A Rare Media, Well Done

November 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV – “It is all the fault of the media elite.” “The media elite hate America, and will do everything in their power to destroy our country.” “The little guy doesn’t stand a chance against the media elite.” That’s Newt Gingrich talking, or saying something close to it. I guess he used surveys and focus groups to determine that the media elite are the easiest way to score points with his audiences. It was said that each sentence in former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign speeches consisted of a noun, a verb and nine-eleven. Well, ol’ Newt has the same problem: The poor guy can’t utter a sentence without that mind-numbing repetitious phrase.

The Media “Elites” by Nathan Forget, via Wikipedia.

Here’s an interesting point: By his usage, Gingrich is turning a positive into a negative. The word used to have this definition: “Elite, (often used with a plural verb) the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.” It comes from the Middle English (1300-1400) meaning an elected official. Donald Trump, before he was an elected official, lived in a multi-storied penthouse in Manhattan and traveled in his private helicopter and aircraft. Yet he branded Hillary Clinton as an “elitist” who was out of touch with the common folk, and it clicked with that minority of Americans who voted for him. It didn’t help Hillary’s cause when she mentioned that she hadn’t driven a car in 16 years.

So we had this elite and that elite, meaning the crème de la creme, the top 1 percent, the best and the brightest. The older among us will remember “Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat.” Now it’s an insult. Awhile back we discussed how names change as with the Cajuns, who were ridiculed as redneck semi-literates until Louisiana realized what a goldmine they had in Cajun music, cooking and culture. Georgia Crackers went the other way, from prominent early settlers (that was the proud name of the Atlanta minor league baseball team) to redneck semi-literates.

Of course, the term was often overused, or used wistfully. Saddam Hussein’s “elite Republican Guard” turned out to be elite only in surrendering. But generally it was a compliment, and most of us would like to be considered elite. Alas, the title has been hijacked, just like compromiser and the Republican Party. Sometimes it is simply a name change for the same animal. A liberal is now a progressive and a Wall Street billionaire is now a job creator. The two groups carefully choose which words to use in describing the other. Those who write letters to the editor are an example. Right-wingers and left-wingers never describe themselves that way, but a conservative will refer to a liberal’s (excuse me, progressive’s) letter as a “screed.” I like that word, it reminds us of screech or the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. Conversely, a conservative’s letter is a “bombast.”

Hero is a much overused title. A recipient of the Medal of Honor is a hero. Those of us who defended San Diego from the Seabees are not heroes. As an aside, that medal is not the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is presented in the name of Congress, and no one “wins” the award, as I was sternly told by a Marine lieutenant colonel. “It’s not a (fill in the blank) contest.”

Where were we? Oh, yes, words and their changing meaning. Do you call that chunk of the Middle East the West Bank or the Occupied Territory? I still like Bombay, Burma and Constantinople. Naughty is now applied to children. Santa knows who’s naughty and nice. But naughty used to mean evil, really bad. Not anymore.

As for Newt Gingrich’s hated media elite, who are they? Probably those who disagree with him, who point out that he keeps preaching “family values” but has had three wives and several affairs, says he looks out for the little man but has a half-million dollar line of credit at the working man’s Walmart, Tiffany’s. Those kinds of elites. We know who they are, and Newt is not totally off base. They are the talking heads on Sunday morning TV panels, the same people every Sunday. The rest of the week they talk to each other at Georgetown dinner parties deciding what America thinks. “The American people today feel that….” Or: “There is a great uneasiness across the land….” Oh, come off it. They wouldn’t know the average American if he bit them on the backside. These pundits only know flyover country if they have a speech in Chicago or Denver.

But they have to stay on TV to uphold their soapbox, their power base. They would probably pay to be a talking head on TV. Once they lose their power base, no group wants to pay them $20,000 for a half hour of “inside Washington skinny.” Just ask Sam Donaldson, Sarah Palin or Dan Rather. When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re Rudy (Nine Eleven) Giuliani. Now, to be fair, many of these folks are, indeed, experts on Washington, elections and government. It’s good to get the media elite’s take on situations. Put it this way: when watching a sports event on TV, do you mute the sound? No, because the announcers know a whole lot more about the game, and whether Joe “Lightin” Jones can hit a three-pointer from downtown with his left hand on Thursdays. We listen to them because they are experts, and we can learn.

The same with the talking heads. They just heard the very same State of the Union speech you did, but they know the President said exactly the opposite in Akron on Labor Day, and he needs the soybean farmers’ vote in the Iowa primary. They tell us something we didn’t know. So we can’t dismiss the media elites as self-important jerks. That title belongs to ol’ Newt.


Ashby is elite at ashby2@comcast.net

Fall Entertaining Tips

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Dining, Features

by Cassidy Irish

Texas-based blogger and lifestyle expert Caroline Harper Knapp knows about effortless, seasonal entertaining and style. She recently hosted a Summer Soirée in Dallas featuring Cointreau, the orange liqueur. Knapp began hosting events while living in NYC, and continues to do so in her current hometown of Houston. Here are some of her tips for throwing a flawless party:

Make a Strong First Impression. “Fresh cocktails and inspired décor help set the tone—whether you’re entertaining friends, family or out of town guests, if you greet them with a great-tasting cocktail, it elevates the occasion and lends a personal touch for a memorable moment.”

Set the Scene. “A white base is a no-fail foundation for any Instagram-worthy tablescape. Start with a collection of basic white dishware, then have fun layering in colorful flatware, tablecloths, napkins and glasses. Flowers are a beautiful addition, and can tie in nicely to themes without being overpowering. Décor should be simple and light—adding pops of color in a tasteful way, and should remain in one color family.”

Host a Bar Cart. “Essential to effortless entertaining, a bar cart is the perfect moment to reveal cocktails you’ll be serving. It acts as a mobile kitchen most days—great for meetings and hosting guests. On it you can always find pops of greenery, fun glassware, personal mementos, and my favorite spirit Cointreau to create hand-crafted cocktails.”

A lot of planning goes into entertaining, and it’s important the host enjoys the event as much as her guests. With these tips, you will be able to throw a fabulous party and entertain in style! Check out Knapp’s blog at houseofharper.com.

Bordering On the Ridiculous

November 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE MAP – They are all here: Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso, except they read San Antonio de Bexar and El Paso Del Norte. Dallas didn’t make the cut. This map was published by Chas. Knight & Co, 22 Ludgate Street, London. It is entitled, “Central America including Texas, California and the Northern States of Mexico.” Bet you didn’t know you lived in Central America.

By what is shown here, “Lorado,” S. Augustine, Waco Village, Santa Fe, Fort. S. Francisco, Comanche Indians, Apaches, and what is not shown besides Big D, Midland and Los Angeles, I am guessing this map was printed about 1840. Here’s the part that we should care about: there is no northern border of Texas. The east-west lines on the map run parallel, about 100 miles apart, to the north, then just stop near Pikes Peak.

Chas. Knight would have known where to draw that border had he waited a bit to steal a map from a Philadelphia printer named Samuel Augustus Mitchell. He liked details. That’s why he was the first map publisher in the United States to switch from copper plate engraving to steel. Steel produced finer details. According to Copono Press, which is selling reproductions, Mitchell’s map was printed in 1846 just after Texas joined the union (but before the Big Sellout, which we shall get to shortly). Original 1846 folding copies sell for over $10,000.

From Mexico in 1842: A Description of the Country, Its Natural and Political Features…by George Folsom. Courtesy of Dorothy Sloan-Rare Books, Austin, Texas

Here’s the inside skinny on why your ancestors really could ski Texas. Again according to Copono Press, “The founding fathers of the Republic of Texas had set their sights far in 1836. The republic they defined encompassed the entire eastern half of what is now New Mexico, including Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. The panhandle they described was in the shape of a stovepipe running all the way north to the 42nd parallel. Today the 42nd parallel makes up the borders between California and Oregon in the west, and between Pennsylvania and New York in the east. It runs through Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. In fact, Point Pelee, Ontario, lies just south of the 42nd degree north latitude, meaning that southern-most part of Canada lay south of northern-most Texas. Claiming the 42nd parallel placed the northern border of Texas in what is now Carbon County, Wyoming.”

To flex its muscle and show ownership in that vast land, in 1841 President Mirabeau B. Lamar on his own formed the Santa Fe Expedition made up of traders, with $200,000 in goods, soldiers and a Mexican guide who deserted them. They went by Wichita Falls and staggered across West Texas, arriving near Santa Fe where they expected to be greeted by eager business owners. Instead, they were forced to surrender to Mexican officials and were taken in chains as prisoners to Mexico City, suffering mightily. That did not stop Texas visitors, although today relatively few are taken in chains to Mexico City prisons. Indeed, half of Houston and most of Dallas have summer homes there to avoid the Texas heat. My mother had a friends who said she stopped going to Santa Fe in the summer. “Every time I walked down the street, I’d meet people I knew from Dallas.”

When joining the Union, Texas’ claim to such a vast wasteland was accepted by the feds in Washington, mainly because there was no there there except wild Indians, buffalo and ski bums. But soon things got sticky. The Mexican-American War established new boundaries, the whole free vs. slave argument came to the forefront, bills were introduced in Congress to split off the west part of Texas and make it a new state. When U.S. troops occupied Albuquerque, Southerners threatened to send their own soldiers.

Then the discussion turned to that great common denominator: money. The Republic of Texas owned a huge amount of lands, and retained them after Annexation. But it also owed a fortune to bond holders. So a deal was struck, the U.S. would buy the western third of Texas for $10 million. (I haven’t figured out how much that is an acre, but it’s got to be less than, say, what Highland Park or River Oaks runs.) At the end of the republic, its debt was officially estimated at $9,949,007, so Texas still had $50,993 left over.

The northern border of today’s Texas was due to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which said that states above that line would be free and those below it could be slave, so if Texas wanted to hold on to any land above the line, it would have to free its slaves. Texas preferred slaves to land. Speaking of which, the compromise also maintained slavery in the nation’s capital, but the slave trade was prohibited.

That resulted in the silly Oklahoma Panhandle – one of its three counties is named Texas (pop. 20,640). The entire deal was called the Compromise of 1850 and avoided North and South from ever having to go to war. This land deal is often compared to the Louisiana Purchase. That transaction involved 828,000 square miles for cash, forgiveness of loans and interest on other loans, for a total of $15 million or $250 million today. It came to a little less than three cents an acre.

Today the boundaries of Texas are 2,845.3 miles long, but if you include the smaller meanderings of the rivers and the tidewater coast line, the boundary is 4,137 miles long and encloses 263,644 square miles of land and another 3,695 square miles of water surface. But think of the wide-open spaces, snow-capped mountains and vast miles of nothing that were, and still could be, a part of Texas. Without leaving the state, even with no passport, you could visit the home of the atomic bomb, Carlsbad Caverns, and those frozen vaults at Roswell where the government hides the bodies of Martians, if our forefathers hadn’t needed that pitiful $10 million. Today that will hardly rent a .300 hitting shortstop for the season.


Ashby deals at ashby2@comcast.net

Harvesting Harvey

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE FRONT YARD – No, this is not another poor-little-me Hurricane Harvey story. This is a story of wealth beyond your imagination, yachts, gold bars and even a cup of Starbucks chocolate latte with whip cream topping. You see, in the wake of that storm, aid is pouring in, like billions, and we need to get our share, but it’s going to require time, patience and our simple animal cunning. Hey, somebody is going to be on the receiving end of this monumental dole, so why not us?

Let’s look at the landscape which, in my neighborhood of Running Rats Acres, looks like Walmart after a Black Friday sale. The Texas Gulf Coast, Florida, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico got blasted by Hurricane Harvey, Maria and some I can’t remember. Within weeks FEMA was on the scene in Puerto Rico handing out toothbrushes and soap. (The water to use them was on the way.) Even later President Donald Trump, not wishing to catch heat the way President George W. did by simply flying over Katrina’s New Orleans and gazing out at the drowning peasants below), actually flew to Puerto Rico, went to a nearby hangar and tossed rolls of paper towels to the great unwashed (still waiting for water). Then he returned to Washington, where he tweeted that the residents of Puerto Rico were waiting for someone else to fix things.

Congress sprang into action and voted that somebody do something. It approved $15.25 billion in September for Texas as a down payment to start the recovery process, which included $7.4 billion for a “community development block grant.” Congress then cleared a $36.5 billion aid package for hurricane relief, and Texas was in front of the line for the cash, as is our due. (President Trump has agreed in principle that Texas will get a greater share of federal disaster assistance funds than other states.)

But Texas Gov. Greg (“I hate Washington”) Abbott said those federal funds weren’t near enough, with Texas damages expected to eventually top $150 billion. He wanted $18.7 billion more on top of the $15.25 million, and he wanted it yesterday. Then he went to Washington asking for an additional $61 billion. However, Land Commissioner George P. Bush warned the money must go through a lot of red tape before Texans will see any of it. He said that historically, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken from nine months to nearly three years to get that money to the people who need it. So, survivors, help is on the way – in 2020.

As the governments dragged along, private organizations stepped in. There have been chili cook-offs and benefits. Five ex-presidents held a Deep in the Heart concert and raised $2.6 million. Harris County and the City of Houston are spending $20 million buying out flooded houses, and have asked for another $17 million. Houston Texan J.J. Watt wanted to raise $200,000 for Harvey relief and got $30.2 million and climbing. On the receiving end are a parade of groups: The Houston Harvey Relief Fund, the Rebuild Texas Fund, Juntos y Unidoes Por Puerto Rico, the Fund for the Virgin Fund and many. Many more..

How much of those billions will you actually see? Probably zero, so we make our move. We hit up people quickly, while Harvey is fresh, and they give because they are both generous and suffer from survivor’s guilt. I just created the Fund for Doing Good Things, but will also start Veterans Helping Draft Dodgers, or maybe the other way around, Texans Helping Ourselves, the Harvey Fund for Financial Fitness and Flood Victims Anonymous. Money will pour in. Here’s another way to skin this cat. Get some of the loot being passed around. For example, what on earth is a “community development block?” Maybe it’s funds for a block in the community. Our block. It’s getting $7.5 billion, and we deserve a slice. Hit up the Department of Agriculture (be sure to ask for repayment for those 4,000 acres of kale you almost planted) and cash from HUD for the 23 gypsies you took in.

Then there is FEMA, which is dispensing billions of dollars to, well, someone. We may never know. I am dealing with FEMA over the loss of my possessions and damage to my house. They put replacement cost for my den furniture at $34, but are balking at the estimate for my collection of letters from Washington to Jefferson, the Faberge eggs and Dorothy’s red slippers, which they claim were stolen by the gypsies. FEMA wants receipts for most items. Where did you store the receipt for the bathtub you bought in 1982? It’s not just homes. Your business suffered, too. How much does it cost to replace tattoo needles? Thousands. No price can be placed on the goodwill and reputation of your adult book store, but $100,000 is low-balling it.

Oh, sure, we are already hearing about watchdogs in Austin and Washington who will make sure all the donations get to their intended targets. We must remember the U.S. Inspector General who found $30 billion missing in aid to Iraq. It’s not just cash. You need to replace that three-level swimming pool you were going to install. Remember the $30 million spent in Afghanistan for a big facility the Marines never asked for and never used. So I think we are pretty safe in not getting caught.

Here’s another tip: Since much of the west side of Houston survived the actual hurricane, but were flooded when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened flood gates on two dams and inundated scores of neighborhoods, lawyers are in high heat. I’m not sure you can sue the U.S. Army, but if you win you may be paid in either MRE rations or Abrams battle tanks.

So get your cut of the billions of dollars being showered on real or imagined victims of Hurricane Harvey — in 2020.


Ashby raises kale at ashby2@comcast.net