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

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?

Texas Gets Dressed Down

August 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

by Lynn Ashby

THE RESTAURANT – This is a relatively fancy place — not much lipstick on the glasses — but there is something I notice about the clientele: Their clothes. Put it this way, I am the only grown man here wearing long pants. All the other males are in shorts. So are most of the women and all of the children. Used not to be this way, which leads us to today’s discussion: dress codes are changing. Is this good or bad? Will spats make a comeback, and who needs ties? I am all for comfortable clothes, but “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” has become: “No shoes, no shirt, no problem.”

            We begin here in this restaurant. These are the dog days of summer in Texas, when you can fry an egg on your egg. Along the Gulf Coast we can add the humidity. But restaurants are freezing year-round, so I always keep a sweater in my car to bring into eateries. This place is Ice Station Zebra on the Bayou because the restaurant’s staff of bus boys, waiters and cooks is in charge of the thermostat. They are running around, sweating like an immigrant at a Trump rally. They are hot, so they keep making this place colder. As for the customers, we freeze, or at least I do. My own dress code is defined by the temperature, not the ambiance. I am wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and my handy sweater. These other folks eating here are in their shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. They must be newly arrived from Boston. Even the up-town eateries seem to have dropped their dress codes. In years past, men were required to wear a coat and tie. Not now. The more down-scale you go, the dress is casual down to sloppy.

At this point I should note that, if there is no longer a dress code, there should still be a taste code. Over at another table are two of the fattest, grossest men with their bare stomachs protruding out from under their skin-tight T-shirts and their legs look like bear fur. Their female counterparts are fat, sloppy and should be confined to the take-out lane. Yuk.

Dressed for lunch at restaurants can be different. Casual Fridays are now casual 2017. A table may be filled with men wearing sport shirts, slacks and dress shoes or maybe nice boots, but no one seems to wear a tie to work anymore. The women are all neatly dressed for business, but high-heels must have gone the way of men’s ties. At least no one is in shorts. The same cannot be said for your local grocery store. Between Easter and Halloween, shorts are de rigueur on Aisle 5. During the day, young mothers come in wearing their tennis garb. I wonder how many of them really play tennis. Oh, and they all are holding a plastic bottle of imported water and an iPhone. Occasionally, at the grocers, after work you will see guys wearing their green scrubs. This tells everyone: “I am a doctor. Show some respect.”   

                  Over the years what we wore outside of the house, ranch or job at the hog rendering plant was predictable. Clothes were for looks, not comfort. However, if you watched “Downton Abbey,” you noticed how the upper class got all gussied up for dinner. Their dressing started about 4 p.m., but then they had nothing else to do. The ladies wore long dresses with lots of jewelry, and the gentlemen were in a tux. Those times being before dry cleaning, we can only guess what the table smelled like on a summer night. On this side of the pond (the new term for the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s shorter), the Vanderbilts and the Astors did the same. Speaking of the pond, in the movie, “Titanic,” set in 1912, the dress code for the upper crust was about the same. And look at those old photos of people standing on the Galveston beach during the summer. It’s 102 degrees with 100 percent humidity. The women’s dresses were several layers of cloth and went from turtle neck to the ground, while the men were wearing white linen suits, high collars, ties and straw hats. They look miserable.

SMU Central University Libraries, Set 72157648199129764, ID 16208433948, Original title [People Walking on the Beach Boulevard and Sitting on the Great Seawall in Galveston, Texas]

            My father brought home one of the first pair of Bermuda shorts I had seen. My mother wouldn’t let him wear them out of the house. Once as a senior in high school, I and a few other boys decided to attend school wearing Bermuda shorts. We didn’t even get to our first class before we were sent to the principal’s office where we were lectured about proper clothing etiquette, and sent home to change. Today during warm days, students are sent home for not wearing shorts. As a UT student I worked the cafeteria line at a dorm holding 452 female students. (I would have paid for the job). The dress code (or co-ed) for lunch and dinner was a skirt with blouse or a dress, strictly enforced. One time a girl showed up wearing, culottes, and was sent back to her room to change clothes. Now I think that dorm’s dress code is “whatever fits.” Same for their live-in boyfriends.

Today Bermuda shorts are worn everywhere, even to church, and you have been wondering why Bermuda shorts are called that. Guess what? They didn’t originate in Bermuda, although at the Summer Olympics the Bermuda team marches in wearing red Bermuda shorts (red  being the main color in their flag). During World War II, British military wore shorts in tropical and desert warfare, but, being proper King’s troops, they wore long socks. Meanwhile, there was a shortage of clothing in Bermuda, so two banks got a local tailor to make shorts, modeled on those worn by the British military, for their male employees, with long socks, of course. This was the beginning of Bermuda shorts as business attire in Bermuda, a fad which quickly spread to Texas restaurants – minus socks.


Ashby wears ashby2@comcast.net

The Art of the Deal

August 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

by Lynn Ashby

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a Republican from Houston, is including language in a foreign relations bill urging the State Department to negotiate with Mexico for the return of the only flag on the Texian side known to have survived the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. It is called the New Orleans Greys flag, carried by two companies of volunteers from the United States who fought on behalf of Texas’ independence. The flag was taken by Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna after the battle and forwarded to Mexico (Santa Anna went on to victory at San Jacinto) where it has remained for the last 181 years. It is held in the Museo Nacional, or I guess it is. I first saw the flag there in a big glass case beside several other Lone Star flags captured in battle. A few years later I revisited the spot and the flag was gone. “It’s being restored,” I was told. Three years later I was told the same thing.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

          This brings us to an interesting tale of several arms and a leg, and the plot for a good movie. The flag is not the Lone Star flag we use today, but is 4 feet by 6 feet, sort of dirty gray in color and made of silk. Across the top of the banner are the words: “First Company of TEXAN” then there is an eagle holding a banner reading, “God & Country.” At the bottom is: “Volunteers! From New-Orleans.” The flag was presented by a pretty young girl to the New-Orleans Greys when they entered Texas in 1836. They were headed for a mission in San Antonio. It is known that at least two other flags were taken into the Alamo, but at dawn of March 6, 1836, when the last assault began, the Greys’ flag was the only one flying. It stood atop the barracks and so infuriated the attacking Mexicans that three different color sergeants of the Jimenez Battalion tried to climb up and rip it down. Each one was killed. Finally, Lt. Jose Maria Torres of the Zapadores Battalion made it to the roof, ripped down the Greys’ flag and, with the aid of Lt. Damasco Martinez, ran up the Mexican flag. Both were killed, but the Alamo flag never flew again.

            Later, Santa Anna sent the flag and a note back to the Mexican government explaining his victory, and his huge losses. He wrote, “The bearer takes with him one of the flags of the enemy’s battalions, captured today.” He goes on to write that the “New-Orleans” on the flag clearly shows “the true intention of the treacherous colonists . . . who came from the ports of the United States of the North.” The flag stayed in a drawer in Chapultepec Castle for 98 years, until 1934, when it was discovered. But it stayed put until the late 1960s when Walter Lord, an American historian, pulled open the drawer and found the Alamo flag with the note still pinned to it.

Since then Texas has tried everything to get it back. A special effort was made in 1986 during Texas’ Sesquicentennial celebration. Mexican officials said that the flag was too fragile for travel. There was a plan to trade the death mask of Pancho Villa for the flag. But the mask had been returned to Mexico a short time before by its owner. In 1991 the Texas Legislature asked President George H.W. Bush to make the flag’s return part of the NAFTA negotiations. Again, no luck. (We lost some bargaining chips when, during the 1950s, the United States unconditionally returned 69 captured battle flags to Mexico.) In 1994, State Sen. Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi said that the Mexican consul in that city, Armando Beteta, raised the possibility of trading the Alamo flag for three Mexican battle flags captured at San Jacinto. Nada. One group of Austinites reportedly discussed paying as much as $36,000 to have the flag stolen or otherwise obtained outside official channels, i.e. a bribe, or hire a cat burglar, maybe trade it for Santa Anna’s leg.

This brings us to the leg and my idea. I quote liberally from others’ research. Two years after the Battle of the Alamo, Santa Anna led a makeshift army against French forces that had invaded Veracruz. After the general was severely wounded, doctors amputated his leg, which Santa Anna buried at his Veracruz hacienda. After he once again assumed the presidency in 1842, Santa Anna exhumed his shriveled leg, paraded it to Mexico City in an ornate coach and buried it beneath a cemetery monument in an elaborate state funeral. However, in 1844, public opinion turned on the president, rioters tore down his statues and dug up his leg. A mob tied the severed appendage to a rope and dragged it through the streets of Mexico City while shouting, “Death to the cripple!”

But the Napoleon of the West had an artificial leg. He had once again become president of Mexico (seven times), and during a battle in the Mexican-American War, the 4th Illinois Infantry surprised Santa Anna, who fled without his cork and wooden leg. The soldiers seized the leg as a trophy and brought back to their home state, where it toured at county fairs before ending up at the Illinois State Military Museum. Mexico’s repeated requests to repatriate Santa Anna’s fake limb have been denied. So we buy the leg from Illinois, which is almost broke and in desperate need of money, then trade it to Mexico for our flag. Or my idea: The heist movie. A Ross Perot-like mogul, who explains he already has the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Magna Carta and Gettysburg Address, (“the ‘real ones’ are copies”), hires Raul “The Cat” LeSneak to steal the Alamo flag. Mexican Detective Jose Garcia is out to prevent it. Midnight roof tops, a fake flag, the car chase, an O. Henry ending. Pass the popcorn. 

 


Ashby directs at ashby2@comcast.net

ANOTHER LITTER LETTER

July 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

By Lynn Ashby                                                                       24 July 2017

 

ANOTHER LITTER LETTER

To my constituents:

From time to time, like every week, as your U.S. Representative, I like to bring you up to speed on all the great things I am doing for you. True, some of my political enemies, actually some of my friends, say that sending out such a letter to 600,000 citizens telling how great I am is a waste of taxpayers’ money. I say in reply: what about Benghazi? Let me begin by pointing out that, despite what the fake press is saying, thus far I am not under indictment. To quote a report from the House Ethics Committee: “His dealings are beyond comprehension.” Considering how little House members can comprehend, this is a low bar, but I’ll take it. The photos of me accepting a briefcase allegedly full of cash from the Compost Cable Co., which is having FCC problems, are obviously fakes, not to mention the bag of unmarked bills from the Friends of Smog. I blame the press. Who are you going to believe? Likewise, the hacked emails to the Russian embassy couldn’t be from me since I don’t speak Russian.

This session I introduced a bill to legalize personal ownership of howitzers, but only for home defense. It’s known as the Howie Bill in honor of Bill Howie who made a brave political statement by attempting to fire off a round from his front yard. Doctors say he should be walking within months. The bill is bottled up in the Sub-Committee for Absolutely Stupid Ideas. My effort to make sure any law passed by the Texas Legislature is approved by Congress is being filibustered by some members of the Gang for Total Control because “it doesn’t go far enough.”

There is a movement by do-gooders to redraw my Congressional district. They call it “gerrymandering.” I call it “the perfect Rorschach test.” The district lines simply put those voters with similar political philosophies – like mine — in one group, even if some live in Beaumont while others live in Seguin and Amarillo. Hey, you think I like those 700-mile campaign trips? There have been questions about my lack of town meetings. Again, false. Perhaps you missed my open town meeting to answer all your stupid questions at the Lions Club basement in Waco at 3 a.m. True, it was not very well attended, but I did my part. Actually, I did try to hold another town meeting at the Aaron Burr Elementary School, but it was called off after the SWAT squad couldn’t guarantee my safety. Those of you who tried to storm my home office demanding a face-to-face meeting with me were understandably irritated over the use of pepper spray and fire hoses.

Of course, I have received many phone calls, letters and emails asking about my stand on the administration of President and Grand Kleagle Donald Trump. His health plan, aka Trumpcare, doesn’t mess with those who don’t have health insurance, and I’m proud to say that Texas is Number 1 in that category. Under Trump’s, plan, if you like your disease, you can keep your disease. If you don’t have a doctor, you probably don’t need a doctor. If you like Obamacare, you can’t keep Obamacare. As for the President’s alternative facts, don’t you want a President who sees things differently? That’s leadership! It has been pointed out that photos show Trump had a smaller inauguration crowd than Obama’s, but they didn’t count the invisible majority.

As for voter fraud, it is true: Three to four million people illegally cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton. They are called “Democrats.” The tale that the Time magazine covers showing Trump as “Man of the Century” are fake has been confirmed by Time. But do you expect those snowflakes to keep track of every weekly cover they publish? I say in reply: what about Monica Lewinski? Finally, King Donald has been called arrogant, a narcissist and possibly unhinged. Hey, what do psychiatrists know? Besides, those findings have been clearly knocked down by Fox News with its three-hour special: “Donald Trump – A great president or our greatest president?” Also, I hope you saw the Sean Hannity show: “President Trump – Our 51st State.”

Moving on, there have been rumors that Deep State is attempting to undermine the present administration. For those of you who don’t, or can’t, read more than the label on a Bud can, Deep State is made up of holdovers from the Obama administration still in office, plus commie-lib college professors and, of course, the media, who are secretly trying to sabotage all the new rules, regulations and Tweaks put out daily from the White House. My shrink says I am pretty well cured of paranoia, but those anti-Trump traitors are in place, with their secret handshakes and greetings like “Hello” and “Hi.” I personally have not seen any black helicopters hovering over Lafayette Circle, but at night, from my backyard, I hear the voice of Rachel Maddow chanting, “Russiagate. Russiagate.” This brings us to the scurrilous rumors that President Vladimir Putin secretly tilted the 2016 Presidential elections to Trump by spreading false stories about Hillary, the DNC and global warming. Those reports have been absolutely denied by Breitbart News, and if you can’t trust an objective, down the middle, purveyor of the truth, who can you trust? I, personally, called the West Wing to ask if there was any Russian interference or influence in the White House, and was told flatly, “Nyet.”

So, my dear constituents, I hope this answers all your questions. If you wish to pester me with your looney opinions, call or email me. My staff will be happy to handle your views. I wish I could personally answer you but I shall be on a fact-finding trip to Cancun, Monaco and Bali. I would be back after Labor Day but that is only a short time to the Thanksgiving recess and Christmas is just around the corner, so my work schedule is still undetermined.

 

Ashby votes at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VAULT-ZING ACROSS TEXAS

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

By Lynn Ashby                                               3 July 2017                                                VAULT-ZING ACROSS TEXAS

 

THE BANK – To paraphrase Capital One, what’s in your safe deposit box? You probably haven’t dumped everything out and gone through the contents since Y2K. Those Confederate war bonds might not be worth much, but that bundle of Microsoft stock your drunk uncle left you could be worth looking into. I am checking to see if my gold bars are still here. They were liberated by my grandfather, Sgt. “Sticky Fingers” Ashby, from a mine shaft in Germany in 1945. His motto was, “To the victors belong the spoils,” although the U.S. Army didn’t see it that way, and, except for visiting hours, we didn’t see Sticky Fingers for 10 years.

The reason I am counting my bars is that the State of Texas is going to build its own vault to hold its gold – not CDs, bonds, paper currency or IOUs, but real gold bars. There may even be room for private citizens and other states to rent space in the vault, thus turning a buck instead of spending it. Let me back up. The state has between $661 million and $1 billion in gold bars stashed in a vault in New York City, and we pay $600,000 a year to some company to keep it. If we build our own big, fat safe deposit box, we can save that $600,000, which is almost enough to fund another special session of the Legislature.

After two years of intense investigating and negotiating, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar selected Lone Star Tangible Assets to hold the bars, then build and operate the Texas Bullion Depository — the nation’s first and only state-administered gold bullion depository. The company’s current depository will be refitted to hold our gold temporarily, while a new Fort Knox “will be located in the Austin area.” Maybe they don’t want us to know exactly where the vault will be built, which makes sense. The temporary lock box may be ready in January 2018, the permanent facility by December 2018.

This brings us to the Unclaimed Property Program. You see, Texas requires institutions, businesses (mostly banks) and local governments to report to the state any personal property that has been abandoned or unclaimed, usually for up to five years. The Texas Comptroller currently holds, and is trying to get rid of, about $4 billion in unclaimed funds from all sorts of sources: forgotten utility deposits or refunds, insurance proceeds, payroll checks, cashier’s checks, dividends, mineral royalties, dormant bank accounts and abandoned safe deposit box contents. The office used to put the lists in big, fat sections in major newspapers around the state, which cost a bunch. Now the names and businesses are online.

Last fiscal year, there were more than 300,000 claims, and the comptroller returned $270 million in unclaimed property to rightful owners. Each year the amount gets bigger. In 2015 it returned $248 million, at that time a record, easily breaking the $205 million in unclaimed property returns in fiscal 2014. Currently, the largest single unclaimed property is $2.8 million, and it’s located in Houston. So you may own several acres across the street from the Galleria and not know it, but someone owns it. The largest claim approved this year: $772,000. The largest payment ever approved was $12.5 million, mostly in stock. The winner was a nameless Houstonian – unlike Lotto winners, property recipients can remain anonymous.

There are also safe deposit boxes. According to the comptroller’s office, when a customer loses contact with his or her bank and misses payment for a safe deposit box rental, the box is eventually drilled and the contents are stored in a secure location by the bank. Once five years have passed from the first missed payment or last contact with the owner, the contents are reported as unclaimed property and sent to the comptroller’s office. As I wrote long ago, over the years, the staff has recovered lots of interesting things including: a bloody glass eye, dried deer legs, a brick, mercury, ashes, Apollo 15 postal stamp covers, 16th century receipt for wool written by Michelangelo’s namesake great nephew, a 4.22 carat diamond ring and a stock certificate Number 1 from Dr Pepper Co. in Waco signed by the inventor of Dr Pepper.

OK, all this time you have been wondering, greedily, “How do I get my hands on my share of that $4 billion?” Simple. Just go to the comptroller’s unclaimed property website at ClaimItTexas.org or call 1-800-654-FIND (3463). If you go to the website, there is a line reading: Search Unclaimed Property. Click on it and up pops a couple of blanks to fill in: Last name, first name or your business and a vow: “I am not a robot.” Then you are asked a picture question, I guess to prevent computers from combing the site. Hope you can handle the grilling. Amounts $25 or less or not listed, but you can make a claim. True story: A few years ago I followed the above procedure and found a check for $1,200 owed me. It’s a long story, but ransoms pay very well.

Here’s an interesting point: Among the current would-be and missing recipients are The University of Texas with 44 funds or quarterbacks or whatever waiting to be claimed. Texas A&M has 23 (including $86.87 owed to the Aggies by Panda restaurants). Baylor has 755, which might cover its legal bills. UH has 40. For some unknown reason, Sam Houston has 49. Exxon comes in with 922 and Shell may be the leader with 2,121 unclaimed funds or contents of its safe deposit boxes (which probably hold more gold bars than those of the State of Texas). This raises two questions: Does the comptroller try very hard to find these potential recipients, and why don’t these multi-billion dollar operations hire a few minimum-pay interns to follow up on the awaiting fortunes? Might be worth their effort. Now it’s time for me to get a bigger safe deposit box.

 

Ashby is fortune hunting at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

LISTING TO THE RITES

June 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

By Lynn Ashby                                                                                    26 June 2017

 

THE STORE — I am drawing up my Bucket List — a list of things to do before I die. I had not heard of such a pursuit until the last few years, but now it’s all the rage. For example, travel. I’ve been to a lot of places in this country and around the world, pursuing truth, news scoops and a way to justify my expense account. But I have not been to Marfa. Seems like a nice place to visit when the weather is not too hot or cold or windy or dusty. Maybe I should try Siberia instead. We must suspect a lot of people would put travel on their list. Wonder how many would write down “Texas,” or specifically “Port Arthur, Texas, USA.” Of course, millions would simply put down “USA,” and hope ICE has the day off.

There are some people I would like to meet, but most of them have checked off their own list, like Walt Disney, Sam Houston and Quanah Parker. Am I too late for Elvis and the Andrews Sisters? It would be a treat to meet the person who came up with one of the world’s greatest scientific breakthroughs. No, not the Salk vaccine, Stealth bombers or the periodic table. I mean something that makes our daily life better, like – but not — the toothpick, can opener or TV remote. It’s the automatic garage door opener. You young folks don’t remember the nights your dad drove the family car for 10 hours from Tulsa, up the driveway to the garage, in the rain. Then, while you are dozing in the back seat, poor dad gets out of the car and sloshes his way to the garage door and, with a mighty heave, pulls upward on the handle. And the door doesn’t move. Finally it moves and dad trudges back to the car, soaking wet, faced with unloading everything, include you. Today, you bunch of wussies just push the little button on the dashboard. Don’t believe me about the importance of the garage door opener? Ask your dad. Second place is the refrigerator icemaker. If you don’t remember defrosting a bunch of ice trays, ask your mother.

It would be interesting to meet the Unknown Soldier and his wife. I would like to chat with Donald Trump, the only President who makes George W. Bush look good. Getting through security shouldn’t be too hard. We now have five ex-presidents and their spouses with 24-hour protection, so the Secret Service must be pretty strung out. On the other hand, breaking through to meet the President might well be the last thing I do before I die. Being a fan of instant gratification, I would like to star in a Broadway comedy because, if you write a hilarious book, a year later someone is reading it in an airport terminal and laughs out loud. You never know it. A tree fell in the forest and no one heard it. You star in a wonderfully funny movie and the audience goes wild. But that’s 19 months after you shot the scene and you are in Newark filming the sequel. But on Broadway, you utter the killer line, “The butler did it.” The crowd roars and applauds. Instant gratification.

Conducting the U.S. Marine Corps Band in the Rose Bowl Parade would be a thrill. The band always draws a standing ovation as it marches by. On the other hand, they have to play “The Marine Corps Hymn” (aka “The Halls of Montezuma”) for like 10 miles and three hours, and even they must be sick of the march by the finish line. Perhaps I just should watch the parade on TV. Twice I have tried to read “Ulysses,” touted as one of the great books in the English language. Twice I have stopped reading the unreadable. Should I try a third time before I die, or, reading it, would I die of boredom? Every politician, particularly the Trump defenders, go around saying, “There is no there there.” They are quoting Gertrude Stein in Everybody’s Autobiography (1937), moaning the fact that her childhood home in California no longer existed. It was a cute quote the first 100 times I heard it. I need to know if these pols have any idea as to whom they are quoting – and if they are right.

Do you have a Bucket List? Maybe not an official one, in writing, but everyone has things they would like to do before they take that Big Escalator to the Sky. This includes telling off your boss, turning on your flashing red lights and siren and chasing down the idiot who ran a stop sign and almost T-boned you, and getting a divorce but still keeping your stamp collection. Maybe you want to meet someone new, and you get tired of those same old Sunday afternoon visits at the correctional institute. You watch a lot of late night TV and think it would be neat to have your own show. Not many people can go to work and be greeted by a band playing your theme song and a huge audience standing and applauding. At least, that’s not my usual greeting at the job.

All this time you have been wondering where the term, Bucket List, began. One theory is that it comes from the saying, “Kick the bucket,” like in dying. Another theory is that it was hatched by Rob Reiner, who directed and produced a movie, “The Bucket List,” in 2007 starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. They play two terminally ill men on a road trip with a wish list of things they want to do before they die. It received ho-hum reviews but made a lot of money. Hey, put that on my own list: make a lot of money NOW! Instant gratification.

As for why I am at a store? To buy a bucket, of course. It’s first on my list.

 

Ashby’s wishes at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

JUST BE PATIENT, PATIENT

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

 

THE CLINIC —           This is one of those places where everything is quiet, orderly, efficient. No, it’s not a Republican precinct meeting. It’s a UT health facility: The University of Texas Warts and Confederate Statue Removal Center. I am here because, as a taxpayer, maybe this state institution will treat me right, as a long as I don’t want an abortion. Then the Legislature would have me go someplace else – like Mexico. There is this little bump on my face, and, no, it’s not my nose. Just want a dermatologist to take it off. No big deal. Well, my mistake. This is absolutely true: When I called up to make an appointment, I had to show proof that I would pay: insurance company, policy number, everything but my federal tax returns.

When I cleared that hurdle, a few days later I was e-mailed an 18-page (honest) form to fill out. The usual name, address and so on. Then my medical history. (“Who was the obstetrician who delivered you?”), family medical history. (“Any member of your family ever been scalped? Treated for the Black Plague? Refused to pay a medical bill?”) Questions about diseases I had never heard of, medicines 15-letters long that meant nothing to me, and on. By the time I was through, I felt really sick. The day came for my appointment, which I figured would take 10 minutes. The clinic is in a 12-story building with five parking places. I guess the doctors want to see if the patient is healthy enough to park two blocks away in a 10-story parking garage and walk here.

I come to this really fancy clinic, with a nice lobby, free coffee, beautiful furniture, lots of clerks and nurses in booths and offices, and one patient: me. “Looks like a slow day,” I say to one of the receptionists. “The usual. We don’t get much business here,” she says. Note to Gov. Gregg Abbott: “I have found a way for the state to save money, besides cutting funds for education, roads, women’s health, the environment, millions of dollars for legal fees to oppose redistricting and voter ID laws, and prison conditions which judges liken to the Black Hole of India.” The good news is that, being the only patient, I don’t have to wait while reading one of those dog-eared magazines left in doctors’ offices. Terrible about the Hindenburg.

A staff member escorts me into an office where a person at a computer asks: “Name? Address? Age?” I explain that I have already given all that information over the phone and again on The Form From Hell. Smile, we need a photo. Yes, photo. I might be an imposter sneaking in for a facelift or a tummy tuck. They take my blood pressure (can you fail a blood test?), measure my height, weight (their scales are off by 10 pounds) and I fully expect them to swab my throat for a DNA test. Then I am fitted with a wrist band. OK, if I were getting an appendectomy or a new left kidney, maybe I would need a wrist band asking whoever found me, wandering the hospital halls, to please return me to the ICU. But this is getting ridiculous.

Somewhere along the line I am handed a beautiful folder, full color, “Welcome,” it reads on the cover. No doubt this will tell me about medical science breakthroughs in skin cancer, how UT is the cutting edge, so to speak, in dermatology and how to find a parking space. No. Inside is a pamphlet, “Patient Advocacy,” and another: “Medical Identify Theft Prevention.” Is this a medical clinic or a law office? A staff member takes me to a room and hands me clothing. “Take off your clothes and put this on. It’s open in the back.” Do you ever feel you’ve lost control of the situation? I recall the old saying about asking someone for the time of day and he tells you how to build a watch.

I come here to have a doctor, or maybe even a medic, a semi-sober intern, an EMS driver, snip this bump off my face, or drill it, burn it. I’ve been to dermatologists before and know what they do. My father was a pediatrician, and told me he should have been a dermatologist. “Their patients never die and never get well.” That’s probably an old medical school joke, but I was only a pre-med and was tossed out of biology lab when my fetal pig survived. I look around the room for a small pair of scissors and a bottle of alcohol. One snip and I am outta here. No luck, so I continue to wait, wearing a wrist bracelet and not much else.

This is not a complaint, because I begin thinking about all the people who don’t have a doctor, can’t afford to go to a clinic like this. Who get sick and die early. We constantly hear in the debate over Obamacare and Trumpcare: “We have the best medical care in the world.” Don’t put a period there, put a comma and finish the sentence: “if you can afford it.” For example, Houston has the largest and best medical center on earth: the Texas Medical Center. People come from everywhere to die in Houston. But, like cars and cancer, it depends on what you can afford. The doctor arrives and he’s a she. Great. She proceeds to examine me from head to foot, which actually is kind of fun. “Spread your toes,” she says. Have you ever tried to spread your toes? It’s like trying to arch your pancreas. She leaves, returns with a bottle of dry ice or something similar, sprays the bump and says, “That’s it.” Huh? She could have met me at the elevator and done that. It is now a few days later and I receive an e-mail from the clinic. It’s a follow-up survey: 35 questions. Note to Gov. Abbott….

 

Ashby is recovering at ashby2@comcast.net

 

JUST BE PATIENT, PATIENT

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

THE CLINIC —           This is one of those places where everything is quiet, orderly, efficient. No, it’s not a Republican precinct meeting. It’s a UT health facility: The University of Texas Warts and Confederate Statue Removal Center. I am here because, as a taxpayer, maybe this state institution will treat me right, as a long as I don’t want an abortion. Then the Legislature would have me go someplace else – like Mexico. There is this little bump on my face, and, no, it’s not my nose. Just want a dermatologist to take it off. No big deal. Well, my mistake. This is absolutely true: When I called up to make an appointment, I had to show proof that I would pay: insurance company, policy number, everything but my federal tax returns.

When I cleared that hurdle, a few days later I was e-mailed an 18-page (honest) form to fill out. The usual name, address and so on. Then my medical history. (“Who was the obstetrician who delivered you?”), family medical history. (“Any member of your family ever been scalped? Treated for the Black Plague? Refused to pay a medical bill?”) Questions about diseases I had never heard of, medicines 15-letters long that meant nothing to me, and on. By the time I was through, I felt really sick. The day came for my appointment, which I figured would take 10 minutes. The clinic is in a 12-story building with five parking places. I guess the doctors want to see if the patient is healthy enough to park two blocks away in a 10-story parking garage and walk here.

I come to this really fancy clinic, with a nice lobby, free coffee, beautiful furniture, lots of clerks and nurses in booths and offices, and one patient: me. “Looks like a slow day,” I say to one of the receptionists. “The usual. We don’t get much business here,” she says. Note to Gov. Gregg Abbott: “I have found a way for the state to save money, besides cutting funds for education, roads, women’s health, the environment, millions of dollars for legal fees to oppose redistricting and voter ID laws, and prison conditions which judges liken to the Black Hole of India.” The good news is that, being the only patient, I don’t have to wait while reading one of those dog-eared magazines left in doctors’ offices. Terrible about the Hindenburg.

A staff member escorts me into an office where a person at a computer asks: “Name? Address? Age?” I explain that I have already given all that information over the phone and again on The Form From Hell. Smile, we need a photo. Yes, photo. I might be an imposter sneaking in for a facelift or a tummy tuck. They take my blood pressure (can you fail a blood test?), measure my height, weight (their scales are off by 10 pounds) and I fully expect them to swab my throat for a DNA test. Then I am fitted with a wrist band. OK, if I were getting an appendectomy or a new left kidney, maybe I would need a wrist band asking whoever found me, wandering the hospital halls, to please return me to the ICU. But this is getting ridiculous.

Somewhere along the line I am handed a beautiful folder, full color, “Welcome,” it reads on the cover. No doubt this will tell me about medical science breakthroughs in skin cancer, how UT is the cutting edge, so to speak, in dermatology and how to find a parking space. No. Inside is a pamphlet, “Patient Advocacy,” and another: “Medical Identify Theft Prevention.” Is this a medical clinic or a law office? A staff member takes me to a room and hands me clothing. “Take off your clothes and put this on. It’s open in the back.” Do you ever feel you’ve lost control of the situation? I recall the old saying about asking someone for the time of day and he tells you how to build a watch.

I come here to have a doctor, or maybe even a medic, a semi-sober intern, an EMS driver, snip this bump off my face, or drill it, burn it. I’ve been to dermatologists before and know what they do. My father was a pediatrician, and told me he should have been a dermatologist. “Their patients never die and never get well.” That’s probably an old medical school joke, but I was only a pre-med and was tossed out of biology lab when my fetal pig survived. I look around the room for a small pair of scissors and a bottle of alcohol. One snip and I am outta here. No luck, so I continue to wait, wearing a wrist bracelet and not much else.

This is not a complaint, because I begin thinking about all the people who don’t have a doctor, can’t afford to go to a clinic like this. Who get sick and die early. We constantly hear in the debate over Obamacare and Trumpcare: “We have the best medical care in the world.” Don’t put a period there, put a comma and finish the sentence: “if you can afford it.” For example, Houston has the largest and best medical center on earth: the Texas Medical Center. People come from everywhere to die in Houston. But, like cars and cancer, it depends on what you can afford. The doctor arrives and he’s a she. Great. She proceeds to examine me from head to foot, which actually is kind of fun. “Spread your toes,” she says. Have you ever tried to spread your toes? It’s like trying to arch your pancreas. She leaves, returns with a bottle of dry ice or something similar, sprays the bump and says, “That’s it.” Huh? She could have met me at the elevator and done that. It is now a few days later and I receive an e-mail from the clinic. It’s a follow-up survey: 35 questions. Note to Gov. Abbott….

 

Ashby is recovering at ashby2@comcast.net

 

NEWS YOU CAN LOSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ashby watches at ashby2@comcast.net

EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES

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

By Lynn Ashby                                                      22 May 2017

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

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

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

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

“Forget it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, indeed. Sully, come back!

 

Ashby is taxed at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

GALVESTON, SANS SANDS

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

By Lynn Ashby                                                         15 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ashby collects at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

Next Page »