ORPHANS OF THE STORM

May 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

THE TV WEATHER REPORT — “There is a small, low-pressure area just west of Ghana — you can see it here on our FloSloMo Radar — which means it could become a major hurricane and wipe us out, every one of us. But it’s still too early to tell. That’s it from your Panic Weather Center. Back to you, Chip.” Thus begins every TV weather report from now until the end of hurricane season on Nov. 30.

Officially, hurricane season beings on June 1 when FEMA tosses out the first doughnut, but our local TV weather wizards have been working on their frenzied attack for months. This is the one time of the year when they get top billing on the local TV news programs. The more fear and panic they can induce in us, the more their own ratings go up. And this year, they tell us, is going to be a particularly bad time for hurricanes —  just like every other year.

The weathermen and women get their frantic forecasts from that tropical beach outpost: Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colo., which, to the best I can determine, has never experienced a hurricane or even a warm breeze across the ski slopes. Last year the Rams (that’s their mascot) predicted 10 named storms would hit the Atlantic and Gulf coast. There were 19, which is close enough for government work. The CSU experts said the difference of almost 100 percent (or almost  50 percent) was because of El Nino. Certainly comprehensive immigration reform should shoulder some responsibility, but not all.

Now the CSU crack weather team is predicting 2013 “could be a very active season with an above average chance for a major hurricane to hit the United States coast or the Caribbean.” AccuWeather says this year will be another active season “for a total of 16 storms. Out of those 16, eight will be hurricanes. Four of those hurricanes will be major hurricanes.” (An interesting point: In recent years, European weather forecasters have been more accurate about storms hitting the U.S. than our own forecasters. I blame the Gulf Stream media.)

We must take these warnings with a grain of salt water, remembering that Sandy caught NOAA off guard, as the prognosticators predicted the storm would go up the east coast but stay out at sea. The big blow arrived on the Jersey and New York shores catching the locals in hell and high water. See: “government work” above. But Sandy did rack up record media coverage. Why? Because that storm almost hit NEW YORK CITY! That is home base for the national media, so any hurricane  danger, real or imagined, requires 24-hour coverage with radar, maps and always the reporter standing in the wind and rain with water up to his waist while shouting, “Brian, I’m standing in the wind and rain with water up to my waist.” I heard some New Jersey TV reporter calling Sandy “the worst national disaster in our nation’s history.” News of the Galveston Storm and Katrina never made it up to the Jersey shore. For that matter, compare the coverage of the Boston Marathon crime spree which killed four people with the West, Texas, explosion that killed 15.

In any event, we are now bracing for Andrea, Barry, Chantal and Dorian. Those are the  names given this season to our first tropical storms that may or may not become full-fledged hurricanes. The list goes on down to Wendy, and if we need more names the National Hurricane Center will turn to the Greek alphabet, and we’ll have Hurricanes Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, etc.

We’ve got to be ready in case a hurricane hits the Texas  coast, so move to Midland. Even if you live there or any other place beyond the ravages of the Gulf, you’ve got a seagull in this deluge because storms cost Texas taxpayers money — lots of money. There are the National Guardsmen, DPS troopers, TxDOT workers, all getting time and a half, and don’t forget the governor’s hair stylist. If you have friends or relatives along the coast, be prepared to open your home to soggy guests in bad need of a drink and a hot bath. Can your backyard keep a cougar? One solution is to fix your phone recorder to play: “I’m sorry we can’t take your call. The health department made us move out after discovering a rampant SARS virus in the den, probably carried by rabid rats.”

Forget plans to visit Corpus Christi or South Padre during hurricane season, just in case 2.5 million Texans flee inland, as they did before Ike. If a storm is coming, you can’t get a hotel room in San Antonio or Dallas, they’ll be filled with evacuees. Speaking of Dallas, when the State of Texas asked Dallas to house 40,000 disabled evacuees from the Houston area in case of another hurricane – these would be the blind, babies on life-support, lame octogenarians — Dallas said no. Thanks, Little D.

If you are among the millions of Texans whose houses are financially under water and soon may be literally that way, here are a few suggestions: Buy lots of plywood to nail over your windows, which brings up a question: every year we see TV shots of frantic homeowners and store landlords lined up at a Home Depot to buy sheets of plywood. What happened to last year’s plywood? I mean, that plywood is still good, doesn’t turn sour or get that refrigerator taste. Also, stock up on ice. I suggest you pack bags of it in the garage beforehand. Got batteries for you dialysis machine? You may want to purchase a new vehicle to tour your property after the flood, like a glass-bottom boat. Make evacuation plans so you can flee to a safe place. Maybe New Orleans. Most importantly, leave early — like when there is a small, low-pressure area just west of Ghana.

 

Ashby is adrift at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRADUATING GRADUALLY

May 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Good morning, Class of 2013. Welcome to your required college commencement address delivered by someone you never heard of containing platitudes you will soon forget, such as “march to greatness” and “onward and upward.” If you don’t the direction by now, it’s too late. Looking out at your smiling, expectant and innocent faces would give me a thrill except that I know most of you are texting or tweeting or whatever you call those things, and are not paying the slightest attention to me.

We are here to celebrate your graduation from college after four years, or in some cases, five or six. We know your stay with us was filled with the excitement of learning, of growing, of turning your dorm rooms into meth labs. In that regard, whoever took all the fire  hoses from Montezuma Hall please return them, along with the campus fire marshal. You have been living on pizza and beer, sleeping through those 8 o’clock classes and planning tailgating parties. Also, you have been introduced to a fine and expensive education. Whether you partook of it was up to you.

As you leave these hallowed halls of ivy, there are a few things you should know, which I learned through hard work, a few mistakes not to mention ex-wives, indictments and enormous legal fees. You have been told never to play poker with a guy named Lucky, never eat at a dinner called Mom’s and never buy a Rolex from a guy who’s out of breath. George Will advised never to take stock market advice from someoen who rolls up his sleeves and shouts to you over the TV. I would add never buy stock, period. Never trust someone who calls you “Dude” or asks if he can borrow your Social Security number for an hour or has an unlisted DNA. We all know the expression, never take a knife to a gunfight. I recommend you avoid gunfights in the first place.

We now come to jobs. It’s a jungle out there, and you’re up the Congo without a machete. The outlook is bleak, yet not hopeless. A new survey by the National Association for Colleges and Employers, which sounds like a make-work project for unemployed English majors, has done a survey of 400,000 employers plus government data and rumors from a guy named Dude. The average starting salary for you members of the Class of 2013 is going to be $44,928, up from last year’s $42,666. A few years ago, during the depths of the Recession, any paycheck  was appreciated.

Got any engineers here? Oh, yes, you with the pocket protectors and thick glasses. You top the chart at $62,535 for an annual starting salary. Earning more is pretty standard for people who like to work in dark cubicles, tell knock-knock jokes and have no love life. Computer science majors are second with $59,977. You’re in the adjoining cubicle. At the very bottom are those who majored in the humanities and social sciences — history, philosophy and streaking. The old joke was such graduates should learn how to say, “Would you like fries with that?” Or, “Please pull up to the next window.” Today it’s, “Hello, I’m Lance. This is not a sales call, but you have been chosen….” You know the drill.

If you can’t get a job, do like millions of other recent graduates have done: move back in with your folks. Or just look around at today’s audience. Stay in grad school and become a professor. The work is easy. You give the same lectures every semester. With tenure you can’t get fired and your grad students do all the work. Think: paid sabbatical. This brings us to a long-running fight here in Texas at UT-Austin and Texas A&M about how much professors really teach, should they do research and what role the regents should play in micromanaging the school. What’s really important, teaching or research? Let’s cut to the chase here, boys and girls. Former UT regents chairman Frank Erwin put it best, “I want a university the football team can be proud of.” Now there’s a Texan with the right priorities. If you don’t believe me, look at the UT-A&M football stadium race and the coaches’ salaries.

Today you may leave this school, but this school will never leave you. Your  university will follow you to the ends of the earth urging you to stay in contact, renew old friendships and, most importantly, send money. The vice president in charge of development –a sneaky name — has pursuit abilities to shame the FBI. Your alumni magazine will feature photos of big donors, fat cats holding enormous checks for a new law library and request — again, a sneaky name — perpetual remembrance, which means: “In your will, leave your money to us.” But before you can “give generously” to your alma mater you’ve first got to get a job to pay off your student loans. Today nationally those loans total more than one trillion dollars, more than the entire nation’s credit card debt. Remember you can’t wiggle out of this IOU by declaring bankruptcy. Federal law prevents it.

Right now America is trying to get out of two wars. The unemployment rate is high, the economy is stagnant and global warming is frying the planet. Our bridges are falling down, Detroit is dead and the world’s Muslims hate us. What’s more, my generation is leaving you a little house-warming gift: a huge national debt. What to do? Just do what your parents did, pass the IOUs on to your own children. Some say the Class of 2013 is inheriting a real mess. Nonsense.  It is obvious that we have left you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.

Next spring another graduating class will be sitting in these very chairs, all thinking the same thing: “How can I get your job?” You have a one year head start. Get busy.

 

Ashby is employed at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

A MOVING EXPERIENCE

May 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE CURB — Another family is moving into my neighborhood, Running Rats Acres. The van has pulled up to the curb and the men are hauling giant boxes into the house, except for the satellite dish, which the new owners are installing in the front yard. It looks like the pit bull cage goes in the back. Wonder why they need landmines?

This is National Moving Month. In Texas, it’s called “May” because every month everyone is coming here from all directions. How many and who? Take California, please. Over 363,000 Californians have moved to Texas over the past five years, more than from any other state. Almost 70,000 Californians came here in 2010 alone, helping the Not-So-Lonely Star State grow more than twice as fast as the nation as a whole. Since 2005, far more Californians have turned Texan than the other way around: 183 Californians moved to Texas for every 100 Texans moving to California.

Every six years a million people move to Texas, and it’s not just the surf and sun set. The Center for an Urban Future, a New York-based think tank, analyzed IRS Migration data and found a 34 percent increase in the number of New York City residents moving to the major cities in Texas — Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio — between 2005 and 2010. (Do you ever get the idea that the Border Patrol is watching the wrong river?) The U.S. Census Bureau says that between 2009 and 2010 about 510,000 people moved to Texas, while 380,000 moved away  — a net gain of 130,000 residents. On the other hand, our neighbor to the north, Oklahoma, received more Texans than it lost — mostly the Sooners’ starting lineup. An easy way to determine who is moving where is to check with U-Haul and similar companies. It’s often cheaper to rent a trailer or truck for a one-way trip to Michigan than to rent a rig for a trip to Texas where the rental lots are overflowing.

A strong reason for this mass migration is that Texas has no state income tax. New Yorkers and Californians can take home between 9 percent and 11 percent more of their income just by moving here. Another reason: our schools don’t have snow days (or much of anything else right now). We have mountains and beaches, Tex-Mex and those Hill Country sunsets that make you want to weep with happiness. Another reason is jobs. But we allow immigrants to only take those jobs Texans won’t take, such as practicing humility, driving the speed limit and voting. How can we spot these newcomers? That’s easy. A bed mattress tied to the roof of a ’56 Ford pickup with a chicken coop in the back means Okies, obviously. Rowing down the bayou in a pirogue fairly shouts Louisianan. Wading here? One guess. Trying to hail a cab on a Waco street corner at midnight? Noo Yawk.

May was picked as National Moving Month because this month is the busiest time of the year for Americans changing residencies. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA) fear those who chalked GTT on the door of their underwater house (IOU) and came to the Lone Star State (TEX) might get scammed by unscrupulous movers, teamsters and border guards. This is no small problem. In 2012, BBB received more than 1.4 million moving-related inquiries and more than 9,300 complaints against movers. Never change houses in the middle of a scam, and remember that Benjamin Franklin said, “Three removes are as bad as one fire.”

Now we must help our new Texans with some do’s and don’t’s. For example, make sure your mover knows your destination, otherwise you might find your possessions dumped in Arkansas. This is particularly hard on any implements that require electricity. Leave your USC and Green Bay Packers flags back home. Putting them out in your yard on game day only invites a branding, and not of the Madison Avenue type. Our state slogan is: Shoot friendly. Do not say, “Why should I remember the Alamo? They lost.” Do not tell Aggie jokes in College Station unless you want to bring back bonfire, this time with human sacrifices. (Incidentally, Hook ’em and Gig ’em are safe to say in some parts of the state, downright deadly in others. Learn the difference.) Do not say, “I’ll take Elizabethan poetry for $100, Alex.” Matching mud flaps are de rigueur, but be careful where you say de rigueur.  Like Cher, Liberace and Beyonce (who’s a Texan), down here some people’s first names don’t need further explanation: Willie, Rush, Bonnie and Clyde, Davy, Earl, LBJ and Mister Sam.

Here’s more advice: Rick Perry is not our governor for life. It just seems that way. “Don’t mess with Texas” started out as an anti-litter campaign. Today it’s our religion. Do not use your car’s directional signals, aka blinkers. That is a dead giveaway that you are from some place else. You are safe to say the following: God bless Texas. I’m not from Texas but I got here as fast as I could. No matter how you spell it, EPA is a four-letter word. Don’t refer to the Rio Grande River. That’s redundant. Grande is Spanish for river. Damnyankee is one word. “Gun control” means holding it with both hands. Learn to say, “No, this is not a Tundra hubcap. It’s my belt buckle.” We don’t care what they say in LA, the word is ROE-dee-oh, not row-DAY-oh.

If you are moving to Texas, you can leave your snow chains back in Cleveland. Same for your sleds and snow shovels. Peel off your Save the Whales and Obama bumper stickers. Learn all the words to “Luckenbach, Texas.” Speaking of music, that song is not — repeat, not — “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Finally, just remember: God may be an Englishman, but when He retires He’ll move to Lakeway.

 

Tex Ashby is roping at ashby2@comcaset.net

 

 

 

Crescendo Premiers in Houston May 22

May 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

crescendoThe short film Crescendo, that recounts the struggles of Maria Magdalena Beethoven, the mother of 19th century composer Ludwig van Beethoven, will be held May 22 at River Oaks Theater. Jason Jones, producer of the film, will host an informal discussion and field questions from the audience.

Crescendo debuted worldwide February 28 receiving over 11 international film festival honors, and comes to Houston to continue the Movie to Movement mission by supporting LifeHouse of Houston, the only maternity home licensed by the state to house girls’ ages 12-24 whether they plan to parent or place their baby for adoption.   All proceeds from the private screening event will benefit LifeHouse.

LifeHouse has previously welcomed Crescendo’s executive producer, Pattie Mallette (Justin Beiber’s mother), who visited with the residents prior to her son’s concert in November.

“We’re honored to continue our relationship with Pattie by bringing Crescendo to Houston,” said Courtney Abernethy, Director of Advancement. “Sharing the film with the Houston community will elevate the awareness of LifeHouse and the services it is providing to young women in need.”

Sponsorships start at $100 and tickets cost $25. They are now available for purchase by going to www.LifeHouseHouston.org/crescendo. Proceeds from the event will be used to support LifeLine, LifeHouse’s new outreach center located in Central Houston with the mission of continuing to serve hundreds of young pregnant and parenting women in crisis who are not in need of housing but in need of community, support, services and unconditional love.  LifeLine costs $5,000 to operate each month.  A month of Life Skills and Program costs are $500 and counseling cost $2,500 a month.  All of the services are, as always, free of charge to clients.

LifeHouse is a Christian ministry providing opportunities for housing, healing and hope for young women during their pregnancy and beyond. LifeHouse is a not-for-profit charitable IRS 501(c)(3) status www.LifeHouseHouston.org.

 The quick facts:

Who: LifeHouse and special conversation with Crescendo producer and human rights activist Jason Jones.  Jason Jones is a film producer and the founder and president of Movie to Movement and HERO [Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization] a non-profit that promotes human dignity regardless of ability, age, status, race, or geography.  He spearheaded a recent HERO initiative to bring clean water to suffering refugees in South Sudan. In 2009, despite the government’s warning of unsafe travel, Jason visited Darfur and inspected 26 new water wells and distributed $2 million in food, medicine, and other aid.

Event Committee: Courtney & Doug Abernethy, Abbi & Rob Antablin, Haley & Jake Baker, James Bell, Estela & David Cockrell, Amanda Fox, Kim & Brian Haufrect, Emily & Rusty Kelley, Carrie & Mark Pillsbury, Allison & Spencer Stasney, Elizabeth & Brett Taaffe, and Susan & Marty Weber

What: Crescendo, Houston Premier featuring film producer, human rights activist and public speaker Jason Jones

When: Wednesday, May 22, 8:00 pm

Where: River Oaks Theater, 2009 W. Gray, Houston 77019

Why: The screening of Crescendo will benefit LifeHouse of Houston.

Movie to Movement™ produces and promote films that make a difference – films which promote a culture of life, love and beauty.

How:  Sponsorships that include a cocktail reception and light bites from La Griglia with Jones and general admission tickets are now available.  Go to www.LifeHouseHouston.org/crescendo to make an on-line reservation today.  Seating is limited.

More information: www.LifeHouseHouston.org/crescendo, 713-623-2120

RED LIGHT DISTRICT

May 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

THE INTERESECTION — I’m waiting for the traffic light to turn green while listening to some knuckle-dragger on the radio explain that global warming is due to Daylight Saving Time “because we now have an extra hour of sunshine.” The traffic light changes, but every Texas motorist knows not to spring out into the intersection unless you first notify your next-of-kin. I slowly ease out into the crossroads which are more like crosshairs and… GOOD GRIEF!  A pickup comes barreling across my bow doing about 70, clearly running the red light. It’s a good thing we’ve got video cameras up there on poles which will snap a photo and….

Wait. We don’t anymore. They were mounted at the most wreck-prone intersections, but the good voters in my community cancelled the system. Clearly, a majority of motorists around here likes to be splattered like Jell-O, or maybe they like to splatter others. Either way, not only am I in danger every time I venture on to the roads,  my car insurance rates keep going up. Your rates, too.

In case you just moved here from Chad, such cameras are timed to photograph the license plates of cars going through red lights. The cameras can also shoot pictures of the drivers. The photos show the date, time, location and length of time the light had been red when the vehicle sailed through. Later, the motorist receives a letter containing a traffic ticket and a copy of the incriminating photograph.

There are many questions in life which defy answers. Why would anyone who makes more than $500,000 a year vote Democratic and why would anyone who makes less than $500,000 vote Republican? How did Davy die? Why do fools fall in love? To quote JFK, why does Rice play Texas? And why would anyone be opposed to video cameras taping the lunatics who run through red traffic lights threatening to kill us?  Maybe they like my splattered Jell-O theory.

We have seen those shots on TV of wrecks caused by vehicles running red lights. Usually they T-bone the other vehicle — hitting the side door, the most vulnerable part of the machine. And, again, we are all paying hard money for it, unless you are among the millions of Texas drivers who don’t have car insurance. More than 100,000 crashes and 1,000 fatalities are caused by motorists running red lights each year, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Studies show a sharp drop in the number of traffic accidents where the red-light cameras are used, but we shall not let facts get in the way of cherry-picking the laws we wish to obey and those which are simply an ingnored nuisance.

Opponents say the cameras are intrusion into their lives. If so, to be consistent they must avoid all banks, especially ATMs, which cover customers 360 degrees 24/7. Next time you go into a convenience store smile, because you are on Candid Camera. Local TV news shows love to run those grainy shots of some guy entering a Stop-N-Rob wearing a ski mask, gimme cap and dark glasses, waving a gun while the TV anchor intones, “If you recognize this person, call 1-800 HANDS UP.” Recognize him? That could be my brother and I wouldn’t know it. We live in a recorded world, as Tamerlan Tsarnaev told his own brother, Dzhokar.

London is supposedly the camera capital of the world, with the devices located on virtually every street corner. If you don’t want them taking your picture, don’t wear a London Fog. Also, don’t go into any liquor store, police station, airport terminal and most elevators. Casinos are full of cash, customer crooks and sticky-fingered employees. Stay away from them, plus hospitals and office building lobbies. Don’t use toll roads.  They are lousy with cameras. Actually, it seems hypocritical for opponents of the red light cameras, citing video intrusion of their privacy, to leave their house.

“It’s merely a way for the city to get more money,” we are told. Then we can assume these people don’t frequent parking meters, or pay their water bill. They avoid pro sports events because tax dollars paid for most of the stadiums and arenas. It is argued that the owner of the car may or may not be the actual driver. Tell that to the owners of vehicles receiving parking tickets.

There is the objection that the camera systems are supplied and operated by private companies, thereby usurping the duties of the government. Are these the same critics who are constantly clamoring for privatization, smaller government and run it like a business? Indeed, a private company picks up my garbage, although some days they deliver. The main, and unspoken, reason for opposing the cameras is simply that the whiners want to break the law and don’t want to get caught or pay the consequences (a fine), or even be inconvenienced. These arguments for opposing a common-sense device that could save lives and clear up a lot of lawsuits are totally transparent. But they are winning. Estimates are that at one point nearly 700 cities in the nation used cameras. Now it’s 530. Currently 21 states and Washington, D.C., use automated cameras at traffic intersections to catch violations. Opponents have one more way to break the law untouched: They can buy clear, plastic shields that blot out their license plate from cameras. The shields are rather like ski masks for cars.

Here in Texas, roughly 60 cities have the camera programs. Montgomery County and League City are dropping systems already in place. If you go there, avoid all intersections. Houston had a video system from September 2006 until voters banned them in November 2010. Good, because Houston has no traffic accidents to speak of. This decline in collision cameras means the T-bone terrorists have won. They are also correct in saying that we don’t need seat-belt laws, mandatory helmets for motorcyclists and child-proof medicine bottles. And, yes, Daylight Savings Time causes global warming.

 

Ashby sees red at ashby2@comcant.net