Every Fire Has Its Place

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE HEARTH – It has been really cold lately, which I hate. Cold weather is God’s revenge for us complaining about global warming. Cold weather brings sleet, ice, car wrecks and frost-bitten ear lobes. If there is any saving grace for a cold winter it is this: the fireplace. Don’t you just love a crackling blaze, preferably in the fireplace? Most people do. It adds to the ambiance. Indeed, a Louisiana casino keeps a big blaze going in its lobby year round. There in the sweaty, hot, humid swamps, a big blaze goes 12 months a year. President Richard Nixon liked a fire so much that on summer days he would have the a/c in his White House office turned on so he could work by a nice fire. He wrote, “When I retire I’m going to spend my evenings by the fireplace going through those boxes. There are things in there that ought to be burned.” Like tapes? Too late, Tricky Dick. On the other hand, Joan of Arc did not care much for a roaring fire.

 

But here’s the problem. In the “Manchurian Candidate,” (no, I am not talking about the current administration), Laurence Harvey says, “The world is divided into two types of people. Those who walk into a room and turn the television on, and those who turn it off.” The world is also divided into those who like a wood-burning fireplace and those who like a gas burner. We what got couth feel there is no contest. Give me a wood burner any day, particularly on a cold day. To be fair there are many problems with the wood burner. You have to get a head start by planting a tree, then wait 10 to 20 years for it to grow wood. The inner lumberjack in you can’t wait to chop the sucker down, then split it into 3-foot chunks and haul them into the house. How much fuel can you bring in at a time? This is what I call the Firewood Factor. It measures your strength. I used to bring in six or seven split logs at a time. Today I count the twigs. Next is starting the fire. This requires patience because that wood is still green. Fortunately there are fire-starters that will help you begin the blaze. Fire-starters come in many sizes and shapes, but I prefer napalm. Every now and then, like in a year that ends in 00, you have to shovel out the ashes and dump them in your neighbor’s yard at night, or find a nearby stream. One must be careful not to dump the ashes too soon or you will have higher home insurances rates.

There is the argument for gas logs in fireplaces, especially if you sell gas logs. Gas logs spare trees, but so do plastic Lincoln Logs. And they require some material of their own: concrete. Most gas logs are made of concrete, of which there is a diminishing world supply. Indeed, the Obama administration wanted to put concrete on the endangered species list, but we all know what tree-huggers they were. Unlike wood-burning fireplaces, gas logs require gas. Do you really want to contribute to the diminishing gas supply? Also, gas-burning logs always look the same, while the wood burners continue to change shapes as the logs get smaller, flicker and occasionally roll across the hearth onto the rug, or maybe onto the fire starter you left nearby. Gas logs also sound the same, while flaming wood crackles, pops and smolders. I suppose one could get a tape recording of crackling fireplaces and play it while the gas only hisses. There is a solution for those who can’t make up their minds. Get a fireplace that has a gas pipe with little holes, like a flute, that runs across the bottom of the fireplace. Put logs on top. You light the gas escaping from the holes which sets the wood ablaze. It’s half and half, the best of both, the Preise of pine, the Tesla of timber.

We now take up the matter of air pollution. This is not new. London has suffered air pollution from burning peat and coal as long ago as the 1500s and 1600s. The worst was the Great London Smog of 1952, when weather conditions and coal smoke formed a thick layer of smog over the city. Government medical reports estimated that 4,000 people died as a direct result of the smog and 100,000 more were made ill. More recent research put the number of fatalities at about 12,000. For that reason, burning peat or coal for household heat is relatively rare in Texas. However, new EPA rules do not limit the amount of pollution a fireplace can generate, nor do the new rules limit anything else, including drilling for oil in Yellowstone Park, dumping sludge in the Grand Canyon or shooting grizzles. Gas-burning logs do not cause much smog, nor do they require chimney sweeps to occasionally clean the inside of smokestacks. But this means homeowners with gas burners don’t get to see Mary Poppins’ cast dancing on rooftops while singing, “Chim-Chim Cher-ee.”

In 1742, Benjamin Franklin – the first and last rich American journalist – invented the Franklin stove. It provided a more efficient way of getting heat from the burned fuel since it does not produce as much draft as a standard fireplace, and there is less loss of heat. You can still buy a Franklin stove today, but Ben no longer gets royalties. After Napoleon conquered Moscow and confiscated everything, the residents started stealing wooden fences to burn for warmth because it was cold, an unusual situation in Moscow in the winter. Napoleon ordered that fence thieves be shot, although some residents would steal the wood and sell it to their nearby friends. This gave us the expression, “Good neighbors make good fences.” Now excuse me while I throw some more peat on the fire.


Ashby ashes at ashby2@comcast.net

When IRS Eyes Are Crying

February 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE EVENING NEWS – Here is one of Donald Trump’s daughters – I can’t tell which one, they are all beautiful – standing in front of the White House saying, “I will be traveling across America and on April 15th will be seeing how happy everyone is to have their taxes cut.” Beautiful, but clueless. This April 15th is the deadline for filing our 2017 taxes, last year, under Obama. President Donald Trump’s tax cuts don’t go into effect until 2018. Nevertheless, it is easy to get confused over the new budget and how it will change our taxes, medical coverage and coffee we drink.

It’s called America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, and costs $4.1 trillion. Your share is every dime you’ll ever make, plus money earned by your descendants even until the fifth generation. During the last presidential campaign, it was vowed the tax form would be simpler. It isn’t. Indeed, some CPAs say the new budget is even more complicated. We were told we could fill out our federal income taxes on a post card. But do you really want your postal carrier knowing how much you make in light of that crummy Christmas tip you gave him?

Anyway, let’s look at the new Blueprint. Trump has said he wants to “re-strengthen” our military, this despite the fact that we spend more on our military than the next six nations combined, upwards of $650 billion a year. Expanding our military has more to do with air bases and naval docks in Congressional districts than defense. The Pentagon today is not so much a war machine as a jobs program. In the 2018 defense authorization bill, Congress called for strength increases including 8,500 new soldiers, 5,000 new sailors, 5,800 new airmen and 1,000 new Marines. Trump has also publicly promised a 355-ship Navy and at least another 100 combat aircraft for the Air Force. This is in keeping with his campaign promise to “take care of the generals,” General Dynamics, General Motors and General Electric. Elsewhere, the Department of Homeland Security gets increased spending on border security and immigration enforcement, and to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, despite promises that Mexico would pick up the tab. You are now a citizen of Mexico.

How will we pay for all of this? Well, we won’t. After eight years of screaming about the Obama administration’s deficits and debt spending, this GOP budget will increase the national debt by – hang on — $1.4 trillion. Assuming current programs remain unchanged, the federal debt will swell by an additional $9.4 trillion over the next decade. Our children will understand. Still, the new budget does cut some wasteful spending, like on education, pollution and the National Institutes of Health. Specifically, it includes the elimination of food for education and water and wastewater loan programs. Smokey the Bear is going on welfare: The budget eliminates over 4,000 jobs in the Department of Interior and decreases funding for the United States Forest Service by $118 million. Hey, California, you don’t really need all those trees, do you? Out go funds for 49 National Historic Sites. It cuts funds to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and programs and grants for teacher training, after-school and summer care, and aid to low-income students.

Houston, you will be happy to know the budget reduces funding for FEMA. The EPA, that pesky agency that tries to protect us from acid rain, coal sludge in our creeks and air you can climb, suffers the elimination of more than 50 programs and 3,200 jobs. It cuts funding for the protection of endangered species, like conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. The State Department’s budget is reduced almost a third — 29 percent. Here’s something we can all support. The new budget reduces funding for the Internal Revenue Service. But before we cheer too much, remember that, according to press reports, “Since 2010, Congress has cut the agency’s budget by nearly $1 billion, or 18 percent, adjusted for inflation, as the I.R.S. processes about 10 million more tax returns.” Its work force has been reduced by 21,000, or nearly one-quarter. This means when you try to call the IRS for advice and help in filing your own returns, you get put on Hold for like three days. The size of the compliance staff — the pros who go after tax evaders — has shrunk by one-third, and the ranks of criminal special investigators are thinner than at any time since the Nixon era. This means a lot of tax cheats have been getting by, and now even more will be able to dodge Uncle Sam. Guess who gets to make up the difference? I guess this also means we’ll never see Trump’s income taxes.

We are promised lower federal income taxes, but maybe not. Our first clue was the lobbyists circling above the Capitol. Stealing from other researchers, I find that a law was passed in 2004 giving companies a tax break on income that manufacturers earned from making things in the United States. Starbucks hired lobbyists to claim that it, too, was a producer, because the company roasts coffee beans. So Congress allowed coffee shops to deduct a percentage of every cup sold if it was made with beans they roasted off site. This became known as the Starbucks Footnote. Suddenly, everyone became a manufacturer. Movie studios got the break because they produced films, and tech giants won it, too, for making computer software. Construction companies got it for making buildings, and so did engineers and architects for designing them. The government initially estimated that the 2004 law would cost a net $27.3 billion from 2005 through 2014. It ended up costing over $90 billion during that period. This new budget should end that end-run. Finally, I’m all for cutting out fraud and waste, like weekly golf trips on Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago. I’ll run it by the Trump daughters.


Ashby pays at ashby2@comcast.net

What’s In a Name?

January 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE MAILBOX – Here are the usual suspects: dunning letters from creditors, ransom notes, rejections from publications (“Quit bothering us with your drivel.”). Just junk churned out by computers. When was the last time you got a real letter from someone, maybe even hand-written? I can’t remember. Most of my mail is addressed to Miss, Mrs. or Ms. Ashby. That’s the problem with having a name like mine. Lynn is a male name in the South, a female handle in the north, although it can be Lyn or Lynne. I was named for an uncle who, in turn was named for his father, my maternal grandfather, who was named for his father. That’s as far back as I can go, but I handed the name down for two more generations. The mix-up didn’t get me out of the draft, but in high school I was assigned a Hi Lite Big Sister.

I bring up this matter because the list for 2017 names for babies is now out. Americans are getting original when it comes to branding a newborn — they are all unique, just like everyone else. Gone from the most popular list are Michael (ranked (16), John (46) and Joseph (53). Mary and Judy didn’t even make the top 100. We are into Jackson, Liam and Noah; Sophia, Olivia and Emma as our top choices. Actually, every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Sophia, which is Number 1 for girls for the eighth consecutive year. Jackson also remains the most popular name for boys. Amelia, Grayson, and Logan have jumped into the top 10, while Luna and Mateo were the fastest climbers of the year. Here are some rather different top names among our newcomers: For girls, Riley, Zoe and Layla. For boys: Lucas, Aiden and Caden.

These rankings are from a company called BabyCenter, “an online media company that provides information on conception, pregnancy, birth, and early childhood development for parents and expecting parents.” So it behooves the company to keep track of newborns and their names. Social Security also keeps track of new names. Just why, I don’t know, but it’s kind of neat. As of 2016, the last time anyone counted, according to the feds the most popular names given to new babies that year pretty well reflect the BabyCenter’s list but not exactly. For boys, Noah, Liam, William, Mason and James. For girls, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Sophia and Isabella.

To no one’s surprise, Texans do names a bit differently. Noah led Texas’ new names for boys, followed by Liam, Sebastian and Daniel. Other popular male names were Elijah, Mateo and Jayden. For new females, Emma, Mia and Sophia led the list, then Olivia, Isabella and Sofia, as opposed to Sophia. Others names among the top were Harper, Genesis and Ximena. Jose is ranked ninth while Joseph comes in at 35. We also name kids Travis, Houston and Austin. For some reason, Brooklyn ranks 42 in Texas, 45 nationally. Incidentally, the late rock musician David Bowie was originally named David Jones, but changed it to Bowie, not for the defender of the Alamo but for his knife.

Other interesting names in the top 100 that Texans branded their new kids in recent years include Aaliyah, Layla, Kennedy, Serenity and Daleyza for girls. For boys, we have Jace, Ayden and Gael. Our Tejanos show their heritage in birth certificates, so among the top 100″
names for new Texans are, besides Jose, we have Jesus, Angel, Dominic, Natalia, Valentina, Juan, Santiago, Diego and Carlos. Parents, be careful if you name your daughter something that won’t go well with her husband’s name. Lady is fine unless she marries Joe Bugg. Mary is the bride of Charlie Christmas. Ouch. On the other hand, one of the most famous Texas names belonged to Miss Ima Hogg, who explained to me, “Daddy always thought I would get married.” She never did, nor did she have a sister named Ura.

In olden days, people turned to the Bible for names – Abraham, Isaac, Ruth, Eve. In my own family, they turned to the bottle. Have you ever checked given names in your own family tree? I found lots of Nimrods, an Ashby Ashby, so many Johns it got confusing, and some names are so ridiculous I’m surprised the owners ever got married and had their own children to name. Apparently my paternal grandfather was never told: “I would marry you, but I just couldn’t go through life signing checks as Mrs. Ulysses Ottawa Ashby.” A Southern tradition is to give males their mother’s maiden name, so we have a Gen. Turner Ashby – his mom was a Turner – until he got shot by a Union sniper in the Battle of Harrisonburg.

A few parents might not give their children some names if the folks knew what they were really calling them. James is Supplanter. John means God is gracious. Damon means to tame or subdue. Morgan is great circle. The meaning of Victoria is obvious: Winner or conqueror. Houston is from Hugh’s Town, as in Howard. Name your kid Dallas and it’s shorter than From The Meadow Dwelling Cowboys. The now-popular name Liam is the Irish short form of William, which is the long form of Liam. Olivia was coined by Shakespeare for a character in his comedy, “’Twelfth Night,” and he probably got it from Olive. Harper is someone who plays the harp. Scarlett is from a surname for a person who sold or made clothes made of scarlet (a kind of cloth, not a color). Margaret Mitchell used this name for Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” Scarlett’s name came from her grandmother’s maiden name. Austin means capital of Texas. No, actually it is from Augustin. Remember the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue?” It’s a great argument for not getting too cute with first names, although I think my Hi Lite Big Sister was named Brooklyn Bridge.


Mrs. Ashby is named for ashby2@comcast.net

Texas by the Book

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE BOOK REVIEW – It’s much easier to just read a review of a book than having to plow through the whole thing. In conversations, you can easily impress someone by saying, “It was a good read until I found out the murderer was…” That is why I am flipping through the latest New York Times Book Review. Most articles I can skip since I never heard of the subject, Wait. Here is a photograph of a cloud of dust and the cutline: “Ranch hands herding cattle in South Texas, 1970.” Ah, a book about Texas cowboys and cattle and dust. The title of the tome is: “Texas Blood.”

Huh? Is this about the Texas Heart Institute or the shootout at the Twin Peaks in Waco? Neither. It is a thorough lashing of the state. We must suspect that when the author, Roger D. Hodge, turned in his manuscript and got the green light from the publisher, a panel of editors gathered around a Manhattan office table and mulled over that title. “He calls it ‘Bad Stuff About the Lone Star State,’ which is awful.” Says another: “How about, ‘The Texas Leaf Blower Massacre’?” A long pause. “We know that ‘Texas’ is good for any title. No one would go to see ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Vermont,’ if there is one. In the Jan. 15 issue of the New Yorker there is a short, pointless story by David Gates called simply, ‘Texas.’ It has more to do with drugs, family and self-pity, but those titles don’t ring. We’ve got to put ‘Texas’ in. The rest of the title has to grab the reader as she goes down the aisles at Barnes and Noble.” A long sigh. “Boss, no one goes down the aisles in Barnes and Noble any more. They whip out their little electric I something and go to Amazon. Still, the title has to grab them.” Another editor speaks up: “Let’s use ‘Blood.’ It conjures up violence, hatred, anger. Stick it with ‘Texas’ and you’ve got a winner.” And that’s how the book got its name.

Texas Blood by Roger Hodge.

The publication is yet another jab at Texas, which only makes good business sense. I call such works a Kick Your Mother expose. The thinking goes like this. If you write a book, “I Loved Playing for the Dallas Cowboys” only Jerry Jones would buy it for himself and his two friends. But if you come up with, “I Hated Playing for the Dallas Cowboys – the inside scoop on America’s rotten team” then you have a best-seller. No one will read a book that tells about your wonderful career as a Border Patrolman in Brownsville, how easy it was to become a movie star, or, for that matter, a tell-all about those fantastic people in the Trump White House. We want dirt, scandal, the inside skinny on household names.

So it is that Roger D. Hodge kicked his mother. He tells us he is a seventh-generation Texan, (I am only a sixth but my grandkids are eighth, so there), but left for Brooklyn when he was 18. He obviously was glad he departed, and glad he wrote this book, because he had new land to plow: “As I reread the conventional histories, I remained dissatisfied by their generalizations and hoary meditations on Texas ‘character.’ Much of it struck me as self-congratulatory nationalistic rubbish.” The Times’ reviewer, Stephen Harrigan, himself a noted Texas historian, observes that Hodge even takes on T.R. Ferenbach’s wonderful “Lone Star,” writing: “such epic histories sweep high above the hard ground of lived experiences.” Hodge’s hard ground is a Texas that is “a terrifying land of racism, violence and retrograde politics.” (That doesn’t explain why it is so much cheaper to rent a U-Haul leaving the state than coming in.) We have the Indians, who were “slaughtered” by Texans: “pale riders the color of dust swooped down and spilled their blood onto the thirsty ground.” To this we reply: But what about Van Cliburn?

No point in getting defensive about this, and not just because much of Hodge’s observations are true. Texas has long been portrayed as a place to avoid. As U.S. General Philip Henry Sheridan said in Galveston in 1866: “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.” Ferdinand von Roemer, a young German geologist, visited Texas in 1845 and observed:  On Austin – “The capitol is a log house on top of a hill. A more unpretentious building for a law-making body could hardly be found anywhere.” On Houston – “The streets were unpaved and the mud bottomless.” Of more recent vintage: Q: Why are there so many unsolved murders in Texas? A: There are no dental records and everyone has the same DNA. “Anybody who wanders around the world saying, ‘Hell yes, I’m from Texas,’ deserves whatever happens to him.” — Hunter S. Thompson. And comedian George Carlin: “You know the good thing about all those executions in Texas? Fewer Texans.”

In literature, we have seen an ocean of books about the Lone Star State. Go to any large book store and you’ll see aisles marked, Fiction, Children’s, Travel and Texana. Wonder if other states have their own aisles? Many Americans were introduced to Texas with Edna Ferber’s “Giant,” which pointed out, among other transgressions, the treatment of Hispanics. Texans took umbrage, and the joke was that Ferber, while flying over the state, told the pilot, “Fly lower. I need more research.” Larry McMurtry put Texas on the literary map, warts and all. James Michener’s epic, “Texas,” was more flattering, ending with the final line: “Never forget, son, when you represent Texas, always go first class.” And finally a wise man (me) once said: “God may be an Englishman, but when he retires he’ll move to Lakeway.” So we have yet another putdown of our state. Don’t get all twisted up about it. Some people get paid to kick their mother.


Ashby is semi-literate at ashby2@comcast.net

The Size of Texas

January 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

AUSTIN – The newspapers and local TV here in the state capital constantly rail – OK, bad choice of words — complain about the traffic, lack of mass transit and bumper-to-bumper cars on I-35 as though the People’s Republic invented gridlock. They should go to Houston and spend an hour on the West Loop traveling one block, or try Dallas’ Central Expressway. I remember when they built it, sure to whisk motorists downtown in minutes. Ha. That expressway is one long Allright parking lot. Austin is minor league when it comes to traffic, but it is bad and getting worse in our cities. Why? Because Texas’ population keeps growing while our leaders argue about transgender school bathrooms and can’t keep up with the times.

Texas needs more of just about everything – more schools, more roads, more controls on our growing pollution, more winning football teams. And, while we may not need more of them, we are getting a lot more people. According to a story in the Austin American-Statesman quoting the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 400,000 additional people called Texas home in 2017, bringing the state’s population to over 28 million. Texas continues to be the second most-populous state behind California, but last year we were first in the number of new residents. In terms of percentage growth, Texas grew by 1.4 percent, making it the seventh fastest-growing state in the country. Idaho is the fastest-growing state at 2.2 percent. Remember, Idaho has a population a bit more than half the City of Houston’s, so it doesn’t take much, percentagewise, to increase its growth.

To put this in historical perspective, the first census of the Lone Star State was in 1850, after we had joined the Union. It was 212,592, probably not counting Indians. By the next census in 1860, the headcount had almost tripled. In our last census, in 2010, we had just more than 25 million people. As a separate nation, Texas would rank 49th in population, behind Yemen but ahead of 184 other countries. State demographer Lloyd Potter explained that about half (52 percent) of the growth is a natural (more births than deaths) increase, the other half is from net migration — foreign migration accounted for almost 28 percent of the 400,000, and domestic migration (from other states) accounted for almost 20 percent. For the time between the 2016 estimate and the 2017 estimate, there were almost 195,000 deaths, which was more than offset by over 404,000 births. And they say Virginia is for lovers.

Here’s the trend: Up until 1950, Texas’s population was more than half rural. Between 2000 and 2010, during a booming growth period for the state, 78 Texas counties actually lost population. So where are the newcomers moving? Mostly to the Houston area, the Metroplex and the I-35 corridor (Georgetown-Austin-San Antonio). Not many people move to Pecos. Would you? Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and the second-largest in Texas. It had a population of 6.18 million, as of U.S. Census Bureau’s July 1, 2012, tabulation. Two years later, the estimated population was 6.5 million – counting Indians. Our Latino population is growing by leaps and bounds (not to mention wading) and so is our Asian headcount. We got a quick boost in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, when some 250,000 Louisianans arrived. An estimated 40,000 still remain, giving Texas some excellent halfbacks and chefs. Houston, Austin-San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth added more people in 2015 than any other state – yes, state — in the country, growing by more than 400,000 residents. It is as though every man, woman and child in Minneapolis moved here in that 12-month period, and sometimes I think they did.

Here in Austin one of the city’s biggest problems is that so many people want to live here. This is true in many of Texas’ cities. Despite all that is wrong with the Lone Star State, its heat and humidity, lack of decent public schools and, of course, our Legislature, it seems everyone wants to be a Texan. Experts say the state’s population – again, now more than 28 million — will hit between 33 million and 34 million by 2040. That’s the situation. So what’s the solution? We could simply make Texas less desirable for others to move here, with an occasional hurricane, maybe selling guns to mental cases, incompetent state school board, but that would be self-defeating. No, we need to just stay ahead of the curve.

For example, water. We have plenty, but is mal-distributed. Orange has an annual rainfall of 59.1 inches, while El Paso receives on average 9.69 inches. I suggest a big pipeline. We need more schools – our suburbs are exploding with new students — and school officials are trying to keep pace by doing what they do best: building bigger football stadiums. Texas has always had a lock-em-up attitude with crime and criminals. We need more prisons, or less crime. Transportation: There are currently 23,886,263 private and commercial vehicles registered in Texas, all trying to find a parking place at the Galleria. That’s more fumes, and our roads have long since hit their maximum capacity. Think back to 1991. Ann Richards was sworn in as Texas governor. The minimum wage was raised to $4.25 an hour, and the hit TV show “Dallas” ended. Twenty-seven years ago was the last time Texas raised its gas and diesel tax, to 20 cents a gallon. Today the national average is 31.04 cents. Maybe this is why our official State Nuisance is the pothole. Government: The 2020 census will give us three or four more U.S. Representatives, who will probably be as bad as our current members. Most of all, we need leaders who will handle these situations. Lots of luck. As for you 400,000 people who arrived in Texas in 2017 by birth or Buick, you have come to the perfect place and, to coin a phrase, don’t mess with Texas.


Ashby votes at ashby2@comcast.net

Life in the Future, Tense

January 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE CALENDAR – Oh what a year, what with competent candidates getting elected, famous people doing famous things and peace reigns. I am speaking, of course, of 1950. As for 2018, we may be in for some shocks, but at least we’ll be prepared because I shall predict the future. So stand by while I say the sooth.

Photo by U. Leone via Pixabay.

January – Three college football teams do not play in bowl games. Pointing proudly to the defeat of alleged child molester Roy Moore, Alabama enters the 18th Century. President Donald Trump tweets that he is not crazy, and demands Democrats quit hiding under his bed. Boy Scouts reverse decision to allow Girl Scouts to join after they humiliate the boys in merit badges for arm wrestling, bronco riding and heart transplanting.

February – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick changes his name to Patty Dan, explaining, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom somewhere.” Sean Hannity is officially adopted by President Trump. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Iceland to negotiate a friendship treaty. Trump Films denies its latest release, “A Valentine for Vladimir” is based on fact.

March – Bill Clinton takes over the Playboy Mansion which is vacated after male members of Congress move out. Russia denies it sponsors a new website, Krem de la Kremlin. The Texas State Board of Education votes unanimously to ban boys and girls from using the same bike racks. In an NBA game, the Rockets’ James Harden scores 100 points, but laments: “I just wish Coach would have let me play the second half.” Oscar Awards are cancelled after a sexual harassment suit is filed against Oscar by Tony and Emmy.

April – On Tax Day, President Trump is going to release his personal income taxes forms, but, he explains, the dog ate them. General Motors unveils its first all-electric car, the Shock. Unfortunately, it requires an extremely long extension cord. At a hearing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Houston would not have flooded “if only we could have found the drain stopper.”

May – NAACP demands Dixie cups be banned as a “clearly racist symbol.” Needing a longer weekend, the Koch brothers buy Friday. A professor at Stanford University wins the Nobel Prize for discovering how to fold a fitted sheet. A federal court rules that Texas’ gerrymandering of Congressional districts by the majority Republican legislators is “outrageous and mind boggling.” The Congressman from Harlingen-Amarillo disagrees.

June – Merchants put out their Christmas decorations. Hurricane season officially opens on June 1 with the Red Cross throwing out the first doughnut. Rush Limbaugh wins first place in the annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Contest. He adds: “I’d done even better if I had a balloon.” War breaks out between the U.S. and Iceland. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke promises Indian tribes, “Coal sludge will not spill into your creeks and rivers as long as the sun shines and the buffalo roam. You can trust Washington.” The President’s dog dies of acute indigestion. A veterinarian observes: “It looks like the dog was force fed a bunch of papers.”

July – FEMA tells Texas, “Help for Harvey is on the way.” Gov. Greg Abbott calls out the Texas State Guard to prevent an amphibious invasion by Old Navy. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims the DNC is “a front for baby-smuggling zombies.” When asked where she got that information, Sanders replies, “I got it straight from a reliable source, Krem de la Kremlin.” Harvey Weinstein denies he has sexually assaulted any women, that he tried to cover up his crimes and that he is Harvey Weinstein.

August – Hillary Clinton denies she is running for President again, in a press release from her campaign manager issued at a fund raiser. The Summer Olympics gives drug tests to Russian athletes after a pole vaulter vaults 45 feet – without a pole. Parts of Meyerland are inundated by a heavy dew. With great fanfare, Rachael Maddow on MSNBC announces she has a copy of “Donald Trump’s tax returns.” It turns out to be the returns for Donald Trump, Jr. when he was 8. Still, $400.000 isn’t bad. Indian tribes rise up in revolt against coal sludge spilling into their creeks and rivers.

September – NRA wants guns allowed in churches, confessional booths and concealed under choir robes. Its new slogan: “What kind of semi-automatic would Jesus own?” Houston Texans begin the season by joining Blue Cross. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opens floodgates on Hoover Dam, wiping out much of California, Nevada and Arizona. A general explains: “We had to flood these states in order to save them.”

October – The most popular Halloween costume in Washington this year is the Robert Mueller mask. An administration official explains: “When he shows up at your doorstep, you’ll treat him to anything.” President Trump fires the head of the White House Secret Service detail after finding out Trump’s code name is “Snake Oil.” New EPA director Scott Pruitt says, “Global warming is a hoax perpetrated by overly protective parents who want their children to survive.”

November – Texas A&M, going 0-11 in football, reinstates the Aggie bonfire, with Coach Jimbo Fisher on top. Also in football, Trump University qualifies for a bowl bid. After pressure from the FCC, Fox News officially changes its name to Faux News. Hillary Clinton accuses Bill of “avoiding sexually harassing me.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admits he gained most of his foreign diplomatic experience at the International House of Pancakes. Post-Thanksgiving sales are called off after NAACP objects to the term, “black Friday.”

December – The Texas State Board of Education debates whether teachers should be paid more than a manicurist. Most of Puerto Rico gets power. After a nationwide petition claiming that the name, Washington Redskins, is “insulting, embarrassing and demeaning,” the NFL agrees to change the team’s name to the Arlington Redskins. The New York Times reports that, despite his assertions, Donald Trump was not born in a manger. President Trump denounces it as “fake news.”


Ashby predicts at ashby2@comcast.net

365 Daze of Our Lives

December 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Let’s face it. The Year of Our Lord 2017 was one to remember, or forget. Politicians and TV stars crashed and burned over sexual harassment charges, but it was a golden time for late night TV comics. The Texas Legislature lived down to its name; Donald Trump did the same for the Presidency. But any year that saw the Astros win the World Series can’t be all bad, so now it is time to take a look backwards at 2017 before Texas Monthly’s Bum Steer Awards steal our ideas.

Photo from Pixabay.

Former Gov. and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry claimed the Texas A&M race for student body president was “stolen” because a straight candidate, Robert McIntosh, failed to provide a receipt for glow sticks used in the campaign, so that a gay candidate, Bobby Brooks, won. Turns out McIntosh’s mother is a GOP fundraiser. In more important matters, Texas A&M is paying new football coach Jimbo Fisher $75 million on a 10-year contract. You can rent a good running back for that amount.

A science teacher at Houston’s Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church’s elementary school was showing students different colored flames. Boom! Twelve children were burned, six were hospitalized.

The U.S. Border Patrol had a good idea: set up a recruiting booth at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Unfortunately, they didn’t do too well on Go Tejano Day.

“Houston is such a wonderful city. I can’t wait for you to finish it.” — New York Times columnist David Brooks

Hurricane Harvey came to town, and did a lot of damage, but the worst came when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the floodgates of the Barker and Addicks dams, inundating thousands of homes in west Houston. With protectors like these, who protects us from them?

Now it’s time for sports. A world-class city needs world-class soccer hooligans: The Dallas soccer team, FC Dallas, banned supporters of the Houston Dynamo, El Batallon, from bringing in flags, banners and any other signs of fandom because of “unacceptable behavior” in previous games including smoke bombs, a flair, and obscene chants.

The Houston Rockets finished off a great 2016-2017 season by losing in the play-offs to the San Antonio Spurs by 39 points (James Harden scored 10) before a home crowd and a national TV audience. The Rockets are paying James Harden $228 million over six years. That’s coming out of the pocket of new Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta, who paid $2.2 billion for the franchise.

For the first time in its history, the Houston Astros sent six players to the All-Star Game. They went 0-7, with three strikeouts.

When cancer patients complete their chemotherapy treatment, they often ring a bell at the hospital to signify a big step in their road to recovery. The bell at MD Anderson never stood a chance. When 6-foot-5, 300-pound Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry completed his chemotherapy treatment, he stopped to read the inscription on the plaque next to the bell. “Now that you have completed your chemotherapy treatment, ring this bell to tell the world you are on your way to being well,” Quessenberry read aloud. Then, he rang that bell right off the wall.

In Austin, on the floor of the Capitol chamber, State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, Republican from a Dallas suburb, threatened to shoot Rep. Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, Democrat from Eagle Pass, in self defense after Nevarez said he would confront his colleague in the parking lot.

The Texas Senate voted to strictly inforce the ban on wearing blue jeans in the chamber.

“I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.” — Gov. Greg Abbott, while posing for a photo with a large paper target he had just shot full of holes.

Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did all they could to prevent Texas women from controlling their own bodies. And the Dynamic Duo discovered that most voters in Texas cities are Democrats. So they worked to strip cities of local control.

Austin bar owner Brandon Cash responded to negative reviews of his establishment, Unbarlievable, on Google with “since you had a towel on your head my bartender thought you were the new bus boy and handed you dirty dishes to wash.” After protesters showed up, Cash apologized.

Hypocritic Oath: “Thomas, for instance, wants government out of health care but depends on Medicare…. to pay all but $80 of his monthly $11,900 bill for his cancer medication.” — Houston Chronicle May 1, 2017

The Pearland ISD school board got a new member: Dawson High School senior Mike Floyd.

So much for a free exchange of ideas: TSU disinvited U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as commencement speaker after students objected to his politics.

Keep Your Powderpuff Dry, Wussies: The Houston Symphony Orchestra’s Fourth of July concert played the “1812 Overture” in all its glory – but used taped cannon fire because, in the past, some in the audience objected to the noise.

But our big winners in 2017 were from Washington, where Texan lawmakers and officials made for some news – of the wrong kind. Wichita Falls native, UT grad and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has been deemed “the worst Secretary of State in the nation’s history.”

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Abbott quit bashing Washington long enough to go, hat in hand, to beg the feds for more Harvey money. It wasn’t so much an about face as red-faced or maybe two-faced.

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman was charged with bilking $750,000 in charity funds. U.S Rep. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis said he won’t run for reelection after a photo circulated of him buck naked, and his former lovers went public. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi faced a House Ethics Committee investigation after it was discovered he spent $84,000 in taxpayers’ money to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Upon being discovered, Farenthold said he would reimburse the 84K. Certainly 2017 was the Year of the Rat.


Ashby yearns for 2018 at ashby2@comcast.net

The List Grows Longer

December 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Shervin Pishevar is taking a leave of absence from his venture capital firm and the boards of several companies he sits on. Who exactly is Shervin Pishevar and why should we care? Because there have been reports that he sexually harassed or assaulted five women. There is a lot of this exposure going around, bringing in CEOs, TV and movie stars, politicians, and many we never heard of like Mr. Pishevar. Indeed, hardly a week, or even a day, goes by without some big name getting exposed as a sexual predator. (The latest count is 40.) This raises several questions which you and I shall answer. One question is: why now? Some of these accusations go back years and even decades. A most prominent case is Roy Moore, who ran for the U.S. Senate from Alabama, where folks go to family reunions looking for dates. (Incidentally, what were these Alabama parents thinking when they gave permission to a 32-year-old man to date their teenaged daughter?)

Photo by Mihai Surdu via Pixabay.

Let’s review the list. The movement really began with Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who was sued by an extremely courageous Gretchen Carlson for, in effect, sexual harassment. Then came another pillar of family values, God-fearing and hypocrisy, Bill O’Reilly. Buying out contracts and paying off lawsuits reportedly cost Fox $80 million. Next was Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul who apparently has no friends. When The New York Times and the New Yorker uncovered Weinstein’s kinky antics, cover-ups, pay-offs and threats, that opened the door even wider. In rapid order we have seen such icons as Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine bow out in disgrace. When Netflix cancelled two upcoming episodes of “House of Cards” starring the accused Kevin Spacey, it cost the company a cool one million. Even Dustin Hoffman has been accused and admitted his mistakes.

Politicians came in for their due. Sen. Al Franken had to resign. Texas Congressman Joe Barton of Ennis said he won’t run for reelection. Another of Texas’ own, Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi, said, only now that he has been outed, he will repay the $84,000 taxpayers forked out to cover his sexual harassment settlement. It seems you and I have paid $12 million to settle our congressmen’s sex suits, something I find repulsive. Rep. John Conyers stepped down. The list in Congress keeps growing, and it’s still early in the day. So the question of “why now” seems to be that this was an avalanche just waiting to come down the mountain. And it all started with Gretchen Carlson and Roger Ailes.

This leads us to the obvious question: Who else is there, what other well-known persons, are about to fall? Don’t you know there are a bunch bold-faced types who are having trouble sleeping at night. One clue: The faces of five women who have spoken out about sexual harassment appear on Time magazine’s Person of the Year front cover — along with a mysterious right arm. But whose is it? The next whistleblower? “It belongs to an anonymous young hospital worker from Texas,” the magazine says in an editorial. She is a sexual harassment victim, who “fears that disclosing her identity would negatively impact her family.” So we may never know her name or where in Texas she dwells, but lawyers are standing by 24/7.

What about the private sector? How many CEOs, or even assembly line foremen, now will be hit with sexual harassment suits? “Miss, Jones, I really didn’t mean to pinch your bottom at the nineteen-ninety Christmas party.” Another Q and A: Most of the public figures listed above have acknowledged their inexcusable behavior and have said they were sorry. But there may be some who are innocent. We tend to think that the accused are guilty, but how does anyone prove something untowardly didn’t happen? What if, in some cases, it’s just a shakedown? Good luck with that.

I wish news reports would be more specific in what they mean by “sexually harassed” or “abused.” (Several women’s groups are demanding that two Texas legislators resign for “flirting.”) Not to relish gory details — OK, maybe some — but those accusations could cover anything from Miss Jones getting pinched to rape. At The Houston Post, the publisher, Oveta Culp Hobby, did not want the word “rape” used in a news story. That policy changed when a victim was quoted as running down the street yelling, “Help! I’ve been criminally assaulted!” Any such acts need justice, but what kind of crime and what kind of justice? I, personally, like the legal term, “Git a rope.”

Now we come to the question: what do we call this movement? In order to last, to continue bringing attention to a long-hidden problem, we need to make sure it’s not a passing fancy. Remember last year the hot topic was bullying. Every TV newscast and newspaper edition had a story on bullies, bullying and how to prevent it. You don’t hear much about bullying anymore. Campus rape had a run, but interest has moved on to other problems. Maybe that crime no longer exists.

The term #Me,Too is a good title for the anti-harassment drive, but will it last so that future generations of males will know not to pinch, fondle or even flirt with women? The “silence breakers” is what Time magazine called the women who first blew the whistle on predatory men. That sounds like a spy novel. Years later we all remember Remember Pearl Harbor and the Alamo, while 54-40 or Fight lost its luster. So did Occupy Wall Street and Confederate statues. Maybe something like “Look, Ma, no hands” or “Harvey was not just a hurricane.” Shervin Pishevar is too hard to work into a slogan. Certainly not “Git a grope.” Perhaps #Me,Too will stick. Finally, Americans should come down hard on men who serially harass women, especially those who like to brag about it. On tape.


Ashby is harassed at ashby2@comcast.net

Radio Active

December 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

by Lynn Ashby

“They are nothing but bunch of traitors and dirty rotten scoundrels. It’s unbelievable.” That’s Sean Hannity. He’s on the radio all afternoon and has an hour show on Fox TV at night. He spews forth hate, divisiveness and cynicism. Forbes says he earns roughly $36 million a year. Rush Limbaugh, who preaches much the same sermon, is in the middle of a five-year contract which is paying him $250 million.

You may or may not be in their audience, indeed, you may hate the hate, but in the words of the Kennedy family, don’t get mad, get even. In this case, get rich. Yes, you, too, Mr. or Mrs. Occupant, can cash in on the current polarization and frustration running rampant in America. It goes like this: Not since the Civil War has this nation been so divided, to the point where anything that comes along means we choose up sides. Maybe it’s the NFL, global warming or Donald Trump’s income taxes, we are ready to fight over it. And we are ready to pay the sponsors who pay the ringmasters who pander to our worst instincts. So clip and save this to make Big Bux.

To be radio active, start low. Hannity began by calling into talk shows, then became an unpaid intern at a campus radio station. Limbaugh started out as a DJ. You can begin by listening and watching these programs to see how the experts work. Notice how they have filters to keep out any caller who doesn’t agree with the host. To get on the air, the caller must be a worshipful disciple. “It’s wonderful to talk to you. I’m in awe of your brilliance.” Don’t try to sneak into the program by telling the filter you are a zealot worshiper and then, once on the air, start lambasting the host. They are smarter than that, and have a 15-second delay switch. Your angry words will never be heard on the air. These programs are not a debate or exchange of ideas. They are a church service.

If someone with a different opinion does get through, he’ll get cut off. Dan Patrick, as a Houston radio host, would simply shout insults at the caller and then hang up. Patrick did so well at bad manners that he ended up as Texas lieutenant governor, and is already picking out his desk for the governor’s office. Try to call into a program, but don’t become frustrated if you don’t get in. Hannity has 13.5 million listeners to his radio program and receives more than 1,000 calls per line minute. I’m not sure what “per line minute” means, but it sounds like a lot.

Bone up on your own alternative facts. Today I heard Limbaugh again deny that global warming is for real. Find a sympathetic polar bear who agrees. Jay Leno once explained, “Global warming is already over. It’s called winter.” Keep harping on the same story, no matter whether it’s total nonsense. Nazi Minister of Propaganda (a great title) Joseph Goebbels, observed, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Thus we have Hillary and Benghazi, Obama the Kenyan and sex maniacs hiding in school bathrooms.

You need enemies. Us against them. Illegal immigrants have already been taken. Pointed-headed college professors are not very interesting. The press is always a good target. (Hannity describes mainstream reporters as “disgustingly biased, ideological and corrupt.”) This resounds well among those who never read a newspaper or watch PBS, but can tell you who won the rose in “The Bachelor.”

Conspiracies. Your audience is paranoid, and you can’t prove a non-happening, so black helicopters, the deep state and who really killed Cock Robin are always good. Even the grassy knoll can be dragged out on occasion. Fake news is a must. On Mike Huckabee’s talk show in October, Trump said, “One of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with is ‘fake,’ ” In fact, the phrase “fake news” has been around for more than a century, but never mind the truth. Don’t get too sophisticated with subjects like the national debt or details in Obamacare. Again, remember you are pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Along with enemies comes strawmen – people or events that have no importance or don’t even exist, like Texas Democrats. Keep the attention on yourself. A guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show said, “You’re interrupting me.” To which O’Reilly replied, “I’m paid to interrupt you.” Alas, no more. Another tip: Never invite someone on your show who knows more about a controversial subject than you do. She may make you look like an idiot. Never have on anyone who disagrees with you, and always ignore anything you said in the past that has proven you wrong. Do not mention Vladimir Putin, Michael Flynn or even Russia. Open your show with patriotic music or, on TV, also have an American flag on the screen. It shows you are a true God-fearing patriot.

You may be wondering who is going to pay you for such drivel, which brings us to commercials. Listen and watch closely for commercials. You don’t find Ford or Busch advertising on these programs. No, you get plugs for dog food, erectile dysfunction, tax cheats and aluminum siding. Don’t be too proud. Their money is as good as anyone’s and, as we can see, there is plenty of money going around in this circus.

Well, there you have the playbook for how to cash in on America’s anger, angst (don’t use fancy words either) and demagoguery. But don’t let it bother you that you may be doing more harm than good. Jon Stewart accused Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on the TV show “Crossfire” of tossing aside meaningful public discourse in favor of an anger-fueled partisan brawl, saying, “Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.” Who cares? You can cry all the way to the bank, as Joseph Goebbels probably said.


Ashby conspires at ashby2@comcast.net

A Rare Media, Well Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ashby is elite at ashby2@comcast.net

Fall Entertaining Tips

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

by Cassidy Irish

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

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

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

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

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

Bordering On the Ridiculous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ashby deals at ashby2@comcast.net

Harvesting Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ashby raises kale at ashby2@comcast.net

Bidder Sweet Deal

October 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

My latest get-rich-quick scheme didn’t work out as planned. Still, I thought the Hurricane Harvey Weinstein Rebuild & Rehab Center combined the best of two worlds. I had heard of people making a fortune by cornering the gold market or the corn market. I tried to corner the flea market. That was about as bad as my franchise for the Bernard Madoff Investment Advice Co. I tried selling Testosterone Mighty Pills door-to-door, but the FDA said the testosterone fad was a snake oil hoax and my pills were worthless. It was then that I sought out financial help from my long-time money guru, Cash O’Hand. Fortunately it was during visiting hours. “OK, I admit the New Coke bombed,” he said on the phone from behind the glass window. “And I’m sorry about your betting on the Jamaican bobsled team, but this is a sure-fire winner. Amazon.”

“Amazon Grace? It’s been recorded by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the Black Watch Bagpipe Band.”

Cash sighed his condescending sigh. “No, Amazon, the company that has taken over marketing, selling and delivering everything from toothpicks to hit men, putting Mom and Pop stores out of business quicker than your neighborhood WalMart. Even Macy’s and Sears are reeling because of Amazon. They are based in Seattle, but plan to open a second headquarters, called HQ2. The facility will cost five billion dollars, take up land the size of Idaho, hire fifty-thousand workers, who, Amazon promises, will each earn a hundred thousand dollars annually to start, bonuses will double that amount. So, naturally, governments are drooling at the prospect of landing such a prize. I mean, they are groveling like a Trump cabinet. You need to get in on the greed by brokering the deal.”

That sounded like a good idea, so I began with the State of Texas. Both our U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, had written a letter to Amazon explaining why Texas would be the perfect place to locate HQ2 – top quality schools that finish just below average on virtually every state-to-state comparison, a legislature that imitates Larry, Moe and Curly, and no transgender school bathrooms, something Amazon cannot resist, except that they sell them on-line. Even Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went plugging for the facility, pointing out that Texas has low wages, unions are considered a commie front and child labor laws are actually rather childish. Texas had a good chance to get the new goldmine. Then Michigan said it would bid for HQ2. New York followed. Amazon noted these states had high taxes, and the company wanted a low tax rate. California said it would create a generic tax loophole for any company whose name began with an A and ended with an n, but it must contain the letter z. New York promised to turn over the entire state treasury to Amazon.

I was hired on by Texas to push our bid. I discovered that the company CEO, Jeff Bezos, had moved to Houston as a child and attended River Oaks Elementary School, and thus should reward his old hometown. Detroit countered with offering to rename a high school the Jeff Bezos School for Shaking Down Communities. Amazon said the winning city must have a first-rate international airport. D/FW offered to become the Jeff Bezos Intergalactic Spaceport & Fast Delivery Terminal. Atlanta promised no taxes. Amazon said it would levy a tax on Atlanta should it get the prize. I fired back with a plan to rename the Houston Ship Channel the Texas Amazon River. New York City vowed to change Times Square to Bezos Squared. He said he didn’t need the Times, he already owned the Washington Post. The bidding got so rough that San Antonio dropped out. “We thought the Amazon Alamo would do the trick,” a city official sobbed. “But they wanted to sell it stone by stone. We didn’t have enough stones to make it worth their while.”

Some economists who have investigated incentives for companies to move to a town – tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, more schools – say locals are giving away the store. (One particular move, the economists figured, would benefit the host city by 2050.) But my job was to lure Amazon to Texas, and the store could be given away. Speaking of stores, I promised to put a Whole Foods in every company cubicle, with free vending machines. Then I found out Bezos owned Whole Foods. At that point I dropped the idea of putting a church in every lobby.

“I’m not doing very well,” I told my financial guru at our next meeting. He adjusted the phone. “You need to steal ideas from the very best. Buy Donald Trump’s book.” I got out a paper and pen. “The Art of the Deal?” I asked. Cash shook his head. “First of all, Trump never wrote it. Every word was ghostwritten. Besides, there was nothing in it you couldn’t learn from MSNBC on mute. You want his latest book, ‘The Art of the Heel,’ in which the Donald shows how to lie, cheat and twist facts and quotes and get away with it.” So I bought the book and read the first chapter; “Benghazi Blizzard — Accuse You Enemies.” Trump wrote (or someone did) that if you keep pounding away at a lie, some dumb people will begin to believe you. I went on Facebook to anonymously state that Atlanta had been burned to the ground, a hurricane had swept through New Jersey and San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake. All true, I just didn’t say when. New Mexico offered old Mexico, but Amazon demanded its first-born and a sibling to be named later. I made our final offer: Texas would name Jeff Bezos its king for life, if Dan Patrick didn’t object. It didn’t work, and I was fired, but I left the “For Sale” sign in front of the state Capitol.


Ashby’s store is at ashby2@comcast.net

Split-Second Guessing

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV – “Nimrod has a good changeup, but isn’t going to make the playoffs. Mugwump, on the other hand, may go all the way.” No, this isn’t a sports show. These are talking heads discussing a political campaign. It isn’t surprising, since there are number of basic appeals to both sports and politics, and in both cases the rest of us get to tell the participants what they should have done. The first similarity is simply that we like to choose sides. Democrats position themselves as underdogs, fighting for the little people, opposing the fat cat Wall Street Republicans, and the cheer for the Mets. Republicans picture themselves as patriotic and God-fearing upholders of traditional American values. They root for the Yankees. Here in Texas we had the Cowboys vs. the Oilers and now the Texans, and it’s easy to figure out who is cheering for whom.

In choosing sides, we tend to salute their virtues and ignore their problems. Baylor fans are still Baylor fans, and there is no such thing as an ex-Aggie. There are even those who would still vote for Donald Trump, while Hillary Clinton continues to sell books. This leads to the nation’s major problem, which is not global warming, Harvey Weinstein or FEMA, but polarization. Some, like Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow, are getting rich pandering to this divisiveness, the worst since the Civil War. Fox News leads in ratings by stoking the fires of anger and laying blame, so the worst thing that could happen to that network is for Americans to start agreeing.

Take something as simple as mass transit. For some obscure reason, liberals and conservatives take opposite sides on rails, subways and toll roads. Then there are fight over pollution, immigration, gun control and paper or plastic. This polarization is reflected in Congress, the Supreme Court, elections for almost any office and, still even now, Vietnam. When anything of major importance happens in this country, everyone takes sides.

Sports are a little less important than how we run our governments and who runs them for us. I really don’t think God cares who wins the Super Bowl, although there is this observation: “The man is an atheist. He watched Notre Dame play Baylor and didn’t care who won.” Houston sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz once wrote: “There must really be something to religion. People keep comparing it to Texas high school football.” Amen. Not only do we cheer for our candidate or team, we say tacky things about our opponent. During this past presidential election, the anti-Hillary jokes and cartoons I received via email vastly outnumbered the anti-Trump screeds, but maybe that’s because conservatives are funnier than liberals. We have bumper stickers on our John Deere tractors, we put flags and signs in our front yards boosting our side, depending whether it’s a political campaign or football season.

Those who follow politics also tend to like sports. Richard Nixon, a Redskins fan, even drew up some defensive plays for the team. (I always thought that when a member Congress or a journalist thinks of the Redskins as the home team, it’s time to leave, because there’s a whole other country out there and they have lost contact.) George F. Will, one of the last sane conservative Republican pundits, is a life-long Chicago Cubs fans. (He once descried the club as “in the middle of its 100-year re-building program.”). Will detests football as “embodying all that is wrong with America – a committee meeting followed by violence.” George H.W. Bush was captain of his Yale baseball team, and his son, W., was president of the Texas Rangers. This list goes on, but perhaps our major link between politics/government and sports is Teddy Roosevelt. He once wrote, “In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!” It should come as no surprise that many of his fellow Rough Riders were former football standouts.

Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for settling the Russo-Japanese War, then came his biggest task: saving American football. It had become so violent in the early 1900s that The Chicago Tribune reported that in 1904 alone, there were 18 football deaths and 159 serious injuries, mostly among prep school players. The Beaumont Express proclaimed: “The once athletic sport has degenerated into a contest that for brutality is little better than the gladiatorial combats in the arena in ancient Rome.” Football was on its way out from school campuses, until President Roosevelt stepped in. Long story short, he saved the game, set up safety rules and created what would eventually became the NCAA.

1902 football game between the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan

Finally, we have this observation from the bully pulpit about sports, politics and the delightful condescension the rest of us practice. It’s rather long, but good, and I think of this quote every time I read or hear some sports columnist or political pundit waxing eloquent on what should be done: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

We bystanders, sports and political fans that we are, should remember Teddy’s observation every time we criticize a candidate or a quarterback. Where’s the remote?


Ashby suits up at ashby2@comcast.net

Guest Work Without Reservations

October 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

THE HOTEL – The nice part about staying in a hotel is that someone else empties your wastebaskets, picks up your soggy towels and puts new little bottles of shampoo and bars of soap in your bathroom each day when you steal the ones put out the day before. My wife and I have been living in hotels since Hurricane Harvey, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, flooded my house. So I have become somewhat of an expert in the business.

For example, room rates. They vary more than airline fares. Book through one of those agencies that guarantees the lowest rates and you are using a “third party.’ This can cause all kinds of trouble if you want to change anything from arrival dates to the sheets. Some hotels book a lot of weekend and holiday business, thus their rates are higher then. Others cater to business people who arrive on Sunday nights and leave on Friday mornings, so they offer good weekend rates. One place where I stayed was so empty on weekends that they closed the bar. Speaking of bars, there are those lodgings which offer a free happy hour each afternoon. Don’t go. They pour the absolutely worst booze on the market. The free breakfasts are just fine, however, if you want to get up at dawn.

This is the perfect segue into what to do when you first enter your new room. Check the alarm clock because the previous guest set that alarm on his last night for 4 a.m. so he could catch the 7 o’clock flight to Goose Bay, Labrador, for his annual baby seal hunt. Time after time I have been awakened in the middle of my first night by the alarm, then spend 15 minutes trying to turn it off. Bring a clothespin. There must be a law that hotel rooms’ curtains must never meet, so that as the dawn breaks – about noon for me – light from the crack between the drapes hits you right in your face. A simple clothespin clamps the two drapes together and lets you sleep. The room temperature: for the last week I have wearing a sweater when it is 94 degrees outside because I can’t shut off the a/c, can’t open the window, and can’t get management to do anything about it. Maybe if I call the front desk and say, “How do I start a fire in the bathtub?” they’ll take action.

Also, you don’t have to be Howard Hughes tromping around the room with your feet in Kleenex boxes, but take certain health precautions. The dirtiest thing in your room, travel experts say, is the TV remote. Give it a good bath under the faucet. Then check out the channels. I am against any more federal rules and regulations, but there should be one ordering all TV remotes and channel numbers to be the same in each town. While traveling, have you ever plopped down to watch your favorite program and it’s halfway over before you find which channel it’s on? Oh, I had a funny situation happen to me a few days ago. I was walking through the hotel room and the local news came on. It was KPRC, Houston, and then it hit me: I was in Houston. I had never stayed in a hotel in my own town.

Conrad Hilton bought his very first hotel, the Mobley, in Cisco, Texas. He then moved on to other West Texas towns. Hilton later observed, “At Lubbock I found that Texas had no use for an imported French chef.” This brings us to hotel food which usually tastes like hotel food. The chef was fired when he couldn’t cut it at Wendy’s. There is the convenience of taking the elevator to dinner, particularly if you are in a strange town and don’t know where to eat and don’t want to be walking the streets at 10. And I can’t make blanket condemnations. I recently had one of the best shrimp cocktails ever at a restaurant at an Embassy Suites.

Hotels used to have ice in a bin in a little room at the end of the hall. The state passed a law authorizing only ice machines that dispensed ice from a chute, after hearings in which all kinds of horror stories were told — one guest reported opening the bin door to find a dead cat. The problem is that they give you these plastic bags to line the ice bucket. The very first cubes to drop in collapse the plastic liner which renders it useless. Another helpful hint. If you are staying at a hotel which doesn’t have a bellboy, porter or Boy Scout in need of another merit badge, and you have to handle the bags yourself, and use one of those wheeled racks or dollies or whatever, pull it, don’t push it. Now you know.

Tips for checking out. Do it beforehand, like the night before, or you’ll be in a long line in the lobby behind every other frantic guest trying to catch a plane. Also, gather up all the notepads, pens and Kleenex boxes in the room. Hotels used to put out matches, but now you can’t even light up a cigar unless you are across the street from the loading dock. My daughter used to work for Marriott and told me that maids usually change rooms, floors and workdays, so don’t wait till the last day to leave a tip. Leave a couple of bucks or more on the bed when you head out each day. I once read that John Kerry, as a campaigning presidential candidate, would leave a twenty-dollar bill at each hotel room, but he’s married to the widow of the Heinz fortune, so you probably can get by with less.

This is all you need to know about staying in a hotel, especially in your own town.


Ashby checks in at ashby2@comcast.net

A Damper on the Day

October 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE DEN – Have you ever had one of those days? The Astros lost, the Texans lost, the Longhorns are dreadful. Oh, and did I mention that my house flooded? The residence is a soggy mess, with everything wet, moldy and/or ruined. I blame the hurricane, of course, and the U.S. Army. But let me give you some background so the same disaster won’t happen to you. A few months ago I did a story on Houston’s water – rain, swamps, drinking and floods. One section dealt with the bayous and the dams, specifically Barker and Addicks dams west of Houston which were built to protect the city after two devastating floods inundated the downtown in the 1920s.

During the interviews, officials from both the Harris County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assured me that the dams, although more than 70 years old, were in prime shape. That seemed right, because dirt and rocks and concrete don’t age. Then Harvey arrived and the rains came, and came, and came. The hurricane was not a hurricane in the usual sense, at least not in Houston. There were no 120 mile-an-hour winds, no tide surge, just rain. That was no big deal here in my neighborhood of Running Rats Acres. It rains here a lot, but even Tropical Storm Allison, which dumped up to 36 inches on parts of the town, didn’t bother us. Our streets all end in a cul de sac (French for dead end) a few hundred feet from Toxic Bayou, which never floods. Water never even reached beyond the top of the curb, so no one around here was worried. Other parts of town started to flood, but not us. TV news showed cars with only the rooftops sticking above the water, but not here. Canoes and kayaks appeared on our screen floating down in streets and freeways. We were safe.

The water level actually began to drop, then began to rise again, and crept even higher, to the top of the curb and then up the front yard, an event we had never witnessed before. Higher and higher, but this made no sense. Why did the flood level drop, the rise? This brings us to the U.S. Army. It seems that the two dams were getting swamped, the water level behind the barriers was getting dangerously high, so they – get this – started releasing more water, which caused the bayou down at the end of the street to spill out of its banks and through the neighborhood. I mean, what’s the point of having a dam to prevent flooding when authorities open the flood gates to flood the town? Am I missing something here the Army knows that I don’t? So the water level, which had actually been receding, began to rise up past the curbs, flow across the front yards, to the door steps and into the houses. The dirty green lines on the walls show how high the water came — two feet.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

That was the highest level of the water, but it seeps upwards into furniture, beds, sheetrock, hanging clothes and cabinets. Floors buckle, drawers stick, then power goes off so that everything in the freezer and refrigerator starts stinking. Speaking of which, the entire house begins to smell. Some say it’s the aroma of backed up sewage. My father’s wonderful old huge oaken roll-top desk which I planned to leave to my lawyer son is warped, stained and bleached white two feet up. Everything in it is soggy, or I guess so since the bottom three drawers won’t open. Sorry son. My computer is ruined, so is my wife’s. Techie nerds are always telling up to back up everything on our computers in case our hard drive fails. No one mentioned to back up in case of a national rain record of 52 inches. Clothes are wet and stink and need to be dry cleaned, but my cleaners says she is so busy she will only take one load per customer a day. She must be, well, cleaning up. Books are the worst. Clothes can be cleaned or tossed and replaced, but most books are a total loss. The pages stick together and rip if you try to pull them apart. The late comedian George Carlin had a routine about his “stuff,” objects he received along the way that he kept for no particular reason. I have mountains of stuff, and I’ll bet you do, too. Here’s a small flag from the French Foreign Legion I got in Marseilles. A paperweight. Who uses or even has a paperweight? Old newspaper clippings, clothes I haven’t worn since Y2K, more stuff. If there is anything good to say about a flood it is that we have to get rid of unneeded stuff. My children and grandchildren were a huge help in moving the heavy stuff, and things really got moving when one grandson brought along his high school football team. Huge guys.

We were told that sheetrock is soggy up to 4 feet from the ground, and must go, so everyone is knocking out walls up to 4 feet, then hauling the mess out to the curb. Running Rats Acres is Baghdad on the Bayou – soggy planks, sheetrock, couches, chairs, stacks of junk – and looked even worse after the flood. Some nice folks even set up a canteen for the neighborhood with bottles of water, Clorox, all sorts of snacks, and one fellow set up his barbeque pit and started handing out hamburgers. There was some other good news as neighbors got to know neighbors, total strangers showed up to help. I noticed next door at the Birdbath’s house that movers were hauling out his gun collection, liquor cabinet and big screen TVs. Later I found out that Birdbath had not hired any movers.

Another positive point is that I have flood insurance from FEMA. I’ll use the money to hire a good flood insurance lawyer and one who can take on the Army Corps of Engineers.


Ashby is wet at ashby2@comcast.net

Hypocrites’ Oath

September 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

THE FRONT YARD – I am looking at the flotsam and jetsam of what was my house, and it reminds me that just when I was getting over Trump fatigue, that non-stop news coverage of our unbalanced president, I was plunged into Harvey fatigue. All Harvey all the time. Morning noon and night. I couldn’t get away from that storm. Still, the Texas Gulf Coast was the star, and we got our 15 minutes of fame. It was only about that long, because while we were still bailing out our basements (actually there are very few basements along the coast, but I like the alliteration) along came Hurricane Irma, and the TV types raced off to cover Florida and the Caribbean. Harvey was so last week.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from Harvey, which won’t be a teachable moment because no one will learn a thing. First, there won’t be another Harvey. Not because we won’t endure another such storm, but because NOAA will retire the jersey number, or in this case, the name. They do that with all the big disasters – Carla, Katrina, Allison, the Astros’ bullpen — and now our own catastrophe will live forever. Another lesson: get flood insurance, or, if you can’t afford it, get FEMA to give you a bunch of money to take care of you. This brings up the obvious question of why buy flood insurance?

Courtesy of https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov

We now come to Texans’ take on the federal government. We like to quote Ronald Reagan’s observation, “The government isn’t the solution. The government is the problem.” How many times did we hear Texans chant that as a Coast Guard chopper was pulling them from a rooftop? “Hi, Mister National Guardsman. Did you know you are the problem? But thanks for saving me and my family from drowning when we tried to cross that low-water bridge.”

This brings us to the bridge trolls we all know and love: Texas government officials, both state and federal. Take Sen. Ted Cruz. When he paraded his various statements during his presidential campaign damning Washington for everything from halitosis to rabid dogs, his followers – speaking of rabid – cheered and clapped. That’s hard to do when dangling from a helicopter cable. Some commie pundits called Cruz’s current clamoring for billions in flood relief from the U.S. Treasury “hypocritical.” Cruz called it, well, something but I forget what. It was much the same with Gov. Greg Abbott, who has spent millions and millions of our tax dollars fighting Washington for its “interference” in his attempts at gerrymandering, preventing minorities from voting, blocking efforts to clean up our air and water and bringing back 18th Century treatment of women’s health. And when was the last time you heard the Official State Demagogue, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, praise Washington for anything?

Then there are those who attempt to score political points on a tragedy. TV conservative talk show host Sean Hannity had Gov. Abbott on a show and tried to get Abbott to criticize Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, for the way he handled the storm, likening Houston city authorities’ efforts to those of local officials in New Orleans and the Katrina debacle. The Guv wouldn’t bite. Nevertheless, Hannity continues to lambast Turner. Some people give sleaze a bad name. The American Red Cross has also come under scrutiny for how much of the millions it has raised actually went to helping the refugees. When a top Red Cross official was asked that question on TV, he wouldn’t or couldn’t say.

Here are a few do’s and don’t’s to follow after the storm: Don’t buy a used car or truck in Texas for the next year. Bypass that great deal on a BMW with only 5,000 miles. It has been under water for two weeks. Your first clue is that the windshield wipers are on the inside of the car. Don’t buy a house with a waterline in the den or has a flood gauge in the patio. Also, be suspicious of any house with a periscope on the roof. Don’t do business with a contractor with out-of-state license plates. Do figure out a way to make penicillin from a city covered in mold. Wine is harmed by heat, so when you return to your soggy, hot house, your bottles of wine may taste dreadful, so toss them. On the other hand, if your wine comes in boxes, just toss them anyway, but don’t heap the boxes on top of that pile of trash in your front yard. The neighbors will know what you drink.

What to do with your house? If the place only needs minor repairs, lie to FEMA’s insurance agent. “Those cracks in the foundation weren’t there before Harvey.” Maybe you’ll finally get some of your tax dollars back. If there is major damage, put a baby carriage in a bedroom and sob, “She was our only child.” If your place looks like Baghdad after a shelling, take a page from a city council member in Port Arthur. The town has been in pretty dire financial straits, and faced what to do with an aging and abandoned hotel in what had been the downtown district. No one would rent or lease it, no one would buy it. The town couldn’t give it away. It would cost a lot to level the five or 10 story hulk. The council member suggested selling the hotel to Hollywood for an action movie needing a climatic and fiery finale. Boom! Check with Hollywood.

Well, Texas will get over Harvey. We shall repair or tear down and replace. Our insurance rates will skyrocket, all sorts of anti-flood plans will be trotted out and none will be implemented. Our state and federal lawmakers will be on hand next election to tell us how they sucked out money from Washington, that same despicable city of corruption and interfering power-grabbers — and will be re-elected. I’m getting hypocrite fatigue.


Ashby is drying out at ashby2@comcast.net

Without Rhymes or Reasons

September 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?
—English nursery rhyme, 1835

The Wall Street Journal – Stocks are up in the UK for rat traps, sacks and kits after analysts say there may be a huge need for such items because a man was going to St. Ives. Of course, these are the same inside traders who touted Enron, steam locomotives and the New Coke.

Variety – Boffo Mystery Thriller: Latest scoop from across the pond is that “a man,” (hackers report it’s Tom Cruise on crutches), comes across another man (Johnny Depp?) with several beautiful babes carrying microchips and tapes, disguised as mice, cats and rats, stolen from the evil Capt. Drano. Working title: Mission Improbable. Our moles in the ‘Wood tell us a pirated copy is easily accessible on the Weather Channel. Also, new musical for Broadway, Cats With Rats, although there is a lawsuit pending by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Press release from FEMA – Death and destruction have hit St. Ives, a small village in England, and our rescue workers are on the way as soon they complete their work along the Texas Gulf Coast, which they are still trying to find.

Fox News – A woman, identified only as Hillary C., was caught trying to smuggle bombs, unused at Benghazi, for ISIS terrorists to blow up an innocent English village, according to what someone said. President Trump, our noble leader, in a 20-second news conference on the third tee, claimed there was blame on both sides: “Cats like rats. Which reminds me, those rats in the White House who are leaking the truth will be hunted down and sent to Guantanamo Bay – a beautiful place for my next spa, beach and water boarding – for enhanced interrogation. Only seven wives? What a bunch of losers.”

Local TV News – This just in! Rats, cats and kittens are running wild right here in our town! Well, not exactly here, but somewhere, just like when we can’t show a good car wreck or apartment fire from here, we’ll show you one from Waco or Detroit or, once, from Johannesburg, South Africa. Remember that one, Sue? Sure do, and by the way, Chip, that’s a nice tie you’ve got on. I’ll bet your wife gave it you. No? Quickly moving on, we’ll be right back with World War Three after these messages.

Press release from the NRA: A small English village has been pillaged by a horde of rats because those cowardly Limies won’t allow residents to carry unregistered AK-47s, much less a decent howitzer, so what can you expect? Defend the Second Amendment or America will also be overrun with rats, cats and sacks. Meantime, give your wives a pink pearl handled Smith & Wesson, just the thing for your next anniversary.

MSNBC – A fascist plot to harm the residents of a quaint English village was thwarted by a brave liberal watchdog when he spotted a man, no doubt a conservative Mormon because he had seven wives, with rats which, scientists say, can carry the bubonic plague. Our sources report Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating a link between this potential epidemic and the White House, specifically the President’s immediately family, plus those on his staff, groundskeepers and most visitors. Subpoenaed emails clearly show that Jared Kushner has used “met,” “going” and “seven” in his messages to, who knows, the Kremlin?

The New York Times – St. Ives, England – A man (homo sapien) was going to this village in Cornwall, a busy fishing port, where he came upon another man with many cats (Felinus) to stop the rats (Rattus) destroying the fishing (Swimeus) gear, although some people argue it was St Ives, Cambridgeshire, an ancient market town and therefore a distinct possibility. Reliable sources say that if the traveler met the group leaving the town and coming towards him, then the correct answer is one, the narrator. But if he overtook them, all going the same way, then the answer is 2,802: 1 man, 7 wives, 49 sacks, 343 cats, and 2,401 kits, plus the narrator. See: Pages 4-12 “History of St. Ives (1340-2017) and Cambridgeshire – Bastion of market towns,” a special 14-page section: “British Country Roads in Need of Repair,” and our lead editorial: “Animals in Sacks — how long the cruelty?”

Exterior of the Seven Wives public house in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, on a summer’s night. By David Bartlett.

Press release from the ACLU – The British government must take steps to rid towns bearing religious names. St. Ives is the perfect example of mixing church and state. If the British can cut ties with the rest of Europe, then certainly they can rename the hundreds if not thousands of towns, streets and, yes, cathedrals, smacking of religion. God help us all!

ESPN – How about this blow-out? The St. Ives Wives scored 7, with seven sacks, while the Cats had 343 and the Fightin’ Kits with a huge 2,401. Remarkable, eh, Rabid Robert? Hey, Rabid Robert, I’m talking to you. Sorry, but he’s had 12 concussions and doesn’t communicate very well.

Tweet from unknown source at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. – President Donald (The Great) Trump visited the Texas Gulf Coast to lend his magnificent presence to those poor (under $100 mil) peasants drowning in a crystal clear sea of oil and mud. They were glad to view in person His Trumpship, and asked for his blessing and $30 trillion. The record-sized crowds continued to shout an old Texas expression about retrieving their vehicles from the flood: “Get a rope!”#your welcome

Mother Goose – Kits, cats, sacks, and wives.
Such a cast gives me the hives.
Like rock-a-by baby, who fell to his doom.
Or Humpty Dumpty they ate with a spoon.
Jack fell down and broke his crown.
Who cares how many went to town?

A Family Escape for All Ages

August 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Laurette Veres

Photo by Laurette Veres

Families return to The King and the Prince Beach Resort year after year. Southern hospitality, great beach access, and expansive resort pools are just some of the reasons to love this escape. The resort is nestled along a beautiful stretch of beach on St. Simons Island, off Georgia’s coast. Travelers come from all over the world to enjoy this amenity-rich property.

Steeped in History

Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn opened this regal property in 1935. Fires, grand re-openings and Navy takeovers are part of this seaside tale. During the winter of 1942, German U-boats were sighted off the Georgia coast and the hotel became a radar training facility for the U.S. Navy. It reopened to the public in 1947.

The historic property has been lovingly restored throughout the years. From the stained glass windows to the portraits of King George II and Prince Charles Edward Stewart, you’ll note attention to history at every turn. The Ocean is the star here with most guests spending their days walking, searching for shells or participating in water sports. The beach is expansive during low tides; but only a sliver of sand is left to walk on when the tide rolls in. No worries, the luxurious pool area has two large pools and a kiddie pool; plenty of room to play and relax within the private, gated complex.

Fun for the whole family

Catch the St. Simons Colonial Island Trolley for a historic island tour or visit the shops in the village. Children under five are free at the St. Simons Lighthouse. Fort Frederica National Monument features ruins of an 18th-century town and a fort established to defend the southern boundary of Georgia against Spanish forces.

Golf

The King and Prince Golf course is about a 20-minute drive from the resort. The front nine holes meander through majestic oaks and around lakes in an upscale neighborhood that was once a cotton and rice plantation. On the back nine, golfers veer away from the neighborhood and take wooden bridges into the marsh. Four spectacular holes are situated on islands in the saltmarsh, teeming with wildlife, scenic views and challenges.

Dining

ECHO, serving classic coastal cuisine and handcrafted cocktails, is the island’s only oceanfront restaurant. Enjoy shrimp & grits and find out why the nutrient-rich waters of the Georgia coast create super tasty shrimp. The name pays tribute to the Hotel and St. Simons Island’s history during World War II. Radar was a new technology, and this hotel was the center of it all. The King and Prince bar was an after-hours gathering spot for soldiers, their wives and members of the local Civil Air Patrol.

The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort became a member of the Historic Hotels of America in 1996 and it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. So,if you enjoy historic hotels and beautiful beaches, this is a great wedding destination.

For more information visit:

www.kingandprince.com

www.ColonialTrolley.com

www.SaintSimonsLighthouse.org

www.nps.gov/fofr

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