POCKETS OF RESISTENCE

May 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

The U.S. Marine Corps is currently fighting two wars, and taking casualties in both. The number of active duty troops is being cut from 184,000 to 182,000. It has a budget this year of $25 billion, which is 4 percent of the Navy’s budget (on paper, the Marine Corps is part of the Dept. of the Navy — always a sticky point among Leathernecks.) Congress, the White House and top civilian Defense Dept. brass are demanding the Corps allow women into the three combat branches – infantry, artillery and armor. (More on that in a minute.) So what are the Jarheads discusssing, debating and wondering about?

The no-pockets policy. It seems there is an informal suggestion (read: YOU WILL OBEY!) that Marines in uniform should not put their hands in their pockets. It looks sloppy. Specificcally, Marine Corps Order P1020.34G, the order on Marine Corps uniform regulations, reads: “The use of chewing gum, chewing tobacco, cigarettes; hands in pockets; or the consumption of food or beverage while walking in uniform or while in formation, are examples of activities that detract from an appropriate military presence. However, good judgment will govern the application of this policy in the field environment.”

The “good judgment” part is a decided departure from most military orders, but let’s march on. A publication called “Task & Purpose,” which I had never heard of and now you and I both have, got interested in this because of a semicolon. (Hang on, we own the Marines along with the other armed forces and thus should be interested in what’s going on.) Since the words “hands in pockets” is bracketed by semicolons, “Task & Purpose” wondered, does this mean don’t put your hands in your pockets while walking or in formation? The Leathernecks fired back, so to speak. Capt. Dominic Pitrone, a Marine spokesman, replied: “If you notice, the words ‘; hands in pocket;’ are bracketed by semicolons, which make it a stand-alone statement, separate from the full sentence and the text ‘while walking.’ The grammatical (and official) interpretation of this is that you are being told that you cannot keep your hands in your pocket, period.”

OK, I agree that this is a minor matter. and certainly Capt. Pitrone has better things to do, like getting ready for his 12th combat deployment. So to save everyone time and trouble, we shall solve this problem. First, the obvious answer is to issue trousers (never pants) without pockets, or sew up the pocket openings. Maybe instead of pockets the supply sergeant issues everyone a backpack to hold stuff. Wait, they already have them. The Marines refer to the item by a military term: “backpacks.” Any of these solutions might cause problems of where to put small items such as gum, coins or hand grenades, so we follow the lead of Scottish regiments who wore kilts in combat through World War I. They still wear them in ceremonies, but traditional kilts don’t have pockets. The laddies solved that problem centuries ago with the sporran, the purse-like pouch on a belt hanging in the front of the kilt covering the crotch. In combat, insert a small skillet in the sporran and it doubles as a flak jock. (Incidentally, USMC rules also prohibit officers in uniform from using an open umbrella or pushing a baby buggy. And one of my sons, a Marine officer, had to receive permission from his superiors before getting married.)

Remember the no-pockets policy also includes other prohibitions such as chewing gum or tobacco, cigarettes or consuming food or beverage while walking in uniform or while in formation. No one wants to see the Presidential Honor Guard lined up on the White House South Lawn to greet the King of Canada or simply to welcome President Trump, back from his daily flip-flop, with a few good men chewing tobacco or nibbling a Big Mac and sipping a Coke. It not only presents an unmilitary scene but could be taken as sponsorships. Come to think of it, considering the Corps’ sequestered budget, a banner reading: “The Fourth of July parade is brought to you by Ford” could defray some costs, not to mention: “The Iraq invasion – this Bush is for you!”

Then we have the female situation. For some time the PC forces have been pushing to put women in submarines, SEAL teams and as parachute testers. The last holdout positions in the armed services were the aforementioned three combat branches – infantry, artillery and armor. The other services have gone along with the orders, but the Marines continue to resist, not overtly, you understand, but they are fighting wars, getting gunned down at Chatanooga recruting stations and serving in hot spots the rest of us don’t even know about. Putting Marine females into a foxhole south of Sinjar is not real high on the Corps’ priorities.

The USMC even ran its own tests which showed that female Marines had problems carrying a “wounded” 220-pound grunt with fully loaded gear – well, at least he was fully loaded — from the bar, past the MPs, to a waiting getaway tank. Still, the Marine Corps has long had the fewest female members of any of the military services — fewer than 8 percent of active-duty troops, compared to the Navy with 18 percent, the Army has 14 percent female and the Air Force with 19 percent. Must that 8 percent keep their hands out of their purses? What if their makeup is running and they need a Kleenex?

Well, somehow the Jarheads will figure ways. For their miniscule budget, they have always been low man on the supply pole, and have a saying: “We have had so little for so long, we can now do anything with nothing forever.” Female Marines will join the combat arms, at least those who qualify on the Mortar Catching Range. And as for the no-pockets policy, simple: just abolish semicolons.           “We who have   anything with nothing.”

 

Ashby is Semper Fi at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A SOLUTION

May 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

HOUSTON – Just look around you. White people, black people, more and more yellow people, brown people, those who speak English with strange accents (Guadalajara, Brazzaville,   Boston). We all seem to get along, unless it’s a discussion over which wine goes with chili. Houston has been called “the most ethnically diversified city in America.” We are also, as a group, getting younger, less religious, more prone to vote Democratic and feel differently from our elected officials about gun control, transgender bathrooms and abortion rights, to name a few.

To find out, let’s go to the source of all things Houston: Dr. Stephen L. Klineberg, Founding Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University who has been dip-sticking Houstonians on their views for – roll of drums — 35 years. No other city that I know of has such a backlog of information on trends, loves, hates and changing thoughts. A prof at Stanford or Yale can’t go back to 1982 and start taking the pulse of Palo Alto or New Haven. So Steve – I can call him Steve because we go back to when he was using an abacus – has amassed this invaluable trove of info. Like our increasing tolerance for Muslims, our growing optimism and we don’t like flying cockroaches (Steve covers everything). We are a confident and optimistic bunch. This year 61 percent of us expressed confidence both in our own finances and the area’s economy, and believe both will continue upwards, a significant increase from previous years.

Houstonians are more and more favoring same-sex marriages and a transgender law. That ordinance was defeated almost two to one last November. A growing majority of us now favor stiffer gun-control laws but relaxing penalties on small-time druggies, and no Trumpian bar-Muslim immigration policies: “The survey respondents decisively reject the calls in the current electoral campaign to restrict immigration from Muslim countries and to turn away refugees seeking asylum.” When it comes to Houstonians’ opinion on prochoice, prolife, it’s prochoice by a growing percentage. Even as our state officials increasingly limit a woman’s access to abortions, 63 percent of the respondents in 2015 said they were opposed to “a law that would make it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion,” and 58 percent in 2016 agreed with the strong prochoice statement: “It should be legal for a woman to obtain an abortion if she wants to have one for any reason.” The surveys have also found that over the years this area is becoming both more secular and more aligned with the Democratic Party. The statement: “Government should see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job.” received a record 76 percent approval.

What else Steve and the Surveyors (sounds like a 70s rock group) found out? The proportion of area residents who said they were “very worried” about crime has remained below 30 percent in the past several surveys, while concerns about air pollution in the Houston area have improved considerably: Almost half of all the participants in the 2008 survey rated the control of air pollution in the Houston area as “poor,” but now only 26 percent feel that way. Our opinion of living in the Houston area has been high in the past and continues to grow. “In sum, the survey participants generally express distinctly positive feelings about living in the Houston area, even as they complain about traffic, pollution, and crime — not to mention the summer heat, the flying cockroaches, and the no mountains!”

A word on how we were quizzed, because accurate surveys are a scientific undertaking, which is why it’s Amateur Hour before many elections when polls are, well, poles apart. Among the changes, more and more of us, particularly young people, don’t even have traditional phones anymore. (I still dial.) Interviews for this year’s survey were taken between Jan. 25 and March 3. They reached (68 percent by landline, 32 percent by cell phone) a scientifically selected representative sample of 808 residents from Harris County. As in the past two years, additional interviews were taken with representative samples of residents in Fort Bend County and in Montgomery County for a total of 1,610 systematic interviews.

Steve explains: “This was to be a one-time survey, conducted as part of a class project with advanced undergraduate sociology majors at Rice in the spring of 1982. Houston was booming: one million people had moved here since 1970, in a city well-known for having imposed the fewest controls on development of any city in the Western world.” So he and his team began measuring the way people were balancing the booming population growth with mounting concerns about traffic, pollution, and crime. Two months later, in May 1982, the oil boom collapsed and Houston lost approximately 100,000 jobs. It was a different town, and another survey was needed, and then in every year after that. (At this point, you are thinking, “Should I expand my kosher deli to include a prayer rug parlor? How do I get the inside skinny?” Visit the Kinder Institute website at: kinder.rice.edu then scroll past the tweets and click on the aerial map.)

OK, why do lawmakers keep getting elected when they don’t reflect our views? One is the gerrymandering of voting districts which often makes winning in the primaries virtually tantamount to getting elected, and primary voters are usually more extreme in their views than the entire electorate. Another reason is the “donor class,” money talks to our lawmakers. Also. our lawmakers are elected by a small minority of white, educated, middle and upper classes. The survey calls this whole situation “the disconnect between public opinion and ‘politically effective opinion.’” Simply put, “politically effective opinion” votes. Public opinion consists of the rest who gripe but don’t vote. So if you want to change the laws, clean the air and open that prayer rug parlor, become politically effective. Voting is free.

 

Ashby votes at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

A SICK STUDENT BODY 

May 9, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                    9 May 2016

School is almost over for high school seniors, and they are already making plans for college next fall: backpack, shorts, cinder blocks and boards for a bookcase — no dorm room is complete without them – the latest in gizmos, laptops and whatever else Apple just trotted out that they simply can’t do without. For you boys, check out Dad’s closet where you will find absolutely nothing worth taking except maybe some ties for a frat 80s party. Girls, don’t forget birth control pills.

By August the parents will be fretting over the kid’s departure, and the almost-empty nesters are wondering how they are going to pay for the tuition. You see, college costs in Texas are rising faster than Johnny Manziel’s rap sheet. How fast? A recent Houston Chronicle story reports that in 2003, on average, Texas college students (or their parents) paid $3,361 in tuition and fees, but in 2015 they paid $8,256, an increase of 147 percent. During that time, the median household income statewide rose by just 32 percent.

Three factors account for this monumental boost. One, the Legislature keeps reducing the state’s percentage of funding. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, state funding for public universities declined by 27 percent from 2003 to 2015 when adjusting for inflation. Two, the Legislators allowed each school to set its own tuition rates. Guess what happened? Three, overhead. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims that administrative costs at universities have risen 149 percent since 2003, while classroom costs have increased just 65 percent. Of course, Patrick also says transgenders will break into public restrooms and rape little girls, so we must take his claims with a grain of pixie dust.

There are a few more costs to consider. The DREAM Act allows illegal immigrants to stay and Texas allows them to pay in-state tuition, which is far lower that the out-of-state costs. Then there are the illegal Americans. A young lady whom I met, was visiting her father who lived on my neighborhood. Her parents divorced years ago and she lived with her mother in Indiana. But she enrolled at UT using her Texas’ father’s address. Bingo! Instead of paying $33,842, her tuition dropped to $9,798. Maybe the school is more suspicious now.

Next we have the Legislature’s Hazlewood Act, which covers college costs for Texas veterans and their children. The act, which was expanded in 2009, cost Texas public universities $169 million in tuition revenue in 2014. Come down from, say, Pennsylvania and join the Army in Dallas. When you get out, you and your children go to A&M for free. What a deal. On the other hand, each year roughly 19,000 high school graduates leave Texas for colleges in other states, where they likely pay much higher tuition bills as out-of-state students. We could use those funds right here in Texas.

This brings us to student debt. Fifty-nine percent of the graduates of a Texas public university with a bachelor’s degree have a debt, which averages $26,260, ranking him or her 27th among grads from the 50 states. Nationally, the student debt stands at $1.2 trillion, which is more than Americans owe on their credit cards, and is growing by an estimated $2,726.27 every second. Some economists fear this is influencing our overall national economy.

But there are solutions. Let’s look at the current situation. If your kid can run, dribble or tackle, there are athletic scholarships. UT has an annual athletic department budget of $167-million, largest of any school in the nation. Get your share. Schools love to talk about their diversity. Indeed, UT-Austin could be called The Diversity of Texas, but 90 percent of that student body comes from Texas, which apparently includes kids from Indiana with at least one Texan parent and any veteran from Pennsylvania who was inducted in Dallas. The entire undergraduate body is split among 226 of the state’s 254 counties and 41 states. Asians make up 3 percent of the population of Texas but account for 17.2 percent of the Longhorn student body. (No, they shouldn’t go to Rice. Hahaha.)

UT would love to increase these diversifying figures by checking off a few boxes. Sign up your child as a graduate of Bismarck, North Dakota, High School living in Loving County, Texas, (population 102, no UT students) and of Croatian-Eskimo ethnicity. No doubt she’ll get a scholarship, maybe two or three. We now know former UT President William Powers overrode the admissions office and ordered some unqualified applicants be enrolled because their parents were important, rich donors or powerful lawmakers. Give a new dorm or biology lab, or better yet, sponsor a blue chip halfback, and your kid is in. Or, if Bernie Sanders gets elected president, a free college education and thus no student debt.

But maybe your offspring has run up a debt and you don’t want to pay it. Unlike most other IOUs, bankruptcy does not shield the deadbeat from paying off a student loan. There are rare occasions when the feds will just get tired of the legal fights. Bankruptcy judges can determine whether there is a degree of “hopelessness.” However, I have been declare “hopeless” many times and still had to pay my bills.

One question: why are our universities’ tuition so high? The schools don’t pay taxes, they don’t buy raw products like steel or vegetables to churn out cars, soup or diesel fuel Most of their buildings are gifts from rich alumni who like to see their name on the front entrance. Classes at our state schools are often taught by grad students, so the tenured profs can work on their research, which is underwritten by either government or corporate grants. Here’s one possibility: The UT System will pay about $450 million for 332 acres of choice land near the Texas Medical Center. Why? I think Texas’ higher education needs a good CPA to check the finances – and count the cinder blocks

 

Ashby educates at ashby2@comcast.net

 

NO LAUGHING MATTER

May 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV – “President Obama walks into a bar and asks for a black Russian. The bartender says — oh this is great — ‘I thought you were one.’ Hilarious. No?” No. For almost eight long and dull years comedy writers have been desperately trying to come up with Obama jokes. There aren’t any. He’s not called No Drama Obama for nothing. He is leaving office in less than a year, and goes with a sigh of relief from those poor wretches who sit around a TV network office trying to come up with something funny and topical about the current administration. The only people happier to see him go are the millions of undocumented aliens because this President has deported more of them than any other President in the nation’s history.

Think of it: when was the last time you heard a funny Obama joke? For all his failures to get bills and appointees past Congress, this administration has been relatively if not completely free of scandal, although the GOP would say his entire administration is one big scandal. I miss the Bill Clinton sex jokes – his gravelly voice and Arkansas accent always brought a laugh. George W. was a master at mangling the English language: “I understand small business growth. I was one.” And: “It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.” Those were golden days for comics.

Jimmy Carter had a wonderful Southern drawl that was easy to imitate, although he wasn’t much of a source for humor. The only laughs came at the expense of his brother, Billy, who was right out of “The Dukes of Hazard.” While today Ronald Reagan is sanctified by conservatives, Reagan’s administration had a huge number of scandals: Iran-Contra, Oliver North, etc., resulting in the investigation, indictment, or conviction of over 138 administration officials, the largest number for any U.S. president. They all made for late-night TV laughs. George H.W. Bush ran a strict Ivy League administration which generated jokes only when he vomited on the prime minister of Japan.

Our current leader is the target of mean-spirited ridicule and hate-mongering – listen to any Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh show. Those are third-graders’ insults, not humor. We are discussing the more sophisticated and intelligent putdowns and knee-slappers such as those by Mark Twain: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Will Rogers: “The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.” Bob Hope and Johnny Carson, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (who was much funnier in his old show – his current late night gig on CBS is so boring the network suits are bringing in a new producer).

While Obama may be a desert for laughs, Calvin Coolidge was the worst. Silent Cal once sat next to a young woman at a dinner party who confided to him she had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her, Coolidge quietly retorted, “You lose.” However, Abraham Lincoln had a dry wit. The rather craggy-looking president, noting that his political opponents called him “two faced,” said, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” JFK could toss a good bon mot, noting that, “Washington is a city of northern charm and Southern efficiency.” And some of our more recent presidents have had a hidden talent for humor. Each spring, Washington holds the White House Correspondents Dinner in which the President gets to fire back (sometimes humorously) at the Fourth Estate. I have attended a few such occasions, and was surprised at the talent. OK, they all had top-flight writers, but Reagan, an actor by trade, had wonderful timing. The two best where the Bushes – George W. and Laura. Separately, at two different dinners, they were hilarious.

In America, joking about our leaders may ruin your chance for dinner at the White House, but in other countries such humor can be hazardous to your health. The latest incident concerns a German comic named Jan Boehmermann, who recited a satirical poem on television which made sexual references to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Big deal, you say. Actually Germany has an obscure law concerning insults against foreign heads of state, and Turkey wants justice.

However gloomy the humor front has been, there is hope among our presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton is already a steady diet for “Saturday Night Live,” and Bill is still low-hanging fruit for the jokers. If Bernie Sanders gets elected, he will be our first Jewish president, and he is old. As long as the jokes are about his age and are not deemed anti-Semitic, he’s fair game. Then we have Donald Trump, the answer to prayers of every joke writer in the land. Indeed, like Hillary, Trump is already steady feedstock for late night comedians. Ted Cruz would be so-so as joke material, although some of his statements and positions are in themselves quite laughable. The wordsmiths’ worst nightmare (excuse the cliches) is John Kasich, the Ohio governor who is probably the sanest of all the candidates, but is so very dull, noncontroversial and blah, that if he is elected it will be four more years of No Drama.

There is another group that is looking forward to a world without Barack: editorial cartoonists. Obama did not do anything dramatic that lends itself to caricatures and ridicule (when you can’t do much, what’s to laugh at?). Also, Obama does not sport a distinctive face, except for those ears. Newspaper editorial pages have suffered for it. Hillary is easily identifiable, but no home run. Trump, Cruz and Sanders are the best targets for a wicked pen.

Where, oh where, is George W. when we need him? “We ought to make the pie higher.” “I think we agree the past is over.” Who can forget: “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?”

 

Ashby is laughing at ashby2@comcast.net