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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
by Lynn Ashby
Through winding streets in Tanglewood, behind a gate, are a number of townhouses, one of which belongs to Dave and Laura Ward. It’s a lovely home with a small swimming pool—Dave says it’s been years since he’s used it. On the walls of the rooms are several plaques, including the Silver Circle, an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – the Lone Star Chapter. And this: It was presented by the Guinness World Records, which usually bestows such honors to the tallest man, the largest cucumber and Harnaam Kaur, of Slough, Berkshire, England, whose beard is six inches long in places, making her the youngest woman with a full beard. Then there is Houston’s own Dave Ward. Why is he included? Because, as the plaque reads, he holds the world’s record of having the longest career in television news broadcasting—49 years, 218 days, from November 9, 1966 to June 2, 2016, and the meter kept running until he finally left the anchor desk at KTRK on December 9. (His contract went to the end of the year, but he had vacation time.)
Getting into Guinness isn’t easy. “It all began when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who used to be a sportscaster on Channel 11, was in our station for one reason or another, and stopped by my desk and asked how long I had been at KTRK. I told him about 50 years, and Dan said, ‘Dave, nobody in this business has done that. You ought to be in the Guinness book.’ So the station contacted the company, and they wanted all kinds of verification—letters from two people who had been here when I was hired, my work records, everything. Then last June, they contacted us, and said I was in.” Now that Ward, 77, no longer needs to grind the daily grind, he and his wife plan to take a trip to California some day—he likes long-distance train trips. “My father told me when I was a little boy, ‘Dave, passenger trains are the only civilized way to travel.’” But he is not going to sit back on his sofa and play with the remote. “He’s not retiring. He’s looking forward to the next chapter in his life,” says Laura. (To follow Dave Ward after he left KTRK, “like” his Facebook page, Dave Ward’s Houston.)
More News from Dave Ward
“I was 27 years old when I made it to KTRK. Shortly after I got there, we received seven brand-new state-of-the-art black-and-white TV cameras, and I thought, Well, I guess it will be a while before we get color.” In recent years, his role at the station was diminished. He stopped doing the 10 o’clock news programs two years ago, just hosting the six o’clock news. “I just got tired of coming to work.” Since he worked evenings putting together the 10 o’clock news, “I now get to watch some evening TV. I am so fortunate Houston has been so good to me. I’ve interviewed five presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower. I’ve covered space shots, got to ride in a jet fighter, so much.”
He lives about 15 minutes from the station with Laura, his third wife. Ward has four children from his previous marriages. Laura has three. He used to smoke cigarettes and cigars, from the age of 14. “Then I quit until one day Marvin [Zindler] came in smoking the most wonderful-smelling cigar, and I started all over again. But I quit again.”
As for his opening lines: “I started each program with, ‘Good evening, friends,’ because Ron Stone, who I considered the best TV anchor in Houston, always began with, ‘Howdy, neighbors.’ I wanted an opening like that.”
Is TV Going to Work?
How Ward got to Houston and to Channel 13 is circuitous. David Henry Ward was born in Dallas, although his family didn’t live there. “My mother wanted to give birth in a major hospital, so she went to Dallas.” His father was a Baptist minister who moved his family around East Texas, eventually becoming minister of the First Baptist Church in Huntsville. Young Dave began his radio career with KGKB radio in Tyler while attending Tyler Junior College. Three years later, he joined the staff of WACO radio in Waco as a staff announcer. “WACO is the only radio station in America whose call letters are the city’s name,” Ward notes. A year later, he became that station’s program director.
“At that station, I was a DJ spinning Vaughn Monroe and Elvis. The station’s news director was Bob Vandiventer who taught radio news writing at Baylor University. He would bring some of his students to the station to get hands-on training, and I would see these five or six people in the news department busy, all inspired, having a great time, while I was across the glass just spinning those records, and I thought, That looks better, so I got into the news side, but I never finished college.”
In 1962, Ward came to Houston as the first full-time news reporter on KNUZ/KQUE. “Growing up in Huntsville, it was almost like coming home.” His Houston broadcasting debut was as a night-news reporter for the radio stations. Ward’s career at KTRK began in 1966 as an on-the-street reporter/photographer.
“I was hired in a pool hall,” Ward says. “I was working at KNUZ, and a friend at Channel 13 told me there was an opening. Would I be interested? So I met with the top people at the station, General Manager Willard Walbridge, Program Manager Howard Finch and News Director Ray Conaway at Le Que, a pool hall, where they went for lunch several days a week and to shoot some pool. I was hired then and there. The station only had eight people in the newsroom back then. Today we have about 120. I took a pay cut from about $650 a week at KNUZ to $575 at KTRK. My father was not that enthusiastic about my move. He asked me, ‘This television thing, are you sure it’s going to work?’” After his stint as a street reporter, early in 1967, he began to anchor Channel 13’s weekday 7 a.m. newscast. Later that year, he became the first host of a game show, Dialing for Dollars, which later evolved into Good Morning Houston. In January 1968, Ward was promoted to co-anchor of the weekday six and 10 p.m. newscasts with Dan Ammerman.
“At the time, Ron Stone was on Channel 11, and they had 50 percent of the audience,” recalls Ward. “We were hot and we said, ‘We’re gonna kill them.’ No. We were a poor third, but we slowly climbed up in the ratings. Ammerman left, and I inherited the anchor slot solo. By ’72, we were getting there. When Jack Heard was elected sheriff in 1972, the first thing he did, on New Year’s Day, was to fire Marvin Zindler. We had the story at six. Marvin had been in the Consumer Fraud Division of the sheriff’s department, and I told our assistant news director, ‘We ought to hire that guy as a consumer fraud reporter.’ No other station in town, and maybe in the nation, had someone assigned to only that. I asked Marvin if he’d like to come here and basically do the same thing. He said, ‘Dave, there’s nothing I’d rather do.’ When Marvin came aboard, we took off.”
A Cellar’s Market
By 1973, Channel 13 was number one in this market. It held that spot through ’76, ’77 and ’78, and on through the years—a dynasty in the TV biz. During that time, Ward has co-anchored with Shara Fryer, Jan Carson and Gina Gaston. In 1974, Ward suffered a motorcycle accident at the Astrodome during a charity race. He had broken his pelvis in four places, had a concussion and much, much more. “I was in the hospital for seven weeks and received between 40,000 and 60,000 notes. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I answered them all. All of them were supportive except one, which read, ‘What, Ward? Drinking again?’”
In 2003, he was in a car wreck—crashed into an out-of-control SUV on the West Loop, and broke his right leg. Once Ward and his wife attended a wedding, got food poisoning, and Ward was out for two weeks. Then a long-simmering abdominal pain turned out to be diverticulitis. He underwent major surgery and was away for two weeks. Not that anyone should feel sorry for the anchorman. Ward makes a good living. He walks into a nearby room. “I wanted this to be a poker room. Laura wanted a wine cellar.” It’s a really nice wine cellar with 400-year-old doors from Europe, fine oaken wine racks, shaved slate walls. “I spent more on this room than I did on my first house. I once thought that it would be good to make six figures, $100,000 or more, a year. Today I pay more than that to Uncle Sam.”
Then there was the time Dave & Co. probably helped topple a banana republic dictator, Anastasio Somoza. In the 1970s, Nicaragua was hit by a deadly earthquake. Aid was pouring in, and Houston wanted to help, so KTRK organized a relief effort, recruited Houston firefighters to drive five 18-wheelers packed with food, water, blankets and other necessities. It took them months to get through all the borders and red tape, finally arriving in Nicaragua, where Dave and a cameraman met them to film a 30-minute documentary, An Odyssey of Mercy. After leaving Nicaragua for home, the group discovered that the Somoza regime had seized all the supplies and sold them in the markets. The natives found out and riots erupted. Somoza and his family fled the nation. “I always thought we helped start it.” Maybe we will see another entry in the Guinness World Records: “TV Anchor to Topple Most Dictators: Dave Ward.”
Things you should know about Dave Ward and Houston TV:
- He reads email, but doesn’t write it.
- After 45 years with KTRK, Ward finally got a reserved parking place. (He drives a four-year-old Mercedes.)
- As of press time, he has not been approached by any other TV station and is not looking, although some local TV anchors and reporters have changed stations: Steve Smith and the late Ron Stone and Bob Allen.
- Ward always wears Texas cowboy boots. He prefers Lucchese.
- Ward and the on-camera crew always appeared in spiffy outfits, but the station did not give them extra pay for clothes, nor did it allow them to wear anything provided by a store in exchange for a plug on camera.
- In 1960, Houston had three TV stations, each showing 45 minutes of local news on weekdays, none on weekends. Today, KTRK does between six and seven hours of local news a day.
- Houston is the 10th largest media market in the nation.
- Politically, he’s not. “I’m apolitical—not as liberal as my Democratic friends and not as conservative as my Republican friends.” H
Ashby watched Ward at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lynn Ashby 9 January 2017
A great woman will die, a team will win the World Series and Apple will come out with a new product that will not only make all other iPads, iPhones and iNukes obsolete, but will completely disable every other communications device. Yes, it’s time once again for us to predict the future, with special attention to our new government. Remember that last year’s predictions were 100 percent accurate with a margin of error of a mere 100 percent.
JANUARY – After only parents of the players attend, and with TV ratings below the Test Pattern Channel for the first annual KFC Gravy Bowl, the NCAA announces that, in the future, bowl games would be limited to schools with actual coaches and a team. In his inaugural address, President Donald Trump orders he be addressed in the third person. In His Imperial Majesty’s inaugural parade, the float carrying his ex-wives is hustled away by the Secret Service, as are the cheerleaders and marching band from Trump University.
FEBRUARY – The Super Bowl held in Houston features a halftime show of the Best Super Bowl TV Commercials, the Battle of San Jacinto — so as not to offend anyone, this time the Mexicans win — and a recreation of the Apollo 13 blast-off. The second half of the game is cancelled because someone forgets to open the stadium’s moveable roof. (Texan officials later explain, “We have a roof that opens?”) The Texas Board of Education bans a textbook on World War II for saying the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima was the Enola Gay.
MARCH –.In anticipation of the 2020 Census which will allot Texas at least two or three new Congressional seats, the Texas Legislature approves a resolution making gerrymandering the Official State Sport of Texas. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick changes his mind about school bathrooms, with a press release saying, “I thought the Trans-Gender was a freeway.” U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry sues Jeb Bush for “a total lack of energy.” As part of a new treaty, President Trump replaces the U.S. Marine Band with the Red Army Band, explaining: “The Marines are so military.” Hillary Clinton is reported missing by husband, Bill, “for the last three months.”
APRIL — UT student leaders declare that the name of the Austin festival, South By Southwest, “smacks of slavery,” and demand the name be changed to a Festival of Love, Hope and Flowers for People of All Color, Creed and Sexual Persuasion. In reply, South by Southwest officials say they’ll meet the UT student leaders at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco. President Trump demands that his children be allowed to sit in on an intelligence briefing dealing with our spies in Russia, adding: “They keep lots of secrets.”
MAY — The Texas branch of Planned Parenthood seeks political asylum in Aleppo, saying, in a press release, “For us, it’s safer than Texas.” President Trump disregards unanimous findings by our 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia hacked emails, phone conversations and dead-drop document transfers, to influence the outcome of last November’s presidential election in favor of Trump; He calls the reports “the work of amateurs – I know more about spy work than they do. Just look at my own disguise. You think that’s real hair?”
JUNE –Is busting out all over. New director of the IRS announces that a little-known law requires New York City developers to withhold their federal income tax statements. A reporter calls the CIA to check out rumors that Russians have infiltrated top-secret positions in the agency. A spokesman replies, “Nyet.” The Texas Democratic Party is official listed on the Endangered Species list. “That’s not true. We are alive and kicking,” he says.
JULY– The Fourth of July lands on July 4. President Trump takes full credit. Texas A&M announces it is leaving the SEC for the NFL. In response to criticism that Aggieland is being turned into a football factory, a press release explains: “Texas A&M is awl about edukashun.” The Kremlin announces that 25 American. spies exposed in Russia have been executed. Fox News wins Pulitzer for Best Fiction writing.
AUGUST – FBI Director James Coney reports newly found emails show a fortune awaits him from a Nigerian prince. The Texas Board of Education approves printing books with moveable type on paper “as a pilot project.” FEMA declares the Astros’ bullpen a disaster area. A final NBC exit poll finds Clinton beating Trump in the Electoral College by13 points.
SEPTEMBER — Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder abolishes Labor Day, explaining, “Even the Lord only took off on Sundays.” Baylor University announces its football players will no longer wear jerseys with numbers across their chests. “They bring back bad memories.”
OCTOBER –Hillary Clinton is found hiding in a tunnel under a New York City pizzeria. Bill Clinton says, “Not her. Keep looking.” President Trump asks, “Do we really need 17 different intelligence agencies?” No one knows why, so Congress establishes a new Committee to Find Out Why, with a Budget of $30 million and a staff of 400. Under new leadership, the EPA announces a new Friends of Smog Society and its Adopt-a-Refinery program. .
NOVEMBER – Sen. Ted Cruz acknowledges that he has finally renounced his Canadian citizenship and now has dual citizenship with the entire U.N. Security Council, He may run for Grand Sultan of Senegal. Employees at the U.S. Treasury Dept. rebel on receiving orders to change the curriencies to read: “In Trump we trust.”
DECEMBER — Upon hearing that, during the Christmas season, bell-ringers will be placed outside department stores by the Salvation Army, Gov. Greg Abbott orders the Texas Guard to “monitor this imminent threat of a military takeover of Texas.” A blizzard hits northern Alaska. Newt Gingrich blames “the elite liberal media.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson orders all embassies and consulates to replace the U.S. seal with an Exxon logo. Lt. Gov. Patrick is run over on the Trans-Gender Freeway.
Ashby is soothful at email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
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 email@example.com
By Lynn Ashby 19 Dec. 2016
SHED A TEAR FOR THE YEAR
Looking back at the year of 2016 in your rearview mirror is probably the best way to view it, for it was the Leap Year that gave us more 19th Century pronouncements from Texas leadership, the Olympics but also more frustration for local sports fans and — ta-da! – President Donald J. Trump. Please hold your applause.
So let’s consider 2016, a year that will live in infamy.
Dancing With the Lone Stars: Former Gov. Rick Perry bombed on the show, almost as badly as that other Texas two-step, Tom DeLay. The Houston school board, although chronically short of funds, agreed to pay $1.2 million – as a start — to rename eight schools named after Confederate loyalists. In almost four years in office. Friendswood Congressman Randy Weber hasn’t introduced a single bill that became law. During the 2016 Moldovian presidential election, Weber introduced a resolution critical of pro-Western, anti-Russian candidate Andrian Candu. A former spokesman to four U.S. ambassadors said, “Randy Weber does not know what he is doing.”
In its wisdom, the Texas Legislature allowed students at public universities to pack heat in the classroom and elsewhere. Brining forth this quote from Lisa Moore, a UT-Austin English professor: “The Second Amendment allows for a well-regulated militia. What we have is not a well-regulated militia. It’s a 21-year-old with a backpack.” Elsewhere in higher education, it’s been a tough year for the UH Cougers. The Big XII will remain with 10 members and Coach Tom Harman was hired away by UT, making him the third head football coach at UH to jump to that conference.
Finally, the school wanted to renovate its basketball arena with $40 million gained by selling naming rights.There was a slight problem: The structure was called Hofheinz Pavilion because Judge Roy Hofheinz bad given the school a bunch of money. The family hired an attorney to preserve the honor for the late judge, but UH head regent Tilman Fertitta said he would donate several millions if the gym were named for him. It was. The judge gets a plaza named for him and a statue. But good news; The UH Law Center forced the former South Texas College of Law not to change its name to something like the Houston Law School. Finally at UH: We’re Number One! UH Chancellor Renu Khator, who is also president of the main campus, was the top-paid public university leader in the country in 2015, earning $1.3 million.
Friday Night Frights (Katy Bar the Vault Dept.): Three years ago, voters in the Katy Independent School District rejected a bond package that included a $69 million second football stadium. The following year, voters approved a revised bond that included a scaled-back $58 million stadium. This fall, the price rose about $4.5 million more. It now stands at $62,5 million. The additional cost makes it the most expensive high school stadium in Texas, topping Allen ISD’s $60 million stadium, which opened in 2012. Why the additional costs? For more roads. It seems Katy’s new stadium is conveniently located right next to the current stadium, so there may be some parking problems on fall Friday nights.
Hours after the slaughter of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Texas Lt. Gov. Day Patrick issued a Biblical twitter: “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sews.” After a firestorm of complaints, the quote was taken down and Patrick’s office said it was “a coincidence.”
Mayor Sylvester “Pothole” Turner claims he solved the city’s pension problems, although experts say that isn’t the case at all. Besides, the plans will still have to be approved by our Texas Legislature, which is debating the dangers of the wheel. Moving on, what didn’t happen? No Gulf hurricanes. Wish You Were Still Here: Dr. Denton Cooley and sportscaster Bob Allen.
Sportsmanlike Conduct: J.J. Watt gave $10,000 to aid in the treatment of Grant Milton, senior linebacker for The Woodlands High School football team. Milton was critically injured during a playoff game. Quote of the Year: “Ain’t nobody got time for this.” – What Houston 911 operator Crenshanda Williams reportedly told thousands of panicked callers.
At last, The New York Times gave us some respect: “It’s easy enough to argue that Texas’ food scene hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves on the national stage, or at least that’s the way it used to be. Now, it appears as if Houston is rapidly becoming Texas’ – and perhaps the country’s – best dining destination.”
On April 2 the Houston Chronicle ran a long and flattering piece on Boss Ladies of Houston, including Pat Mickelis of the famed Cleburne Cafeteria. Unfortunately, Page 1 of that very edition reported the place had burned down. Also on media matters, Texas Monthly, owned for the last 18 years by a company in Indianapolis, has been bought by Genesis Park, a Houston company that includes a scion of the Hobby family.
The Houston Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, again.
Sen. Ted Cruz on Carly Fiorina: “Born in Texas, The very first thing I liked about her.”
Lisa Alamia went in for jaw surgery talking like the native Texan she is, but came out with a British accent. Doctors finally diagnosed her with one of medicine’s rarest maladies, foreign accent syndrome, a condition that inexplicably causes patients to suddenly begin speaking with a new, distinct accent.
A federal judge sentenced the former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals to nearly four years in prison for hacking the Houston Astros’ player personnel database and email system, Christopher Correa was fired and faced 46 months behind bars and a court order to pay $279,038 in restitution. Meanwhile, the Astros finished with an 84-78 record, worse than the previous season, 11 games out of first place in their division. Giving us this humbling headline from The New York Times: “Who Would Want to Hack the Houston Astros?”
Ashby is hacked at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lynn Ashby 12 Dec. 2016
ALL JOKING ASIDE
THE LAFF GASP — Thank ya, thank ya, ladies and gentlemen. What a great crowd, not like last night’s bunch. They would have brought matches to a Joan of Arc concert. Got a lot of husbands here tonight? My wife keeps complaining that I never listen to her, or something like that. I know one husband who kicks open a bottle, and a genie comes out, and says, “Master, I will give you any favor you wish. But whatever I give you, your wife will get more.” The husband says he wants a Cadillac. His wife gets a Rolls Royce. The husband says he wants one million dollars. His wife gets two million. Finally the husband says, “I’d like a mild heart attack.”
Any lawyers here? I have a crack lawyer, Vincent Elkins, and one day I had this personal legal problem – the DNA test results came back – so i asked him, “Vincent, what would you charge to answer three legal questions?” He said, “That would be $500.” I said, “$500? Isn’t that a lot of money?” And he said, “No, now what’s your third question?” This reminds of the fact that 99 percent of lawyers give all the rest a bad name.
You know that there is a big flap up in North Dakota where an oil company wants to build a pipeline through an Indian reservation. TV reporters were there, government officials and, of course, lawyers. One day a brave ran to the chief’s lodge and said, “Chief, I’ve got some good new and some bad news.” The chief said, “Give me the bad news first.” The brave said, “There are 4,000 lawyers running all over the reservation.” The chief said, “That is bad news. So what’s the good news?” and the brave said, “They taste like buffalo.”
We just had an election and chose the evil of the two lessers. Taxation WITH representation isn’t so hot, either. On one hand we had Hillary Clinton, who is a bit on the dull side. When reporters asked to see her health report it turned out to be an autopsy. What do you get when you cross a crooked politician with a crooked lawyer? Chelsea. Bill Clinton is from Arkansas, where people show up at a family reunion looking for a date. At the University of Arkansas they had to cancel parents’ day due to an 80 percent chance of error. At the Governor’s mansion, in Little Rock, they put in wall to wall carpet in the bathroom. They liked it so much they ran the carpet all the way up to the house.
Thank ya, thank ya. Great crowd. Now, when George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump all died, they went to heaven to meet St. Peter. Bush was first, and he was told by St Peter, “This woman will be your companion for the rest of eternity.” And they brought out the ugliest woman you’ve ever seen in your life. Bush said, “Wait! I thought heaven was supposed to be a place of eternal joy.” St. Peter listened, then checked his ledger, and said, “Don’t complain, George. You barely got into heaven.” Next it was Bill Clinton’s time. St. Peter told him the same thing and brought out the twin sister of Bush’s companion. Clinton said, “This is ridiculous.” St. Peter replied: “Don’t gripe, Bill. With your record, you barely got into heaven.” Suddenly Trump came by with Taylor Swift. Bush and Clinton yelled, “How can you do this to us?” St. Peter replied, “Remember that Taylor Swift barely got into heaven.”
Incidentally, one day Jesus came back and went to Moscow, where he came upon Vladimir Putin who asked Jesus, “When will Russia be prosperous?” Jesus said, “In 400 years.” Putin started crying, and Jesus asked, “Why are you crying? I thought this would be good news.” Putin said, “I won’t live long enough to see it.” So Jesus went to London, and met with Queen Elizabeth. And she asked, ‘’Jesus, tell me, when will the royal family get out of its royal scandals?” And Jesus said, “In about a century.” The queen started crying, and Jesus asked, “Why are you crying?” The queen said, “I won’t live long enough to see it.” So Jesus came to Houston, and ran into Mayor Sylvester Turner, who asked, “Jesus, when will the Houston Texans win the Super Bowl?” And Jesus started crying. Thank ya, thank ya. And how about these kids today?
Ashby laffs at email@example.com
By Lynn Ashby 5 Dec. 2016
THE PC — Did you know that the Pope indorsed Donald Trump for the U.S. presidency? It must true. I read it on my social media. So did one hundred million others. Some observers say it changed the outcome of the election. And did you hear about all those paid protesters bused into Austin to break up a Trump rally? The story went (excuse the cliché) viral. Then there was the story about the ACLU suing to prevent Marines from praying.
What we have here is the newest wrinkle in social media: fake news. It’s driving legitimate news organizations nuts, not to mention the targets of such drivel. Fake news has always been around. The birthers got into it big time. I had an acquaintance from high school who would weekly send me emails showing Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya. Once he even sent me a “birth certificate” from the Royal Medical Hospital of Nairobi proving that Obama was born there. The certificate made the rounds like wildfire until it was discovered that the Royal Medical Hospital of Nairobi hadn’t opened until years later and the doctor’s signature was from someone who had died long ago. Incidentally, Donald Trump was a major force behind the birther movement, but today he just shrugs it off – like so many things, tax returns, foundation funds going to pay off lawsuits and, well, I’ve run out of space.
Fake news took on Mach speed during the last presidential election due to social media, and the lies received top priority with the truth never catching up. Mark Twain supposedly said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” He was right. At this point we must ask ourselves: who has this much extra time to write all this stuff? Don’t they have anything better to do, like Adopt a Highway? Experts say some do it just to have fun and make fools of other self-important dummies. Others do it for political reasons – backing their candidate by smearing the opponent, like the Trump and Hillary rumormongers. Some do it for money, thinking they can sell ads beside their story on Martians eating Hollywood. Two teenagers in Croatia, of all places, thought they could strike it rich by selling ads to go along with their false stories. Like any good intelligence agency, they begin with something believable, possible or true. “This coded message from Agent X says the Third Division will move at dawn. We already know this from Agents Y and Z. Agent X reports the commander is General J, good work, we thought so. Finally, he writes they will attack at Sector H. Move troops to Sector H.” And the attack hits 20 miles away at Sector F.
We now go to the next point: Who believes these fake news reports, even enough to send them on to others? A lot of otherwise very smart people. The reports are inevitably either anti-Hillary or pro-Tromp (the papal endorsement). One young man in Vancouver started sending out messages praising Hillary and beating up on Trump, and got nowhere. So he did a 180 and sent out fake pro-Trump and vicious anti-Hillary bulletins. His business leaped forward.
So we know something about the writers, but why do so many otherwise intelligent folks bite the bait? Because they want to hear all the news — that fits their preconceived notions. People believe what they want to believe. Works every time. You heard about paid protestors bused into Austin to break up a Trump rally? Trump did and used the report in speeches. But what happened, as discovered by The New York Times, is that Eric Tucker, co-founder of a marketing company, took photos of a large group of buses he saw near downtown Austin because he thought it was unusual. Then he saw reports of protests against Trump in the city and decided the two were connected. He posted three of the images with the declaration: “Anti-Trump protestors in Austin today are not as organic as they seem. Here are the busses they came in.” The busses were, in fact, hired by a company called Tableau Software, which was holding a conference that drew more than 13,000 people. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. And it was totally false. Gotcha!
Now we have this revelation: Remember all of those stories about Hillary’s health problems? Karl Rove reported that Hillary had hit her head and was out of commission for three months. That was easily checked out. A lie based on a fact. It was three days. Then there were the “rigged elections” stories. Others grabbed on to these fabrications, which Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Fox News repeated. The Washington Post interviewed government sources and found that the whole health situation came from – one guess – the Russians. They have 200 phony websites viewed by at least 15 million Americans. Add Facebook and the total reached 213 million of us – not me, you. The Russians had planted the stories, bit by bit, and gullible Americans bit.
An easy way to check out these items is to run them by Snopes. It’s an on-line operation that backtracks real and fake news items and seems to get the same inquiries all the time as the phony bulletins make their way around the globe. Oh, about the Marines being sued by the ACLU to prevent prayers, even accompanied by a photo of a company of Leathernecks looking down as in prayer. The ACLU said they never filed any kind of suit and had no official spokesman by the name given. The Marines said they never received any such suit, and had no spokesperson by the name given, either. I suspect the Marines in the photo looking down were searching for the Drill Instructor’s contact lens.
This just in: Donald Trump has endorsed the Pope.
Ashby fakes it at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE MEETING HALL – As usual, our chairman, Bottom Line, called the group to order as quick as a New York minute. “Fellow members, welcome to another meeting of Club Cliché, where the thread-bare gather to trot out all those shop-worn shibboleths, overused words and terms that were once fresh and cute but today are over-the-hill, dead as a doornail and their shelf life has expired. I see some old friends out there like Occupy Wall Street and your cousin, Wall Street to Main Street. Hi, to you, Man Up and Shovel Ready. Same for Sit Around Singing Kumbaya. I guess you are still is use, like Gravitas, Low Hanging Fruit and On the Wrong Side of History. I see Spot On and Shelf Life are still around. To all of you, I have a real surprise this time, which I shall save for later.”
Boots on the Ground spoke up. “Some of my war-time buddies are here which I’d like to introduce. There is R&R and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder better known as PTSD, which took over from Battle Fatigue and Shell Shocked. We have WMDs, which don’t exist, also Radicalized and Embolden Our Enemies.” Bottom Line nodded in approval. “I think they have more than earned their membership. Yes, you there. You have a question?”
Millennial asked: “What’s a shibboleth?”
Bottom Line answered: “You are. The word has gone through many changes over the years, but today it means jargon, inside baseball or well-worn passwords. Millennial I think qualifies. Moving on, Give a Shout Out wants to gives a shout out. To whom?
Shout Out stood up and shouted out: “WHERE’S YOU GO, GIRL?”
“Alas, You Go Girl is no longer with us, which brings us to that sad part of the meeting:
Those who have been dropped from our membership due to lack of overuse. Sorry, Boooring, you were so overused, but not anymore. Same for Wazzup? During the ebola scare, every TV news story had to get in Protocol, but ebola is not hot anymore and neither is Protocol.
“It’s not fair to kick out terms that have been beaten to death on TV,” said Breaking News. “That’s especially true for our sportscasters. Take, for example, pro hoops, the ‘Boys and ‘Stros. Not to mention the Pinstripes, frozen rope, walk-off and pick six. Don’t forget FloMoJo and basketball shots from Downtown. Our jock-talkers wouldn’t have a show without boring and repetitious clichés. We can’t even call the Super Bowl that anymore. The NFL copyrighted the name and sues anyone who uses it. Now it’s The Big Game.”
Bad Boy, Selfie and You Need a Bigger Boat applauded.
“I’ve been wondering,” asked Metrics, “what, exactly does cliché mean?”
Bottom Line explained: “It’s from the French ‘clic-chez,’ pronounced klee-SHAY, meaning ‘expressions used by the rhetorically challenged.’ Now I see Dumb Down wishes to speak.”
Dumb Down stood up. “No one uses clichés more than our politicians. I’m going to miss John Boehner, he used them constantly, like Whack-a-Mole, Adult Conversation and Nuclear Option. But we still have Gridlock and Skin in the Game. Politicians used to receive opposition, but now it’s Pushback.” Bricks & Mortar raised its hand. “I still miss Come Out of the Shadows and Corporations Are People, Too.”
Get a Life and its cousin, Get a Room, waved for attention. “That brings us to our current political deadly tattered phrases, like Make America Great Again, Nasty Women, Income Gap and Fly-Over America, which make us grit our teeth every time we hear them.” Bottom Line took over again. “This campaign has also given new life to the hated press. Drive-by Media is back. So is Liberal Press and Newt Gingrich’s favorite term, the Elite Media, which he manages to work into every sentence. Then we have the Lame Stream Media. It always gets a laugh. As for the surprise I mentioned, a big cliché welcome to Post-truth, which has been named Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year, wining out over a field that included Adulting, Alt-right and Brixiteer. It also beat out Coulrophobia which is an extreme or irrational fear of clowns. That term surged after that rash of reports of scary clowns.”
Multitask had a question. “Wonder whatever happened to that scary clown fad? I guess they all piled into a VW Beatle and drove off.”
Bottom Line continued. “The use of Post-truth is defined as – hang on — ‘relating to things in which objective facts mean less than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ In other words, don’t let the truth or the facts get in the way of what you want to believe. Oxford found a 2,000 percent growth of Post-truth over last year, and – to no one’s surprise — much of this usage can be traced directly to Donald Trump supporters. They simply ignore his statements, such as he knows more about ISIS than the generals, or that unemployment is up – it’s down considerably from when Obama took office – or that he can’t release his taxes until his audit is complete – the IRS said he could release them anytime. He also said, ‘I will never settle the Trump University suit out of court.’ He did, and paid $25 million. There are more of Trump’s Post-truths, but you get the idea.”
“What’s the difference between a Post-truth and Truthiness?” asked Mojo.
“A good question,” said our leader. “Truthiness was coined by Stephen Colbert 10 years ago, and was so popular that Merriam-Webster and the American Dialect Society each chose Truthiness as its word of the year. Truthiness is a humorous way of discussing a truth or fact that is not exactly a lie, just borderline or slightly slanted. But Post-truth goes a step further, and turns outright lies into believable thoughts. Hey, some 61 million voters suspended their brains and bought Trump’s Post-truths.”
“What’s the takeaway from this?” asked Takeaway.
“The same as always,” said Bottom Line. “Avoid clichés like the plague.”
Ashby is a cliche at email@example.com
Did you win or lose in the recent democracy inaction? Probably both. Texas scored big, at least some did, a few bombed. The Democratic Party showed once again its ineptitude, and the much-vaunted Latino vote never manifested. Texas’s winners were the early Trump supporters including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lite Gov. Dan Patrick and Atty. General Ken Paxton. How so? President-elect Donald Trump will nominate a like-minded justice to keep the U.S. Supreme Court arch-conservative. It will overturn all those bothersome interferences from Washington dealing with Texas’ laws on abortion, voter ID, pollution, gerrymandering and the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas taxpayers will benefit by not having to continue paying multi-million dollar legal bills the state has been racking up defending our right to discriminate against those lesser mortals.
Our state legislature remains firmly in the hands of hard-line (some would say cro-Magnon) lawmakers who maintain their power to draw up new legislative and Congressional lines after the next U.S. Census when Texas will get two or more U.S. representatives. One guess as to which party will get them. Another big Texas loser is Sen. Ted Cruz, although he was mentioned as attorney general. He now will have to dismantle all those “Cruz in ‘20” banners. So will Sen. Marco Rubio who vowed not to run for the Senate again then did, and won. Let’s see, there was that other Bush, Jeb! and Rick Santorum plus a herd of hopefuls. Now their chances are gone. Winners are those who land federal positions, starting with his cabinet. Newt Gingrich was being touted as Secretary of State. Within a week we shall be at war with Finland. Jesse Sessions our next Attorney General? Hey, Hillary, you’ll look great in an orange pants suit. Among the other losers are the thousands of Obama appointees who are working on their resumes – judges, department heads, Smokey the Bear. The U.S. is the only country that replaces its ambassadors with every change in administration. Why do we do that? Campaign contributors. FBI Director James Comey was a loser no matter who won. He had the uncanny ability to chap both candidates and both sides. He’s three years into a 10-year term and can’t be fired, but Trump can confiscate Comey’s truncheon.
This brings us to the Clintons. The Oval Office’s glass ceiling remains shatter-proof. Gone are the glory days of raking in millions on the speaking tours, and the Clinton Foundation has a cracked slab. Then there is her autobiography, which is probably on hold until a publisher can be found; maybe she’ll distribute it by email. Actually, Hillary’s last book didn’t do too well, but they still have their fortune, plus all they’ll make on the Clinton Presidential Library with its admission fees, T-shirts (“It takes more than a village to support us”) and the Monica Lewinski Weight Watchers Diet Manual. Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t say he’s a winner, but has booked the Lincoln Bedroom for inauguration day. Incidentally, Trump’s speech writers have changed the presidential oath to “so help me– me.” The media are big-time losers. Trump, who calls the press “scum,” has said he wants looser libel laws so that he can sue any publication that says catty things about him. Expect the First Amendment to be put on an ice floe and pushed into an ocean that used to be the Arctic. (Global warming is a myth.) The winner is Fox News, which even now is planning a sit-com, “Good Fences.”
Big winners are late night TV comedians. No Drama Obama was eight long years of drought for comic writers. Hillary is dull, so punch lines would have been scarce. But Trump? “He learned about foreign affairs by having several of them, plus what he picked up at the International House of Pancakes. Trump thinks Siani is the plural of sinus. The West Wing will now be known as the Right Wing. But seriously, folks….” Military contractors are lining up K Street lobbyists to get some of those billions that Trump promised to spend on defense. He will pay for it by cutting out all federal funds for Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. How many times did The Donald say, to cheering crowds, that he will build a wall along our southern border, and Mexico will pay for it? Who wants to bet it will actually be done, and if it isn’t, it’s not his fault?
Pre-voting news stories noted the heavy turnout at the polls. More early voting, long lines, etc. In fact, fewer voters cast their ballots this time than last. So much for the heavy voting hoopla. Ditto for the “sleeping giant” that was supposed to be the Latino vote. Jorge Ramos, who got in a shouting match on TV at a Trump news conference, kept boasting about how the Latino vote would decide the outcome. No way, Jorge. They voted heavily for Hillary. She lost.
Certainly big losers were the pollsters. I can’t find anyone who predicted that Trump would win so easily. The explanation is simple: voters were asked who they would vote for. Most people answered, Clinton, and they did. Hillary beat Trump in the popular votes by 1 to 2 million. But, like Al Gore, she was defeated by the Electoral College, aka, Trump University: 306 for Trump, 232 for Hillary. How can pollsters ask: Which way are your state’s Electoral College votes going to be cast? Until they figure that out, these polls are useless. The millions of Americans who voted for Trump said they want lower taxes, smaller government and fewer regulations; they are sick of being ignored by Washington, and what have you done for me lately? These are the same people who want Medicare, Social Security checks, a cop on every street corner (to regulate?) and subsidies for their biofuels. Oh, and free college education. Which is it? Some might call that blatant hypocrisy, others call it a winning formula.
Ashby wins at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE OFFICE – I am looking at my choice, but first let’s talk about yours. You wake up in the middle of the night to discover that your house (or apartment, tent, hovel) is on fire. You move your family, pets and pot plants safely to the front yard, where all your neighbors can see what you look like in jockey shorts and a bathrobe. You hear the sirens, help is on the way, but there is still time to run in the house and retrieve a single item. What would it be? Your grandfather’s portrait, the stamp collection, the Glock Long Slide requested by your student kid who is mad at her chemistry prof?
It’s all a matter of what you value in descending order, a matter of priorities. Right now our priorities are being skewered. We start with the state (lower case) of Texas. My first priority would be to create a monarchy with me as king, complete with a throne. This is not a power grab but a return to normalcy. Do you really think Gov. Greg Abbott and Lite Gov. Dan Patrick feel as we do about what’s important to us? How about education? Texas is now ranked 43rd in the nation, falling from 39th last year, in the annual “Quality Counts” report from a national education publication, Education Week. Another new national study says Texas has the lowest education standards in the nation — giving the state a D+. Maybe this explains former Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s famous observation: “Rarely is the question been asked: Is our children learning?” Yet our state leaders spend more time dealing with school restrooms than with school academics.
Texas’ leaders demand that Washington stay out of our business, especially when it comes to voter ID (the most restrictive in the nation), pollution and abortions (the most restrictive in the nation). At the same time Patrick sees no hypocrisy in meddling in others’ business. He told the Fort Worth ISD to fire its superintendent for obeying a federal decree on transgender bathrooms. He stepped into Houston’s referendum on an equal rights referendum. He’s always writing hot letters, given speeches and putting his nose in local affairs while he is the Number 2 official in a state that ranks 34th among the 50 in health care, 21st in public school systems, we are 36th in “Best States” and 30th in “Bike Friendly States.”
The Houston School Board presides over a district that includes Kashmere High. The Texas Education Commission has had to take control of Kashmere after it failed to meet the state’s academic standards for seven straight years. The HISD board is constantly claiming it needs more funds. But the board says it is spending $1.2 million (we may never know the final amount) to change the names of eight schools named for Confederate leaders, or even privates. The changes include (after 90 years!) that of Sidney Lanier, a poet, author, composer and, oddly enough, a school teacher. Fourteen schools, a college, other structures and two lakes are named for him. Lanier’s crime is that, as a young man during the Civil War, he served aboard a British blockade runner and was captured by a Union warship, thrown in prison where he contacted tuberculosis, and never recovered.
There goes “Tom Sawyer,” because Mark Twain served in the Marion Rangers, Confederate Army, for two weeks. We have an entire Texas university named after Confederate Gen. Sul Ross. UT-Austin was all upset because some Rebs’ statues are on campus. George Littlefield, the largest single donor to UT, (Littlefield this and Littlefield that) was an officer in the CSA. How much time and energy have been spent on allowing guns in university classrooms, dorms and frat beer parties? Triggeronometry 101. But does anyone care that U.S. News just ranked Longhorn U. as Number 56 (down from 52) among the best 240 U.S. colleges?
As attorney general, Gov. Abbott and his successor, Ken Paxton (himself facing both civil and criminal charges), continue to fight abortion rights and spend millions of our tax dollars in doing so. These publicity stunts generated this article in a recent New York Times: “Something terrible has happened to pregnant women in Texas: their mortality rate has doubled in recent years, and is now comparable to rates in places like Russia or Ukraine. Although researchers into this disaster are careful to say that it can’t be attributed to any one cause, the death surge does coincide with the state’s defunding of Planned Parenthood, which led to the closing of many clinics.”
Then there are redistricting and voter fraud. Abbott and now Paxton have been spending millions in an unsuccessful attempt to uphold our voter ID laws. Why? Says Abbott: “The fact is voter fraud is rampant.” Not quite. In 10 years’ worth of elections in Texas at all levels from school board to governor there have been fewer than two fraud convictions a year. We execute more than that. Couldn’t our money be better spent on, for instance, Texas women’s health? There’s more: From 2000 to 2014, per the Texas Secretary of State’s online record, about 72 million ballots were cast in Texas, and that’s not even counting municipal and other local-only elections. An analysis made by a Rutgers University political science professor, Lorraine Minnite, found during that time, there were three – yes, THREE! — credible allegations of fraud in Texas elections.
Actually, our problem may not be too many but too few voters. In the last midterm elections, voter turnout in Texas was just 28.5 percent of those eligible to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. In last spring’s party primaries, Texas had the second lowest voting-age participation rate, behind Louisiana. It would seem we only want to keep out certain voters, if you get my drift.
Now help me get my Number 1 priority out of my house before it burns. Thrones are heavy.
Ashby’s priorities are email@example.com
By Lynn Ashby 7 Nov. 2016
THE VOTING BOOTH — The fat lady has sung. OK, she’s not really fat, but Donald Trump gave Hillary a minus 10. Yes, the 2016 presidential campaign season is over. Finally. We’re all glad that bruising gutter fight is completed, we were so sick of… oh, stop the hypocrisy. We loved every minute of it, watching two con artists slug it out. Eighty-four million people viewed that first debate in one of the most vicious presidential campaigns since James Monroe vs. Rufus King in 1816. Interest was so fervent that I have stood in line for 20 minutes in early voting. I used to just walk in, write in my vote (me) and leave.
But what did we learn from this long, mean-spirited campaign, and where do we go from here? Well, we learned that Hillary and Bill Clinton have both a foundation and side jobs as speaker that bring in millions, and sometimes they mix the two. Chelsea is a “spoiled brat” and Hillary, under oath, sometimes can’t remember her name. We learned that nobody ever voted for Ted Cruz, at least I can’t find anyone who did, not for senator, not for president. Yet we also know we shall get another chance, maybe several. Cruz has already begun his 2020 campaign for the White House, so the closest he has come to appearing in the Capitol is that his face is on milk cartons in the Senate dining room. After being called every dirty name in the book by Trump, and vice versa, Cruz announced that he wouldn’t vote for Trump, then announced he would. That’s what we like in our leadership, non-leadership. Texas’ other U.S. senator, John Cornyn, is busy climbing up the GOP ladder, so Texas is virtually unrepresented in the U.S. Senate. That’s why none of those old NASA spaceships wound up in Space City. Houston got a fiberglass mockup.
We learned that Trump is an egomaniac, a narcissist who tends to stretch the truth. We also know that he has millions of supporters who would vote for him even if, in The Donald’s words, he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. We have learned more about his business practices than we really want to know. One fact we shall probably never learn is what the Trumpster paid in federal income taxes, although every presidential candidate since James Monroe and Rufus King, including Hillary Clinton, released theirs. This doesn’t seem to bother a lot of his supporters, who are upset that Hillary’s tax forms show she made millions capitalizing on her fame and potential power. To no one’s surprise, we learned again “Fox News” is an oxymoron, and that it will ignore Trump’s insults and snarling put-downs of Fox and its anchors to shamelessly suck up to him. Wonder what changes will be made at Fox after the elections, if Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly jump ship, and Sean Hannity becomes a game show host on “You Bet Your Soul.” As for the rest of the media, they can’t be trusted to tell us the correct time.
We learned that both parties’ establishments vastly underestimated the fear millions of Americans have about the huge flow of immigrants pouring in. Washington just didn’t get it. This fear breaks down into two parts: the flow of undocumented Hispanics coming across the Rio taking Americans’ jobs, and Syrians hiding bombs under their thobes. Trump spotted that fear and exploited it. Worked like a charm. Another facet of his campaign was trade deals which, he said, were so one-sided that, again, they took away U.S. jobs. Most voters haven’t a clue what’s in those trade agreements, who they help and who they hurt, but we learned that this fear is real and can also be easily exploited. We found out that the Banana Republic is not only a chain of clothing stores, but a new political strategy: If you win a presidential election, you can throw your losing opponent in jail. Trump and his campaign were so odious that even the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson couldn’t stomach him or it, and gave their money to other Republican candidates. However, the only newspaper of any size to endorse Trump was the Las Vegas Review-Journal which is, coincidentally, owned by Sheldon Adelson.
Whatever happened to the tea party? It was a noisy minority in previous elections (see: Cruz, Ted, above) with their Uncle Sam and Revolutionary War-era costumes, but we didn’t hear much about them this time around. I guess they became Trump supporters and were drowned out by The Donald’s fans. We were told time and again that “this is the most important election in American history!” We shall hear that again in 2020 and every presidential election forever, which brings us to: Where do we go from here? Based on what we have learned in this election cycle, we can safely assume that both parties will avoid using emails. (As an aside, and maybe as a result, one of Germany’s intelligence agencies is using a state-of-the-art technical marvel for its sensitive communications: typewriters, ink ribbons and paper. Honest.) Julian Assange will be made the official Republican Party’s mascot, if he can get out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, building on his Children’s Crusade in 2016, will run again. So will Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush (this time with energy), Mike Pence, all the usual suspects and possibly Donald Trump. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry will toss their frayed hats in the ring. Russian hackers will be busy. Rigged election results will be a hot topic again, particularly among the losers. After the election, pundits will explain to us how the winners won – something they neatly avoided saying prior to the election. And you and I can hardly wait till it all begins again. Hey, it’s my turn to vote. Wonder if I can write in Rufus King?
Ashby votes at Ashby2@comcast.net
We are constantly being told to vote in this Presidential election. Do we have to? We already know the outcome because the vote is rigged. Donald Trump said so. But there are several interesting down-ballot elections that might change the future — just ask Henry Shoemaker — which means taking a fresh look at an old story, because it affects the way we live in Texas today, pilgrim.
Shoemaker was a simple farmhand from Smithfield Township, DeKalb County, Indiana. On the first Monday of August, 1842, elections were held for local offices. In addition, reapportionment had given DeKalb and an adjoining county, Steuben, a single representative to the Indiana House. The two candidates were Enos Beall, a Whig, and Madison Marsh, a Democrat. On Election Day Shoemaker remembered that he had met Marsh during the campaign and had promised to vote for him, so Shoemaker saddled up a horse and rode 12 miles into Kendallville, arriving at the polling place late in the afternoon.
“When he applied to vote,” the Indiana Committee on Elections later reported, “the inspector handed him a sheet of tickets, but as all of them contained the names of Enos Beall for Representative, he enquired (sic) for ‘another kind,’ and the inspector handed him a sheet of tickets with the name of Madison Marsh for Representative, that he then enquired of the same inspector if he ‘had scissors or a knife to cut them with,’ and the latter handed him a penknife.” Not wishing to vote the straight ticket of either party, Shoemaker proceeded, quite literally, to split his ballots. As the voting officials looked on, Shoemaker cut out the name of Marsh from one ballot along with the others he wanted, then cut other names from the second sheet.
He handed the clippings to the inspector — four separate pieces of paper, three small sheets inside a larger one. The inspector accepted the papers without a word, and put them in the ballot box. Shoemaker hung around the voting site for an hour or more, but no one said anything about his unusual ballot. Later, however, when the tabulation began, the voting officials threw out Shoemaker’s ballot. On the next Sunday the sheriffs of the two counties met at the Steuben County courthouse to compare the certificates for the election for state representative. The final results were 360 votes for Marsh and 360 votes for Beall. The sheriffs “by casting lots” chose Beall as the winner. Marsh immediately appealed to the Committee on Elections, which held extensive hearings on the matter. (It is from the Indiana Commission on Public Records and the Library of Congress that I dug out this story.)
The committee found that in Smithfield township only 16 votes were cast for representative, all of them for either Marsh or Beall; that there was only one person named Henry Shoemaker in the township, he was a qualified voter; and he had voted “openly with no appearance of concealment or subterfuge” and had not tried to vote more than once, that the inspector had accepted Shoemaker’s ballot had put it in the box himself; and “we have the uncontradicted oath of Henry Shoemaker, that he did intend to vote for Madison Marsh for the office of Representative.” Also, the committee noted that it was the inspector’s own knife which was used in the surgery.
“In summing up the whole matter, your committee find (sic) that Madison Marsh has received a majority of the legal votes, if they had all been counted, and the voice of the ballot box had been properly regarded, and that he is therefore entitled to the contested seat.” The Indiana House agreed, and Marsh — a Democrat — took his seat in the Legislature by a single vote.
Prior to the 17th Amendment, U.S. senators were chosen by state legislatures. In 1842, the main candidates for the U.S. Senate from Indiana were Oliver H. Smith, the Whig senator who was up for re-election, and the Democratic candidate, Gen. Tilghman A. Howard. Another candidate, Edward A. Hannegan, was a dark horse. The Indiana Senate joined the House and on the first ballot, to everyone’s surprise, neither candidate got a majority. On the sixth ballot Smith got 69 votes. Howard got one vote and Hannegan, the dark horse, got the magic 76, making him the new senator from Indiana. Hannegan’s winning vote was supplied by Madison “Landslide” Marsh.
Four years later, in 1846, the U.S. Senate was bitterly divided over whether to declare war on Mexico. A caucus of the Democratic senators, which comprised the majority, was called to determine which way they would vote, but the vote in the caucus was a tie. Then it was determined that one senator was not present: Edward Hannegan of Indiana. He was sent for and promptly voted “Aye” for war. It broke the tie, fixed the Democrats’ decision, and war was declared – by one vote.
That is how Shoemaker is best remembered in Indiana, yet there is one more point to be made. The war in Mexico was touched off by the U.S. annexation of Texas one year earlier. John Tyler was president, having taken office upon the death of William Henry Harrison. That left the vice presidency empty. The move to annex Texas had failed as a treaty, which needed a two-thirds vote in the Senate, so Tyler tried again — this time as a simple resolution, which needed only a majority, not two-thirds. It passed, 27 to 25. If any senator supporting annexation had changed his mind, there would have been a 26-26 tie. There being no vice president to break the deadlock, annexation would have failed and Texas would have remained an independent republic. For the record, Sen. Hannegan voted for it. Thus we see how that one vote put Texas in the Union and put us under Washington, which is why to this day, Texans shout as one: “Curse you, Henry Shoemaker!”
Ashby votes at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE RESTAURANT – Food was good, service, too. Price was right. Quiet, no kids running berserk. What a rotten meal. Why? Because I was freezing the entire time. I had asked the waiter to turn up the temp. He nodded and did nothing. Then I asked the manager if the fan above me could be turned off. No, the fans are controlled by NASA computers at the Johnson Space Center. Maybe a good, hot potato soup served in a cauldron large enough for both feet. Restaurants in Houston must have a Celebrity Chefs Contest to see which restaurant dining room can be the coldest. There is no other explanation for my potato soup becoming vichyssoise. I didn’t order ice tea, it just froze before my eyes. (Incidentally, in Texas it’s called and spelled ice tea, not iced tea, and I don’t care what you called it back in Ohio.)
Eateries across Texas could save a bundle on their electric bill if they just set the thermostat a few degrees higher, but they won’t. And it’s this way year ‘round. Indeed, the coldest times in a Houston restaurant are June through August. Of course, our diners are not the only culprits. Ever go to a movie theater in July? Bring along a sweater, gloves and maybe a ski mask. Check into a hotel room during a Texas summer and note the bar’s ice bucket doesn’t need any ice. My neighborhood grocery store varies in temperatures from zero to 30, but the wind chill factor in the bread and buns aisle makes it worse. Warning: don’t lick the cover of the fish case. Actually, I refer to the entire store as the frozen food section. Customers must have complained at one of those boutique (read: overpriced) grocery stores because there is a big sign hanging from the ceiling explaining the snowdrifts and ski lifts are necessary to keep the produce fresh. OK, keep the kale crisp, and there is even an explanation that restaurants could double as a set for “Ice Station Zebra.” The thermostat on the wall is controlled by the bus boys and waiters who are either running around bringing out food or taking away the dirty dishes, or is controlled by the cooks back in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove. They are perspiring, as would we all, but we are paying them, not the other way around. Just don’t drip sweat into my jelled consomme.
Many northern cities have giant underground tunnel systems in their downtown for the convenience of shoppers and office workers to stay out of the cold, ice and slush. Houston has a cobweb of tunnels downtown, but it’s so that pedestrians don’t have to go out in heat and humidity. For some office workers, getting out into the August heat feels great, because, just like restaurants, the offices are kept so cold that employees are numb. Look at any secretary’s post after work and you will probably spot two items: a small heater under the desk and a sweater hung on the back of the chair. Even our huge malls and stadiums are fast frozen. It is for these reasons that I always keep a sweater in the trunk of my car, year round, and take it with me whenever I enter certain stores, eateries and theaters. Years ago the GOP held its national presidential convention in Houston, and beforehand l warned my visiting colleagues when they came to town in August, dress warm. Those who ignored my advice were shipped home, no embalming needed.
But now we must do a 180 and recognize that obviously no one can live in Texas during the summer without air conditioning. As bad as over-cooling can be, a life without air conditioning is no life at all. Look at those old photos of Texans standing on the Galveston beaches in July, the men in their suits, ties and hats; the women are cloaked from high collars to skirts touching the ground. How did they survive? Houston was laid out by the Borden brothers, Gail and Thomas, with the streets running northeast to southwest so that the houses, built perpendicular to the streets, would catch the Gulf breeze. It didn’t work. Some say oil was the juice that made the bayous bloom. Others credit another factor. The Harris County Historical Society’s Guidebook opens with, “Our story begins in 1922 when the city’s first air conditioning was installed in the Rice Hotel cafeteria. Before that, Houston was totally unlivable.”
Today, Houston is called the most air conditioned city on Earth, but just how anyone can figure that out is unknown. In any event, we do love our a/c. (Under “air conditioning,” the Houston Yellow Pages has 1,006 listings.) When outsiders ask, “How do you stand living in Houston in all that heat and humidity?” I reply: “I don’t. I go from my air conditioned home to my air conditioned car to my air conditioned bar. Besides, you don’t have to shovel heat.” Judge Roy Hofheinz secured a major league baseball franchise for Houston only with the promise to Major League Baseball that the game would be played in an air-conditioned, covered ball park. The Houston Texans will play an entire season without ever opening the roof at NRG Stadium. (We must suspect that it is no accident the stadium’s naming rights went to an electric company.) It was long a rumor that the British consulate in Houston was considered a hardship post as its climate was similar to that of Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and Accra, Ghana. So I asked the then-consul about it. He replied, “It was a rule that three years in Houston counted as four years in diplomatic service towards retirement. I wrote the Foreign Office, ‘My God, haven’t you people ever heard of air conditioning?’” The rule was changed.
The next time I go to a restaurant. I’m going to shovel in some heat.
Ashby chills out at email@example.com
Dear Patriotic American,
We at the Republican National Committee (RNC) are writing you as a leader in your community, to plan for the Trump administration. Please fill out the accompanying form and mail it to us so we can include your brilliant ideas. Also, because we need money, specifically for the Donald Trump Presidential Campaign & Hair Salon franchises. Yes, we know that he said many times that he would finance his own campaign, just like he said a lot of things that turned out not to be true, oh, that silly, silly Donald. Besides, you know how tapes can be edited.
Because you are so important to this campaign, here are some talking points plus some snappy retorts when those Godless Democrats insult the Trumpet: Refugees are ruining our country and must be stopped, except for the Bernie Sanders supporters seeking safety with another candidate. Trump will put our entire military on the border, although he adds that he has nothing against the Canadians personally. Health care is important to many poor Americans who are suffering in pain because they can’t afford medical help. Our candidate will make aspirin free to everyone, or at least until supplies run out at the local CVS. Trade agreements are another major plank in our campaign. Trump is against all foreign trade agreements except for the Chinese-made steel he used to build his casinos. Incidentally, don’t bring up casinos. It’s a sore subject, especially among the vendors he stiffed.
On foreign matters, Vladimir Putin and Trump are simply old frat brothers at Trump University. “Once a Delta Grabba Thi, always a Delta Grabba Thi.” And Miss Venezuela really is fat. Now as for Trump’s feelings towards women. (Caution: Do not talk to any reporter on a bus while he is holding a tape recorder.) Trump loves women and often gives them extreme attention. You may wish to purchase this bumper sticker (only $50): “Locker room? No, locker up!” With Donald, it’s not so much the GOP as the GROPE. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested the slogan. Score points among your right-wing friends by blasting the press, especially The New York Times, but don’t mention it was the Times that exposed Hillary’s private emails. That undercuts your argument. Only watch Fox News and listen to like-minded radio talk show hosts, like Sean Hannity, but hurry. Hannity has become such an embarrassing shill for Trump that, after the election, Rupert Murdoch’s two sane sons may fire Hannity.
About Benghazi: although 10 different Congressional committees have held 33 investigations and hearings on the matter, questioning 252 witnesses over 62 hours, costing the American taxpayers $7 million, and have turned up nothing linking Crooked Hillary to the terrorists’ raid, keep bringing it up. If someone mentions The Don’s finances, reply: “He’s solvent, and you can take that to the bankruptcy.” Oops, bank. As for his tax returns, fire back: “What about Monica Lewinski?” When some commie says the GOP has a quorum when Trump, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich get together with their total of nine wives, reply: “Emails for Hillary. Females for Trump.” Trump’s strongest supporters are white males with only a high school education who drag their knuckles. Reply: “What about Benghazi?” Even more incriminating emails shall be made available as soon as they are translated from the Russian. Bring up a possibility: When Hillary discovers she doesn’t get paid $250,000 for her inauguration speech, maybe she’ll drop out.
Polls show most voters don’t like either candidate, but we’re stuck with The Donald, and have to swallow our pride and back him. We are still working on excuses to give our children the rest of our lives. When some Hillary zealot says you’re “a basket of deplorables,” retort that you’d rather be in a basket of deplorables than in a casket of explodables. (The RNC has generously sent gifts to Hillary’s campaign plane: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones.) If you’re handing out political material, ask if they are going to vote. If the answer is, “Si,” or: “Yes, at my mosque,” move on.
This the most important election in American history, maybe in all the world. OK, we say every four years and we’ll say it again four years from now, but it makes you feel important. Please fill out the enclosed survey, because we want your advice – and money. Finally, when going to the voting booth, try not to drag your knuckles
Ashby writes-in at firstname.lastname@example.org
CHAMBERS COUNTY – “Good morning, America. How are ya? I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans,” as Willie almost sang. Actually, this is the train they call the Sunset Limited, but it’s going to New Orleans, and that’s close enough. We’re headed to the slot machines and roulette tables, but let me explain: Most of the customers at the Lake Charles-area casinos come from near-by Texas, specifically, the Houston region, which is why the casinos were put there in the first place. But I-10 East between Houston and Lake Charles is a death trap, with huge 18-wheelers, loaded with pipe for offshore rigs and containers from the Port of Houston, careening down the road at Mach 2.
To avoid being a bug on a Peterbilt’s windshield, you can fly to Lake Charles on Good Luck Airlines or rent a shrimp boat or take the train. Yes, the train. Amtrak’s aforementioned Sunset Limited goes from Los Angeles to New Orleans and the other way every other day. So you board at the station on the edge of downtown Houston, stop briefly at Beaumont and get off at Lake Charles, time 3 hours and 15 minutes, about 15 minutes longer than driving. A waiting cab spirits you to the casino and, fresh from a relaxing trip, you are yelling for seven to come eleven.
For details, as usual, I have done the heavy lifting, so clip this column and stick it on your refrigerator door next to those last 67 losing Lotto tickets. First, get some cash, then go on line to email@example.com. There, negotiate through a maze, drawn up by a drunken mountain man, to buy a ticket from here to there and back, and put it on your credit card. Cost for a round trip ticket: $44. Go coach unless you are on your honeymoon and need a private room. Trains depart Houston eastward every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday at 12:10 p.m. To get to the station you can be dropped off, take a cab, my wife and I took Uber, or just leave your car there. It’s free parking. The station is basic government issue: clean, slightly worn, 1950ish, but – and I like this – long wooden pews from the distant past.
Hooray, here comes the train, silver and shiny. It stops, passengers get off but no one is allowed to board because the crew has to back track the forward coupler to the thru-bolt carrier, or something like that. Since you are traveling light, you don’t check your bag, although coming home you may need an extra sack for all that money. We board, no metal detector, go to our reserved seats which, compared to the airliners, are spacious, the chairs lean back and a foot rest pops up. Two electric outlets on the wall. We automatically try to fasten our seat belts and realize there aren’t any. Precisely at 12:40, the 12:10 moves out. Don’t take this train to look at the scenery. It’s not the Canadian Rockies Route. Trains always go through the ugliest parts of any city, so you get a great view of shotgun shacks, piles of broken concrete and lots of oil field pipe via I-10. Once into the outback, it’s a long, green tunnel, at least before winter. On each side are jungles, until Chambers and Jefferson counties, which also have swamps that are actually kind of pretty. The entire train is double-decked, with some seats downstairs along with the toilets and baggage racks. Upstairs is better. The train is half empty. We stop at Beaumont long enough to toss out a few passengers and board a few more. We’re running late, the ride is very smooth, but no clickety-clack.
Now about the food. We had taken the Amtrak from Montreal to NYC. It was an 11-hour trip. There was no dining car and the snack bar had the worst food I have ever tasted – microwaved pizza and hot dogs for a captive audience. On this trip, to be safe we brought along some sandwiches and such, planning to buy drinks on board. There is a café downstairs selling drinks and snacks, but: “It doesn’t open till later. Just before Houston, she said she was going to take a break.” That was two hours ago. We go to the neat observation car (the bar there is closed, too), and spend the rest of the trip munching sandwiches and sipping water from little paper cups. Later I take a look at the dining car and it seems pretty neat with white table clothes. The menu is short but certainly adequate – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The PA system announces that dinner reservations will be taken, seating every half hour from 5:30 to 7:30, with sleeping car passengers getting first shot. I suppose if they fill up the diner, coach class passengers go hungry. Promptly at 4:30 we arrive at Lake Charles, only one hour late. Before you leave Houston, reserve a ride -– cab or rental. Along the route we called ahead to say we were late, and the car and driver were waiting for us.
After dropping enough money in Louisiana to pave most of its roads and give every school teacher a raise ($2.50) – Texas is SO behind the curve on casinos – we call 1-800 USA RAIL to check on the westbound train coming from New Orleans to see if it is on time. To the minute. We wait in the small but adequate train station for the train, which arrives 20 minutes late. Two get off and eight get on. Amtrak needs to advertise more. The home-bound train is less than half full, and the trip is uneventful except for an extremely rude conductor. We arrive on schedule. So the next time you want to head east to the casinos or even unto Bourbon Street, think trains – no cancelled flights, no trucks, bring food. But I still miss that clickety-clack.
Ashby rides the rails at asnby2@comcast/net