THE MEETING HALL – As usual, our chairman, Bottom Line, called the group to order as quick as a New York minute. “Fellow members, welcome to another meeting of Club Cliché, where the thread-bare gather to trot out all those shop-worn shibboleths, overused words and terms that were once fresh and cute but today are over-the-hill, dead as a doornail and their shelf life has expired. I see some old friends out there like Occupy Wall Street and your cousin, Wall Street to Main Street. Hi, to you, Man Up and Shovel Ready. Same for Sit Around Singing Kumbaya. I guess you are still is use, like Gravitas, Low Hanging Fruit and On the Wrong Side of History. I see Spot On and Shelf Life are still around. To all of you, I have a real surprise this time, which I shall save for later.”
Boots on the Ground spoke up. “Some of my war-time buddies are here which I’d like to introduce. There is R&R and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder better known as PTSD, which took over from Battle Fatigue and Shell Shocked. We have WMDs, which don’t exist, also Radicalized and Embolden Our Enemies.” Bottom Line nodded in approval. “I think they have more than earned their membership. Yes, you there. You have a question?”
Millennial asked: “What’s a shibboleth?”
Bottom Line answered: “You are. The word has gone through many changes over the years, but today it means jargon, inside baseball or well-worn passwords. Millennial I think qualifies. Moving on, Give a Shout Out wants to gives a shout out. To whom?
Shout Out stood up and shouted out: “WHERE’S YOU GO, GIRL?”
“Alas, You Go Girl is no longer with us, which brings us to that sad part of the meeting:
Those who have been dropped from our membership due to lack of overuse. Sorry, Boooring, you were so overused, but not anymore. Same for Wazzup? During the ebola scare, every TV news story had to get in Protocol, but ebola is not hot anymore and neither is Protocol.
“It’s not fair to kick out terms that have been beaten to death on TV,” said Breaking News. “That’s especially true for our sportscasters. Take, for example, pro hoops, the ‘Boys and ‘Stros. Not to mention the Pinstripes, frozen rope, walk-off and pick six. Don’t forget FloMoJo and basketball shots from Downtown. Our jock-talkers wouldn’t have a show without boring and repetitious clichés. We can’t even call the Super Bowl that anymore. The NFL copyrighted the name and sues anyone who uses it. Now it’s The Big Game.”
Bad Boy, Selfie and You Need a Bigger Boat applauded.
“I’ve been wondering,” asked Metrics, “what, exactly does cliché mean?”
Bottom Line explained: “It’s from the French ‘clic-chez,’ pronounced klee-SHAY, meaning ‘expressions used by the rhetorically challenged.’ Now I see Dumb Down wishes to speak.”
Dumb Down stood up. “No one uses clichés more than our politicians. I’m going to miss John Boehner, he used them constantly, like Whack-a-Mole, Adult Conversation and Nuclear Option. But we still have Gridlock and Skin in the Game. Politicians used to receive opposition, but now it’s Pushback.” Bricks & Mortar raised its hand. “I still miss Come Out of the Shadows and Corporations Are People, Too.”
Get a Life and its cousin, Get a Room, waved for attention. “That brings us to our current political deadly tattered phrases, like Make America Great Again, Nasty Women, Income Gap and Fly-Over America, which make us grit our teeth every time we hear them.” Bottom Line took over again. “This campaign has also given new life to the hated press. Drive-by Media is back. So is Liberal Press and Newt Gingrich’s favorite term, the Elite Media, which he manages to work into every sentence. Then we have the Lame Stream Media. It always gets a laugh. As for the surprise I mentioned, a big cliché welcome to Post-truth, which has been named Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year, wining out over a field that included Adulting, Alt-right and Brixiteer. It also beat out Coulrophobia which is an extreme or irrational fear of clowns. That term surged after that rash of reports of scary clowns.”
Multitask had a question. “Wonder whatever happened to that scary clown fad? I guess they all piled into a VW Beatle and drove off.”
Bottom Line continued. “The use of Post-truth is defined as – hang on — ‘relating to things in which objective facts mean less than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ In other words, don’t let the truth or the facts get in the way of what you want to believe. Oxford found a 2,000 percent growth of Post-truth over last year, and – to no one’s surprise — much of this usage can be traced directly to Donald Trump supporters. They simply ignore his statements, such as he knows more about ISIS than the generals, or that unemployment is up – it’s down considerably from when Obama took office – or that he can’t release his taxes until his audit is complete – the IRS said he could release them anytime. He also said, ‘I will never settle the Trump University suit out of court.’ He did, and paid $25 million. There are more of Trump’s Post-truths, but you get the idea.”
“What’s the difference between a Post-truth and Truthiness?” asked Mojo.
“A good question,” said our leader. “Truthiness was coined by Stephen Colbert 10 years ago, and was so popular that Merriam-Webster and the American Dialect Society each chose Truthiness as its word of the year. Truthiness is a humorous way of discussing a truth or fact that is not exactly a lie, just borderline or slightly slanted. But Post-truth goes a step further, and turns outright lies into believable thoughts. Hey, some 61 million voters suspended their brains and bought Trump’s Post-truths.”
“What’s the takeaway from this?” asked Takeaway.
“The same as always,” said Bottom Line. “Avoid clichés like the plague.”
Ashby is a cliche at email@example.com
Did you win or lose in the recent democracy inaction? Probably both. Texas scored big, at least some did, a few bombed. The Democratic Party showed once again its ineptitude, and the much-vaunted Latino vote never manifested. Texas’s winners were the early Trump supporters including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lite Gov. Dan Patrick and Atty. General Ken Paxton. How so? President-elect Donald Trump will nominate a like-minded justice to keep the U.S. Supreme Court arch-conservative. It will overturn all those bothersome interferences from Washington dealing with Texas’ laws on abortion, voter ID, pollution, gerrymandering and the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas taxpayers will benefit by not having to continue paying multi-million dollar legal bills the state has been racking up defending our right to discriminate against those lesser mortals.
Our state legislature remains firmly in the hands of hard-line (some would say cro-Magnon) lawmakers who maintain their power to draw up new legislative and Congressional lines after the next U.S. Census when Texas will get two or more U.S. representatives. One guess as to which party will get them. Another big Texas loser is Sen. Ted Cruz, although he was mentioned as attorney general. He now will have to dismantle all those “Cruz in ‘20” banners. So will Sen. Marco Rubio who vowed not to run for the Senate again then did, and won. Let’s see, there was that other Bush, Jeb! and Rick Santorum plus a herd of hopefuls. Now their chances are gone. Winners are those who land federal positions, starting with his cabinet. Newt Gingrich was being touted as Secretary of State. Within a week we shall be at war with Finland. Jesse Sessions our next Attorney General? Hey, Hillary, you’ll look great in an orange pants suit. Among the other losers are the thousands of Obama appointees who are working on their resumes – judges, department heads, Smokey the Bear. The U.S. is the only country that replaces its ambassadors with every change in administration. Why do we do that? Campaign contributors. FBI Director James Comey was a loser no matter who won. He had the uncanny ability to chap both candidates and both sides. He’s three years into a 10-year term and can’t be fired, but Trump can confiscate Comey’s truncheon.
This brings us to the Clintons. The Oval Office’s glass ceiling remains shatter-proof. Gone are the glory days of raking in millions on the speaking tours, and the Clinton Foundation has a cracked slab. Then there is her autobiography, which is probably on hold until a publisher can be found; maybe she’ll distribute it by email. Actually, Hillary’s last book didn’t do too well, but they still have their fortune, plus all they’ll make on the Clinton Presidential Library with its admission fees, T-shirts (“It takes more than a village to support us”) and the Monica Lewinski Weight Watchers Diet Manual. Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t say he’s a winner, but has booked the Lincoln Bedroom for inauguration day. Incidentally, Trump’s speech writers have changed the presidential oath to “so help me– me.” The media are big-time losers. Trump, who calls the press “scum,” has said he wants looser libel laws so that he can sue any publication that says catty things about him. Expect the First Amendment to be put on an ice floe and pushed into an ocean that used to be the Arctic. (Global warming is a myth.) The winner is Fox News, which even now is planning a sit-com, “Good Fences.”
Big winners are late night TV comedians. No Drama Obama was eight long years of drought for comic writers. Hillary is dull, so punch lines would have been scarce. But Trump? “He learned about foreign affairs by having several of them, plus what he picked up at the International House of Pancakes. Trump thinks Siani is the plural of sinus. The West Wing will now be known as the Right Wing. But seriously, folks….” Military contractors are lining up K Street lobbyists to get some of those billions that Trump promised to spend on defense. He will pay for it by cutting out all federal funds for Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. How many times did The Donald say, to cheering crowds, that he will build a wall along our southern border, and Mexico will pay for it? Who wants to bet it will actually be done, and if it isn’t, it’s not his fault?
Pre-voting news stories noted the heavy turnout at the polls. More early voting, long lines, etc. In fact, fewer voters cast their ballots this time than last. So much for the heavy voting hoopla. Ditto for the “sleeping giant” that was supposed to be the Latino vote. Jorge Ramos, who got in a shouting match on TV at a Trump news conference, kept boasting about how the Latino vote would decide the outcome. No way, Jorge. They voted heavily for Hillary. She lost.
Certainly big losers were the pollsters. I can’t find anyone who predicted that Trump would win so easily. The explanation is simple: voters were asked who they would vote for. Most people answered, Clinton, and they did. Hillary beat Trump in the popular votes by 1 to 2 million. But, like Al Gore, she was defeated by the Electoral College, aka, Trump University: 306 for Trump, 232 for Hillary. How can pollsters ask: Which way are your state’s Electoral College votes going to be cast? Until they figure that out, these polls are useless. The millions of Americans who voted for Trump said they want lower taxes, smaller government and fewer regulations; they are sick of being ignored by Washington, and what have you done for me lately? These are the same people who want Medicare, Social Security checks, a cop on every street corner (to regulate?) and subsidies for their biofuels. Oh, and free college education. Which is it? Some might call that blatant hypocrisy, others call it a winning formula.
Ashby wins at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE OFFICE – I am looking at my choice, but first let’s talk about yours. You wake up in the middle of the night to discover that your house (or apartment, tent, hovel) is on fire. You move your family, pets and pot plants safely to the front yard, where all your neighbors can see what you look like in jockey shorts and a bathrobe. You hear the sirens, help is on the way, but there is still time to run in the house and retrieve a single item. What would it be? Your grandfather’s portrait, the stamp collection, the Glock Long Slide requested by your student kid who is mad at her chemistry prof?
It’s all a matter of what you value in descending order, a matter of priorities. Right now our priorities are being skewered. We start with the state (lower case) of Texas. My first priority would be to create a monarchy with me as king, complete with a throne. This is not a power grab but a return to normalcy. Do you really think Gov. Greg Abbott and Lite Gov. Dan Patrick feel as we do about what’s important to us? How about education? Texas is now ranked 43rd in the nation, falling from 39th last year, in the annual “Quality Counts” report from a national education publication, Education Week. Another new national study says Texas has the lowest education standards in the nation — giving the state a D+. Maybe this explains former Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s famous observation: “Rarely is the question been asked: Is our children learning?” Yet our state leaders spend more time dealing with school restrooms than with school academics.
Texas’ leaders demand that Washington stay out of our business, especially when it comes to voter ID (the most restrictive in the nation), pollution and abortions (the most restrictive in the nation). At the same time Patrick sees no hypocrisy in meddling in others’ business. He told the Fort Worth ISD to fire its superintendent for obeying a federal decree on transgender bathrooms. He stepped into Houston’s referendum on an equal rights referendum. He’s always writing hot letters, given speeches and putting his nose in local affairs while he is the Number 2 official in a state that ranks 34th among the 50 in health care, 21st in public school systems, we are 36th in “Best States” and 30th in “Bike Friendly States.”
The Houston School Board presides over a district that includes Kashmere High. The Texas Education Commission has had to take control of Kashmere after it failed to meet the state’s academic standards for seven straight years. The HISD board is constantly claiming it needs more funds. But the board says it is spending $1.2 million (we may never know the final amount) to change the names of eight schools named for Confederate leaders, or even privates. The changes include (after 90 years!) that of Sidney Lanier, a poet, author, composer and, oddly enough, a school teacher. Fourteen schools, a college, other structures and two lakes are named for him. Lanier’s crime is that, as a young man during the Civil War, he served aboard a British blockade runner and was captured by a Union warship, thrown in prison where he contacted tuberculosis, and never recovered.
There goes “Tom Sawyer,” because Mark Twain served in the Marion Rangers, Confederate Army, for two weeks. We have an entire Texas university named after Confederate Gen. Sul Ross. UT-Austin was all upset because some Rebs’ statues are on campus. George Littlefield, the largest single donor to UT, (Littlefield this and Littlefield that) was an officer in the CSA. How much time and energy have been spent on allowing guns in university classrooms, dorms and frat beer parties? Triggeronometry 101. But does anyone care that U.S. News just ranked Longhorn U. as Number 56 (down from 52) among the best 240 U.S. colleges?
As attorney general, Gov. Abbott and his successor, Ken Paxton (himself facing both civil and criminal charges), continue to fight abortion rights and spend millions of our tax dollars in doing so. These publicity stunts generated this article in a recent New York Times: “Something terrible has happened to pregnant women in Texas: their mortality rate has doubled in recent years, and is now comparable to rates in places like Russia or Ukraine. Although researchers into this disaster are careful to say that it can’t be attributed to any one cause, the death surge does coincide with the state’s defunding of Planned Parenthood, which led to the closing of many clinics.”
Then there are redistricting and voter fraud. Abbott and now Paxton have been spending millions in an unsuccessful attempt to uphold our voter ID laws. Why? Says Abbott: “The fact is voter fraud is rampant.” Not quite. In 10 years’ worth of elections in Texas at all levels from school board to governor there have been fewer than two fraud convictions a year. We execute more than that. Couldn’t our money be better spent on, for instance, Texas women’s health? There’s more: From 2000 to 2014, per the Texas Secretary of State’s online record, about 72 million ballots were cast in Texas, and that’s not even counting municipal and other local-only elections. An analysis made by a Rutgers University political science professor, Lorraine Minnite, found during that time, there were three – yes, THREE! — credible allegations of fraud in Texas elections.
Actually, our problem may not be too many but too few voters. In the last midterm elections, voter turnout in Texas was just 28.5 percent of those eligible to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. In last spring’s party primaries, Texas had the second lowest voting-age participation rate, behind Louisiana. It would seem we only want to keep out certain voters, if you get my drift.
Now help me get my Number 1 priority out of my house before it burns. Thrones are heavy.
Ashby’s priorities are email@example.com
We are constantly being told to vote in this Presidential election. Do we have to? We already know the outcome because the vote is rigged. Donald Trump said so. But there are several interesting down-ballot elections that might change the future — just ask Henry Shoemaker — which means taking a fresh look at an old story, because it affects the way we live in Texas today, pilgrim.
Shoemaker was a simple farmhand from Smithfield Township, DeKalb County, Indiana. On the first Monday of August, 1842, elections were held for local offices. In addition, reapportionment had given DeKalb and an adjoining county, Steuben, a single representative to the Indiana House. The two candidates were Enos Beall, a Whig, and Madison Marsh, a Democrat. On Election Day Shoemaker remembered that he had met Marsh during the campaign and had promised to vote for him, so Shoemaker saddled up a horse and rode 12 miles into Kendallville, arriving at the polling place late in the afternoon.
“When he applied to vote,” the Indiana Committee on Elections later reported, “the inspector handed him a sheet of tickets, but as all of them contained the names of Enos Beall for Representative, he enquired (sic) for ‘another kind,’ and the inspector handed him a sheet of tickets with the name of Madison Marsh for Representative, that he then enquired of the same inspector if he ‘had scissors or a knife to cut them with,’ and the latter handed him a penknife.” Not wishing to vote the straight ticket of either party, Shoemaker proceeded, quite literally, to split his ballots. As the voting officials looked on, Shoemaker cut out the name of Marsh from one ballot along with the others he wanted, then cut other names from the second sheet.
He handed the clippings to the inspector — four separate pieces of paper, three small sheets inside a larger one. The inspector accepted the papers without a word, and put them in the ballot box. Shoemaker hung around the voting site for an hour or more, but no one said anything about his unusual ballot. Later, however, when the tabulation began, the voting officials threw out Shoemaker’s ballot. On the next Sunday the sheriffs of the two counties met at the Steuben County courthouse to compare the certificates for the election for state representative. The final results were 360 votes for Marsh and 360 votes for Beall. The sheriffs “by casting lots” chose Beall as the winner. Marsh immediately appealed to the Committee on Elections, which held extensive hearings on the matter. (It is from the Indiana Commission on Public Records and the Library of Congress that I dug out this story.)
The committee found that in Smithfield township only 16 votes were cast for representative, all of them for either Marsh or Beall; that there was only one person named Henry Shoemaker in the township, he was a qualified voter; and he had voted “openly with no appearance of concealment or subterfuge” and had not tried to vote more than once, that the inspector had accepted Shoemaker’s ballot had put it in the box himself; and “we have the uncontradicted oath of Henry Shoemaker, that he did intend to vote for Madison Marsh for the office of Representative.” Also, the committee noted that it was the inspector’s own knife which was used in the surgery.
“In summing up the whole matter, your committee find (sic) that Madison Marsh has received a majority of the legal votes, if they had all been counted, and the voice of the ballot box had been properly regarded, and that he is therefore entitled to the contested seat.” The Indiana House agreed, and Marsh — a Democrat — took his seat in the Legislature by a single vote.
Prior to the 17th Amendment, U.S. senators were chosen by state legislatures. In 1842, the main candidates for the U.S. Senate from Indiana were Oliver H. Smith, the Whig senator who was up for re-election, and the Democratic candidate, Gen. Tilghman A. Howard. Another candidate, Edward A. Hannegan, was a dark horse. The Indiana Senate joined the House and on the first ballot, to everyone’s surprise, neither candidate got a majority. On the sixth ballot Smith got 69 votes. Howard got one vote and Hannegan, the dark horse, got the magic 76, making him the new senator from Indiana. Hannegan’s winning vote was supplied by Madison “Landslide” Marsh.
Four years later, in 1846, the U.S. Senate was bitterly divided over whether to declare war on Mexico. A caucus of the Democratic senators, which comprised the majority, was called to determine which way they would vote, but the vote in the caucus was a tie. Then it was determined that one senator was not present: Edward Hannegan of Indiana. He was sent for and promptly voted “Aye” for war. It broke the tie, fixed the Democrats’ decision, and war was declared – by one vote.
That is how Shoemaker is best remembered in Indiana, yet there is one more point to be made. The war in Mexico was touched off by the U.S. annexation of Texas one year earlier. John Tyler was president, having taken office upon the death of William Henry Harrison. That left the vice presidency empty. The move to annex Texas had failed as a treaty, which needed a two-thirds vote in the Senate, so Tyler tried again — this time as a simple resolution, which needed only a majority, not two-thirds. It passed, 27 to 25. If any senator supporting annexation had changed his mind, there would have been a 26-26 tie. There being no vice president to break the deadlock, annexation would have failed and Texas would have remained an independent republic. For the record, Sen. Hannegan voted for it. Thus we see how that one vote put Texas in the Union and put us under Washington, which is why to this day, Texans shout as one: “Curse you, Henry Shoemaker!”
Ashby votes at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE RESTAURANT – Food was good, service, too. Price was right. Quiet, no kids running berserk. What a rotten meal. Why? Because I was freezing the entire time. I had asked the waiter to turn up the temp. He nodded and did nothing. Then I asked the manager if the fan above me could be turned off. No, the fans are controlled by NASA computers at the Johnson Space Center. Maybe a good, hot potato soup served in a cauldron large enough for both feet. Restaurants in Houston must have a Celebrity Chefs Contest to see which restaurant dining room can be the coldest. There is no other explanation for my potato soup becoming vichyssoise. I didn’t order ice tea, it just froze before my eyes. (Incidentally, in Texas it’s called and spelled ice tea, not iced tea, and I don’t care what you called it back in Ohio.)
Eateries across Texas could save a bundle on their electric bill if they just set the thermostat a few degrees higher, but they won’t. And it’s this way year ‘round. Indeed, the coldest times in a Houston restaurant are June through August. Of course, our diners are not the only culprits. Ever go to a movie theater in July? Bring along a sweater, gloves and maybe a ski mask. Check into a hotel room during a Texas summer and note the bar’s ice bucket doesn’t need any ice. My neighborhood grocery store varies in temperatures from zero to 30, but the wind chill factor in the bread and buns aisle makes it worse. Warning: don’t lick the cover of the fish case. Actually, I refer to the entire store as the frozen food section. Customers must have complained at one of those boutique (read: overpriced) grocery stores because there is a big sign hanging from the ceiling explaining the snowdrifts and ski lifts are necessary to keep the produce fresh. OK, keep the kale crisp, and there is even an explanation that restaurants could double as a set for “Ice Station Zebra.” The thermostat on the wall is controlled by the bus boys and waiters who are either running around bringing out food or taking away the dirty dishes, or is controlled by the cooks back in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove. They are perspiring, as would we all, but we are paying them, not the other way around. Just don’t drip sweat into my jelled consomme.
Many northern cities have giant underground tunnel systems in their downtown for the convenience of shoppers and office workers to stay out of the cold, ice and slush. Houston has a cobweb of tunnels downtown, but it’s so that pedestrians don’t have to go out in heat and humidity. For some office workers, getting out into the August heat feels great, because, just like restaurants, the offices are kept so cold that employees are numb. Look at any secretary’s post after work and you will probably spot two items: a small heater under the desk and a sweater hung on the back of the chair. Even our huge malls and stadiums are fast frozen. It is for these reasons that I always keep a sweater in the trunk of my car, year round, and take it with me whenever I enter certain stores, eateries and theaters. Years ago the GOP held its national presidential convention in Houston, and beforehand l warned my visiting colleagues when they came to town in August, dress warm. Those who ignored my advice were shipped home, no embalming needed.
But now we must do a 180 and recognize that obviously no one can live in Texas during the summer without air conditioning. As bad as over-cooling can be, a life without air conditioning is no life at all. Look at those old photos of Texans standing on the Galveston beaches in July, the men in their suits, ties and hats; the women are cloaked from high collars to skirts touching the ground. How did they survive? Houston was laid out by the Borden brothers, Gail and Thomas, with the streets running northeast to southwest so that the houses, built perpendicular to the streets, would catch the Gulf breeze. It didn’t work. Some say oil was the juice that made the bayous bloom. Others credit another factor. The Harris County Historical Society’s Guidebook opens with, “Our story begins in 1922 when the city’s first air conditioning was installed in the Rice Hotel cafeteria. Before that, Houston was totally unlivable.”
Today, Houston is called the most air conditioned city on Earth, but just how anyone can figure that out is unknown. In any event, we do love our a/c. (Under “air conditioning,” the Houston Yellow Pages has 1,006 listings.) When outsiders ask, “How do you stand living in Houston in all that heat and humidity?” I reply: “I don’t. I go from my air conditioned home to my air conditioned car to my air conditioned bar. Besides, you don’t have to shovel heat.” Judge Roy Hofheinz secured a major league baseball franchise for Houston only with the promise to Major League Baseball that the game would be played in an air-conditioned, covered ball park. The Houston Texans will play an entire season without ever opening the roof at NRG Stadium. (We must suspect that it is no accident the stadium’s naming rights went to an electric company.) It was long a rumor that the British consulate in Houston was considered a hardship post as its climate was similar to that of Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and Accra, Ghana. So I asked the then-consul about it. He replied, “It was a rule that three years in Houston counted as four years in diplomatic service towards retirement. I wrote the Foreign Office, ‘My God, haven’t you people ever heard of air conditioning?’” The rule was changed.
The next time I go to a restaurant. I’m going to shovel in some heat.
Ashby chills out at email@example.com
Dear Patriotic American,
We at the Republican National Committee (RNC) are writing you as a leader in your community, to plan for the Trump administration. Please fill out the accompanying form and mail it to us so we can include your brilliant ideas. Also, because we need money, specifically for the Donald Trump Presidential Campaign & Hair Salon franchises. Yes, we know that he said many times that he would finance his own campaign, just like he said a lot of things that turned out not to be true, oh, that silly, silly Donald. Besides, you know how tapes can be edited.
Because you are so important to this campaign, here are some talking points plus some snappy retorts when those Godless Democrats insult the Trumpet: Refugees are ruining our country and must be stopped, except for the Bernie Sanders supporters seeking safety with another candidate. Trump will put our entire military on the border, although he adds that he has nothing against the Canadians personally. Health care is important to many poor Americans who are suffering in pain because they can’t afford medical help. Our candidate will make aspirin free to everyone, or at least until supplies run out at the local CVS. Trade agreements are another major plank in our campaign. Trump is against all foreign trade agreements except for the Chinese-made steel he used to build his casinos. Incidentally, don’t bring up casinos. It’s a sore subject, especially among the vendors he stiffed.
On foreign matters, Vladimir Putin and Trump are simply old frat brothers at Trump University. “Once a Delta Grabba Thi, always a Delta Grabba Thi.” And Miss Venezuela really is fat. Now as for Trump’s feelings towards women. (Caution: Do not talk to any reporter on a bus while he is holding a tape recorder.) Trump loves women and often gives them extreme attention. You may wish to purchase this bumper sticker (only $50): “Locker room? No, locker up!” With Donald, it’s not so much the GOP as the GROPE. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested the slogan. Score points among your right-wing friends by blasting the press, especially The New York Times, but don’t mention it was the Times that exposed Hillary’s private emails. That undercuts your argument. Only watch Fox News and listen to like-minded radio talk show hosts, like Sean Hannity, but hurry. Hannity has become such an embarrassing shill for Trump that, after the election, Rupert Murdoch’s two sane sons may fire Hannity.
About Benghazi: although 10 different Congressional committees have held 33 investigations and hearings on the matter, questioning 252 witnesses over 62 hours, costing the American taxpayers $7 million, and have turned up nothing linking Crooked Hillary to the terrorists’ raid, keep bringing it up. If someone mentions The Don’s finances, reply: “He’s solvent, and you can take that to the bankruptcy.” Oops, bank. As for his tax returns, fire back: “What about Monica Lewinski?” When some commie says the GOP has a quorum when Trump, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich get together with their total of nine wives, reply: “Emails for Hillary. Females for Trump.” Trump’s strongest supporters are white males with only a high school education who drag their knuckles. Reply: “What about Benghazi?” Even more incriminating emails shall be made available as soon as they are translated from the Russian. Bring up a possibility: When Hillary discovers she doesn’t get paid $250,000 for her inauguration speech, maybe she’ll drop out.
Polls show most voters don’t like either candidate, but we’re stuck with The Donald, and have to swallow our pride and back him. We are still working on excuses to give our children the rest of our lives. When some Hillary zealot says you’re “a basket of deplorables,” retort that you’d rather be in a basket of deplorables than in a casket of explodables. (The RNC has generously sent gifts to Hillary’s campaign plane: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones.) If you’re handing out political material, ask if they are going to vote. If the answer is, “Si,” or: “Yes, at my mosque,” move on.
This the most important election in American history, maybe in all the world. OK, we say every four years and we’ll say it again four years from now, but it makes you feel important. Please fill out the enclosed survey, because we want your advice – and money. Finally, when going to the voting booth, try not to drag your knuckles
Ashby writes-in at firstname.lastname@example.org
CHAMBERS COUNTY – “Good morning, America. How are ya? I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans,” as Willie almost sang. Actually, this is the train they call the Sunset Limited, but it’s going to New Orleans, and that’s close enough. We’re headed to the slot machines and roulette tables, but let me explain: Most of the customers at the Lake Charles-area casinos come from near-by Texas, specifically, the Houston region, which is why the casinos were put there in the first place. But I-10 East between Houston and Lake Charles is a death trap, with huge 18-wheelers, loaded with pipe for offshore rigs and containers from the Port of Houston, careening down the road at Mach 2.
To avoid being a bug on a Peterbilt’s windshield, you can fly to Lake Charles on Good Luck Airlines or rent a shrimp boat or take the train. Yes, the train. Amtrak’s aforementioned Sunset Limited goes from Los Angeles to New Orleans and the other way every other day. So you board at the station on the edge of downtown Houston, stop briefly at Beaumont and get off at Lake Charles, time 3 hours and 15 minutes, about 15 minutes longer than driving. A waiting cab spirits you to the casino and, fresh from a relaxing trip, you are yelling for seven to come eleven.
For details, as usual, I have done the heavy lifting, so clip this column and stick it on your refrigerator door next to those last 67 losing Lotto tickets. First, get some cash, then go on line to email@example.com. There, negotiate through a maze, drawn up by a drunken mountain man, to buy a ticket from here to there and back, and put it on your credit card. Cost for a round trip ticket: $44. Go coach unless you are on your honeymoon and need a private room. Trains depart Houston eastward every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday at 12:10 p.m. To get to the station you can be dropped off, take a cab, my wife and I took Uber, or just leave your car there. It’s free parking. The station is basic government issue: clean, slightly worn, 1950ish, but – and I like this – long wooden pews from the distant past.
Hooray, here comes the train, silver and shiny. It stops, passengers get off but no one is allowed to board because the crew has to back track the forward coupler to the thru-bolt carrier, or something like that. Since you are traveling light, you don’t check your bag, although coming home you may need an extra sack for all that money. We board, no metal detector, go to our reserved seats which, compared to the airliners, are spacious, the chairs lean back and a foot rest pops up. Two electric outlets on the wall. We automatically try to fasten our seat belts and realize there aren’t any. Precisely at 12:40, the 12:10 moves out. Don’t take this train to look at the scenery. It’s not the Canadian Rockies Route. Trains always go through the ugliest parts of any city, so you get a great view of shotgun shacks, piles of broken concrete and lots of oil field pipe via I-10. Once into the outback, it’s a long, green tunnel, at least before winter. On each side are jungles, until Chambers and Jefferson counties, which also have swamps that are actually kind of pretty. The entire train is double-decked, with some seats downstairs along with the toilets and baggage racks. Upstairs is better. The train is half empty. We stop at Beaumont long enough to toss out a few passengers and board a few more. We’re running late, the ride is very smooth, but no clickety-clack.
Now about the food. We had taken the Amtrak from Montreal to NYC. It was an 11-hour trip. There was no dining car and the snack bar had the worst food I have ever tasted – microwaved pizza and hot dogs for a captive audience. On this trip, to be safe we brought along some sandwiches and such, planning to buy drinks on board. There is a café downstairs selling drinks and snacks, but: “It doesn’t open till later. Just before Houston, she said she was going to take a break.” That was two hours ago. We go to the neat observation car (the bar there is closed, too), and spend the rest of the trip munching sandwiches and sipping water from little paper cups. Later I take a look at the dining car and it seems pretty neat with white table clothes. The menu is short but certainly adequate – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The PA system announces that dinner reservations will be taken, seating every half hour from 5:30 to 7:30, with sleeping car passengers getting first shot. I suppose if they fill up the diner, coach class passengers go hungry. Promptly at 4:30 we arrive at Lake Charles, only one hour late. Before you leave Houston, reserve a ride -– cab or rental. Along the route we called ahead to say we were late, and the car and driver were waiting for us.
After dropping enough money in Louisiana to pave most of its roads and give every school teacher a raise ($2.50) – Texas is SO behind the curve on casinos – we call 1-800 USA RAIL to check on the westbound train coming from New Orleans to see if it is on time. To the minute. We wait in the small but adequate train station for the train, which arrives 20 minutes late. Two get off and eight get on. Amtrak needs to advertise more. The home-bound train is less than half full, and the trip is uneventful except for an extremely rude conductor. We arrive on schedule. So the next time you want to head east to the casinos or even unto Bourbon Street, think trains – no cancelled flights, no trucks, bring food. But I still miss that clickety-clack.
Ashby rides the rails at asnby2@comcast/net
By Lynn Ashby 10 Oct. 2016
THE CEMETERY – This is a family reunion, although I shall do all the talking to save your family a lot of trouble and money. My families’ plots hold both my mother’s family next to my father’s. I was just a tad when many of them were laid to rest, so all I remember is the vast amounts of food spread out back at the house. Here is my mother’s father, Walter Lynn Cox. He came to Texas when he was 9 months old in a covered wagon. His wife, Lillian, told me how she used to gather with her little friends on a street corner in East Texas and throw rocks at the “blue bellies” as they rode by on their horses – the Union cavalry. But her tombstone says she was born in 1879, long after Reconstruction was over. Maybe she just bore a grudge.
Have you ever visited your family plot and learned things about your forbearers that you never knew? I knew that my uncle, Walter Lynn Cox, Jr., served in the Marines in WW II, but his tombstone says he also served during the Korean War. I didn’t know that. The wife of a cousin seems to have had a baby who died at birth. My mother was a Daughter of the Republic of Texas, but I see that she was also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. That explains the gold teeth, watches and wigs. All told, I count 16 grave sites. There is still room for more. Like me.
Now start taking notes to make things easier: Does anyone know which bank holds your safety deposit box, and where the key is? How are they going to get their hands on all those silver bars Uncle Cosmo liberated from a Nazi coal mine? Avoid the $250 charge for blowing open the box, and there are complicated laws about opening a safety deposit box after the owner has departed. You don’t have a will? The State of Texas has one for you, but the lawyers will end up with most of your estate. Make sure your will specifies exactly who gets what. “I leave to my worthless daughter and her deadbeat fifth husband my razor and toothpaste.” That will save everyone trouble, and it means your spouse doesn’t have to get rid of your razor and toothpaste. Again, be specific. My son the lawyer says the most vicious, blood sports he handles are family fights over an estate.
Money. How many checkbooks, savings accounts and hidden cash in shoeboxes do you have? Does the IRS know about your accounts in the Cayman Islands? No? Keep it that way. Leave a list of where you hid your fortune, with passwords. If you are like most of us, you have 450 passwords on your computer. Make a list of them, too, and tell everyone exactly where you hid it. “Go to the bathroom and look under the razor and toothpaste.” You have a burglar alarm? Does your next-of-kin know how to turn it on and off? (The last burglar to hit my house looked around and left a small donation.) You probably have a private stock of wine at your club, all locked up. How can your children get to those boxes with their little plastic spigots? Put the code on your list.
Let’s back up and consider that you’re not dead yet, only going. Studies show that relatives spend a vast amount on keeping Grand Pa alive as long as possible, so terminally ill patients are a cash cow for hospitals. I have instructed my family that, when I am too far gone to light a cigar, just pull the plug. You want an obit? That’s journalese for an obituary in the newspaper. Don’t leave it to your hysterical spouse (“He kept talking about the Cayman Islands.”) to figure out just when you won the Nobel Peace Prize. (It’s OK to jazz up your life story, who can correct it?) My own obit is modest, limiting my honorary degrees to 43 and explaining that I donated millions to colleges and hospitals under the pseudonym of “Anonymous.” In my obit, I “died.” Others prefer “Gone to her reward,” “Hit his last tee shot,” and “Entered the Pearly Gates to greet the people she never liked.” Honest, I once read: “In lieu of flowers, please vote for George W. Bush.”
Now we must consider your funeral. Your family is so distraught that they can’t think straight, and will spend too much because funeral homes have their business down to a science. When you walk into the display of caskets, most people automatically turn to the right. That’s the most expensive model. In gradual order, as you walk in a semi-circle to the left, they get cheaper and less ornate. Once you have picked a casket – I have chosen a very nice one stenciled “Kenmore Cold King – this end up” — the costs keep rising with flowers, a huge portrait of the late lamented, music and an emcee. Don’t hire pallbearers, rent a forklift. Some prefer cremation, but I think that might hurt.
Specify that after the funeral, you are throwing a party at the local VFW hall with lots of food and liquor. That assures a good attendance. Where to buy a plot? Avoid any place being touted as “with a great view.” Write your own epitaph and, like the obit, keep it mildly truthful. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own and specified that not one word be changed. It does not mention that he was President, but you may. There was a story that a tombstone in Aberdeen, Scotland, read: “Here lies the body of Mary McQueen. She was a virgin at seventeen. A remarkable thing in Aberdeen.” While doing some stories there, I went hunting for that epitaph. The cemetery’s caretaker said it was all a tall tale, but added a lot of people went there looking for it.
Ashby defies death at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE SCHOOL GYM — “Billy Ralph. Good to see you. How’s MinnieMay?”
“She ran off with a shepherd, and left me with our 12 kids.”
“Hi there. Your nametag says Sally Joan Mugwump, but you look, uh nothing like I remember.”
“I’m now George Joe Mugwump. I guess the beard fooled you. Which reminds me, thanks to Governor Abbott, it’s murder trying to use a bathroom in this school.” This is my class reunion. Highland Park High School class of ’56. The January class. The State of Texas did away with midterm classes that started and graduated in January. So our class was only about 90 kids, compared to the June class of 22,000 or so. Most of us began in the first grade in four elementary schools, meshed in junior high, now called middle school for the same unknown reason there are no longer midterm classes, and spent the next six years together. (Actually, I didn’t graduate until June. Something about biology – my fetal pig survived.) So here we are, gathered for our every-five-year get-together, which is more often than most classes hold reunions, but we like to meet. Actually, some even married classmates.
“Studs Studly, president of our class, all-state quarterback, elected Mister Best. How are you doing?”
“If you’ll give me your ticket, I’ll bring your car around. Tips are appreciated.” At class reunions, one must be careful what to say. Across the room I spot Marvin Munchkin. “Hey Marv. Whatever happened to that floozy you went with, Mary Lou Easy? Remember how she, uh, dated almost every guy in school, if you get my drift?”
“We’ve been married for 50 years.” Here comes Sally Shrewd. “Sally, how did life go?” “Not bad. I was no-billed by the grand jury, but the civil litigation took all the money I made from insider trading at Merrill Lynch.” Then there were the failures.
If you are planning to attend a class reunion, here are a few tips. Lose weight. Maybe 20 to 30 pounds. Get a tan, even if it means visiting a tanning lounge that gives you skin cancer in only 10 easy sessions, then explain it by casually mentioning that you just returned from your estate in Jamaica. Don’t explain that it’s Jamaica, Queens. Don’t wear you Vietnam War military decorations, especially if they are from North Vietnam. Every reunion should require nametags, so bring a pen and add: “The Honorable” in front of your name. I suggest you don’t push the matter by sticking in “Pope,” “King” or “Grand Kleagle.” Looking around the room, you will notice how everyone else in your class has aged. You’re the exception, but don’t rub it in by doing wheelies with your walker.
| These many years later, I figured out what we should have done when we graduated. We should have created a Tontine, which is named after an Italian banker named Lorenzo Tonti. In 1695 he came up with the idea of everyone putting in some money and the last person to survive would inherit it. If, say, in 1956 we had each put in $10, today that would be about a half million dollars. The money would go to whomever in this group lived the longest. The problem with that is every time we gathered we would be counting heads. Who would outlast who? We would bring along our food tasters.
Ah, yes, it’s been a while. When we graduated, Bill Clinton was 9 years old. Hillary was 45. Top TV shows included “As The World Turns” and “The Price is Right.” Mothers could buy disposable diapers and Teflon non-stick frying pans. Elvis Presley appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and entered the music charts for the first time, with “Heartbreak Hotel.” Top movies were “Guys and Dolls,” “The King and I” and “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Average cost of a new house: $11,700. Average yearly wages: $4.450. A gallon of gas: 22 cents. Average cost of a new car: $2,050. The first computer hard drive was introduced, and none of us bought stock in Texas Instruments. Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and, for the first and last time, OU beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl 45 to nothing. Here’s the kicker: People born that year have been eligible for Social Security these past two years. Back then we should have told our folks to buy some land. Austin now has more people than Houston did when we graduated. There was no place called the Metroplex, but in these 60 years Dallas population has almost tripled from about 500,000 to today’s 1.3 million. And we didn’t buy land.
Someone asked, “Whatever happened to Crazy Carl?” A good question. Every class has a Crazy Carl – someone who didn’t fit in, hadn’t a clue what was going on and, as a result, was the butt of jokes. No one knew anything about Carl. Suddenly, out front a long limo pulled up, the chauffeur ran around, opened the door, and who got out but Crazy Carl. He had a beautiful wife, he was wearing a $2,000 suit and a diamond stickpin the size of an egg.
I went up to him and said, “Crazy Carl! You’re in the big time, but back in school you couldn’t pass a blood test with a tutor. You had trouble counting past your thumb. What happened?” He said, “Oh, it’s easy. I bought something for $100 and sold it for $200. Then I bought something for $500 and sold it for $1,000. Last month I bought something for a million and sold it for five million. You know, after a while that 10 percent profit adds up.”
In five years, we shall meet again. We should bring our food tasters — and tell our grandchildren to buy land. Finally, we must remember our class motto: It is not enough that you should succeed. All your friends must fail.
Ashby reunites at email@example.com
By Lynn Ashby 26 Sept. 2016
THE TUBE – “All new! Fantastic drama! Laff riot!” The TV networks are telling me all the wonderful new shows coming this fall to replace last year’s wonderful new shows that lasted two weeks. Here are some programs to avoid, and, no. the local news shows are not re-runs, they just seem repetitive.
Channel 1 News – Every show begins with: “Breaking News, but first an even more breaking story!” Texas Board of Education prohibits Christmas carols after discovering choir books containg, ‘Don we now our gay apparel.”
What Ailes Us – Gripping drama set in the Fox Newsroom as the Boss chases anchorwomen around his desk while panting: “I can make you or break you, Honey Lips!”
PBS Nightly News – Show presents Cannibal Comedians – fact or fiction? Notes from a Peruvian pottery-maker’s funeral and: Why don’t we have more viewers?
21 Trump Street — The Donald demands to be admitted as the 51st state.
PBS Business News — Tote Bags are the new Gucci.
Comedy Central – Live broadcast of House Committee’s 47th investigation of Benghazi.
Family Feud – Jeb Bush explains why his parents asked him to change his last name.
60 Minutes — An inside look at a club sandwich, Scott Pelley interviews the widow of the Unknown Soldier, and: North Dakota – do we need it?
Nothin’ But News – Five shootings, two house fires and a high-speed police chase. Sen. Ted Cruz announces his presidential campaign for all campaigns in all nation, “Especially my homeland, Canada.”
CNN – Interview with someone who thinks coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane should be limited to just 23 hours a day. Russian President Vladimir Putin announces he’s seeking U.S. citizenship so he can vote for Donald Trump
Hollywood Time – “Roots” Kunta Kinte changes his name to Barack Obama and moves to Chicago.
Network News — Clinton campaign patents “Make America Hate Again,” global warming deniers hold their convention in Port Waco. Putin and Trump announce they are opening an antique and interior decorating shop in Montrose.
Let’s Make a Deal – Hillary Clinton denies that, if elected, she’ll rent out the West Wing to the Saudi royal family.
10 Most Wanted – Astros look for a new bullpen.
Orange Is the New Black – Convicted Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton is assigned a prison number, but still gets to put an R by it.
Channel 3000 News — Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick receives 2016 Texas Demagogue Award, and retires the trophy. Hackers get into Sarah Palin’s computer and find she used Windex on her Windows 10.
MSNBC – Mad Money’s Jim Cramer: How to Make a Fortune. Tonight’s guests, two drug lords, crew of a pirate ship and executives of the Clinton Foundation.
Movie: “Things That Go Trump in the Night” – The Donald explains that, building a wall along the border, will create thousands of jobs for Mexicans. (English subtitles)
Texas Tonight — Gov. Greg Abbott calls out the Texas State Guard “to defend our state from a foreign military invasion” after discovering Old Navy is opening an outlet in Marfa.
The Rachel Maddow Show – Liberal talk show host has a special about Fox News’ sexual harassment lawsuits entitled: “Hahahaha!”
America’s Got Talent – Unfortunately, not here.
The West Wing – Is rented out to the Saudi royal family.
Dancing With the Lone Stars – Rick Perry dances the Oops with two left feet
Vladimir Putin learns the Czech Republic has changed its name to Czechia, mistakes it for the breakaway province of Chechnya, and bombs the bejesus out of Prague. Trump calls it “an honest mistake — those African countries all sound the same.”
Beat the Press – Americans show their fury in news they don’t want to know.
Fast and Furious – Detective Fast and Sgt. Furious discover that Black Lives Matter is not a new element in the periodic table.
Film Night – “Back to the Future IV” Marty and Doc go back to 1900 to update Texas school books.
Dancing With the Czars – Vlad and Donald finish last and are exiled to Siberia.
Eight Is Enough – Rollicking comedy about an SUV driving north from Matamoros.
Plato Socrates, Frontier Philosopher – In this episode Doc Plato explains to Gen. George Custer why only the Washington Redskins are allowed to scalp tickets.
Movie – “Tapes of Wrath: The Hillary Clinton Story”
Presidential Debate — Cancelled for lack of interest
Ashby is remote at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fasten the mizzen mast! Splike the nimrods and be quick about it, mates. Why this nautical mood? Because Sept. 17 is (or was, depending when you are reading this) Texian Navy Day! What’s that? Pilgrim, back in Newark you knew Texas had an army – the Alamo, San Jacinto and Salvation — but the Republic of Texas also had a navy. In fact, we had two and it’s a reason we don’t celebrate Diaz y Seis. Well, some don’t. To re-tell the tale: The Republic of Texas created a navy which fought the Mexican Navy up and down the Gulf. President Sam Houston, being an army man, hated the navy and refused to pay its costs. He once declared the entire Texas Navy to be pirates and called on other nations to arrest the lot. By the time Houston left the presidency for the first time, in 1838, the Texas Navy was down to one unsailable ship, two lieutenants, two midshipmen, a doctor, two pursers, two seamen who were both deserters from the U.S. Navy, and the ranking lieutenant was cashiered “in consequence of a repeated inebriety.” Texas’ next president, Mirabeau Lamar, liked the navy and restored funds to build a fleet.
This brings us to the night of Feb.11, 1842, on the Mississippi River off New Orleans aboard the Texas Navy Schooner (TNS) San Antonio. The ship had rescued the crew and passengers from a sinking American ship, touched in at Galveston briefly and was ordered to go to New Orleans to let off the shipwreck survivors and pick up supplies. So it did. Ah, New Orleans, every sailor’s heart beat faster at the prospect of a night on Bourbon Street. The ship pulled in, and began loading supplies. Beef (a dime a pound), bread (a nickel a loaf) and potatoes (a dollar a bushel). That’s all. The diet on Texas ships was inexpensive to the taxpayers, but not too varied for the crew. It is now night, when the ranking officers set off for the bright lights of the big city, leaving the crew aboard for the very good reason that, once ashore, most would never come back. A man can stomach only so much beef, bread and potatoes.
Some passing boatmen slip aboard a few bottles of booze for the crew. Down in the hold the sailors imbibe and start griping. Topside, Marine Sgt. Seymour Oswald accosts Lt. M. B. Dearborn and demands shore leave for himself and some friends. No soap, or gruel, Sergeant. They get into an argument and Marine Lt. Charles Fuller, the ranking officer still on board, pops up on deck to see what’s happening. Things are getting touchy, so Fuller resorts to the usual solution to shipboard problems: he calls out the Marine guard, Sgt. Oswald, commanding. It usually works, putting the cause of the problem in charge of the solution. Only somebody forgot to tell Sgt. Oswald. He begins passing out weapons, not only to the Marine guard, but to his fellow sailor mutineers. He keeps a Colt pistol and a tomahawk (the Texas Navy was uniquely prepared for Indian attacks). Under the guise of reporting that the guard is ready, Sgt. Oswald approaches Fuller. Oswald cracks the officer smartly on the head with a tomahawk. Fuller grabs his own pistol, Oswald fires his. The Marines rush topside. So do the mutineers. Bang. Stab. Shoot. Fuller falls dead and the crew attacks his body with cutlasses and muskets. Two midshipmen, Alden and Odell, rush to protect Fuller and are promptly wounded. Lt. Dearborn is “knocked down the cabin hatch and the companion drawn over him.”
Oswald and his cronies lower a couple of boats and head for the fun, but the battle has attracted the notice of sailors aboard a nearby U.S revenue cutter, the Jackson. The U.S. sailors investigate and find poor Lt. Dearborn down below, yelling for help. The U.S. sailors and the New Orleans police quickly round up the Texas mutineers and toss them in jail. When the San Antonio finally leaves port, it only has two of the mutineers aboard, International extradition snags between the U.S. and the Republic keep the others in jail. The captain decides not to hold the court martial immediately since the sight of crewmen dangling from the yardarm might put a damper on his recruiting in New Orleans (the ship had some unexpected vacancies). Fuller is also left behind — buried in the Girod Street Cemetery.
President Sam Houston is upset when he receives the news. (“This subject is the first in my recollection which has occurred in any port of a foreign nation.”) and finally gets most of the other mutineers back to Texas, although the ringleader, Sgt. Oswald, has escaped and is never heard from again. The head of the Texas Navy, Commodore Edwin W. Moore, gathers all concerned and puts them aboard the good ship TNS Austin, and heads for the high seas. The state’s case is hampered by the fact that the San Antonio and its entire crew disappeared in the Gulf. In any event, Moore convenes the case. Frederick Shepherd, after some questioning, turns state’s evidence. He gets off but is killed three weeks later in a battle. Benjamin Pornpilly, who died in prison, had already confessed his part in the mutiny. F. Williams is let off with 50 lashes while William Barrington and Edward Kenan get 100 each. But Pvt. Antonio Landois and Cpl. William Simpson of the Marines and Seamen James Hudgins and Isaac Allen are sentenced to the yardarm. On April 26, 1843, at high noon, they were strung up. Prayers were said over each of the departed, who were then buried at sea. As for Lt. Fuller, his body stayed in New Orleans until 1936 when he was brought to the Official State Cemetery in east Austin. New Orleans needed the Girod Street Cemetery. They had to widen Girod Street.
Ashby mutinies at email@example.com
This multi-million dollar glass and steel beauty in the heart of Washington’s prime real estate used to be my office building. But you wonder how a greedy, opportunistic dirt bag like me could hit it big? It’s a long story (maybe 5 years with good behavior) and began when my newest get-rich-quick scheme failed after Ted Cruz admitted that, way down deep, he’s shallow. His presidential campaign collapsed and I was left with an empty victory banquet hall, an unpaid band and gallons of liquor I called Cruz Booze. My next endeavor was to sell franchises to the Roger Ailes Feminine Empowerment School. That bombed, but it left me with 1,000 copies of “Fox News for Dummies.” I was told that’s redundant. My student loan program didn’t work out after I discovered students didn’t have any money to loan me.
That’s when I sought out my financial adviser. It was a Sunday afternoon, so visiting hours were in play. “I’ve lost everything,” I sobbed. “Even my Dippity-Doo dippity didn’t.” He picked up the phone and tapped on the glass. “I’ve got a bunch of 3-D glasses you can have.” I shook my head. “You’re right. 4-D is the hottest thing. You could sell flood insurance in Baton Rouge, or is it too late? OK, I’ve got it. Pollsters say they have never seen anything like this: Voters don’t like, don’t trust and may not even vote for either Hillary or Trump. You could make a fortune by betting on George H.W. Bush. Everybody loves Poppy. No, wait. He tried being president once. It didn’t pan out. Here’s my best shot. Think tanks. Every trade group, lobbyist and anyone who wants to get their snout in the U.S. Treasury has a think tank in Washington to put academic authenticity on bribes. Give your group some meaningless but patriotic title like Americans for a Better America or Prosperity for All. Who can oppose God & Goodness Associates?”
I moved to Washington and quickly discovered competition was going to be tough. There are dozens, no scores or hundreds of think tanks, and they must be doing well, regardless of their predispositions. The left-leaning Brookings Institution’s annual budget has doubled in the last decade to $100 million. (One of its “scholars” received $353,145 in wages and other compensation in 2014.) The right-leaning American Enterprise Institute is spending at least $80 million on a new headquarters here, not far from where the Center for Strategic and International Studies built a $100 million office tower. While everyone knows there is a huge amount of cash flowing around Washington these days for lobbyists (mostly defeated Congressmen), there is also big money for think tanks which are Ivy Towered sleaze. Much of this cash comes indirectly from the American taxpayers. It goes like this: I daily get emails from what I call the Old Boy Network, made up of retired military. The site simply passes on articles, speeches, etc., and lately many of them have warned darkly of China’s growing sea power. The U.S. is falling behind, and what we need is another aircraft carrier. It is never pointed out that we already have 10 of them, and no other country has any, except for France, which has one.
Now we find that a company with a military-industrial complex, let’s call it Huntington Ingalls Industries, hired a think tank, we’ll call it the Hudson Institute, which launched a major offensive with learned reports by experts, testimony before Congress and op/ed pieces written by “Admiral J.J. Flotsam, (ret.) member of the Group of Experts,” with little if any way to trace the money back to Huntington. Nor is it noted that nuclear-powered aircraft carriers cost about $11 billion each, and – you’ll never believe this — the one and only builder of aircraft carriers is Huntington.
My next move was clear: I got a well-heeled client, Pioneer Transportation, created America’s Traditional Defense Associates and started hiring obscure professors to write learned papers filled with military jargon (USPAC, sub-automatic counter-puffs and Magnetic Tipped Thermoquads). The reports, op/ed articles and released testimony before the House Subcommittee on Spending Taxpayers’ Money, noted at the bottom of the page that the professor was a tenured member of the U.S. Council of Intellectual People and past-president of the JJGP. Unfortunately, Congress was not interested in allocating funds for pack mules. I had no better luck peddling government subsidies for AstroTurf fertilizer or for a submarine base in Salt Lake City.
Then things turned around. There was no shortage of experts who would turn out either supporting or oppositional studies, research papers or charts for anything. For testimony before Congress, I found a bevy of “outside consultants” — honor graduates from Trump University. I called their testimony “pay-for-say.” Depending on the client, my think tanks were called Lawyers for Perjury, Consultants for UNFESCO (no one asked), Friends of Smog and Anarchists United. Incidentally, it is not only Congress that receives a deluge of one-sided information from ersatz scholars. Regulatory agencies like the FCC, CDC and FDA are targets, too. Press reports show that currently millions and millions of dollars are being spent in Washington by cable companies (net neutral) and Big Pharma (obscene drug prices). Their hired guns are registered lobbyists and their hidden evil twins, think thanks. How pervasive are they? We know that when Congress was debating drug prices a few years ago there were six lobbyists on Capitol Hill for each member, each lobbyist armed with think tank studies.
You, as a thoughtful citizen, are wondering how you can peel back these deliberate layers of obfuscation, meaningless titles and mysterious motivations. It’s easy. The next story you read on a newspaper’s op/ed page (that’s opposite the opinion or editorial page), written by an unknown expert pushing something, treat it as an advertisement, because that opinion was bought and paid for. You are also wondering what obfuscation means. Finally, you’ve been wondering about my ankle monitoring bracelet.
Ashby thinks at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mom and Dad, Camp Wanakawa is really great. So is the food. I like my counselors and I’ve met a lot of neat guys. My two favorite classes are canoeing and starting a fire Indian-style with just flint, straw and napalm. Camp rules forbid having electronic gadgets such as smart phones, iPads, even stereos and satellite TVs. Luckily, our mattresses are lumpy. I seem to have left a few items at home, so could you please mail me shoes, socks, 2 sheets and Spot. I really miss him. Your son, Motley
PS: Please send a few dollars for the camp store.
Dear Mom and Dad, Camp is still great. The food is not so terrific, but I sort of like my counselors. Maybe the reason I haven’t been getting your letters is because Camp Wanakawa’s name has been changed. My counselors say this is necessary since the U.S. Dept. of Victimization has ruled “Wanakawa” is a Comanche word for “white babies’ scalps” and thus is insulting to the Comanches. The new name is Camp Empathy.
Dear Motley, we just received a letter from your counselor. He reports you are doing well in your various activities, although we didn’t know Camp Empathy taught tattooing. We are sure you will get the hang of bear wrestling soon. We have called FedEx to mail the items you requested, plus some you didn’t request like toothpaste and soap. Back at home, we miss you very much, but the family of gypsies that rented your room say you apparently never swept under the bed or emptied your fly traps, and are moving out.
Dear Mom and Dad. Yesterday we visited Camp Koo-Che-Koo-Me right across the river and took them on in softball, tennis, swimming and arm wrestling. We lost in every event. Our counselors called us “a bunch of wimps” and “total losers,” which made a lot of us cry and ask for our mommy and bankie. The food is not so great but just OK. However, gruel three times a day is getting monotonous. Our horseback riding classes have been suspended after PETA sued, accusing us of “unethical abuse of God’s creatures.” I didn’t know God owned our horses. Did I mention that Camp Koo-Che-Koo-Me is a girls’ camp? Exciting news! Sheriff’s deputies came to camp and arrested a counselor. What’s a pedophile? Your son, Motley
PS: Please send a few dollars to cover expenses at the camp store. Thanks.
Dear Mom and Dad. Camp is getting worse. The chef changed the menu after the food riot. I’m getting used to oatmeal for dinner. Today we went for a hike and almost everyone returned. My cabin mates have a new nickname for me, Drippy. You’d think they’d never seen a bed-wetter before. A letter from the U.S. Dept. of Victimization says we must start using the term “Native Americans” or “Those Defending Their Homelands” and stop using the word “Indians” as it violates the U.S. Code of Politically Correct Titles. My bunkmate, Ralph Little Eagle, says the U.S. government bureau dealing with Indian affairs is officially named the Bureau of Indian Affairs, (headquartered in the same city as the Washington Redskins), so he asks: what’s the problem? The food is much better now that we use John-Bob’s smart phone to order from Domino’s. Your son, Motley
Dear Motley, glad you are having fun at camp. We just received a letter from your counselor. He says you are an “exceptional” camper for the most part. He apologized for your stay at the camp infirmary but explained they have “a first-rate snakebite clinic.” He wrote you are getting along fine with your fellow campers outside of the occasional tar and feathering. He also wrote that he can’t understand why you would need money since items purchased at the camp store are paid by the parents at the end of camp. Sorry we could not send you Spot. He was run over by a FedEx truck. Love, Mom and Dad.
Dear Mom and Dad. The movie last night was “A Few Good Men,” which explains why I was given a Code Red treatment by my cabin mates. When I complained to the counselors they just laughed and said it was “a camp initiation rite.” PETA has allowed our horseback riding classes to resume, but now the horses ride us. In our Native American lore class we were told that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is not really Pocahontas. I have had to change classes just because I showed my ability to start a fire Indian-style with flint, straw and napalm. My bunkmate, Ralph Little Eagle, said that most Indians don’t start a fire while still in the canoe. When is camp over? Your son, Motley
Dear Motley’s parents. Enclosed is a bill for $1,200 for one canoe.
Dear Mom and Dad. They closed the camp mess hall due to health department violations. We were told that real campers could live off the land. I’ve lost 10 pounds. We went on an overnight hike to Lake Rancid where we put up tents, slept on the ground (fortunately, I brought my lumpy mattress so we could watch “The Bachelorette,”) and sat around the campfire telling stories, some about our parents. I wrote them down, and you won’t have to send me any more money. Oh, I forgot to tell you, Camp Empathy is being sued by the Wanakawa tribe, which claims it sold naming rights to the camp in exchange for 40 guns, a keg of firewater and a subscription to Netflix “to last as long as the rivers flow, the buffalo roam and the Great Spirit personally advises Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.”
Dear Motley’s parents. Please come get your kid. We’ll refund the fee.
Dear Mom and Dad. Camp has been over for a week. Isn’t it time you picked me up? My last letters have been returned, stamped: “Addressee Unknown — No forwarding Address.”
Ashby camps at email@example.com
HUNT – This part of Texas along the banks of the Guadalupe River is one of the most beautiful in the state. Summer camps, homes with yards sloping down to the riverbanks, Indian raids. Yes, you and I are off on another historical mystery. (Did you ever notice that no one ever saw Edgar Allan Poe and John Wilkes Booth at the same time?) Now we are re-investigating what may have been the last Indian raid in Texas, or were they really Indians?
Let me set the stage: On Oct. 1, 1878, Jim and Susan Dowdy moved here from Goliad, arriving with some sheep and horses and eight children. At the time Houston had public schools, Dallas had a baseball team and Texas had A&M, but the Hill Country was still the frontier. On the morning of the fourth day after their arrival, four of the children were sent to a bluff a half-mile away to watch over a flock of sheep. There was a son, James, 11, with brown hair, large ears and a slightly sad expression; Martha, 16; Susan, 17, and Alice, 18 – girls with long, dark hair and pretty faces. A grown son, Richard, remained at the house so that he and a young friend, who was engaged to one of the girls, could eat an early lunch and then relieve the children so they could go back and eat.
The two men finished lunch about 11 a.m. and went out to find the children, but discovered them missing and sheep scattered. They raced back to the house to report. Their mother, Susan, hurried to the hills and there found the bodies of her four children. Two of girls’ bodies were lying together. The third was 200 yards away and James was some distance from her. All the bodies had been horribly mutilated with bullet, tomahawk and arrow wounds, but they were not scalped. A wagon took the bodies to the house of a neighbor, Mrs. “Wash” Floyd, who helped prepare the bodies. Her daughter recalled much later, “I remember Mama telling me Mrs. Dowdy said to her, ‘I can’t bear to see you pull out those arrows because I know it will hurt.’ The children were buried with the arrows still in their bodies.” Many other arrows were found along a hillside as though the children had been running along there, dodging a hail of arrows. The Indians had with them a herd of horses and had made their escape. A posse was formed, but that took a day or so to form, and no Indians were spotted.
End of a sad story. Almost. Yes, the first suspects were Indians. October was the time of the year when the dreaded Comanches came up from Mexico and from the Indian territories to the north. But they generally raided only during the light of the full Comanche Moon. There were arrows at the scene and tomahawk marks. But nothing was taken. One family member told me there were some horses stolen. And you can’t very well rustle a flock of sheep and make any kind of getaway. There were no reports that the girls had been raped. What was the reason for the raid?
Word began surfacing that the raid was not the work of Indians at all, but of U.S. renegades or Mexican bandits. “They just used those arrows and tomahawks to make the posse go looking for Indians,” an old timer told me. But now we have a new development, a newspaper clipping, misspellings and all: “Dallas Weekly Herald, 19 May 1881 – dateline San Antonio May 13. A letter from Kerville says last Sunday, as Deputy Sherriff Clemens, of Kervill County was returning from San Antonio with two prisoners, John Potter and William Dunman, he was waylaid by a party of unknown men near Kerville and both prisoners taken from him. The men stopped in the middle of the road with drawn revolvers. The deputy could do nothing but comply. Shortly afterwards Potter was shot down in the road. The deputy reported facts in town and an inquest was held on the body of Potter. Nothing is known as to who the parties were on the object of the killing. Potter had been arrested and was on his way to be tried for horse stealing.”
What’s the connection and who cares? The above mentioned Dunman was related to the Dowdy family. Potter supposedly boasted of his part in the massacre to Dunman while they were in jail in San Antonio, not knowing of the relationship. Dunman got word to the Dowdy family as to when Potter was to be taken by stage to Junction for trial. But we also have this version: When the stage got past Mountain Home, to the north, and reached the top of a hill, Dick Dowdy and another brother, Tom, stopped the stage, took Potter to a nearby tree and hanged him. Potter was buried there, but his body was later moved to make way for a highway, and today no one knows where it is. “He didn’t have anything to do with it,” a Dowdy once told me. “He was just bragging.”
In any event, Tom and Dick were tried for murder but were acquitted. An entire generation of Dowdys would not speak publicly of the tragedy. “That was so bad, so very, very bad, you can see why,” a resident finally told me. “One sister lived here the rest of her life, too frightened to leave her home. She became a total recluse. Even when the river would rise, neighbors would have trouble getting her to leave. And during the Comanche Moon….” At Mountain Home there is Sunset Cemetery, with small shell-covered graves for Susan, Allice (the gravestone seems to have two ls) James and Martha. All four have the same date of death, Oct. 5, 1878. Beneath each name is the word, “Murdered.” But who did it, and why?
Ashby is mystified at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE OFFICE – It’s here somewhere, maybe under this pile of magazines which is under a pile of books. No, so I’ll look on this chair which holds some catalogues, more newspapers and printouts of articles I read online and want to keep. This time I am looking for “The Wit and Wisdom of Calvin Coolidge.” Is this your problem, too? I am on the receiving end of TMI. In the past TMI has stood for Three Mile Island, Texas Military Institute and, of course, Transmarginal Inhibition, but for me TMI stands for Too Much Information, which is also a song recorded by The Police and Duran Duran.
Don’t you love it when some paranoid friend says, “But the media won’t tell us.” Huh? We have more newspapers, magazines and online publications than we can handle. What do you read? I get my daily local newspaper, plus The New York Times and a neighborhood weekly freebee that tells me how much my school taxes will be increased. I used to get the Wall Street Journal, but it had too many jokes and cartoons. However, I do miss those “Donald Trump Is Almost Normal” editorials. Magazines? Four weekly or monthly, I think, although Texas Monthly seems to come daily, and it’s about 99 percent ads. They all pile up in my den, office, in my weekender in Varicose Valley. The fire marshals are worried. Unread books? I have them stacked around, and keep thinking if I just put some by my elbow I can absorb them through osmosis. Do you do this? Rip out a page from some publication with the idea that you don’t need to keep the entire paper, and you’ll read this article tomorrow, or at least next week. When the paper turns yellow, it’s time to read it.
Go to any Barnes & Noble and check out the magazine section. You will see dozens, scores, maybe a couple of hundred publications: Guns & Guts, Guts & Guns, Muggers Monthly, Fifth Wedding Gazette, DWI Digest. Something for everyone. If you don’t want to know the news from the country music scene, restaurants, taxidermy and home breweries, you may not have this problem. Maybe you don’t have cable or satellite TV, although almost 80 percent of American homes do. I get about 250 channels and watch 10 or 12 max. Bundling is the key. Congress (after a nice fund-raiser) decreed we really do need to take 250 channels, including the Esperanto Channel, Quilting Corner and Faux News. I tape programs to be seen later. Spoiler alert: Don’t tell me how World War II ends. We also have the Internet. Want to check on events in India? The New Delhi Times tells us: “Praveen Rana to replace Narsingh Yadav.” Now you know. The Chinese Reporter from Hong Kong on the PLA, or Peoples Liberation Army of China: “PLA begins live-fire drill near border with Myanmar.” And you thought the term “Chinese fire drill” was just an insult.
Americans may be a first: the first overly informed society in history. Or we could be, if only we kept up. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, 29 percent of Americans say they think that Obama is a Muslim, including 43 percent of Republicans. (I happen to know he’s a card-carrying Democrat.)
A poll commissioned by the American Bar Association found that only one-third of adult Americans can correctly identify the Bill of Rights, and less than 1 in 10 know it was adopted to protect them against abuses by the Federal Government, and – get this — it was a multi-choice question. Some 28 percent said the Bill of Rights was a preamble to the Constitution; 22 percent said it is any rights bill passed by Congress; 7 percent chose “a message of rebellion from the Founding Fathers to the British monarchy.” Ten percent said they didn’t know. Maybe TMI stands for Too Many Idiots.
So while we have access to an overabundance of knowledge, we don’t bother. Why? I think it’s because we have no curiosity or interest, in this case it’s the same thing. I once had an editor named Henry Hoffman who came to my desk one afternoon, handed me some papers, and said: “Put this together and do a story.” I shuffled through the pile and said, “I’m not interested in this.” He replied, “You should be interested in everything.” He didn’t add, “as a journalist,” but I got his drift. Millions of intelligent people over the centuries have loved opera and golf. I tried both and can pass, even if Tiger Woods is the lead baritone. I’ve never been much interested in poetry except for dirty limericks. Do you care about kale? It’s hot these days; celebrity chefs put kale in everything. I just used a semicolon, which is an unnecessary punctuation so I don’t care about it or them.
Maybe I’m just interested in the wrong things, like bagpipe music, the old Southwest Conference and of course, Transmarginal Inhibition. I spend too much time reading the fine print on aerosol cans, but do you know that Scrubbing Bubbles contains both corn starch and dimethyl oxazolidine? So I keep these founts of knowledge until I’ve read or seen them because they may contain interesting information. However, others may not share our need for absorption. We are called “pig pens,” “trashy” and “low down slobs who give pack rats a bad name.” (By the same token, be suspicious of people with clean desks and full wastebaskets. They are probably uninteresting themselves.) So I think we can all agree that there is a direct link between curiosity/interest and piles of untouched stuff. Call them “collectibles.” Keep that in mind when the fire marshal comes calling. But now it is time for me to start digging into my stuff. Here’s a newspaper. What’s this? Custer’s dead? Next thing I know a woman will be running for president.
Ashby is uninterested at email@example.com
Our Congress is in recess. Again. They have more recesses than a kindergarten class and do less. At such times it might be a good idea to take a look at how we have done things here in Texas from the git-go. In a rented shack in Washington-on-the-Brazos Texans met in March of 1836 to set up a Texas that pretty well resembles the way our state government works today, except for part about barring preachers from holding public office, dividing up the booty from captured ships and being drafted for road work. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s set the scene and, no, this isn’t a history lesson, Pilgrim, it’s why you are no longer in Ohio and why today’s Congress members should take notes.
Texas leaders had been considering independence, without Santa Anna’s blessing, you understand, for some time. Finally word went out over social media – smoke signals, tom-toms and what somebody said at the tavern – for elected delegates to gather at a mud village along the Brazos River. On the first day of March, Texans – eventually numbering 59 — assembled in a convention. Twelve were natives of Virginia, ten of North Carolina, nine of Tennessee, six of Kentucky, four of Georgia, three of South Carolina, three of Pennsylvania, three of Mexico (including two born in Texas), two of New York, and one each of Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada. Two, including Sam Houston, had served in the U.S. Congress. They met in freezing weather in an uncompleted building (no windows) rented for use of the convention by a group of Washington business men who, incidentally, never got around to paying the rent.
The convention declared all able-bodied men ages 17 to 59 liable for military duty and offered land bounties of 320 to 1,280 acres for service from three months to one year. Those men who left Texas to avoid military service, refused to participate, or gave aid to the enemy would forfeit their rights of citizenship and the lands they held in the republic. It authorized its agents in the United States to seek a $1 million loan and pledge land for its redemption.
In a matter of days, Texas’ forefathers wrote the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, organized the ad interim government, and named Sam Houston commander in chief of the military forces of the republic. Why so fast? Two reasons: Much of the wordage in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was directly lifted from the U.S. documents. (See; Trump: Melania) The other reason was during the proceedings the Battle of the Alamo was raging and soon word reached the delegates that the Mexican Army was headed their way, nooses and rifles in hand. For these reasons, and probably the lack of windows, the Constitution was brief (less than 6,500 words).
So what did these men agree on? The usual stuff when creating a brand-new nation: two houses of Congress — Senate and House — a president and judges. Ministers and priests were ineligible to hold public office. Because the delegates didn’t like bankers, debt collectors and IOUs, imprisonment for debt was abolished, and monopolies and primogeniture were prohibited. The document specified that the president would serve three years and could not succeed himself in office. So Houston served as the republic’s president until 1838, sat out a term, then served again from 1841 to 1844, all perfectly legal. That’s no doubt where Vladimir Putin got the idea to do the same thing. The president would be the commander in chief of the army, navy, and militia, but could not “command in person” without the permission of Congress. No doubt they put that in with Houston in mind. Members of Congress would serve one-year terms. Senators were to serve three-year overlapping terms, with one-third elected each year.
The constitution legalized slavery but prohibited foreign slave trade. Immigrants from the United States could bring slaves with them. Free blacks could not live in Texas without the consent of Congress. Citizenship was granted to all, with “Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians excepted.” The amending process was so complex that none was ever adopted. Incidentally, Article Fourteen of the Declaration of Rights reads, “Every citizen shall have the right to bear arms in defense of himself and the republic.” None of this “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” foggy interpretation. Texans could pack heat. Period. A citizen who had not received his land grant was guaranteed “one league and one labor of land” if the head of a family; single men over 17 were assured of “the third part of one league of land.”
These guys weren’t through. (This stolen from Compano Bay Press): Later in 1836, from October through December, 44 men (no women present) convened in a drafty clapboard house in the town of Columbia. Many were the very men who had met back in March. It was the first session of the first Congress of the Republic of Texas, and the gang drafted some interesting articles. Again, no minister or priest could hold office in the national government. They granted Deaf Smith, Sam Houston’s trusted scout and spy, any house in San Antonio that was to his liking, so long as the government could find a legal reason to confiscate it. (Smith replied, “Eh? Eh? I don’t want a mouse.) Officers and men of the Texas Navy could divide booty amongst themselves after capturing an enemy vessel. They set the northern border of the Republic at the 42nd parallel, just south of present-day Wheatland, Wyoming, and “All free males, Indians excepted, between the age of 17 and 45 years” could be conscripted to work on the public roads.
And that’s how they did it. Quick and simple. Wonder what would happen if we told today’s Congress that the Mexican Army was on the way?
Ashby amends at firstname.lastname@example.org
British Prime Minister David Cameron resigned this past July 11. Two days later, the Brits had a new prime minister, Theresa May. Across the pond, excuse the cliché, we Americans began this presidential campaign at the end of the last campaign in 2012, and already Sen. Ted Cruz in lining up his forces for 2020. (Incidentally, how many times in that campaign will we hear “20-20 hindsight” and “Cruz control” — a million? Currently we are suffering through an avalanche of campaigning until the first Tuesday in November. To get through the muck and mire, here are a few suggestions:
Muck & Myer is not a law firm but the way we run presidential campaigns ever since Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich crawled out of the swamp, but both political parties have “oppositional research departments,” which means these bottom-feeders delve back to the other candidate’s life and family tree seeking to discover any rotten apples or low-hanging ancestors who should have been hanged. Donald Trump made nicknames a part of his attack speeches: Crooked Hillary, Lying Ted, Little Marco and Energy Challenged Jeb. (Rick Perry didn’t last long enough to earn an insulting moniker.) No one on the Dem side has come up with one for The Donald. The Dems have no imagination. Anyway, be ready for ads and speeches without programs, policies or specifics, but filled with angry insults about the opposition. Lots of heat, no light, but that’s the way a candidate whoops up a crowd: using sure-fire applause lines. No sweaty mob at the Nebraska State Fair wants to hear a new plan for the national debt, global warming or immigration quotas.
Be prepared to hear of Benghazi constantly. (“Dad, what’s Ben Gazzi running for? I hear about him all the time.”) Also: “This is the most important election in our nation’s history!” That is self-important twaddle, making us feel our vote will decide the nation’s fate for the next century. We either get four more years of Obama or four years of Trump jokes. Anyone who has taken History for Dummies knows the outcome of 1860 was the most important. The election of Lincoln started the Civil War, which really did decide the nation’s fate, and for more than a century.
This is a unique election, since polls show many would-be voters prefer none of the above. Pollsters say a record majority of voters surveyed say they find both Hillary and Trump untrustworthy, loose with the truth, don’t have the temperament to be president and don’t even know all the words to “Hail to the Chief.” Of course, we all realize that, come Election Day, GOPers will grudgingly vote for Trump and Dems will stay home. There are 313 million Americans. Take away those who are ineligible to be president: under 35 years old, not natural born, have not lived in the United States for at least 14 years or have already served two terms (Bill and George W.). Subtract11-million illegal immigrants and that still leaves at least 100-to-200 million. Why did we get down to these two? Another point: How many times will we hear: “I give you the next president of the United States, (Trump or Hillary)”? Remember, that’s the way they introduced Henry Clay. William Jennings Bryan, Adlai Stevenson (twice) and John Kerry.
What we will not see or hear this election campaign: For the elephant, no mention of George W. His dad, yes. His mom, yes, but W. will be MIA. No mention of Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney, the Iraq War (but the VA will get crucified), former Speaker Dennis Hastert, Ted Cruz. Mitt Romney and Mike Pence. Incidentally, I wish Trump would have picked Newt Gingrich for veep. That way, between them and their six wives they could have resurrected Family Values, but I thought Romney was the Mormon. In the donkey’s corner, don’t plan on hearing anything about Benghazi, the VA, Monica Lewinsky, LBJ, emails or Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Fox News will not bring up its former chief, Roger Ailes.
Presidential campaigns supposedly don’t really begin until Labor Day. During the summer, people are on vacation, checking out June’s back-to-school sales or getting inoculated against the Zika virus. Wrong. The campaigns are already shopworn, yet the candidates are on the trail non-stop. This brings us to the next point: money. Jesse Unruh, also known as Big Daddy, a California politician, said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Big Daddy vastly underestimated the power of mother’s milk. Now, about the down-ballot candidates who desperately want to move up ballot. Congress has one of the lowest opinion ratings since pollsters started surveying us. Our lawmakers are never in session. (Currently the members are on yet another vacation which will last till September) and don’t do anything while they are in session.
Actually, most are very busy – raising money for their re-election campaigns despite a $174,000 annual salary. Studies show that in a typical 10-hour day, they might dedicate three hours to seeking cash. In election cycles, like right now, it might escalate to more than half of their time. That’s why it’s not only presidential candidates we are hearing from, but the lower hanging pols. About 80 percent of all donations goes to TV ads, then to the pockets of Disney, Viacom, Comcast and other mom-and-pop operations. Think of your political contribution as an “economic trickle up” operation.
Texas is such a red state that neither candidate will spend much time campaigning here, but that doesn’t mean they won’t visit. They come for the money. Texas is called the GOP’s ATM. The Dems would like to come here with a collection plate, but Texas doesn’t have many voters of the donkey persuasion, and most of them don’t have any money. So the nice part about this mind-numbing sport is that Texas will be a mere spectator – except for mother’s milk. Maybe David Cameron is available.
Ashby will write-in at email@example.com
By Lynn Ashby 25 July 2016
THE TV – “It will hit a hundred and ten degrees, maybe a hundred and twenty, while in Dallas, well, two hundred even.” What? You mean this global warming farce is not a farce? But Marco Rubio and Rush Limbaugh assured me global warming is a hoax perpetrated by those clueless Nobel laureates. Wait. I peer at the TV screen. There, in little-bitty type, are the words “feels like.” Yes, it’s the old feels like ploy, which goes up there alongside the Easter Bunny, liberal Republicans and efficient Democrats. Feels like has been around for years, but now more and more of our TV weather wizards are using these scare tactics to get our attention. Then there are the meaningless dew point and wind chill factor, which we shall get to in a minute.
Pilgrim, this is summer in Texas. It is hot. If it were not hot – say in the low 90s — we would be comfortable but rather concerned about global freezing. So, in our simmering afternoons the temperatures rise to 90, then 95, then 100 or more. Big deal. Our local TV newscasters warn us about leaving children, pets and Godiva candy in cars with the windows rolled up. Reporters dutifully fry eggs on car hoods. They interview some guy in heavy clothes who works in a warehouse freezer and show shots of polar bears at the zoo frolicking in a pool. That’s standard. But when it comes to the true temperature, good luck. The meteorologist – well, actually they are rarely real meteorologists, but are sports jocks who need the job – stands in front of a big weather map and points breathlessly to the names of towns with horrifying figures beside them. “It will hit 120 in Waco and 130 in San Angelo, maybe twice that in Laredo.” Look for the small “feels like” in the corner.
How do they come up with these faux figures? The difference in the actual temperature and the feels like figure (also called the heat index) is determined by a complicated formula that includes the temperature, obviously, plus the humidity, cloud cover, wind speed, sun intensity and angle of the sun. A major component is the humidity. In Houston, where you can tie a knot in a Frito, we would normally be dry except there are nine large humidifiers placed around town to keep the air moist because dermatologists say moisture is good for the skin.
A day that is very humid may feel hotter than it really is outside because your body sweat does not evaporate and cool the body like nature intended. This last element is what we climatic scientists call the “deodorant factor.” But it is all a fake. The real formula for determining the feels like number is simple: the TV weather person takes the actual temperature and adds 20 degrees, and no one questions the higher figure. But when it’s 100 degrees it’s 100 degrees. On the other hand, my mother was born and grew up in Dallas, and when she would come visit us in Houston she would subtly mention the Houston humidity, remarking that Dallas wasn’t like that. “Mom,” I would say, “I grew up in Dallas, too, and those summers were blisteringly hot.” She would reply: “But it’s a dry heat.” I’d try again: “When it was 105 degrees it was 105 degrees, and that’s hot!” Never argue with your mother.
Let’s put our problems in perspective. On Aug. 5, 2015, the southeastern Iraqi city of Samawah reported a temperature of 119.5 degrees Fahrenheit and a dew point of 85.1 with a feels-like temperature of 159 degrees. In the southern Iraqi city of Basrah earlier that month the city’s high exceeded 120 degrees for eight straight days before falling to a cool 119.3. To the north, that same week Baghdad logged four consecutive days in the 120s. A question: Who wants Iraq anyway?
We just mentioned the dew point, another totally meaningless term unless you like to point to dews and need a stick. In simple terms, the dew point is the temperature at which water vapor in the air will form dew. More specifically, dew point measures moisture in the air. (Just how this differs from the humidity percentage is known only to meteorologists and my mother.) Let’s try again: It is the temperature to which air must be cooled at constant pressure and water content to reach saturation. A higher dew point indicates more moisture in the air; a dew point greater than 68 degrees is uncomfortable. Have you ever left an air conditioned building to enter the Texas summer and commented: “I’ll bet we broke a dew point record today.”? Of course not, it’s like using the metric system: “I’ll bet it’s 59 degrees Celsius today.”
One final unnecessary figure is the wind chill factor. It is the frozen equivalent of the heat index. On cold winter days, TV weathercasters play the same games as they did with the feels like fantasy. “In Amarillo it’s minus 40 while in Denver it’s minus any known reading.” Those are wind chill numbers. Hold the figures over a low flame to bring out the actual temperature. The wind chill factor measures the effect of wind speed cooling of the human body below 50 degrees. As airflow increases over the skin, more heat will be removed. This brings us to the question of what kind of dummy goes out in a blizzard with unprotected skin? OK, Green Bay Packer fans and Greenland flashers. Why are there a feels like figure, a heat index and a wind chill factor, and why do we care? It is simple self-importance and self-pity. We like to think we are suffering more than we really are. “Man, no wonder we’re miserable. It’ feels like it’s a hundred and twelve.” Or: “I heard on TV the wind chill factor is zero minus zero.” If you don’t understand these readings, go ask your mother.
Ashby’s cold at Ashby2@comcast.net
By Lynn Ashby 18 July 2016
WASP Without a Sting
How are you doing with your guilt trip? Have you even packed yet, because you’re carrying a lot of baggage? I must confess that I am having trouble with this voyage, and I feel terribly guilty about it. My problem afflicts millions of Americans: I am an Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, a WASP, and thus am responsible for most of my nation’s ills, if not those of the entire planet. And I am a bumbling idiot. I will give you a quick example: TV. The butt of jokes, situations, plots, is the white male. If it’s a family sit-com, Dad is the fall guy, whose job it is to look both chagrined and silly while the sound engineer turns up the laugh track. Wife: “Honey, did you go to the grocery store and bring home celery?” Dad: “Is that what you said? No, I went to the bank and brought home my salary.” (This is followed by the father’s hangdog look and the booming laugh track.)
In films, the best example are the National Lampoon movies, where Chevy Chase and then Ed Helms are the most helpless, hapless dummies on the screen. The women are the steady, sane characters. In drama and action films, how often do you see a minority as the villain? The safe path is the WASP. Count the good white folks in “Roots” and “Glory.” Very few. In the past we could tell jokes based on another race, religion or looks. Al Jolson built his career on black-faced songs, jokes and routines.
Particularly in today’s tense times, we can’t publicly make jokes about minorities, and how many politicians (George Allen), movie stars (Mel Gibson) and sports personalities (Jimmy the Greek) have gotten into trouble or ruined their careers by saying or even emailing a politically incorrect statement? The only safe target is the white male. (For purposes of feeling victimized, I’ll expand this category to all white males, not just WASPs.) You want to commit social suicide, propose White History Month. Of course, such a move would be greeted with: Every other month is White History Month.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt panicked after Pearl Harbor and sent between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps, and we are reminded of it to this day 75 years later. Then I came upon this: “When we moved out on the march, again some of us just couldn’t make it. They lay on their sides shaking with chills or burning with fever….” Others tried to help, but the guards clubbed them away. “Two or three guards were left behind. They soon came trotting up, wiping their bayonets with rags.” – Texan and UT grad Vince Taylor, survivor of the Bataan Death March. Japan has yet to apologize, and some still honor their executed war criminals. What’s the connection? None. But I feel guilty about those internment camps. I never owned a slave, never shot an Indian and never blew up a mosque, but it’s still my fault. I never tried to keep Tejanos from voting, never insulted gays, never teased a Yankee about his accent. OK, two out of three ain’t bad. As a journalist, I never plagiarized, during the best of times and the worst of times, not even four score and seven years ago, but ask not what your country can do for you. Who signed this treasonous document? “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” A bunch of slave-owning, wig-wearing pols. We must hope none of them got their pictures on our currency.
Now for a moment of defense, or a sop to mine enemies. All you Irish and Mexicans can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. Poles, Germans, Greeks, Serbs and Chinese, live it up on your selected holiday, or any other day, for that matter. America is not so much a melting pot as a cafeteria line. Incidentally, Texans are safe targets, too. But if you want to see an excellent display of Texas’ diversity, next time you are in San Antonio find that big Hemisphere needle. Near the base is the Institute of Texan Cultures, featuring where we all came from. It’s enough to give multiculturalism a good name. Again, these are tense times and not the best days to bring up the matter. On the other hand, when is a good time? Probably never. However, it is socially acceptable for one group to joke about that same group. Some of the funniest Aggie jokes were told to me by Aggies. Remember that line in “From Here to Eternity” when Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) says: “Only my friends can call me a little wop!” So it’s probably a good idea for us gringos and honkies to keep our ethic and religious jokes to jokes about gringos and honkies, for we are the only safe target left.
Protestant make up 46.5 percent of America’s population, but there is not a single one on the U.S. Supreme Court, and none is on the way. Speaking of Washington, the D.C. area is festooned with markers and monuments to renowned leaders, men on horseback and people you never heard of. There is the National Fire Dog Monument complete with life-size fireman (no equally big firewoman) and dog. Plus plaque. There are 49 monuments to women in the Washington area including Seated Yucatan Woman, the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, Crown Princess Martha of Norway and Olive Risley Seward, the foster daughter of William H. Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state. I am sure they are all most deserving, but couldn’t there be a plaque or concrete celebration, not even on the Washington Mall, crowing about the sacrifices, achievements, glorious remembrances of our small and ever-shrinking sect? If only there was some kind of reminder of the average Joe who served his country, paid his taxes, obeyed the law. Oh, yes, there is one. It’s called Arlington National Cemetery.
Ashby whines at firstname.lastname@example.org
The candidate does not have the temperament to be president. Do you want that finger on the nuclear button? And just look at the record, one of deceit, possible criminal activity, and I won’t even get into the private list of adultery and money shenanigans.
These are my one-size-fits-all talking points for our two major presidential campaigns. The accusations work perfectly to describe either Hillary or Trump. (Those are good shorthand names not to confuse.) Get out the mud, crank up the outrage and throw those epithets. But for all the billions spent, the bromides unleased in speeches, and the circus of the conventions, let us be perfectly honest: you have already made up your mind. If you’re a Texan you probably will make lots of noise, mostly about how bad the opposition candidate is, and you probably won’t vote. All hate and no cattle.
Here’s the problem: you really can’t stand either candidate, but one is your party’s nominee, and you’ve got to go through mental gymnastics to sooth your soul. How to rationalize, how to spin, your selection, so that you won’t feel like you sold out? An example: you really liked Ted Cruz, and really hate Donald Trump. You thought evil thoughts about that bragging, arrogant clown, but now Trump is your party’s nominee. Yes, that successful business tycoon whose few bankruptcies are easily outweighed by his shrewd negotiations, the many jobs he’s created, including that of food taster. Besides, anyone but Hillary. Or, you backed Bernie Sanders, and can’t stand Hillary, that scheming, overachieving witch, who lied, cheated and collected blood money from Arab dictators to get to the top. But Bernie is history, and you are left with your party’s only nominee, Hillary, that crafty, brilliant and experienced diplomat who will be our first female president, and about time.
Either way with either candidate, don’t feel special that you have betrayed your principles in the name of winning. It’s done all the time. Let’s take Ted Cruz, so unpopular with his fellow senators who don’t miss him (he was gone from February to June) that even his best friends don’t like him. Cruz has ripped Trump as narcissist and a bully. “This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology text book, he accuses everyone of lying . . . Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral.”
As for Trump vs. Cruz, the Donald referenced a report from that bastion of responsible journalism, the National Enquirer, (“Martians Eat the Washington Monument!”) which had identified Rafael Cruz, Ted’s father, in a photo with Lee Harvey Oswald months prior to the JFK assassination. It’s going to take some making up for Cruz to support Trump, but what you bet that happens? Same for Carly Fiorina, who said about Trump: “He does not represent me, he does not represent our party, and I do not think he can be our nominee.” Ah, but Trump about Fiorina: “She had the one good debate, she went up and then she dropped like a rock, and she never resonated with the people. So I mean, Carly’s not going to do the trick.” Another time he said, while watching her on TV: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
In March, Marco Rubio dismissed Trump as a “con artist” and “the most vulgar person ever to aspire to the presidency.” Rubio also criticized Trump’s physical features: “You know what they say about men with small hands … You can’t trust them.” In turn, Trump mocked the Florida senator as “Little Marco” and poked fun at his tendency to sweat on the debate stage and drink lots of water. Yet 180 degrees later, the Florida senator said he’ll not only vote for Trump, he’d be willing to speak on his behalf at the GOP National Convention this summer. And he didn’t rule out the possibility of serving in a Trump administration.
Some high-profile party members have said they will pass up the convention entirely. Then there is our former governor, Rick (Oops) Perry. He was the first prominent GOPer to publicly criticize Trump and question his conservative credentials, calling his candidacy a “cancer on conservatism.” How things have changed. This from Perry: “He is not a perfect man. But what I do believe is that he loves this country and he will surround himself with capable, experienced people, and he will listen to them. He is one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen.” There are more prominent Republicans who have changed their tune, going from “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog” to “Stand By Your Man.” Their about-faces are “for the good of the party,” or, “I will support my party’s nominee.” John F. Kennedy once said, “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.” Not for these chameleons.
Democrats have it much easier, since the only opposition was from supporters of Bernie Sanders, and they’re on summer vacation from high school. But for Americans who find themselves deciding between being hanged or shot, rationalization is hard. So Trump supporters, try these out in the mirror with a straight face: Good walls make good neighbors. Would you want YOUR taxes made public? His former wives say he was the best ex they ever had. For reluctant supporters of Hillary, drop these bon mots in conversation or use them as bumper stickers: Females for Emails. Take the T out of Trump. I’d rather be baking cookies.
Simply think of one reason to justify the spin in your spine. Your children will be proud.
Ashby spins at email@example.com