NEWS YOU CAN LOSE

June 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

AUSTIN – “City Council voted today to increase fees for bigamists…” “TxDOT is limiting the number of mules on I-thirty five….” “The weekly Festival of Love, Drugs and Flowers will be held….” The local TV news here in Austin deals with matters viewers care about, and more importantly, effects them. To be fair, this is, indeed, our state capital (aka, the People’s Republic of Austin, a worn-out phrase as is Keep Austin Weird), but the news is still relevant. The local TV reporters are inside a state building or courtroom or maybe on the UT campus, reporting on something or interviewing someone on events that matter – like a new football coach.

Yes, Austin TV news programs do have the occasional shooting, apartment fire or car wreck, but not the daily dose we get in Houston, where each program begins with: “Breaking News!!!” Summer will arrive at …. A lost dog has been found and someone got shot. Then we hear: “But first…” then “Prior to that, we have this report on…” Sometimes there are so many stories preceding the Breaking News! they never get around to it. Each local news program probably contains at least: (1) A shooting that requires flashing red police lights, a body covered with a sheet surrounded by yellow police tape. (2) An apartment or house fire preferably with a firefighter emerging from the blaze holding a frightened puppy. And (3) a high-speed police chase with breathless pictures from a helicopter. Here’s one from yesterday, honest. “Naked man found nearly decapitated.” The newsroom axiom is: If it bleeds, it leads. So what we are given each evening is not so much important developments as the police blotter.

When was the last time you saw a report from the City Council, Commissioners Court or HISD School Board? The Texas Legislature just met in its regular session for 140 days, and only at the very end was it mentioned on our TV news. Not so long ago, local stations sent a reporter and photographer to Austin to cover the entire session, because our legislators do important work affecting us. But covering all of that costs money, and our local TV news departments don’t have much. It’s a lot cheaper to pay some free-lance photographer, who prowls the city with his or her police, fire and EMS radio bands turned on, and then races to the crime and sells video tape of it to the station. Sometimes, I swear, if the stations can’t find a good apartment fire or high-speed chase in Houston, they show us one from Dallas or Denver or wherever. I really don’t care.

This brings us to money, which is the core of our problems. No network affiliate TV station in Houston is owned by Houstonians, or even Texans. They are owned by faceless corporations on the Coasts which care not a fig about quality TV news in Houston. We are a red pin in a large map in the corporate board room. We must feel sorry for our TV anchors and reporters, many of who are top-notch journalists, hamstrung by bean-counters in far-off glass towers empowered to maximize profits while cutting costs to the least. Also, it’s much cheaper to follow than lead: Years ago, I visited KPRC-TV studios for something, I forget what, and there was the news director, Ray Miller, an icon of the business, carefully cutting out articles from that morning’s Houston Post and handing them to reporters to follow up. That is still done. Just like national TV news directors pour through The New York Times and the Washington Post for stories, local TV news shows would have trouble with anything beyond the yellow police tape if it weren’t for the Houston Chronicle. (Incidentally, same for conservative radio talk-show hosts, who constantly bite the hand that feeds their feedstock. They wouldn’t have a show if it weren’t for the pile of newspaper clippings on their desk.)

There are a few simple changes for the better. Don’t have a reporter standing in a vacant parking lot across the street from the hospital or court house telling us what happened inside hours ago. Teach the meteorologists the difference in further and farther. And while not all has to be gloom and doom, would Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow giggle and guffaw through “happy talk”?

If you would only get your news about what’s going on in Houston from our TV news programs, you would think this place is Baghdad-on-the-Bayou. Indeed, some years ago the Fox affiliate nightly ran a series, “City Under Siege.” It was a recitation of that day’s crimes, no matter how minor. Imagine a crack CEO and her spouse, a world-famed medical researcher, flying into Houston from Chicago for job interviews. They check into a five-star hotel suite and turn on the TV. “Breaking news!!! A shoot-out at a pool hall has resulted in two deaths and 18 police cars surging to the scene! But first a follow-up on our lost rabid dog story, but we begin with our Strangle in Tanglewood series.” The CEO turns to her Nobel Laurate husband, and says, “Don’t bother to unpack, Chou Ming. We’re going back to the south side of Chicago where it’s safer.”

Back to the local news on Austin TV, which is being told to us by a beautiful young lady with long blonde hair, a product of the Roger Ailes Cookie Cutter Academy: “The fire department is holding classes on the need for a boat when water skiing.” “A scientist at UT has discovered a cure for kale.” “The circus won’t be coming to town. Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey will…” Huh? I swear she said Bros. which rhymes with hose or froze. What’s up, Bros.? The teleprompter gave that twinkie – as the old pros call the good-looking airheads — the word Bros. and she hadn’t a clue it should be pronounced Brothers. Where’s the yellow police tape?

 

Ashby watches at ashby2@comcast.net

EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES

May 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                      22 May 2017

As our Texas legislators wrestled with their latest budget gap of billions of dollars, having been bogged down all session with which students go to which bathrooms, (the Senate did, however, vote to ban wearing blue jeans in the chamber), they agreed we’ve got financial problems. At such times lawmakers might be sighing, “Sully, come back!” You see, once Texas had such a huge surplus of funds that Gov. Sul Ross had to call a special session of the Legislature to determine what to do.

Therein lies a tale worth re-telling in light of today’s squeeze. First, let’s take a look at Sul Ross, the only university president (Texas A&M) I know of who had another university named for him: Sul Ross University, obviously. He was born Lawrence Sullivan Ross near Waco. His great grandfather had been captured by Indians as a six-year-old child, and lived with them until he was rescued at 23. Ross’s father was an Indian agent, so Sul grew up with a greater understanding of the Indians than most Texans. He loved the good ones; he killed the bad ones.

During a summer vacation home from his college in Alabama, Sully led a company of Indians from his father’s reservation against the dreaded Comanche. The next fall back at college Ross may have taken part in the dorm bull sessions. “Hey, Sully, what did you do this summer?’

“Well, we were in the middle of a battle with the Comanche when four of us spotted a little white girl who was a captive. As we were getting her, we were jumped by 25 braves. Two of us were killed immediately. My gun misfired. I got an arrow in my shoulder and was then shot point-blank by a brave. It was Mohee, a Comanche I’d known since we were children together. As I was lying on the ground, Mohee whipped out his scalping knife and was about to scalp me when his chief called him away to kill someone else. My Indian friends rescued me and nursed me back to health. What’d you do this summer?”

“Forget it.”

After college Ross joined the Texas Rangers and at age 21 was made captain of a Ranger company. In yet another battle against the Indians, he caught up with Nacona, a Comanche chief who was responsible for much of the carnage along the Texas frontier. Ross shot Nacona and rescued a white woman who turned out to be Cynthia Ann Parker. When the Civil War broke out, he entered the Confederate Army as a private and wound up a general. Ross participated in 135 engagements, including 112 days of fighting around Atlanta. After the war he took up farming, then got into politics and became sheriff of McLennan County (Waco) and a state senator. Eventually he ran for governor.

In January 1887, Ross was inaugurated governor. He was the first to use the new capitol. That is when he had to tackle the problem of too much money. Part of the trouble was that most of the taxes came in during December and January. The money sat around until it was spent during the rest of the year. Then, all of a sudden, the U.S. government, acting on advice from the Army, paid Texas $927,177 as restitution for Indian depredations and expenses incurred by the state.

The expenses were run up in the 20 years after the Civil War because the Texas Rangers – not the U.S. Army – did much of the fighting against both Mexican bandits and hostile Indians. In addition, Texas patrolled its own border with Mexico, the only state or territory to do so. Washington reimbursed Texas for the cost and made good such losses as cattle rustled by the bandits and the Indians. The sum came to a tidy amount, particularly in those days.

A reporter from the Galveston Daily News went to the state vault, which held $2 million in cash alone, 20 percent of all the money in the state rendered for taxation. He saw not only a huge vault but within it, a safe. He wrote: “The vault contained a large burglar-and fire-proof safe, in which $1,250,000 in paper money was neatly arranged in packages, forming a compact square mass, ten by twenty-four inches, and eighteen inches high. In the same money chest about $25,000 in gold bars was resting secure from moth and rust. Outside the safe a pyramid of silver in bars was built from the floor nearly to the ceiling, resting against the west wall of the vault.

“Another safe was covered nearly to the ceiling with boxes of silver. Several tons of the precious metals were in view. In the corner was a pile of money bags containing silver quarters, halves and nickels. In the safe first mentioned, in addition to the cash, were shown in packages some $7,000,000 in bonds, viz, $2,991,000 of state bonds and $2,276,000 of county bonds, $1,753,817 of railroad bonds, besides $79,400 of public debt certificates.”

Gov. Ross could handle attacking Indians, bandits and Yankees, but he did not know how to handle that huge surplus. On March 27, 1888, he complained to a press conference that he couldn’t sleep the night before, worrying about what to do. “I don’t feel authorized to keep so much money locked up full a year if deferred until the regular session.” So he called a special session to deal with too much money – the only Texas guv to do so — and suggested that some funds should be set aside to pay the state’s bills for the rest of the year, some should go to raises for school teachers, and the state should repay $96,000 borrowed from the university fund. Then the new capitol had to be furnished, the state needed new asylums, and so on. What was left, Ross, said, would still be considerable, and that money should be returned to the taxpayers.

Yes, indeed. Sully, come back!

 

Ashby is taxed at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

GALVESTON, SANS SANDS

May 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                         15 May 2017

THE MUSEUM — Here’s a picture with an inscription: “I am happy to acknowledge this to be the only correct lithograph that has been taken of me. David Crockett.” We must assume all the others were photoshopped. A newspaper ad: “As these Servants sold for no fault, it would be very desirable to sell them in families.” Now there’s a kindly slave owner. “Between 60,000 and 70,000 Texans served in the Confederate Army. Of these between 20 to 25 percent lost their lives; more than half from disease.” In my own family’s case the disease was lead poisoning – fired from a Yankee rifle.

This is the Bryan Museum in Galveston, and the next time you head for the beach, set aside some time to come here, for this is one great gathering of Texana, even if you don’t like museums. The entire collection consists of approximately 70,000 items, which include 20,000 rare books; more than 30,000 documents in Spanish, German, French, and English; three dozen saddles; over 250 antique firearms; several hundred spurs; a large collection of fine art, religious art, folk art, and portraits; rare maps and artifacts, such as cowboy chaps; Indian stone tools and arrowheads; and a Spanish mission bell. They are not all on display, but you get the picture.

I like museums, especially those that don’t overwhelm me. You walk into the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and stare at a room full of Rembrandts, and I just can’t absorb all of them. Then there are the smaller collections like the one in Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile, which included a photo of two Chilean soldiers proudly smiling while standing over the body of a dead Indian they had just shot. Yuk. The Bryan Museum is just the right size — for several visits. This is my second and I spy all sorts of things I missed before. First a bit of background to help you understand why this is here, who is Bryan and what about an orphanage. The Bryan family goes back to the early days of Texas – Emily Austin Bryan Perry, Stephen F. Austin’s sister, is a direct ancestor. More recently, James Perry Bryan, Sr., was a prolific collector who had amassed a large collection of Texas maps, family documents, and artifacts. He sold his collection to the University of Texas in 1966. His son, J. P. Bryan, Jr., began collecting at around age 10, when he acquired his first two pieces – a revolver and a Four-Barrel Derringer. Both firearms still reside in the collection today. As a student at UT, Bryan the Younger got into the Texana book publishing biz, then began his own collection from books to Texas and Southwest artifacts to art to other stuff.

In 1981, Bryan started an energy company, and moved his collection into the company’s offices. Over the next 32 years, the collection continued to expand until it covered more than 25,000 square feet of the office. He needed more space, and probably got tired of hearing: “Uh, Boss, it’s about all those scalps in the break room.” Bryan and his wife, Mary Jon, discovered this building, the old Galveston Orphans Home, which had been abandoned. (The orphanage itself has a great story which involves the Dealey family, the Dallas Morning News and the namesake of Dealey Plaza of JFK fame, but that’s another story.) The restoration took a while. I had read about the museum and kept going by to see if it had opened. More work, no doubt a lot more money, and more collections: Bryan once bought nearly 500 pairs of spurs and also added over 3,500 documents related to Galveston’s history. It took so long for the Bryans to get everything just right, those old boots, guns and maps had originally been purchased at Wal-Mart. Just kidding, it was Sam’s.

The Bryan Museum opened in June 2015, which may make it Texas’ newest collection, at 1315 21st Street. You can just drive up and park at the front curb for free, however, the museum costs. Check the hours and days it’s open. (11 to 4, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, not your usual 9-to-5.) Walk in and you’d think you were in one of those old Galveston mansions with dark wooden paneling and staircase, high ceilings. For an orphanage, it’s not like where Oliver Twist asked for another bowl of gruel. Actually, it looks like something the Moodys would have given the Sealys for a Christmas present. Incidentally, the grounds are real spiffy, and a great place for weddings between hurricanes.

Start your tour chronologically, ancient spear carriers, then the Spanish, and so on. You might learn something: “Missouri and Texas hosted the most U.S. cavalry units because Comanches and Kiowas and others proved themselves the most trouble.” I didn’t know the Show Me State had massive Indian problems, did you? Except for the Kansas City Chiefs, of course. The 100-dollar Confederate bill features a small picture of slaves out in the fields chopping cotton, just in case Johnny Reb forgot what he was fighting for. A receipt for tobacco, powder, etc. for $450 signed on Feb 20, 1836, by “W. Barret Travis.” A diorama with 1,200 hand-painted soldiers, showing the Battle of San Jacinto. An exhibit of the black cowboy. It’s not just a man thing. There are exhibits of women’s dresses, cowgirls and this: Nancy Cooper Russell’s wedding ring was a small golden saddle. Next room shows saddles, swords and I haven’t seen so many guns since a Trump rally. We go right up to modern times, although I find the old stuff more fascinating. Upstairs are thousands of books, and a lot of Texas and Southwest art. When word gets around, these rooms will be filled with scholars poring over maps and guns, trying to figure out who shot J.R. I have absorbed about all I can for this visit, so I need to come back someday soon – so should you.

 

Ashby collects at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

POLS AND POLLS APART

May 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

THE BOARD ROOM – “Hi, I’m with Margin of Error Pollsters, and we’d like to poll the next presidential race for only one million….” That’s as far as I got. ABC, The Washington Post and Fox all agreed to throw me out. I only wish they had first opened the door. Yes, the hardest job in America must be pollster salesmen, because they made a fool out of so many in the 2016 presidential elections. So let’s take a look at what happened, especially here in Texas.

The biggest loser was, obviously, Hillary Clinton (we shall call her Hillary so as not to confuse her with what’s his name), who thought she would win because everyone told her so because the polls said so. Twice she had run for president, and twice she had lost. Today she is writing her multi-million-dollar tell-all memoirs, and also penning thank you notes to those who (twice) donated millions to her campaigns and have zilch to show for it. Poor George Soros and all his fat cat friends. Goldman Sachs could have booked a lot cheaper speaker. Alas, when you lose your soapbox, or TV show, your stock falls faster than a speeding bullet. Soon Hillary will join David Letterman and Bill O’Reilly waiting, like everyone else, for a good table at a restaurant.

I couldn’t find a single poll that showed Donald Trump would win the presidency, did you? What happened, we now know, is that more people who were surveyed said they would vote for Hillary than Trump, and they did exactly that. Hillary got 2,850,691 more votes than Trump (65.8 million to 62.9 million). We keep forgetting that the voter polls were correct, but they didn’t matter. How do you poll an Electoral College? Trump won that vote count 306 to 232. The tipping point was all those blue-collar, high school grads in the Rust Belt. Donald promised them good jobs, and they’ll get them, some day. Maybe. On the other hand, perhaps you really can fool some of the people all of the time.

In future presidential campaigns, news organizations will be very leery of hiring polling companies with their very expensive price tags. Wonder what Chuck Todd at NBC will do next go-round? He rose to prominence, and now even has his own Sunday morning talking heads TV show, because of his polls, pie charts and percentages. “Sixty-seven out one hundred Presbyterians over 30 with less than a college degree in Ohio will….” Lucky him. He even kept his job.

Let’s now look at Texas. Did you know you gave money to Donald Trump? If you ever bought a ticket to a Houston Texans game or watched them on TV, Texan’s owner Bob McNair gave the Trump inauguration $1 million. Considering what McNair paid J.J. Watt to sit, injured on the bench, a million is not that much. But don’t let news of that donation get around Houston, because Texan fans did a sharp turn away from the GOP: Back in 2012 in Harris County, Barack Obama edged out Mitt Romney by a tiny .08 percent. Four years later, county voters went for Hillary by a hefty margin: 54 percent for Hillary to 49 percent for the Trumpster. (As for Cowboy fans, Dallas County was even more lopsided: almost 2 to 1 for Hillary: 61 percent to 35 percent.) But overall, Texas is very red, and this being a winner-take-all state, in the Electoral College, Trump got all of our 38 votes. Maybe we’ll finally get a real space shuttle.

In Texas in 2012, Romney beat Obama by a huge 57 to 41 percent. Last November, Trump won Texas by a slimmer margin of 52 to 43 percent. Trump did worse in Texas than all seven GOP candidates running for statewide office, even though two counties – Jefferson (Beaumont) and Fort Bend (Fort Bend) – flipped from the Dem presidential candidate to the GOP nominee. According to Texas Monthly, Roberts County near the top of the Panhandle (pop. 929) went 95 percent for Trump, but in Starr County on the border (McAllen) Trump only got 19 percent. In Kenedy County, which is down on the coast and hosts mostly cattle and oil rigs, Hillary got 99 votes while Trump got 84.

Now we turn to Loving County, out in far West Texas, which is the least populated county in the U.S., with a population of 86. The county is also unique for having the lowest percentage of people with college degrees of any county in the US: 2.6 percent. Loving County has voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 1972, except in 1992 when the county backed Ross Perot. A 2010 census found only 40 people of voting age, but they cast 57 votes for Trump to 4 for Hillary. Other candidates garnered 3, so 64 votes out of a population of 86 with 40 eligible voters. Loving is not alone. In 2015, eight Texas counties listed more votes than voters. The counties — Loving, Brooks, McMullen, Roberts, Irion, Jim Hogg, Culberson and Polk — listed a combined 52,298 registered voters. But the latest U.S. Census data show only 49,457 voting-age residents in those counties. Trump was right all along: the presidential election was rigged, but in whose favor, as he asked Putin?

So these results show that, while Texas voters were not particularly warm towards Trump, it was “Anyone but Hillary.” We chose the evil of two lessers, and we were not alone: Surveys showed these were the two most disliked presidential candidates in our history. Another reason Trump won was that Democrats are undisciplined while Republicans take their marching orders and obey. An example: You know those instructions beside hotel bathtub-showers: “Put shower curtain in tub before showering.” Democrats will never do that, but Republicans will, even if it takes them 15 minutes to get the curtain off all those little plastic pegs.

 

Ashby votes at ashby2@comcast.net

 

NAME THAT TOWN

May 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                                    1 May 2017
A Houstonian, a Dallasite and a Beaumonter walk into a bar and…wait. Why do these people, all from the same state, have different titles? Is there an official Texas State Title Shop that issues us our citizenship names? If you are from Fort Worth you are a Fort Worthian. A resident of Waco is probably a Wako. From Galveston? No, you are not a Gal-ves-TEN-ian, but a Gal-ves-TONE-ian. A resident of Ranger could be a Rangerer. Austinite sounds like linoleum or a chemical element. We can only wonder what folks from other Texas towns such as Hutto, Old Dime Box and Cut and Shoot call themselves. If you are someone from Nacogdoches, you are called “someone from Nacogdoches.”

What about residents from foreign places? Someone from the City of Lights is a Parisian, which sounds pretty, a lover of the arts, and is better than Parisite. But if you hail (or heil) from Berlin, you are a Berliner, a tough-sounding name causing feelings of iron and stone, and not in a good way. The Beatles were from Liverpool. That did not make them a Liverspot but a Liverpudlian. Not far away is the Isle of Man. Its residents are not Manmen but Manxmen. No one knows why.

A resident of Rio de Janeiro must have a problem. “Hi, I’m a Rio de Janeiroite.” No, they make it very simple: “Hi, I’m from Rio Janeiro. I’m a Carioca. Not a Cariocan.” A brief lesson to remember the next time you are mugged by the girl from Ipanema. When the Portuguese settled in and around Rio they built houses that the native Tupi Indians called karai oca which meant “white house.” Soon the Portuguese began referring to themselves as Cariocas. This name has lasted hundreds of years and still refers to the local people. None of which explains why citizens of Monaco refer to themselves, not as Monocans, Mononucleosians or Monaco-conspirators, but Monegasques. A white South African of Dutch decent may prefer to be called an Afrikaner. He is also a Boer, but has heard too many stupid jokes by visiting Americans. “A wild boar or just a bore?” It is OK to call someone an Englishman, a Frenchman or a Germanman, but calling someone a Chinaman is considered not PC. Why are people from the Philippine Islands called Filipinos instead of Philippinos? No Ph and just one p. I blame the media. “Hi, I’m from Burkina Faso, formerly French Upper Volta. Don’t call me Burk or Faso, but Burkinabè.”

We call ourselves Americans because we are from America, but so are llama shepherds in Peru, Eskimos whale spearing in the Bering Sea and a Carioca sunbathing on a Rio beach. We are simply the 400-pound gorilla in the room, and have taken over the name. By the same token, Holland is just a big part of the Netherlands. We say England when we mean Great Britain which they call the United Kingdom. For decades we interchanged Russia with the Soviet Union. Today we make the same mistake by getting Trump and Putin mixed up.

Some names have changed meanings. For years the title Cajun in Louisiana was pejorative, a distinct poor, uneducated ethnic minority and the butt of jokes. During the early part of the 20th century, the State of Louisiana tried to suppress Cajun culture by forbidding the use of the Cajun French language in schools. Teachers threatened, punished, and sometimes beat their Cajun students in an attempt to force them to use English. During, World War II Cajuns often served as French interpreters for American forces in France; this helped to overcome prejudice. A funny story: while visiting northern France a few years ago, I was told by a French farmer about the Cajun soldiers yelling at civilians that they were Americans who had come to free them, but their French was a few centuries old. It was like, in English: “Hey, nonny, nonny. Prith thee, kind sir, woudst thou etc. ect.” Finally, the other Louisianans realized what a goldmine the Cajun culture was, and today Cajun songs, food, dances and accents are in full bloom, even seeping over the Texas border to Pote Ar-TURE.

Yankee Go Home and Damn Yankees are not love letters, but Yankees like them. Georgia Crackers were once a proud name for early settlers of the colony, then the state. The Atlanta Crackers were the city’s minor league baseball team between 1901 and 1965, when the Atlanta Braves moved from Milwaukee in 1966. But today Cracker generally means a red neck rural, white racist. If you are from Kansas, you are a Kansan, but if you are from Ar-Kansas, or Arkansas, you are not an Arkansanian but an Ar-KAN-san. (Incidentally, they pronounce their state AR-kan-saw, the last “as” becoming “saw.” Texas also ends in as. Should we be from TECK-saw?)

In the early days, residents of this part of what was then Mexico were called Texians, Texasians, Texicans, and Texonians, along with Thieves, Land Grabbers and Illegal Aliens. Eventually Texian won out, and many newspapers here used Texian in their title. Our elder statesmen, having used the term since the revolution in 1836, used Texian well into the 1880s. However, in general usage after annexation, Texan replaced Texian, while “The Texas Almanac still used the term Texian as late as 1868. And we have Tejano. I’ve always liked that unique title. It connotes the best of both cultures, and means a proud Texan of Mexican ethnicity, although I wonder if, say, those who came here from El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru can call themselves a Tejano. A last French story: A friend of mine, Phillipe, who managed a fancy Parisian hotel, once noted to me: “Lean, people from America zay they are from New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles, but people from Texas just zay they are from Texas.” So the next time you walk into a bar, just zay you’re from Texas.

 

Ashby is from here at ashby2@comcast.net

LONGHORNING IN

April 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                    24 April 2017

THE JUNGLE – Trees and bushes so thick you couldn’t walk through them, with high grass in other places. They are on each side of Buffalo Speedway as it turns into Willowbend just south of Loop 610 South. Ah, but the grandiose plans to turn this chunk of Houston into a campus of sparkling glass buildings housing Nobel laureates testing their test tubes, while others think deep thoughts and slowly, thoughtfully, walk through the halls of ivy (or probably kudzu), to suddenly stop, cry, “Eureka!” and race back to their labs to, uh, do something. Whatever. Maybe a new thingamabob. But few of us know what that Eureka is all about, which is why this development is not being developed.

In case you just got out of the ER after flying United, a brief background. In 2015, with no warning shot, UT Chancellor Bill (Bye-bye bin Laden) McRaven announced that the UT System was buying 332 acres of land, equidistant between the Texas Medical Center and the main UH campus, for about $450 million over the next 30 years. This would be its largest land purchase in recent history, with money borrowed from the Permanent University Fund. UH was aghast about this invasion of Longhorns into Cougar territory. Already bloodied by its long-running feud with the South Texas School of Law over naming rights, and its hemorrhaging of head football coaches, UH lined up alumni, lawyers and lawmakers to fight the project. With growing opposition in Houston, questions about financing at a time the Legislature is cutting funds for higher education, the mysterious purpose of the project, and after Gov. Greg Abbott (UT ’81) named new UT regents who opposed the deal, quoth McRaven: “Nevermore.” He tossed in the trowel.

And that was that, sort of. Then white (and otherwise) knights suddenly came to help. Not scientists, deep thinkers and Nobel laureates trying to get out of Cambridge and Palo Alto, but an even more fearsome foe: Houston developers. A just-released report from an advisory group of Houston civic and business leaders figured a vast development like the proposed UT think tank would spur growth in the area: new houses for highly paid PhDs, dorms, upscale shopping centers and – ta-da! – money.

So the battle is not over, and all the old arguments will be dusted off, like “the dump.” The chancellor acknowledged to state lawmakers in a letter that much of the Houston land was an abandoned oil field and a few of the acres are polluted by a former polymer facility on the site. But supporters say that is no problem. (If the projected campus really gets started, perhaps the first structure could be the Toxic Dump Lab, which would work to decontaminate the rest of the acreage.)

There is the question of what to call the place. UT already has a huge footprint in Houston, what with the UT Health Science Center, medical school, dental school, nursing school, M.D. Anderson plus 100,000 alumni (more than any other university). So do we follow the pattern of other branches (UTEP, UTSA, etc.) and call it The University of Texas at Houston, or UTAH? Would the Mormons object? School nickname? The Think Tankers. School song? It has been said that an intellectual in Texas is someone who can listen to the “William Tell Overture” and not think of the Lone Ranger. So how about the students stand and sing: “To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump.” But the biggest blockade of all is that McRaven has never been clear as to why it should be built at all. He referred to the project as an “intellectual hub.” Huh? At other times the goals of education, science and other stuff have been mentioned, and perhaps finding the Longhorns a decent quarterback.

But the buzz word that finally was touted was Big Data. I first figured they were talking about the Burl Ives role in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Big Daddy. No, Big Data, or BD as we laureates call it, means, uh, something smart and important. Maybe Big Data is literally that: lots of very large information such as billboards, advertising signs in Minute Maid Park and tattoos on fat people. And it must be very important: When the proposed project was still alive, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was quoted as saying: “Big Data is the oil wealth of the 21st Century. Texas needs to invest in Big Data, and I am excited that the University of Texas System is leading the way. I can think of no better place to start this initiative than Houston.”

But if the project is still possible, in order to drum up popular support, backers need to be specific. BD must solve problems and answer questions we can relate to. A few suggestions: Do you ever wonder why more and more people are backing into parking places? Isn’t it easier to just drive into the parking slot and back out, instead of trying to back in, maneuvering between two SUVs the size of school buses? Why, in the middle of a sunny day, do people drive around with their headlights on? Do they not know where they are going? Houston needs a good nickname and slogan. Bayou City, H Town, Houston’s Hot and Space City just didn’t catch on like Big D, the Windy City and Deer Park – Gateway to Pasadena. Not far from this jungle is another large area. Find out whatever happened to that massive project that was going to replace AstroWorld. We tore down a perfectly good amusement park for what? Scientists, go to your labs and discover a cure for unruly children in restaurants. Finally, find out what Big Data means, so we can pay for it. OK, we have now put BD on the road to success. As for objections from UH to the UT expansion, just decide it with a football game.

 

Ashby solutions at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

CONTACTED BY CONS

April 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE COMPUTER — “Dear User, Your account has expired, you must renew or your account will be de-activated. Click Here To Renew.” And: “We have detected that your account may have been accessed by an unauthorized individual. As a safety measure to restrict this threat, you are to upgrade your email. Click Here To Re-activate.” There is trying from suspicious devices to login your account.Your (no space) account has been Stopped. Please reactivate your account Now.” These warnings emailed to me daily are urgent messages from my cable company, Disable Cable, except they aren’t. They are simply a ploy to hook me on a scam to get my secret codes. For some time I have been receiving such come-ons, but they have been increasing. Perhaps you are having the same problem: You sit down at your computer to write an email to your bondsman, or maybe a ransom note, and up come assorted emails from unknown, or fake, entities. You have to go through them however briefly in case some may be genuine – your mother’s nursing home really did burn down and you should come get her.

Then there are the banks, or maybe not: “Your account has expired. You are advice (sic) to Re-Activate or your account will be de-activated.” “During a recent review, we identified activity on your account that may be related to fraudulent usage and need you to verify this activity as soon as possible. You must review this activity immediately by clicking on the secure link below.” A new twist: “Wells Fargo invites you to participate in a short survey to provide feedback regarding your recent visit to a Wells Fargo branch.” A bank in that hotbed of international finance, San Angelo, Texas, has $12 million due me. I receive many alarms about “suspicious activities” from banks I never used or, in some cases, never even heard of, but they want me to re-register. It’s good to know that, if I ever do business with them, they will keep a close eye on my account, and drain it dry.

What we (I assume you are getting the same scams) have here is some 16-year-old in Croatia, in his parents’ basement at midnight, churning out these fake requests. A major point: he must be getting good feedback or he wouldn’t keep doing it. Then again, maybe business is slow after the Russians no longer needed so many anti-Hillary and pro-Trump fake news bulletins. Remember the No Call Law passed by Congress a few years ago? One member said it was the most popular bill ever passed by that body – they received 40 million immediate signees. (Come to think of it, that law must be crumbling around the edges, because I am now getting solicitation phone calls.) Well, by the same token to shield me from all these unwanted cons, I have a “Block Sender” line on my computer. It doesn’t work. Somehow that 16-year-old is getting around the shield. Maybe “Block Sender” means that I have been designated my block’s sender.
Here’s a slightly different bait: “Dear friend, I know this letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise. I am Capt. Henk Thomas. Please I need your urgent assistance. Contact me via my private email for more information. Respectfully, Capt. Henk Thomas United States Marine Corps. Syria.” That’s a pretty vague address, “Henk.” Another strange one: “I got your information online for dance classes. I’m organizing a surprise dance (like flashmob) for my daughter’s wedding, So i (sic) want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography. Let me know if you can do this? i will also need the below information from you.” I suspect the “below information” includes my address, password to the burglar alarm system, where I keep the family jewels and when I’ll take my next vacation. OK, I don’t immediately see the con with dancing lessons, but there’s got to be one. Maybe he is checking out home safes, and is vault-zing across Texas.

At this point I must wonder, as do you: how did our names get on these suckers’ lists? Somewhere along the line I must have ordered a pet aardvark, or entered a Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. No, my name popped up on the One Born Every Minute list because that Nigerian prince probably lost my address and I never got my share of the $40 million he had in a London bank. Then there those emails which are not scams, apparently, but just sent to the wrong guy, “Dear CEO, At present we want to purchase a batch of Diapers(For the elderly,children).” This guy’s keyboard must not have a space bar. I also got a proposal to sell me manhole covers. Honest.

Each day I find emails from China (perhaps by way of Croatia): “dear sir/madam, first, let me introduce our company for you. we are china import & export trading co., we need  to purchase from your company log cabin (120 sets) from your company.” I do sport some Lincolnesque traits, but no longer build log cabins. One more: “Dear CEO: Wish have a nice day!” This last one is a killer: “The CEO of respect; Our company and the school have invested in three football training schools to train football talents for China. Now we need to invite nine qualified foreign football coach, to China for our comprehensive football training.” Would it be politically incorrect to suggest they check with the coaches at Rice?

My question was answered when I received this: “I obtained your name and address from the international business internet. Now, we are writing to you to hope establish business relations with you.” That explains everything. My name appeared in the CEOs of the Fortune 500 or maybe the Forbes World’s Billionaires list. I was spotted at Davos having drinks with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the petroleum minister from Saudi Arabia. Next time I’ll register as a Nigerian prince.
Ashby have nice day at ashby2@comcast.net

 

REMEMBER THE A LA MODE

April 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                    10 April 2017

THE ALAMO PLAZA – A man is shouting “Praise Jesus!” as he walks in circles. Nearby are a Haagen-Dazs shop, two Ripley’s Believe It or Not stores, a wax museum, a mirror maze and lots of traffic. This is what some 2-million visitors a year see. We are here because this is the period between the fall of the Alamo, March 6, and the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, Texas’ High Holy Days. It’s a good time to see what’s happening, for there are plans – repeat, plans – to change the look of the Alamo and its surroundings. Let’s hope so, since this neighborhood has been through some tough times, and not just bodies scattered all over the place. We can run through the first part: the Alamo was built in 1724. Later, Spanish troops occupied the mission and its surrounding buildings — the church was only part of the grounds – then Mexicans forces. By 1836, the place was abandoned, until Lt. Col William B. Travis was sent here by Gen. Sam Houston to destroy the Alamo and march east.

This brings us to March of 1836. When John Wayne (or Billy Bob Thornton, depending on which version of the movie you saw) and 181 other defenders were killed here, Francisco Antonio Ruiz, the Alcalde of San Antonio, was summoned by Gen. Santa Anna: “He directed me to call upon some of the neighbors to come with carts to carry the dead to the cemetery, and also to accompany him, as he was desirous to have Colonels Travis, Bowie and Crockett shown to him.” Ruiz reports: Travis was shot through the head, Bowie was killed in his bed, and so much for the version of Crockett surrendering to the generalissimo.

In 1846, after the U.S. annexed Texas, Edward Everett, a U.S. Army sergeant and company clerk, wrote: “The church seemed to have been the last stronghold, and amidst the debris of its stone roof, when subsequently cleared away, were found parts of skeletons, copper balls, and other articles, mementos of the siege; as were the numerous shot holes in the front…” He went on to condemn the “tasteless hands,” “the wanton destruction” by “other relic hunters or other vandals and iconoclasts.” The army used the church as a warehouse. Then the mission property was sold, much was torn down for commercial development, and by 1871 only 30 percent of the original structures was left. In the 1880s a visitor wrote how he felt “amazement and disgust upon my first visit to the old church…filled with sacks of salt, stinking potatoes, odorous kerosene, and dirty groceries.”

Daughters of the Republic of Texas (my mother was a member of the DRT, but she refused to say which side she fought on) bought the Alamo in 1905, and apparently ran it rather well until 2011 when the state took it over, although I was never sure why. For years visitors from around the world have been complaining about how Texas tacky this area is, right in the middle of downtown San Antonio. (This reminds me, have you ever noticed how many Civil War battles were fought in national parks?) There has long been talk of restoring or improving the Alamo Plaza, but it’s been all hat and no cattle.

But now San Antonio is linked with the state and feds to finally do something. A blue ribbon committee – what else? — was formed and the Plaza Project got underway. There are plans, drawings, committee meetings, and that’s about all. Money is a problem, and opponents don’t like closing off streets and tearing down buildings. (Please, no more “Second Battle of the Alamo.” It’s been used to death.) One major obstacle is that the six-story 1936 Post Office and Federal Building, which recently underwent a $56 million renovation, occupies a big chunk of the mission’s former land. It is hoped the feds will turn over the building to be converted into a museum, and it is noted the FBI has already left because the structure doesn’t pass new Homeland Security, uh, security. But the building is sitting right on a most important part of the battlefield: the north wall. I think they ought to level the building and restore the wall – and everything else.

Incidentally, there is an odd link between the Alamo and musicians. A drunken Ozzy Osbourne urinated on the Alamo Cenotaph, a 60-foot high statue erected in 1939 in the Alamo Plaza, in mid-day of Feb. 19, 1982. The story got changed to him peeing on the mission itself. Only, “It’s just not true,” a guide at the Alamo told the Boston Herald in 2003. “If he had, the police wouldn’t have arrested him. They would have beaten him to within an inch of his life.” Osbourne was banned from playing San Antonio again until 1992, when he made a public apology to the city and donated $10,000 to the DRT. British rock star Phil Collins has one of the world’s best private collections of Alamo memorabilia, which he has donated. He has so much good stuff that a separate pavilion is being considered to house it. Another British rock star changed his name from David Robert Jones to David Bowie because of the knife, not the man.

Meanwhile, don’t hold your breath until the Alamo Project is complete. As mentioned, the task of restoring the Alamo Plaza has been suggested and abandoned over the past 30 years. The city convened groups to study the plaza in 1988 and 1994. In 2011 it even hired a New York company to recommend ways to increase the plaza’s appeal to locals. Perhaps the Texas Legislature could help if we tell the lawmakers there will not be transgender bathrooms. As for the cost of the project, it started at $37 million, has hit $300 million and shows no sign of slowing down. Maybe, like Trump’s wall, we can get the Mexican government to pay for it.

 

Ashby remembers at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WIRE YOU TAPPING?

April 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE FRONT DOOR – It’s a dark and gloomy night, yet someone is knocking on my door. I open it and there stands a guy in a trench coat, collar turned up, Fedora pulled down low, dark glasses. “The dog waddles in the cumquat,” he whispers. Huh? “Ossie brings bacon from the lug nut.” I start to close the door. “Wait,” he whispers. “Is this 123 Toxic Pit Drive?” I shake my head. “That’s across the street, the Billy Bob Bin Laden house.” He frowns. “Sorry, my mistake, but now you know too much about Deep State. I’ll have to kill you.” He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a stapler. “Oops, wrong pocket.”

I slam the door and return to the den to resume my reading. “White House blames Deep State for leaks.” That’s interesting. “Congress is helpless before Deep State.” Odd, that’s the term that guy at the door was using. Later I turn on Fox News. “Obama is still in control, because of Deep State,” says a panelist, both arms secured in a straitjacket.

As your intrepid reporter, it is my duty to find out just who, or what, this new term means. I go to the Democratic National Committee Building, formerly the Debbie Wasserman-Schultz Underpass. “Deep State is everywhere, but you can’t see it, and that’s all I can tell you. Say, do you think this conversation is being recorded?” That was not much help, so I go to the Republican National Committee Bunker. “Halt!” shouts a guard from his watchtower. “What’s the password?” I think for a moment: “Locker room talk,” I reply. He lets down the drawbridge and I enter the offices of He Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken, but he looks a lot like Stephen Bannon. He checks to see if I’m wired, especially my teeth. “What is deep state?” I ask. “You didn’t hear it from me, but Deep State – incidentally, slime ball journalist and son of a coyote, you didn’t capitalize the name – is all that stands between America and utter chaos that would give us a crazed leader who tells lies, changes his policies and says he didn’t, hires his relatives and insults our allies.”

“Wow, we couldn’t survive that,” I reply. At that point I am tossed out. Thus far I am getting nowhere, so my next stop is my political guru, Margin d’Error, who predicted that Hillary would win. “You really messed up on that one,” I say by phone as he looks through the glass. He replies, “I was right by almost 3 million votes. I forgot about the Electoral College. You wrote me about Deep State. It means a shadow government within a government, like they have in Pakistan where the military and the secret police actually run the country. Egypt and Iran have it, too.” Margin looks furtively around, and continues: “Here in America, there is no such thing, but that doesn’t keep the paranoid alt-rights and kooks from spreading it about, like our Ego-in-Chief. Donald Trump believes we have a Deep State and it’s the former Obama administration. Poor guy, in a world of tuxes, he’s a pair of brown shoes, but there still are those who want to spread false news and prevent people like me from telling the truth. Even here….” Before I can ask him another question, a guard slaps tape over Margin’s mouth, puts a bag over his head, and hustles him away.

Reading the reliable Breitbart News, I discover the real reason Barack Obama and his family stayed in Washington after his last term expired: His code name is Hacker Backer, and he and his people still control the federal government while posing as Wall Street billionaires. Maybe so, because I noticed, despite the changes in administrations and wholesale firings in the federal government, my mailman is the same person. Wonder if he is reading my Hustler looking for hidden codes? Later, watching TV, there is Kellyanne Conway explaining that Trump is being sabotaged by Deep State, holdovers from the Obama administration. She also claims that the President is above both the law and the Constitution. When the interviewer begs to differ, Conway notes she is simply citing indisputable “alternative facts.”

At 3:30 a.m. I receive a Tweet. “You have been digging into the President’s administration. Who are you really working for? I’ll set you straight, and it’s HUGE! Meet me at the next meeting of the West Wing, aka Paranoids Unanimous, and watch out for the black helicopters. # Tax Dodger.” I show up at the meeting and see a man wearing an orange wig and a spray-on tan. He leads me aside. “You can’t be too careful. Now, let me explain that what some shrinks call ‘extreme narcissism, secretiveness and delusions of mediocrity’ are simply the art of the deal, which I read. First, there really were five million illegal aliens voting in the election to give Hillary the popular vote. They were disguised as Hillary voters. My inauguration audience was a record 100 million, but Obama’s people doctored the aerial photographs. As for releasing my federal income tax returns, I will as soon as Deep State lets George Washington release his. And I have no conflict of interests in being both President and a world-wide business mogul. I’m interested in them all.”

I reply, “There are rumors that the Russians were behind your election, they have infiltrated your staff and have information to blackmail you.” Tax Dodger laughs. “That’s ridiculous, and you can ask the head of Russia. I call him Pootie.”

It’s late at night and I am back in my home, having nothing to show for my work. There’s a knock at the door. I open it. “Pootie says the mud flaps are made of tangerines.” I start to slam the door. “Wait. I have something for you.” He hands me a package. “What is it?” I ask. He replies: “George Washington’s tax returns.”

 

Ashby is hacked at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

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A LEAGUE OF OUR OWN

March 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Play ball! Yes, the baseball season is upon us once more. The Lone Star grudge match between Dallas and Houston was always a good one, and when the Fort Worth Cats took on the Dallas Eagles, after seven or so innings and as many beers, there were fist fights in the stands. For you youngsters and newcomers, Texas baseball in air-conditioned stadiums with huge scoreboards and suites with bars and toilets are a relative new way of seeing and playing America’s game. I am talking about the Texas League which, along with Southwest Conference football games, united and divided the state like nothing since the Civil War (or the War for Southern Independence as my grandmother called the Late Unpleasantness).

But whatever happened to the old Texas League? Actually, it is still going strong, packing in fans. Since its founding in 1888 as the Texas State Baseball League, this organization has become one of the most colorful and historic minor leagues in America. And the bat goes on. Today on summer evenings in their field of dreams, young men on their way up to the Bigs, play ball.

The players compete in 140 games, about 20 shy of what the major league teams play. Each Texas League team is affiliated with a major league team which pays the players’ salaries, about $1,800 a month during the season, along with the salaries of the coaches, managers and trainers, plus some costs for the equipment. In turn, the teams send part of their gate receipts to Major League Baseball. This financial arrangement allows for one of the great bargains in professional sports. Ticket prices in most of the league’s stadiums go for about $10 to $20 with general admission as low as $2, and parking is usually free.

The Texas League is Class AA, a level that many in player development consider the make or break level of the minor leagues. If a player performs well in the Texas League, he has a fair chance to play, some day, in the major leagues. Then there are the stadiums. Build it and they will score runs. In Class AA, there must be at least 6,000 seats in each stadium. (Corpus Christi’s Whataburger Field was named by USA Today among the top 10 minor league parks in the nation.) Many of the league’s parks also feature grassy knolls beyond the outfield where families can spread out a blanket and lie down to watch the games.

Over its 129 years, the host towns have changed with just the San Antonio Missions hanging in there from the beginning. Today the league is divided into North and South. The northern bunch is made up of the Springfield, Missouri, Cardinals, Northwest Arkansas Naturals (I guess they liked the movie), Arkansas Travelers and Tulsa Drillers. The south consists of the Corpus Christi Hooks, San Antonio Missions, Midland RockHounds and Frisco RoughRiders. (Last season the RoughRiders adopted a Teddy Roosevelt-style uniform – bully for them.) Through the first century of the circuit’s operation, 38 cities in eight states hosted Texas League teams. And including other leagues, in Texas alone, 101 cities — more than in any other state — have supported minor league franchises. (Incidentally, the Sugar Land Skeeters are in the independent Atlantic League. Those teams are concentrated on the East Coast, except for Sugar Land.) Towns and cities that have fielded Texas League teams range alphabetically from Albuquerque to Wichita Falls, geographically from Kansas to the Rio Grande Valley, but they have always kept the same league name, maybe because it is one of the oldest minor leagues in the nation. By 1994 only three Texas cities, San Antonio, El Paso, and Midland, were part of the eight-team league, and there have been only 15 years in which the Texas League has had an exclusively Texan makeup throughout the season.

I love some of their names: the Ardmore Territorians (this was in 1904 — Oklahoma didn’t become a state until 1907), Dallas Hams, Houston Babies. Longview Cannibals, Paris Parisians, Sherman Orphans, Temple Boll Weevils and Texarkana Casket Makers. A side note about a former member of the Texas League which moved up to AAA, the Round Rock Express. Nolan Ryan was pitching for the Houston Astros, and sport writers, always looking for a stale nickname (Little Miss Baby Cakes, Pinstripes, Hammer of Thor) fiddled with the name “Ryan.” Ryan’s Daughter didn’t work, but Houston novelist David Westheimer had written a thriller book, “Von Ryan’s Express,” so Nolan (Lynn) Ryan became Ryan’s Express or just the Express. When he got involved, businesswise, with the Round Rock minor league team, the name followed. Good thing Westheimer didn’t write “Ryan’s Casket Makers.”

In 1930 Katy Park in Waco became one of the first stadiums in organized baseball to install lights for night games. When Fort Worth’s LaGrave Field was rebuilt in 1950 following a fire, it was the first new baseball park to include a television booth. Over the years, fans witnessed players such as Tris Speaker, Hank Greenberg, “Dizzy” Dean, Duke Snider, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson. One player, Homer Rainey, became president of The University of Texas. John Alton “Al” Benton, later, in the majors, gave up home runs to both Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Johnny Berardino, San Antonio’s second-baseman in 1938, later starred as Dr. Hardy on General Hospital. Earlier, as a child actor, he appeared in several episodes of Our Gang. More recently there were stars like Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Joe Morgan and Darryl Strawberry. The Astros’ dugout was a Texas League reunion with Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge.

Finally, a hit ball that drops safely between the infield and the outfield for a single is called a “Texas Leaguer,” or used to be. We don’t hear that term much anymore. But maybe we will if Field of Dreams ever comes to town and the Cats and the Eagles go at it again.

 

Ashby plays ball at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TEXAS, THE RANKEST STATE

March 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                           13 March 2017

TEXAS, THE RANKEST STATE

 

Texas, our Texas, all hail the not-so-mighty state that, compared to the other 49 dwarfs, is strictly mediocre to awful. We rank 30th in health care, near the bottom in opportunity. Who says so? US News & World Reports or USNWR, that’s who. It’s the magazine which annually rates universities. The winners say they deserve it. Those schools down the list say the rankings are meaningless. So let’s say these new state rankings – the first such comparisons by the magazine — are meaningless. How did USNWR come to these silly conclusions? It evaluated all 50 states across a range of criteria, from education to infrastructure and economy, then drew on thousands of data points to capture how states best serve their citizens. So this is not a survey of us, the citizens, but of how our state government serves us. And to think, our Legislature is currently all knotted up over transgenders in school bathrooms.

Which state ranks which No. 1 overall in the Best States rankings and who is No. 50? Well, Texans used to say, “Thank God for Mississippi,” because, otherwise, we would occupy the basement in any favorable comparisons. Now it’s Louisiana, which is 45 or 46 in almost all categories. But let’s get to us. Texas is 41in education. I lay the blame on several factors: We don’t spend enough on our schools, students and teachers. Indeed, the Legislature even now is figuring out how to reduce our education budget. Meanwhile, we spend tens of millions of dollars on football stadiums. Texas is attempting to educate up to 86,000 Dreamers from south of the border, most of whom don’t speak English. They will drag down any SAT scores. The State Board of Education is a miserable example of inmates running the asylum. No, global warming is not a hoax. Houston was not originally named Hughes Town in honor of native son Howard. And let’s stop debating whether Jesus was a Christian.

Next comes health care. We get a 30. Why so low? Because our state officials knowingly and willingly turn their collective backs on Medicare programs, thus sending billions of our tax dollars to other states to treat their citizens. Does this make sense? No wonder Texas has the highest number of unvaccinated children in America and is last in children with health insurance, and no wonder Houston has the largest medical center on Earth. We have the most sick people.

Crime and corrections. Texas has long had a lock ‘em up philosophy on crime, which accounts for the 172,000 Texans we hold behind bars, by far the most of any state. And in most years we lead the nation in executions. So in the crime and corrections category we rank 31 among the states. Not much more to say about this comparison. Moving on, we come to infrastructure. A miserable Number 40. To be sure, we have more roads, more railroad miles and quite probably more potholes and rickety bridges than any other state. But the state also has more newcomers than the other 49, who use a growing amount of our infrastructure. We can’t keep up, and we obviously don’t plan to. Opportunity: New Mexico calls itself “the land of opportunity,” but ranks 46 in this study. New Hampshire is first. Thank God for Mississippi, which is last. Texas is a lowly 45 in opportunity. That surprises me because hordes of people come here from both south and north seeking jobs, better pay and far better Tex-Mex than their homelands offer.

This also surprising because of our next category: Economy. We are up there in the No. 6 slot. (Colorado is first.) Former governor and current Energy Secretary Rick Perry ran for President twice on his “Texas miracle” platform, touting our booming economy and, piggybacking it on our great opportunities. It would seem that these last two categories, opportunities and the economy, would be about the same. Now we get down to the nitty-gritty: the category that is responsible for most of the other rankings: state government. According this first-ever survey by USNWR, the state with the best government is – roll of drums – Indiana! Huh? Yes, they have the Indianapolis 500 (I think they’re all guilty) and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is now the vice-president, president of the Senate and world-wide Explainer & Apologizer in Chief. But Indiana? Last, with the worst government, is New Jersey. Texas comes in at No. 11. Really, considering how low we are in everything from health care to cons to infrastructure, we should be lower.

Which is the best all-around state? The envelope, please. The winner is “La La Land.” No, actually it’s Massachusetts. The Bay State finished first in education (Yeah, but can Harvard play decent football?), second in health care and never placed lower than 16 in any category. Texas, our beloved Texas, all hail the 38th best state. We know we’re No. 1, but when we rank lower than Georgia, South Dakota and Idaho, it’s time to re-evaluate our state’s government. We could be defensive and note that U.S. News was the lowest-ranking news magazine in the U.S., after Time and Newsweek before it went defunct. Now it is only on-line and publishes special issues like its rankings. But being defensive would overlook the fact that Texas is poorly governed. As you read these very words, our legislators are meeting in Austin deciding who to tax, how much, and where to spend it. They are empowered to support good and forward-looking projects. But led by the Official State Demagogue, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, our lawmakers are debating school bathrooms. Good ol’ Patrick. Hours after 49 people were massacred and 53 wounded in a gay bar in Orlando, Patrick tweeted a Bible verse: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” And he asked parents if they wanted their 10th grader showering with students of the opposite sex. We’re lucky we rank at all.

 

Ashby ranks at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

LOST AND FUND

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

THE OFFICE – It’s not here, nor there, either. My long-lost Magna Carta has to be here somewhere. Maybe this drawer, no. This one? Odd, the bottom left drawer of my desk is stuck. I’ll just tug. Tug-tug. It won’t move. Why am I bothering you with this? Because I might make you money, big money. Let me refresh your memory, and this time take notes. Michael Sparks was a music equipment technician in Nashville, Tenn. In 2007, Sparks bought a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document in a thrift store for $2.48. It turned out to be a rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence, which Sparks later sold at auction for $477,650. In 1989, Donald Scheer of Atlanta bought a painting at a Philadelphia flea market because he liked the frame. When taking it apart, out fell an original copy (about 500 were printed) of the Declaration of Independence. Scheer sold it for $2.42 million, but he got taken. In 2000, that same piece of paper was sold for $8.14 million.

People are always discovering items which were unrecognized or were hidden. Some discoveries we can’t call long lost because no one knew they were there in the first place. Folks make a hobby, or profession, out of checking flea markets, auction houses and their grandmother’s attic for possible treasures. Goodwill even keeps tabs of such finds. Sean and Rikki McEvoy of Knoxville, Tenn., bought a sweater for 58 cents at a Goodwill store in June 2014 in Asheville, North Carolina. It had “West Point” on the front and the word “Lombardi” written in black ink on a cotton swatch sewn inside. It turned out to be owned and worn by Vince Lombardi when he coached there from 1949 to 1953. The jersey was sold in an auction in New York City for $43,020. An Englishman roaming the British version of a flea market paid the equivalent of $38 in U.S. currency to purchase a Breitling wrist watch worn by James Bond in the movie “Thunderball.” At a Christie’s auction in 2013, the watch sold for $160,175. As an interesting side note, and possibly the reason for the high selling price, the watch was the first one modified by the famous Q Branch to include a Geiger counter to help Bond detect nuclear radiation.

Here’s one of the biggest finds of all. A scrap metal dealer paid $14,000 for a Faberge Egg at a flea market. He knew it was gold, and he was going to melt it down for scrap. Turns out the find was estimated at a value of over $30 million at an auction. According to Faberge, of the 50 Fabergé Imperial Eggs known to have existed, only 43 are currently accounted for. The finder was never identified, and it could be just an urban legend, like Texas Democrats.

There may be undiscovered treasurers closer to home. Let me remind you of my story. This is a white plate with lots of blue designs – drums, flags, in the center are two mid-19th century artillerymen — given to me by my mother. Later a friend showed me an auction house catalogue with an article reading: “Texas Campaigne China” A dish just like mine, pictured in the catalogue, was stored in a glass-faced box in a vault in New York City. The going price: $12,000! Why so much? The price and value of Texanna is skyrocketing. British rock star Phil Collins will pay any price for any item even remotely connected to the Alamo. His own collection has been sent to the state and will be housed in a new facility on the Alamo grounds.

Texas is loaded with old stuff that’s better than can be found on PBS-TV’s “Antiques Roadshow.” I have a cannonball from the San Jacinto battleground that was dug up miles away and years later. It’s a long story. You may be familiar with the de la Pena diary. It was allegedly written by Lt. José Enrique de la Peña, an officer in Santa Anna’s army when it invaded Texas in 1836. The diary was supposedly discovered by an art dealer, Jesus Sanchez Garza, in a Mexico City market in 1955. Garza paid a few pesos. It was auctioned in 1998 for $387,500 and now resides at UT-Austin. But you don’t have to be a Crockett scientist to see a lot of old stuff ain’t really old. For example, the de la Pena diary itself is suspect.

The Alamo flag – the defenders’ only banner — wasn’t found until 1934 in a drawer in Chapultepec Palace. One of Santa Anna’s artificial legs was discovered on display in the office of the Illinois adjutant general. The Twin Sisters, the two cannon the Texas Army had at San Jacinto, have been missing for 154 years. In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry proudly announced that Texas was paying $550,000 for a letter penned by Crockett from East Texas on Jan. 9, 1836, to his son and daughter back in Tennessee. Experts questioned the letter’s authenticity, and the deal was quietly cancelled. And don’t buy any Republic of Texas stamps. Texas never issued stamps.

I am still trying to pry open this drawer. It is part of my huge oaken roll-top desk used by my father, a pediatrician. As a tad I would go to his office and sit at this desk, filling out prescriptions on a pad. Wonder if Dad ever got raided by the DEA? He gave me this desk when I was about 12 or so, and I’ve had it ever since. Ah, the drawer is opening. Bottles of pills? Old prescription pads? Gold bars which I should really tell my siblings about? No, finders’ keepers. Tom Brady’s jersey? Gad, only old scripts for books and movies that I never got around to finishing. Well, it could have been a Fabergé Imperial Egg. The yolk’s on me, but to paraphrase Capitol One, what’s in your attic?

 

Ashby is hunting at ashby2@comcast.net

 

TEXAS ON THE FAST TRACK

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                    20 Feb. 2017

THE OFFICE – A fast train running between Houston and Dallas is such a good idea that rumors say President Donald Trump is considering adding high-speed rail in Texas to his priority list of national infrastructure projects. What an original idea. My grandfather would endorse the program. Actually he did, about 120 years ago. This is his conductor’s hat, black, round, with a bill and gold trim. “T&NO CONDUCTOR,” it reads. (That was the Texas & New Orleans.) My grandfather, for whom I am named and knew quite well – he and my grandmother lived next door – started out at 19 as a conductor on the Houston to Dallas route. Back then there were several trains running each way each day, as fast as speed allowed at the time (1900 to the 1950s).

Today’s high-speed trains are faster, and have run for years in France and Japan. Indeed, it is a Japanese company which plans to build a bullet train for us. But there are massive problems, so don’t pack your bags just yet. Remember then-Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas Triangle? It would connect the Metroplex to Houston, San Antonio and several towns in between. The roadway would carry cars, trains, utility wires and probably ox carts. Never got off the ground. The cost was astronomical (one strike), to be built by a Spanish company (strike two) and would take over strips of land across Texas as wide as 2,500 feet (yer out!).

This new plan, pushed by Texas Central Partners, Texas Central Railway or TCR, is meeting the same problems. Foreign company, farmers and ranchers don’t want a huge chunk of their land taken over, while county commissioners and lawmakers fear hundreds if not thousands of acres would be stripped from the tax rolls. TCR says no tax dollars would be used to build it, which still leaves the tax-roll situation. Backers are having other problems, too, like getting land routes into the downtowns, money and how to get their hands on rural land. TCR’s claimed “eminent domain” power as a railroad is very much in question, and is now being contested in state court, with trial set for July. However, “The Texas Bullet Train Project” as it is sometimes called, is receiving some high praise from supporters in Dallas — by both residents and elected officials. In a report by a Dallas TV station, supporters said they are getting excited about its economic impact to Dallas.

A few years ago, there were plans for a far more modest project than the bullet train: to run a train from Houston to Galveston. As I wrote at the time, the line was first estimated in 2005 to cost $350 million; then the projected cost nearly doubled to $650 million. In 2007 Galveston spent $350,000 for a study to see if the idea was feasible. The study said yes. In 2008, the city spent $850,000 in mostly federal money for an analysis to determine whether Congress would fund the project. Huh? This is no way to run a railroad. A project that was supposed to be completed by 2013 never even began.

And to think that railroads help make Texas what it is, from the beginning. Back on Dec. 16, 1836, the First Congress of the Republic of Texas chartered the Texas Rail Road, Navigation, and Banking Company to construct railroads “from and to any such points…as selected.” That’s my kind of governmental oversight. Nothing came of the iron horse until the 1850s when rail companies rose and fell with each economic boom and bust. The first lines went out from Houston, which made Swamp City very proud. If you look at an early map of Houston you will see rail lines branching out from downtown like spokes on a wheel. Even today, the official seal of the City of Houston sports an ancient locomotive and, with a nod to the future, ugly, black smoke billowing from its smokestack. The city’s motto was, “Where 22 railroads meet the sea.” That must have been one big splash.

With the line heading west, to cross the Brazos the railroad first used a ferry and inclined planes on each side of the river. This system was replaced in October 1858 by a low-water crossing. The Little Engine That Could had to chug mightily to gain the momentum necessary to climb up the steep grade on the opposite side. Soon rail lines crossed the state. The Houston and Texas Central was able to reach Corsicana in 1871, Dallas in 1872. So we had trains running back and forth between Houston and Dallas 145 years ago. But not now.

To handle this growing industry, the Railroad Commission, created in 1891, became one of the most powerful regulatory bodies in the state, but corruption was a constant problem as influential railway companies worked behind the scenes to control lawmakers and the government. Corruption, in the Texas Legislature? Get serious. Today substitute “railroads” for “oil, insurance and out-of-state casinos.” The Railroad Commission no longer has anything to do with railroads, and Texas has only two passenger lines running through it: The Texas Eagle from Chicago to San Antonio and the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Now Houston’s one station is a small but adequate facility, while the other one has been turned into a baseball stadium. Still, Texas continues to have more railroad mileage than any other state and the largest number of railroad employees. I didn’t know that, did you?

When was the last time you took a train (as opposed to being railroaded)? I have always loved trains, took Amtrak a few weeks, no bag search, metal detectors or seat belts. And if you have flown from Hobby to Love, or the other way, how long was it from your home to your hotel, or office to office? Maybe taking a train from Houston to Dallas would be a good idea. What do you think, Grandpa?

 

Ashby conducts at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 FRIDAY NIGHT FLIGHTS

February 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

 

TULLY STADIUM – This is where my son and his son played football and where my daughter led cheers for the Fightin’ Wildcats. The whole complex would make many a college envious, for it is a vast and expensive facility with double-decked press boxes, big scoreboard, and artificial turf. My tax dollars at work. Ah, but this stadium pales in comparison to what the Katy ISD, right down the road, is building: a $62.5 million facility (but the cost keeps rising) which makes it the most expensive high school football stadium in Texas, beating out the Allen ISD, up near Dallas, which spent $60 million to build its stadium. However, another $10 million is needed to repair “significant structural defects.”

That’s a lot of money, but it’s all a matter of priorities. As CBS newsman Bob Schieffer (TCU) said, “In Texas, the week begins on Friday nights.” This creates a problem, and as usual, I have the solution. The problem: Many of our best football talent – the blue chippers — are going to out-of-state schools, there to raise millions for LSU, Florida, USC on an on. A recent survey by the Houston Chronicle determined that four of the 32 five-star recruits in the nation are from Texas, and none are staying here. A composite survey found that nine of the state’s top 15 recruits are leaving Texas. What we have here is a brain concussion drain. There are several reasons for the days when all our best players were staying in state. One reason: At the end of the last season, no Texas university ranked in any Top 25 poll. If you’re a winner in high school, why would you want to play for a loser? Then there is the constantly changing coaching situation. A head football coach at UH went to Baylor, then his replacement at UH went to Texas A&M. The last UH coach fled to UT, which had fired its coach, Charlie Strong, after only three years. We all know the chaos at Baylor, which now has had three coaches in two years. Texas A&M may be looking for a new coach. Same for Texas Tech since Kliff Kingsbury is only coaching .500. Every time a head coach leaves, some of the young men he recruited leave with him or just leave.

SMU is a special case. The Mustangs were once a football power with a Heisman Trophy winner. In 1987 SMU received the Death Penalty for a host of continued violations, the only time the NCAA has ever done that. SMU never recovered, and to this day is landing mostly the B and C list. Technology has played a role. It used to be that Texas recruiters could tell a young halfback, “Stay in the state and your folks can go see you play.” Cable TV lets the parents watch junior play for almost any school with a major program. And social media allows college coaches anywhere, if the tape is available, to view Number 34 running for yet another TD.

We’ve seen the problem, and why it is a problem, but what is it about our high school players that anyone else would care? Simply put, Texas has the oldest, largest and best high school football operator in the nation: the University Interscholastic League, or UIL. The old line goes: “There are better football programs, but they play on Sunday afternoons.” (As an aside, note the name contains “Scholastic” but not “Athletics,” because the UIL was established as an academic operation and still runs programs and contests for accounting, stage design, poetry interpretation and much more. But we’re talking football here, which most Texans prefer.) This past season, more than 150,000 students from 1,000 schools played UIL football. On any Friday night in the fall, some 600 games were played before 1-million people. Texas is the only state in the country that plays high school football using NCAA football rules, as opposed to the National Federation of State High School Associations. This provides for an easier move to the college level. Each December the top teams compete for the coveted state championship. This past year, 245,913 spectators watched the finals at AT&T Stadium (formerly Dallas Cowboys Stadium) and we must suspect 90 percent of them were college scouts. Over the years, the results have been impressive. Only 76 individuals can say they are Heis­man trophy winners, and nine of them are products of Texas high school foot­ball. Meantime, 24 former UIL players have been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

As for my solution to our blue-chippers heading out of state, we pay for these kids to begin playing at the age of 8 or 9, then support them when they move on to junior and finally high school. Texas taxpayers provide them with coaches, equipment, fields and bleachers not to mention cheerleaders, flag girls, bands with expensive uniforms and lots of adulation you can’t buy. Then, when they reach the top of their early game, they go to play for the Crimson Tide. (The starting quarterback for Alabama, the perennial Number 1 team in the nation, is Jalen Hurts from Channelview, Texas. How much money did Hurts generate for ‘Bama?) We have a coveted commodity here, and we are giving it away. Texas does not give away its oil, cattle or sleazy politicians. So we charge or trade. “Florida, you want Bubba Musclebound? That’ll be 100k and an orange grove to be named later.” “Okies, since most of your team is made up of turncoat Texans, spot UT three touchdowns in the Red River Shootout.”

This story has been told before, but is worth re-telling about an alleged confrontation some years ago at a coaches’ convention when Michigan State head football coach Duffy Daugherty ran into UCLA head coach Tommy Prothro. Daugherty thoroughly upbraided his colleague for “recruiting in my backyard.” Prothro replied that he hadn’t even been in Michigan lately, much less recruited there. “Not Michigan,” Daugherty fairly yelled. “Texas!”

 

Ashby is recruited at ashby2@comcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YANKEE, COME HOME

February 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

HOVERING OVER HOUSTON — Fasten your seatbelts, trays up, wheels down. I am flying into Hobby from a trip to Las Vegas. (Hint: hotel rooms there don’t have coffee pots. They want you to use room service for coffee and muffins each morning: $37, $74 and $59. Nevada has no state income tax, but I was hit with a daily room tax, room fee and resort fee tax totaling $85.46.) Looking out the widow I see rows and rows of homes down below, in lines or semi-circles, facing cul-de-sacs, backed up to bayous. Those houses weren’t there 10 years ago, and, after Hurricane Bubba comes in August, may not be there next year. All of which leads us to – one guess — President Donald John Trump. It goes like this: one reason Trump won the election is that Russian President Vladimir Putin rigged it. Another reason is that Hillary Clinton was the worst presidential candidate since Aaron Burr. A third reason is that blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt believed Trump when he said he would stop the exodus of plants to Mexico and China. He would get American workers jobs again, he would bring back prosperity, heal the lame, walk on water, etc. etc. In a term, he would scratch their itch.

OK, these poor souls have been waiting for years for someone else to come to their aid, and we can’t help but feel sorry for them. But, not to sound too hard-hearted, there is a certain amount of self-pity there. How long are they going to sit in Cleveland waiting for the cavalry to arrive? Detroit, a lot of cities have financial problems, but you managed to go flat bankrupt, and others (us) had to bail you out. What measures did you take on your own? It’s like the Texas governor said in “The Best Little …:” “Somebody do something.” Your “do something’ was to vote into office a slightly crazed snake oil salesman who will make everything right, like tomorrow. But that tomorrow may be a long way off, so I have a solution. It’s called GTT, Gone To Texas. Those were the initials chalked, carved or burned into front doors of log cabins, houses and hovels across eastern America in the 1800s, and everyone who was left behind knew exactly what it meant. Davy Crocket put it more bluntly to his former constituents, after being defeated for reelection to Congress: “You all may go to hell. And I will go Texas!” (Some might say it was a short trip.)

In recent years, many have taken that advice. Texas’ population is growing twice as fast as the rest of the nation. Three reasons: foreign immigration — check the kitchen after your next restaurant meal. Natural birth rates — Texans are sex addicts. And national immigration – other Americans coming here. Do you ever get the idea that the Border Patrol is watching the wrong river? Texas’ population surged by 1.8 million people from 2010 to 2014 – Houston is catching up with Chicago — and the U.S. Census Bureau projects the state’s population will double by 2050.

Before you spray paint GTT on your ice-covered condo door, let’s make sure we’re a match. We like guns. Do you like guns? If you’re from Chicago, next question. We pronounce the word ROW-dee-oh, not row-DAY-oh. This isn’t Beverly Hills, as you will soon realize. Don’t shout: “Hook ‘Em Horns” in College Station. It’s a long story. Avoid saying things like, “That’s not the way we did it in Philadelphia,” or, “Shouldn’t Texas have an income tax like we did in Michigan?” We don’t need any more missionaries to the savages. At sporting events, wave banners of the home team, and that’s here. No more cheering when the Packers, Dodgers or Celtics score. Also, there is a vast difference in how Texans feel about George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Speaking of politics, the good old boys who controlled Texas for more than a century through the Democratic Party were white, male, conservative and often racist. They feared that the huge influx of northerners would bring with them East Coast liberalism, big government, high taxes and integration. These newcomers must have been converted because Texas now has the most right-wing state government in the nation.

We like sports such as gerrymandering, freeway demolition derbies and, above all, high school football. It was former Houston Post sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz who wrote: “There must really be something to religion. People keep comparing it to Texas high school football.” The slogan, “Don’t mess with Texas” originally dealt with litter. Now it’s a battle cry. “Remember the Alamo” was once a battle cry. Now it’s an order. Global warming is a hoax, but professional wrestling is real. Never squat while wearing spurs.

Some old timers (those who got here before 2007) say: “I’m aboard, so pull up the gangplank.” That’s a bit much, but we need to cherry-pick those who join us. Can your kid dribble, punt or bat .333? Do you plan to invest a couple of million in a new company here which will hire 300 workers? Are you an honest politician who doesn’t dwell in meaningless demagoguery like school restrooms? We have a few positions in Austin which desperately need replacing. There was an expression years ago about the GTT crowd and others who moved west: “The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way.” Actually, if you’re just gonna sit there collecting food stamps and welfare checks while waiting for someone else – like President Trump — to solve your problems, you wouldn’t cut it in Texas, anyway.

Right now, looking down at those new homes spread out across the salt grass prairie, I suspect few of those inhabitants are from Houston, or even from Texas. As the West Berliners who fled communism, used to say, “We voted with our feet.” You’ve already voted for Trump, now vote with your feet.

 

Ashby moved to ashby2@comcast.net

 

THE EYES HAVE IT

January 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

 

By Lynn Ashby                                                                 30 January 2017

 

THE EYES HAVE IT

 

THE KITCHEN — Elderly Chinese gentleman: “I am going to have an eye operation.”                                  Questioner: “Do you have a cataract?” ECG: “No, I have an Oldsmobile.” (Bob Hope, circa 1955) You can’t tell ethnic jokes like that anymore, but in fact, I did have a cataract, and it is no laughing matter. My story began when I noticed my eyesight was getting fuzzy, so, obviously, I went to see my doctor. He happens to be an endocrinologist, but that’s close enough for medical work, and maybe he could prescribe something. He prescribed another doctor, an ophthalmologist, actually several. They seem to specialize: retina, pupil, eye lid, eye lash, left eye, right eye, bull’s eye.

After I visited most members of the AMA, the docs decided I had a nuclear reincarnation or maybe it was a miscalculated degeneration in my left eye. (Hey, I flunked out of pre-med. If I hadn’t, you wouldn’t be reading these magnificent words.) And I had cataracts in both eyes. So the cataract doc decided to operate on the right eye and then the left. I was prepared for a small inconvenience. “It’s a nothing operation,” a friend said. “I drove myself to the doctor the next day for a post-op checkup.” Said another: “I had both eyes done one afternoon. Went to work the next morning.” I returned to the clinic a week later and visited several eye machines I got to know from previous visits. “Put your chin here, close your left eye, now close your right eye. What do you see?” I replied, “Nothing.” I may have been a medical first.

After seven nurses — or maybe it was 72 virgins, I couldn’t see that well — prepared me, the Chief Doctor came in, he looked about 18, and went to work digging into my eyeball. One thing I noticed is that today’s drill presses are really very quiet. He was good, quick, steady and didn’t make jokes about “by your pupils you will be taught.” (“The King and I”) In a minute or so he told me he had deropped the right melgin and transmuted my optic-fiffel. “Your vision will be a little foggy for a while,” he warned.

That turned out to be like saying, “You might miss your left leg at first.” The week went by and I was not doing so well. Actually I was walking around with a white cane and a tin cup. The second week I was in the kitchen saying, “It’s around here somewhere. Third drawer from the stove. Just open it and get out my beer opener and…OUCH! It seems I have cut off my finger.” It’s easy to mistake a knife for a beer opener. On my next visit to the eye doctor, he said I was coming along nicely. “I guess I am getting better,” I agreed. “Excuse me,” he replied, “but I’m over here.” Incidentally, I am detailing my experiences to save you a lot of time and money on yourself or on your family so they will know what to expect after a cataract operation. For example, don’t ask me to drive a car. “But Officer, I know I was on my side of the road.” “Does your side include the curb, median and toll booth?” Avoid using terms such as: “Now see here,” “It’s as plain as day” and, “Would you close the blinds?”

As a good investigative journalist, I looked into what causes cataracts so as to avoid them                      in the future. According to the Mayo Clinic, a lot of things. “Most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens.” Other causes include genetic disorders, i.e., you inherited bad vision which I didn’t, “other eye conditions,” diabetes and long-term use of steroids. Thanks a lot, Mayo. You’ve been a great deal of help. On my next visit to the eye doctor, he suggested he not operate on my left eye until the right eye was clear. I figured that would be in time for the next Olympics – summer, not winter. Receiving such bad advice from friends earlier that I would be seeing clearly within a day or two, I asked how long my fuzzy eyesight should last. The doc zeroed in: “That depends.” My mother always said I was her slow one, but I didn’t know that included recovery from dueling with a drill press.

A major problem with the inability to see clearly has nothing to do with needle-point sewing or repairing watches. It’s about reading. Yes, I could watch TV although I kept mistaking the Rockets for the Cowboys. Is it Rachel Maddow or Chuck Todd with the beard? Listening to music was a (excuse the cliché) no brainer. I read everything: books, magazines, newspapers, billboards, the ingredients in Ritz crackers (“Protein less than 1g”) and my neighbors’ mail when it’s misdirected. But I can’t read newspapers’ fine print, just the headlines. “Group Slates Meeting.” “Man Bites Dog.” “Trump Demands Recount of Recount.” The sports section is no help: “Cats Bag La-La Land With Walk-Off.” Huh? Then there are those news headlines which raise more questions than they answer: “Texas Legislature Bans Women’s Health” and: “White House Annexed by Trump Tower.”

Suspicions develop. I am not absolutely certain, but I think my children are re-writing my will including something about “an ice floe.” A TV bulletin across the bottom of the screen called for my ouster from America and banishment to Waco. They say (“they” being either Google or Facebook) that when you lose one sense, the rest become even stronger. That’s true, because I can hear people talking about me. I am not paranoid, but I distinctly heard my family say, “Hit and run,” “I know the combination” and “ice floe.” This is now week six and I can see much better. Even my driving has improved, although it is still hard to spot an Oldsmobile.

 

Ashby leads the blind at ashby2@comcast.net

YULE GET AROUND TO IT

January 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                               16 Jan. 2017

THE DEN – Hello, 911? Need to report a burglary. Boxes opened and left around, scattered papers and ribbons. No, it’s only the leftovers from Christmas. Yes, that celebration was weeks ago, and by nowmost families have long since cleaned up remnants of their on-line orgy, but it is taking me a little longer. Actually, each year seems to take longer than the year before. I blame the liberal media. You know the annual drill. Right after Labor Day merchants begin to deck the malls with boughs of holy – holy elves, holy tool kits, holy 50 percent off! Holiday catalogues – which began arriving in September – stack up in your front hall. Then you get on your computer and order all your gifts on-line.

Slowly, however, Christmas has been changing. Greetings, for example. Despite Bill O’Reilly’s forgettable “war on Christmas” crusade, which he seems to have abandoned, we no longer hear simply “Merry Christmas,” but also “Happy holidays,” “Season’s greetings” and “Hand over your purse.” (No matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Solstice of the Druids, for simplicity sake we shall just use Christmas.) Another change: I am receiving fewer Christmas cards. Maybe it’s because I stopped sending them out when postage went up to a nickel. Those cards I do receive sport photographs of children or grandchildren, but not just standing in a snow drift. Cards now have to show the exotic places they have been in the last year while I sat on the couch watching re-runs of “My Mother the Car.” Or I get a letter saying how they spent the last year. If the message doesn’t contain some really juicy stuff (“After the SWAT raid, Junior had to junk his meth lab.”) I don’t care.

Have you noticed what you did not see prior to this Dec. 25th? Cars with Christmas trees tied to the top. Is the live-tree fad over after 200 years? People seem to be going to plastic trees or metal or maybe they just store a tree in the attic and bring it down each year. My own tree looks nice, once I put little balls, icicles and lights over the coat hangers. Do you still wrap your presents? That means getting out the rolls of paper, ribbons and bows, Scotch tape and scissors. Today I use paper bags with tissue paper stuffed in the top so others can’t see what’s inside. You can buy fancy Christmas bags which can cost more than the gift itself, or do as I do and grab a few extras at the grocery store checkout counter.

Each year music producers try to come out with a new and catchy Christmas song. But not since “Silent Night’ (1818) has any new carol really caught on. The best of late (1962) are the songs from “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” with lyrics like “We’re rep-re-HEN-sible. We’ll steal your pen and PEN-sible.” For years I couldn’t fill stockings without the Pope on TV chanting in 34 different languages. Gifts have changed over the years. As a child, I would receive presents from my parents such as metal toys that would come apart so as to stick in my throat. Or wooden blocks covered in lead paint. Those killjoys at the EPA and CDC have taken all the excitement out of a trip to the emergency room, but if the new administration cuts back on senseless regulations, we may return to those glory days.

Santa still rules in the malls. One year my editor instructed me to play Santa at a department store for a few hours. That was one of the toughest jobs I ever had as a reporter, aside from acting as a food taster for Dick Cheney. I had to lift up most of the kids onto my lap, and hear their requests for guns and dogs and to get rid of their little sister. Those too big to sit on my lap just whispered into my ear requests that I couldn’t repeat to their parents. Speaking of presents, this past Christmas there probably wasn’t a tree in America that didn’t have some kind of electronic gadget under it. Prior to Christmas, parents would have to stock up on batteries of all sizes, shapes and wattage. Now everything seems to plug into a charger. Good.

Have you noticed that outdoor Christmas decorations have gone from a wreath on the front door to a simple string of lights to the Las Vegas Strip? I have houses in my neighborhood that suck up more electricity than a small city. They have strings of lights marking every peak and drainpipe, with eight tiny reindeer in the front yard, Santa on the rooftop and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing in the background. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the reindeer wouldn’t use my front yard for their Port-O-John. Where do they put all this paraphernalia during the off-season? This brings us to today, after the party is over. Where do you store your Christmas gear? By now your tree is so dry and brittle that the pine will burst like a napalm bomb over Khe San if it comes near a flame. Garbage collectors might take it. There was some movement to put all those trees out in the Gulf as a reef. That makes no sense. The unused wrappings and ribbons can be stuffed under a bed, and those bags I mentioned can be used again and again if you remember to rip off the “to” and “from” tags. As for your strings of lights, there is an elf that comes by your house during the summer and thoroughly knots up your strings. On the other hand, it’s only a few months till the next Christmas, and I could just leave the decorations in place. It was Joan Rivers who said, “I don’t know why people do house cleaning. Six months later you have to do it all over again.”

 

Ashby procrastinates at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A RARE MEDIUM, WELL DONE

January 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

 

 

By Lynn Ashby                                               16 Jan. 2017

 

A RARE MEDIUM, WELL DONE

 

THE CLASSROOM — Welcome, class, to Journalism 101, in which you will learn the basics of journalism such as how to change facts to suit your own political positions, slant stories, stick in biases without leaving fingerprints and destroy America as we know it today. First, here are a few random notes: Never write a headline that ends with a question mark. Your newspaper is supposed to know the answer, that’s why readers turn to it. Never print a letter to the editor that begins with: “Now let me get this straight.” If the writer doesn’t know how to solve the problem, get it straight before bothering the rest of us. We’re busy. Do not write headlines about missing pets with, “Dog Gone,” or run a story about unexpected reptiles with the headline, “Snakes Alive!” They were shopworn before Johannes Gutenberg was setting type.

When you told your folks you were going to major in journalism, they probably said, “But newspapers are dead.” Wrong, they are only on temporary life support. It goes this way: The first newspapers sprang up in London in the 1600s and look nothing like the papers of today, or even those of the 1700s. By the Civil War, newspapers had tiny type and no photographs, just drawings. Editors placed stories as they arrived, with the first at the top of the page, and so on. Down at the very bottom was the last story to come in: “Lincoln Shot!” Today’s papers are evolving, just as everything else is – cars, clothes and the way we get our news. Most of us, especially younger people, get their information via emails, on-lines, iPads, hashtags and tom-toms, but not newspapers.

Two points here. The newspaper industry is getting into these news media. And it’s working. Today The New York Times has more readers than it has ever had, and more than half of these readers are not holding papes. Indeed, newspapers may have to start calling themselves a “newsbox: or “newscreen.” On the other hand, you still “dial” a phone number and “roll down” your car window. The other point is that, while you may think you don’t read newspapers, you’re right. They are being read to you. Notice how often you read your local newspaper and then see that same story on the local evening TV news. Same thing for national TV newscasts. The line about “NBC has learned” is correct. They learned it from reading that morning’s Washington Post. I once heard a reporter say, “I’d feel a lot better about what they say and write if I ever covered a speech, convention or rally and saw a reporter from the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report or Brightbart. There aren’t any.” The worst in parasite journalism are the radio, TV and pundit panels whose main, if not only, feedstock are the “mainstream media” as they like to despairingly put it. Talk about biting the hand. Donald Trump, like a good vaudevillian, tried out different lines in various speeches. He removed lines that fell flat: (“I am a Humble man. And Exxon and Shell and the Koch Brothers.”) He kept the zingers: The Wall and insults to the press. Now he works them into every speech. His followers love it.

I have been a journalist for a long time. Actually, when I got my first scoop I rushed into the city room yelling, “Stop the chisels!” But never before have I witnessed the press so hated. Indeed, a story from the Huffington Post repeated (remember that earlier line about parasite journalism) cited a

Gallup poll that showed people don’t have much confidence in newspaper and TV reporters when it comes to being honest and ethical. In a survey taken of more than 1,000 adults in the U.S., only 20 percent rated TV reporters “high” or “very high” for honesty and ethical standards, putting it sixth from the bottom of Gallup’s list of professions. Only 21 percent of respondents rated newspaper reporters positively for honesty. Another poll said newspaper reporters ranked the worst of the worst jobs in Career Cast’s 2016. Broadcaster was rated the fourth-worst job, finishing behind disc jockey, military personnel and pest control worker, according to the report.
Another point to learn: You will be hated. Total strangers will walk up to you and insult your profession, employer, colleagues and your mother. Learn how to say, “Sorry. Did I spell your name wrong in the story about the brothel bust?” Or: “After reading page one, do your lips get tired?” Students, you won’t find, or need, such training in the Architecture School, Pharmacist College or the Department of Ceramic Engineering.

All of this is not new. Thomas Jefferson wrote. “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” However, Tom also wrote: “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Don’t complain. You know what you are getting into. If you don’t like it, there is still time to go over to the Department of Ceramic Engineering. No one ever writes hate letters to pottery makers.

A final point: You ink-stained wretches and TV good-hairs should know this pursuit can be dangerous. Before the Normandy invasion on the sixth of June, 1944, D-Day, 58 war correspondents were selected to accompany Allied troops ashore in the first wave. Before leaving, they were all ordered to write their own obituaries. Some were published. Nothing’s changed. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that in 2016 at least 48 journalists were killed worldwide doing their jobs (Journalists Without Borders puts the deaths at 74.) while 28 deaths are still being investigated. Another 268 were jailed. Gives a whole new; meaning to the term “deadlines.” OK, students, get out there and lie.

 

Ashby slants at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUR WELL-RED LEADER

January 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

                                                      OUR WELL-RED LEADER      

           THE TUNNEL — It began a year or so ago when an obscure New York City developer named Donald Trump, who apparently hosted a TV show that appealed to those with double digit IQs, announced he was running for president. That made a good joke all around and everyone said he would lose. Trump predicted the reason for outcome: “This election is rigged!” He would make this accusation in every speech. He didn’t go into details. Then an odd thing happened in the campaign. Hacked emails from the Democratic campaign began appearing on WikiLeaks. Confidential memos about how to defeat the Bernie Sanders campaign, and Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was caught calling Chelsea “a spoiled brat.” On and on the secret and damaging memos came to light. Oddly enough, nothing from the Republican campaigns. Not a word, not a secret plan, nary what Trump thought about his GOP opponents. Of course, he made it clear all along what he thought of them – “idiots,” “no energy,” “not presidential looking” and more.                   

         I had to look into this. My first stop was at the Democratic National Committee Ode-kay Oom-ray. I knocked on the door. “What’s the secret password?” a voice from inside asked. “I don’t know,” I replied. The door opened. “That’s it. We can’t be too careful. Someone has been hacking our emails. That seems strange after we hired a security firm, KGB, Inc. They came highly recommended by Stasi & Sons,” This may be the problem, but I needed more information. Then, just a week or so before Election Day, FBI Director James Comey released a confidential memo only to members of Congress saying that the FBI was re-investigating Hillary’s emails. A few days after that, Comey sent Congress a second secret memo wondering how the first message got out to the public, and adding that the FBI really didn’t find anything new in the second batch of emails. But the damage was done – the American people discovered that Congress can’t keep a secret.

                  In my investigation, I went to the GOP headquarters. It wasn’t easy getting past the armed guards, land mines and searchlights. Did I mention the dogs? “What’s the password?” a voice behind the steel door asked. “Actually, we need to know how you feel about his Imperial Majesty’s life, campaign, appointees and other details. You have to know the real Donald J. Trump before you can come in. We understand there’s been some leaking of information going on in this election campaigns.” I had to think. “He promised to pay for his own campaign, and didn’t. He said we have the worst murder rate in 45 years, which is false. He said time and again that he would never settle the many suits against him and his Trump University, and settled for $25 million. He dodged the military draft because he said he had a bone spur on one foot, but can’t remember which foot or the name of the doctor who wrote Trump’s get out of the draft free letter. He said he’d release his federal income taxes after the election. He hasn’t and probably won’t. Am I getting warm? He said he’d drain the swamp of Washington insiders and bring in fresh faces. So far he’s appointed three retired generals, most of Goldman Sachs executives and thus far they have a combined wealth of fourteen billion – billion – dollars. And he keeps saying how he won ‘by a landslide.’ He did get more votes in the Electoral College, but he lost to Hillary Clinton by more than three point eight million votes, the most ever for a losing candidate. Landslide? He got stomped.”

There was a pause behind the door. “What’s your point?” I never got in, so I sought advice from my paranoid mentor, Deep Threat. “It’s easy to see what happened in the campaign. First, the Democrats couldn’t have picked a worst candidate, except there weren’t any others. Poor Bernie was just .too radical for most voters. Hillary had that nomination locked up since she lost to Obama. But she was carrying more baggage than a Wells Fargo stage. Oops, bad analogy. Millions s of American don’t just dislike the Clintons’ politics, they personally hate them. Why not? With their awful deeds, like running a tunnel from a New York City pizza parlor to run children into their sex ring. No wonder that patriot from North Carolina took a gun into the shop and fired off a round or two. You heard that Hillary had a sex-change operation, and eats live mice. It must be true, I got it from social media. I mean, Facebook never lies.”

I got up to leave. “This is ridiculous. Next you’ll be telling me that Hillary won the election.”

“That’s supposed to be top secret.”

My last stop was in a tunnel running from a New York pizza parlor to the DMC, where I met the Russian’ best agent, the Kremlin Gremlin. “I’m not here. I never told you anything and when you finish this conversation, burn the words. It is true that Putin and Trump exchange messages, emails and the occasional Valentine. And, yes, U.S. techies traced the rumors about Hillary’s health issues to Moscow. . But wen had nothing to do with leaking the emails from Hillary — numbers 23 through 34,998 — or those embarrassing the Democratic Party — series 1 through776 – and we didn’t plant a listening device under the Democrats’ meeting table, It’s a mere a coincidence that the bug’s letters were in Cyrillic. We I didn’t to rig the election.”

                  I noticed that, as he talked, his nose was growing longer. “The Russians simply took advantage of — how do Americans say? — gullibility and stupidity,” I then asked, “So Trump was the Manchurian candidate?” He laughed. “More like the Gregorian candidate.”

“But the presidential election was not rigged? I asked.

“Nyet, Trump was right. The election was rigged. He just didn’t say how.”

                                                   Ashby is rigged at ashby2@comcast.net .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOWLING OVER

December 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

By Lynn Ashby                                           26 Dec. 2016

 

THE TV – “Down, set, Omaha eight. Black bear forty-seven. Tight right court jester!” And the play begins. Are you ready for some football? If not, switch to the Trump Channels, aka CNN and Fox News, because all that the networks will be showing are football games, mostly of the bowl variety. Which contests have you marked on your calendar? Maybe the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl or the Nova Home Loans Bowl.

As we can see, higher academics joined with TV networks and good ol’ American greed to make another buck by selling naming rights to post-season college football games. Thus the Cotton Bowl is now the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, the Sugar Bowl is the Allstate Sugar Bowl (played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome),? How many wingbacks are there in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl? How long will you remember the Valero Alamo Bowl? Can you be in the Red Zone in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl? It’s only a matter of time until we have the Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Bowl.

. Can you be in the Red Zone in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, The ancient Rose Bowl has maintained a fig leaf over its privates with the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Incidentally, we all know that the Rose Bowl is the first, and granddaddy, of all the post-season bowl games, but what’s the second oldest? El Paso’s Sun bowl, 1935. The Sugar and Orange Bowls claim they ae the second oldest, but their cases are weak.

A quick story about the Sun Bowl, as told by Burt Reynolds on the “Johnny Carson Show.” Reynolds was the third-string halfback on the Florida State team that was playing in the Sun Bowl. Knowing that he wouldn’t be playing in that game – he had sat out most of the season – he and some teammates went to Juarez the night before the game, where Reynolds got totally plastered. At game time he was sitting at the end of the bench, paying no attention to the game. The starter at his position got hurt, then his backup went down. From far away, he heard a voice yelling: “Reynolds, get your helmet and get on the field!” There was just one problem, as Reynolds told it: All game long he had been throwing up in his helmet.

Years ago there were only a few major bowl games pitting the winners of the various conferences. We had the Cotton Bowl in Dallas featuring the champions of the old Southwest Conference, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, with the SEC champs, both on TV at the same time, then the Rose Bowl with the Pac 10 champ on Pacific Coast, time, and finally the Orange Bowl at night preceded by one of the strangest parades of the year. Over time, games have come and gone.

 

Stadiums have changed, too. Mostly the games go indoors for winter comfort. As a tad, my brother and I would sell programs at Cotton Bowl games on an icy Dallas New Year’s Day. It was so cold (how cold was it”) I actually had people approach me, not to buy a program, but to buy my woolen cap and scarf. Looking back, why was I selling those stupid programs when I could have made a tidy fortune setting up a booth selling jackets, scarves, woolen caps and gloves? The Cotton bowl is now played in the comfort of Cowboy Stadium, or AT&T MegaBox. The 1942 Rose Bowl was originally scheduled to be played in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. But it was moved to Durham, North Carolina, due to fears about an attack by the Japanese on the West Coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor three weeks earlier.

       Incidentally, during all college football games, including the bowls, the halftime is filled with commercials. OK, they pay the freight. But then they show four aging jocks sitting behind a desk telling us that Amherst is taking a licking from Williams (before 600 rabid spectators), and that Ramblin’ Rick Raspberry may break the passing record in the Upper Michigan & Lower Manitoba Conference. Couldn’t we see the bands, instead? Those students work very hard, practicing new formations and tunes weekly, and some shows are really impressive. Show the bands!  

Major bowls don’t have any trouble filling the stadiums and getting top TV money, but others have had problems. Baylor once played in the late Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, and, last I heard, never did get paid. To host a bowl game, usually the idea begins with a group of city leaders forming a committee, which rounds up a sponsor (the Belk Company) to underwrite some of the costs. The committee then taps volunteers to put up signs, host pre-game banquets and buy a bunch of tickets which they hand out to employees, big customers and anyone else who promises to show up in 30 degree weather to see East West Virginia State play Oregon A&M. For the schools, it’s a big deal to be “bowl eligible” and then selected. Indeed, have you ever heard of a school declining a bowl invitation? The school selected has to pay the coach and his assistants a bonus because they must work a few weeks after the regular season is over, while their colleagues coaching non-playing teams are sitting on the couch watching bowl games on TV or, more likely, sending out resumes because they got canned. Schools promise to send the team, band, cheerleaders and mascot, and buy a certain number of tickets.

            When all the bowl games are over, the top two teams left standing play for the championship, but the contest doesn’t seem to have a commercial sponsor – yet. But stand by for lots of car ads. It’s being played in Toyota Stadium, Anyway, it’s time for me to settle down on my couch, which is now my legal voting address, and watch some team I never heard of play another team which remains anonymous. “Down, set, bird dog right, alto solo!”

                 

                                    Ashby watches at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

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