from Harvard Law School with honors. Returning to Cow Town, Davis worked as a lawyer then served nine years on the Fort Worth City Council. In 2008 she was elected to the Texas Senate, where this summer she conducted an 11-hour filibuster against Senate Bill 5, a draconian abortion bill.

            That 11 hours brought this obscure lawmaker to national attention. Now the Dems want her to run for governor, and it’s hard to beat a resume like that, except for several reasons. First and foremost: on the ballot she would have a D-for-Democrat by her name, which in Texas these days is akin to having a scarlet A on your chest. Speaking of chests, her war chest is growing, but she would probably face our current Attorney General, Greg Abbott, who already has a $20 million campaign fund and has yet to mount an all-out pocket-picking drive among Texas GOP donors who have very, very deep pockets.

            Davis’ run for governor means Karl Rove will spring into action. Indeed, already the mud slinging has begun, as GOPers have started calling her Abortion Barbie and Retard Barbie. (Attorney General Abbott sent a thank you note to the author of that last title for his cleverness.) Rove will start trotting out dirty little secrets such as she was born in Rhode Island, which is worse than Canada, and it wasn’t until she was 11 that she came to Texas. Then there are her links to the liberal media: She began working at age 14 selling newspaper subscriptions to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Need I say more?

            OK, I will. As a teenager she helped support her mother, Virginia, who had a sixth-grade education, four children and no child support. The mother worked at an ice cream shop. Wendy got a job in an Orange Julius (as in Iscariot) in a shopping-mall food court and later waitressed at a restaurant, no doubt demanding tips. Those pink sneakers were probably made by some 13-year-old in Bangladesh earning a dollar a day. It gets worse. She has been married and divorced twice. “What ever happened to family values?” as Newt Gingrich’s third wife no doubt told Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wife. And her second husband was named — get this — Jeff Davis. Tell that to the next NAACP rally. And that long, blonde hair. Who would want a governor with great hair? OK, forget that one. Anyway, this is a wannabe governor’s resume?

            But the overwhelming disadvantage is she would have that D by her name. She clings on to her Fort Worth District 10 despite GOP efforts to have her gerrymandered out of office. She won re-election last November with a narrow 51.11 percent of the vote. and outpolled President Obama by 15,000 votes. Mitt Romney won that district by 8 points. Now she would be running state-wide during the Dark Ages for Democrats, and to think they ran the Lone Star State longer than the PRI ran Mexico or the Communist Party governed the Soviet Union. But the last time Democrats won a major statewide race in Texas was back in 1990 when Ann Richards was elected governor. That was before some of our voters were born. The 2010 Democratic nominee for governor, former Houston Mayor Bill White, pulled only 42 percent. In 2012, Obama lost Texas by 16 points. Could there be a connection between that Obama rejection and the fact that, when NASA doled out four retired space shuttles, Space City didn’t get one? Nah.

            To make any kind of showing, she needs lots of money, but in the last go-round Texas Democrats were so confident of their own candidates that they gave three-quarters of their campaign donations to out-of-state candidates. If Davis runs, you and I must be ready to get our snouts in the trough. Abbott must spend that $20 million plus, and Dems nationally are talking about spending $40 million on the race if early polls show promise. Get those bumper stickers printed. Buy stock in companies that have TV stations in Texas because about 80 percent of campaign funds go to TV ads. Buy a catering company to feed all those hungry volunteers. Millions of campaign dollars may be spent in Texas over the next year on those two campaigns. We deserve our share. 

            Another problem: The organization of the Texas Democratic Party makes black Friday at a Wal-Mart look like the halftime show by the Texas Aggie Band. They have no leadership, no organization, no funds, no other viable candidates, which is why they want Davis’s name on the ballot. So we can predict the outcome of any Abbot-Davis fight for the governorship. But what do I know? I picked Poland over Germany.  

            Oh, as to the outcome of “The Candidate,” that underdog and under-funded  do-gooder won, leading him to ask his campaign manager, “What do we do now?” Maybe buy new pink sneakers.

 

                                                Ashby votes at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

MAKING AMENDS

October 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

THE VOTING BOOTH — Actually, this election I am marking my ballot in my breakfast room because the Texas Legislature passed a law in 2011 allowing anyone to vote by mail if they meet certain conditions: must be a mailman, age over 100, having been honorably discharged from military service (the Salvation Army counts) and having an Anglo surname. No, I’m kidding. You only have to be over 90.

This packet contains all kinds of dire warnings to prevent voter fraud which  is ironic, not to say moronic, because that huge argument that consumed so much of the last session of the Legislature had nothing to do with voting by mail. The new restrictions were aimed at preventing voter fraud at the ballot box. One problem: no one could find

voter fraud at the ballot box — most examples were anecdotal. It was much ado about posturing.

Throughout Texas ballots will reflect candidates for local offices and local issues: voters in Harris County will be asked if they want to tax themselves to keep the ancient Astrodome. I vote yes because dirigibles are coming back and will need a home in Houston. But every Texas voter gets a chance to vote on amending the state constitution — again. Let me explain. Our current constitution took effect on Feb. 15, 1876, and is the sixth one in Texas history. The previous five were the constitution of Coahuila y Tejas, the 1836 Republic of Texas and the state constitutions of 1845, 1861, 1866, and 1869.

Our last one, the spirit of 1876, was written once Texans threw out the dreaded carpetbaggers who came here during Reconstruction. It reflected the suspicions of government the delegates had formed over the Reconstruction years. They slashed the power of officials along with their salaries and terms of office. They wrote in abolition of voter registration (these were Democrats, obviously), wanted local control of schools, severely limited powers for both the legislature and the governor, low taxation and spending, strict control over corporations, and land subsidies for railroads — the latter two seem contradictory.

Today at 80,806 words, it is among the longest of state constitutions in the nation. As of November 2011 a total of 653 amendments have been proposed, of which 474 were approved by voters and 179 were rejected. However, despite its length, it is not nearly as long as the Alabama constitution nor the California constitution, which has voter initiatives and thus is constantly being changed.

Why is ours so lengthy and so detailed? Simple. Texans don’t like government (pronounced gub-mint) and don’t trust government. This rather cavalier attitude is non-binding when we have a hurricane, fertilizer plant blast or need highways repaired, convicts locked up or our children taught. Otherwise, Texans are rugged individualists, if not blatant hypocrites. So our constitution goes into great detail limiting what our lawmakers can do, and to change the rules they have to ask us for permission. The constitution makes for fascinating reading if, say, you are trapped in a stuck elevator with a life insurance salesman and need a diversion.

Some of these sections have been repealed but there was a section paying for the superconductor supercollider. The document lists treason as a crime and the rights of crime victims – 11 of them. Authorizes Bingo games. Debts are a big deal. The current document prohibits deficit financing for state government, which has kept us out of trouble for years. But it has some loopholes, including a provision that debts may be incurred “to repel invasion, suppress insurrection of or defend the State in war.” This brings up one of the quainter sections dealing with gubernatorial powers: “He (notice not ‘he or she’) shall have power to call forth the militia to execute the laws of the State, to suppress insurrections, and to repel invasions.” Alas, in 1999 the governor lost a key command that goes with the job: ordering out the militia to suppress Indian raids and Mexican bandits. OK, sometimes we take our time to update: provisions for Spanish and Mexican land titles from the Mexican-American War era weren’t repealed until 1969. We had a section dealing with Confederate pensions, and may still.

Texas is real big on water bonds, because page after page of our constitution deals with them. Here’s a section on Dallas County Road Bonds. We have to put everything in writing: The governor is specifically authorized to have use of the governor’s mansion’s furniture. By the way, he or she has to live where the government is meeting, but it doesn’t specifically say Austin. The comptroller and land commissioner have to live at the seat of government. The secretary of state is in charge of the state seal. Pass it on. Up until 1936 the attorney generals salary was set at $2,000 a year. Each county shall have a sheriff. Idiots, lunatics and all paupers supported by any county cannot vote, but apparently an hold office.

Except for treason (treason again?), felony or breach of the peace, all voters are exempt from arrest while voting or going to and returning from voting. So the next time a cop pulls you over for going 60 in a 20, whip out your voter’s registration. Sometimes it’s easier to issue an order than to implement it: The state is to establish and maintain an efficient system of public free schools. In 1871 Texas A&M was established in Brazos County and made a branch  of The University of Texas. Hook ‘em! The Legislature can   regulate littering of the beaches, which once were open to the public..

Talk about micro-management. Here’s a section abolishing the Lamar County Hospital District. Fixing the tax rate for the Comanche County Hospital District takes up more than a page. Counties may provide workhouses, poorhouses and farms. The lawmakers still have the power to put convicts out in road gangs. And to pass fence laws. And allow for county hide inspectors. But what do we do about Indian raids?

 

Ashby amends at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westchase District Farmers Market About to Sprout

October 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

imageDebuts Oct. 24, will run every Thursday, 3 to 6 p.m., one block west of Beltway 8

Westchase District, St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic Church, the United States Department
of Agriculture and more than a dozen local producers have teamed up to launch the Westchase District Farmers
Market.

Vendors will offer fresh, locally-grown produce, beef, lamb, pork and cheeses, as well as prepared food and
value-added products such as jams and jellies, honey, soaps and bread.

The year-round, weekly market will be open Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m., in the parking lot of
St. Cyril, 10503 Westheimer Road (at Rogerdale Road, one block west of Beltway 8).

The Alief area just south of Westchase District is considered by the USDA to be a “food desert,” where
affordable healthy food is difficult to obtain. Westchase District is surrounded by great neighborhoods and
hundreds of thousands of area residents. While these consumers will still shop grocery stores for staples, many
have said they welcome the opportunity to buy locally-grown food in a farmers market environment that creates
a unique gathering location for the community.

The Westchase District Farmers Market is made possible by a $65,000 grant through the USDA’s Farmers
Market Promotion Program. The FMPP supports efforts to improve and expand domestic farmers markets and
other community-supported agriculture programs.

AIDS Foundation Houston’s 13th Annual World AIDS Day Luncheon

October 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

Presented by CHEVRON
Monday, December 2nd, 2013
The Westin-Galleria Houston – Galleria Ballroom
Co-Chairs:  Frank Billingsley
Travis Torrence
Honorary Chair: Jessica Rossman
11:00AM – Champagne Welcome Reception | 12:00PM – Luncheon

As always, thank you for your support!

Orpha M. Palomares
Client Services Assistant
AIDS Foundation Houston, Inc.

3202 Weslayan I Houston, Texas 77027
T:  713.623.6796 I F:  713.623.4029
palomareso@afhouston.org I www.aidshelp.org 


WORLD AIDS DAY LUNCHEON
Co-Chairs:
Frank Billingsley
Travis Torrence
Honorary Chair:
Jessica Rossman
Keynote Speaker:
Phill Wilson, President & CEO of Black AIDS Institute
Tickets: www.aidshelp.org  

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