Friday, October 31, 2008

The making of the President 1976

By the time the 1976 campaign rolled around I was teaching at Sam Houston High School in Houston, awaiting letters of acceptance or rejection to law school. Nixon and his crooked V.P. Agnew had resigned in disgrace  and Gerald R. Ford was running the country. There was no way in hell that a Democrat could lose in 1976, but they almost found a way.1976 was supposed to have been Ted Kennedy’s year but he had messed it up by drowning a female office staffer whom everyone assumed he was sleeping with. With Ted gone a vacuum was created in the Democratic party since they were now fresh out of Kennedys’. The vacuum was filled by a born again, peanut growing one term Governor from Georgia who had siblings and a mother right out of the “Adams Family” and I don’t mean John Adams.


At the time I was down on born again Christians, actually, I am only slightly less down on them today. I hesitated in supporting Carter and, as it turned out, I was wise to do so. But poor Ford was such a buffoon that I never took his candidacy seriously until about 1980 when I saw how Jimmy had performed. The only thing I admired about Ford was that he beat back the nomination attempt of Ronald Reagan whom I was very sure had the numbers 666 tattooed on the back of his neck.


By the fall I had headed for Austin and watched the rest of the campaign from there. Despite the fact that two morons were running (and this is not at all unusual in American politics at any level) my law school class was intense about the race. It was probably divided about half and half until the debates. The first since 1960. The debates showed that Carter could sound sincere and had a nice smile and confirmed that Ford was a bumbling nincompoop who, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, had played too much football without a helmet. By the end of the debates  most of my law school compadres had decided to vote for Carter.


1976 was the longest voting line I had ever stood in. Two hours. I was married by then and had to physically hold onto my wife to prevent her from leaving before she could vote for Jimmy. Rayda has never like lines. By the time I got home, Carter, who was essentially tied with Ford coming into election day seemed very confident of victory. But it was not as easy as he thought that it would be. As the hours wore on, the election appeared to hang on the outcome of Mississippi and Hawaii. Ohio was so close that we would not know how they voted until the next day. Late in the night, the networks finally called Mississippi and Hawaii for Carter and the Democrats were back in the White House for the first time in eight years. After a very short stay they would be out for twelve more years. Carter turned out to be everything we thought he would be, and even less. My wife and I were overjoyed that Jimmy had won. What’s that old expression about being careful what you ask for ?



Thursday, October 30, 2008

The making of the President 1972

This was the first year in which I could legally vote for the office of President. Early in the year I perceived that the Democratic Party was doing its best imitation of Lemmings in following George McGovern into a headlong dive into the sea from about 10,000 feet. Why none of my contemporaries spotted this until much later is beyond me. By this time in  my life I had learned that anyone who thought like me could not possibly get elected in this country. Well, George thought just like me. Somehow he managed to get nominated. Actually, he got nominated because he had headed a commission for the party which changed the system of nominating to something that was aimed right at nominating himself. So much for St. George. Once he got to the convention, he ran the worst, most disorganized convention in American history and proceeded to nominate a man for Vice President who it turned out had a history of taking electro shock treatment ala Once Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even then, old George said that he backed him 1000% and he did, right until he threw him off the ticket.


Nixon was renominated at a slick convention and then proceeded to run the dirtiest campaign of all time featuring break ins and hush money as well as good old fashioned laundered money. Apparently all contributions were made in cash in denominations of $100 unmarked bills. The accounting for the campaign was later used as a template for Enron. Then, days before the election, the Secretary of State announced that peace was at hand. Which it was, until after the election ,when it was not. Most all of Dick’s Senior Staff ended up indicted and a year and a half later were all in the hoosegow. Tricky Dick himself had to resign. Despite the fact that he was running against a certified felon, or maybe because of that fact, McGovern never made any headway. In the last days of the campaign he distinguished himself by telling a heckler to “kiss my ass”.This is the guy I worked for through the fall.


By election night I was resigned to defeat of cataclysmic proportions and, sure enough, that’s just what I got. As state after state, 49 in all, fell to the President, the mood at my apartment got increasingly grim as my roommate Gary and I pulled down swallows of King Cole Vodka (they had a great motto, “Vodka is Vodka”). At about 8:30,with the election effectively over I got a call from campaign headquarters asking me to take coffee to people still standing in line waiting to vote. “Are you guys watching T.V ? “ I asked. “What the hell difference does it make how many more votes the guy gets in Houston, Texas ?” Headquarters did not try to argue and I went back to watching the grim tidings on my 12 inch black and white television which at our garage apartment was perched on a sturdy cardboard box, right next to a bong. The big problem for the Democrats was that we were their typical voter. The idea of a candidate relying on people  like us was unfathomable to anyone except those who ran George’s campaign.


 I awoke the next morning with a slight hangover. So did the whole country. The headache lasted just short of two years when my first political hero left the office in disgrace as the Marine Corp and played “Jail to the Chief”.

The making of the President 1968

Having spent a lot of time watching the Smothers Brothers television show, by 1968 I understood  the political issues of the day which were that Lyndon Johnson was a war mongering baby killer and that I was now two years from draft age with no end in sight to the Vietnam war. Fear has a great impact on political choice and I chose anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy as my candidate. McCarthy was being phased out as the anti-war candidate by Robert Kennedy at the time of Kennedy’s assassination in Los Angeles. The truth of the matter was that neither was going to get by Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the nomination, Lyndon Johnson having run off and hidden after his early primary spankings by McCarthy. I saw Humphrey as a logical extension of the Johnson years and chose to support Richard Nixon in the general election who claimed to have a secret plan to end the war. He may have had such a plan, but if he did, it was a four year plan which caused the country to transfer its hate of Johnson over to Nixon after Dick’s election.


The 1968 race was the most dramatic and emotional in my lifetime. This was the first year that baby boomers could vote and as they had always gotten what they wanted, assumed that they would get to choose the President also. When this did not happen, they exploded into a temper tantrum at the Democratic convention and were then unlawfully beaten up by Mayor Daley’s Gestapo. Over on the right, George Calhoun Wallace of Alabama was running an independent candidacy which was nothing in the world but a straight forward appeal to racism. Naturally, he attracted a large following. This raised the passion level among the populace who had suffered through two years of race riots in the nation’s larger cities. It was a scary time to be an American, but also the most interesting time imaginable. My personal support of Nixon was tepid at best, and in retrospect, completely wrong headed as events would prove. Richard Nixon was elected precisely because Democrats like myself were collectively holding their breaths until they were blue in the face over the outcome of the struggle for the nomination.


As Wallace faded down to his core supporters (about 10% of the voters at the time might as well have voted in Klan uniforms), the race began to tighten. In the last few days, following shenanigans by both parties over the war, in which both the President of the United States and the Republican candidate for President deserved to be indicted , Humphrey closed the gap to almost zero.


This set up a wonderful election night which I watched by myself at home, my dad being in the hospital with a back problem, and my mom being at his bedside. All night the lead changed hands in the popular vote. I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the night with Humphrey still fighting (and still leading in vote total). Finally, early in the morning, mayor Daley was unable to steal enough votes for Humphrey to change the outcome in Illinois and things went Nixon’s way. It was a razor thin victory which I always thought would not have been so close if Wallace had not been a factor, Indeed, four years later would prove that the Wallace faction was pretty close to Nixon’s view of the world. Of course, Nixon spent four years convincing them of just that.


At Bellaire high school, which was predominantly Jewish and had been overwhelmingly for Humphrey, there was terrible gloom. My victory was a totally hollow one and within a couple of months I realized that the secret plan to end the war was not going to do me any good, getting my ass shot off wise. But nothing since that time, not even the Florida debacle in 2000) has ever replaced the frenzy of  the political year of 1968 when bombs were falling, streets were burning, kids were being beaten and candidates were being murdered

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Making of the President 1964

In August of 1963 my family was on a train returning home from my grandfather’s ranch. The halfway point every year was Dallas. As we pulled into Dallas, I was reading a Jerry Lewis comic book and chatting with an older boy who was sitting next to me. We passed through downtown and he pointed at a building I has seen every year I had made the trip. “That’s the Texas State Book Depository” he said, “that’s where they keep all the state’s school books, wish we could burn that place down.” Three months later, if you believe the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald fired several shots from a window in that building, killing John F. Kennedy. That was the day the 1964 Presidential campaign started.


I had assumed that Kennedy was a shoe in in 1964. I did not know a lot about politics, but I knew that he had led us through the Cuban Missile Crisis and thought that gratitude for that act alone would reelect him. It would have too, but he never got the chance to run. Something my dad feared would happen, did happen. Lyndon Johnson became President, and to the surprise of just about everyone who knew anything about him, did a wonderful job for the next year. He became my candidate for 1964.


Unlike 1960, where I did not follow the campaign until late in the summer, I watched every minute of this one. From the surprise win of Henry Cabot Lodge in New Hampshire, through the derision cast on Nelson Rockefeller for his divorce and remarriage to the triumph of Barry Goldwater in the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Goldwater was a fascinating character. I think that the easiest issue for an 11 year old child to grasp is the war/peace issue. From that perspective, I thought that Goldwater was a kook. He was a mean looking and acting bastard and seemed to revel in the negative passions he inspired to the main stream. He ended his life, many years later as a much beloved senior statesman whom the conservative movement had passed by in its zeal to persecute homosexuals and save the nation from the scourge of abortion. But that was years later.


The only guy in our neighborhood who had a Goldwater sign in his yard was Ed Darnell. My father believed him (apparently with some reason) to be a member of the John Birch society, and, I will say that as long as Ed lived in that house on Birdwood, not one communist made it further than Bob White Street. Maybe we had Ed to thank for that, maybe not. At any rate, the whole country, actually as it turned out, only 61% of the country, thought that Barry and his supporters were dangerous nuts. In retrospect I’d like to say that many of them were. This fear of Goldwater meant that most of my classmates in Mrs. Eason’s sixth grade class, including Mrs. Eason, supported the President. There was one loud dissenter. A girl named Rivers Hatchett who later became runner up in the Miss Texas (Miss America version) Pageant. Rivers’ dad was an immigrant from Germany, although that fact was never used against her in the classroom debates.


Unlike the previous election, there was little suspense in this one. Johnson had been nominated by acclimation, which my father made me watch, telling me that I would never see it again. He was sort of right. At the Goldwater convention, Nelson Rockefeller had been booed off the stage at the end. Goldwater had picked a fellow nutcase named William Miller to run with him, and then topped it all with a mean spirited acceptance speech which was viewed as a call to arms by the extreme right wing (just about all that was left of the Republican party).The Democrat Convention featured  Carol Channing singing “Hello Lyndon” and a giant birthday cake for the President. Poor Hubert Humphrey agreed to be Vice President and was whisked off to the  LBJ ranch where the President made him wear a Stetson and eventually shoot a deer to prove his manhood.


Election night was a lot of fun. Only Arizona and the most bigoted states in the country voted for Goldwater (he had voted against the Civil Rights Bill) and Johnson ran up what was one of the largest victories in history. His % of the popular vote is still a record. Everyone at the Porter household and all but one member of Mrs. Eason’s class were happy. Rivers cried through much of the morning and in deference to her loss Mrs. Eason established a “no gloating policy”.


So peace would rein supreme, the Republic was saved. Then, just a few months later I read a story in my news source of the day, the Junior Scholastic. It was about a buildup of American forces in Vietnam. I sat at my desk and stared at the pictures of the soldiers in the jungle and thanked God that I had just turned 12 and that there was no way that war would still be on when I reached draft age in 1970.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The making of the President, 1960

Caution: For reasons which have to do totally with selfishness and almost pathetic nostalgia, I am going to be reviewing my memories of all the Presidential campaigns which I have followed, with a focus on their election nights. It is my sincere belief that no one other than myself will have any interest in this whatsoever, and even I am not that wild about reading these next blogs. But as John Adams once said To Thomas Jefferson, or perhaps it was the other way around, “You and I must explain ourselves to each other before we die.” The 48 years I will be covering should be able to help explain me to myself, hopefully before I die.


My earliest political memory is from the summer of 1960. I was between the first and second grade and the Political Conventions were about to get started. For reasons unknown to me, and which I am sure she always regretted, my mother pulled me aside in the kitchen one afternoon and showed me pictures of two men in a newspaper article.” These men are probably going to be the candidates for President this year, which one do you like ?” She asked. I looked down at the page and back and forth between the two men. Finally, I pointed at the darker haired one and said, “This one.” I had pointed at Richard Nixon, of whom I believe at the time I was unaware was Vice President of the United States. My mother frowned and pointed at the other man. “Don’t you think this one is really handsome ? “ she asked. “That’s John Kennedy.” To my memory, that was the first time I recall having heard that name. It was also the first time I knew that you could vote for a candidate based on his attractiveness (as opposed to which one had the darker hair).”No” I said, “I don’t think he is all that handsome.” “Well “ she said, “I guess you are for Nixon.”


So I started my campaign. My choice was vindicated when a family friend (Van Meter) came over for dinner on the night of the Nixon acceptance speech. Van was a Republican and was overjoyed to hear that I would be supporting the GOP that year. My parents, as I was to learn later, had always been Democrats, although they were not ideologues by any means. My dad had voted for Truman, and both he and my mother were impressed with Adlai Stevenson, whom my mother always pointed out was “an intellectual”. She said this with the same tone she always used when speaking of Picasso or any other painter she was fond of. I was not sure exactly what an intellectual was, but I found out quickly that the current President, Dwight Eisenhower was certainly not one, and neither was Mr. Nixon.


At any rate, as we watched the Republicans chant “Nixon for President” on our old RCA Van Meter looked over at me and winked. “Face it Ace, Nixon is going to win, listen to what they are saying, Nixon is President, he has already won.” For a moment I had hope, could I have missed the election ? then it hit me, Van Meter was telling a joke. That evening I drew up some Nixon for President signs and taped them to all the doors in our hallway. My folks would be tough to crack on this issue, but I was determined to try.


As summer came to a close, my father picked the family up one day and drove us out to the Shamrock Hilton. Eisenhower was in town and my dad wanted my brother and I to see him. As he drove by I waved and was somewhat disappointed that he did not seem to see me. I perked up when I looked up into the sky and saw an airplane dragging a sign from its tail with Nixon Lodge Tower on it. Now we were getting somewhere. I bet Kennedy did not have planes in his campaign.


The weeks rolled on and when class started, it appeared that most of the kids were for Nixon. Some, like my buddy Jeff Franks had a Nixon bumper sticker on the back of his bike. I noticed that some of my friends who went to Holy Ghost School had Kennedy signs in their yard and I was vaguely aware that JFK was a Catholic. I did not know much about Catholics, the only time I had ever run into them was when I had had stomach tests done at St. Joseph’s Hospital downtown. I was about five and was terrorized by the way the nurses were dressed up down there. As hard as it is to believe, I had never seen a nun before, and here were dozens of them, bustling around the room in full habits, forcing barium on me. Still, they certainly were kind people and I had a soft spot in my heart for Catholicism ever after.


I watched every debate between Nixon and Kennedy with my family. By the way, my brother who turned four during that campaign, for reasons he was never able to explain to me, was for Kennedy. At eh end of each debate, none of which I understood, I asked my father to admit that Nixon had won the debate and that  he would thus vote for him. My dad kept his own counsel, but I could tell that I was getting through to him.


On election day my dad took me down to the polls and drew the sacred curtain behind us. There in front of us was the Presidential line, Kennedy and Johnson, followed by Nixon and Lodge. He hesitated for just one second and then pulled the lever for Nixon. Then he said, “How would you like to vote for U.S. Senator ? “ he asked. I was thrilled, “for Tower ? “ I questioned. “Well, no” he said,” I don’t think much of Tower, I think you should voted for Lyndon Johnson, he’s running for Vice President and Senator. “  “How can he do that ?” I asked. “Politics” my father muttered, and I quickly pulled the lever for Lyndon Johnson, the first vote I ever cast.


At 6:30 that evening I began the tradition I have followed every four years since. I sat down to watch the returns. Walter Cronkite disappointed me by saying that the Democrats were ahead. My parents assured me that it was still early and that I should not worry, but as the evening dragged on, there was no change. Now when I say the evening dragged on, my parents allowed me to stay up until 8:30 that night instead of my usual 8:00, so what seemed like a late night to me was really just the beginning of an all night count for everyone else in the country who was over seven years of age. As I went to bed, I extracted the promise from my parents to awaken me if Nixon won. I slept all night.


Your first political loss is always the toughest. I went to school that day choking back the tears. At school, however, some of my class mates seemed delusional, insisting that Nixon could still win because the returns from Alaska were no all in. But I recognized this for what it was, the triumph of hope over reality. My friend Frank, a month after the World Series ended that year was still maintaining that the Yankees had won, despite the fact that everyone in the country knew they had lost. Dreams die hard at that age. But I was hooked on politics forever, the idea of watching TV into the night and watching numbers flash up on the boards, and flash is not the best description of 1960 television graphics, was mesmerizing. How could Vermont have come in so quickly for Kennedy ? Why were they still voting in California ? It was intoxicating.


A few weeks after the election, my Dad was watching a football game on television and he asked me to come in. “Look” he said with a smile on his face, “there’s Kennedy at the game”. I was a little surprised, but not much to see my dad so happy. “You like him don’t you ?” I asked. “Sure” he said. “Then why did you vote against him ?”  He looked me in the eye and told me something that I would remember again and again during the Viet Nam war. “ I voted against him because at the last minute I told myself that if anything ever happened to him we would never get rid of that son of a bitch Lyndon Johnson, and I could not stand that thought.” Well, he was right about that.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

In Graphic Detail

My wife the Librarian (actually, she is a para-librarian since her Master’s degree is not in Library Science)got caught up in a brouhaha, or maybe it was an imbroglio at her place of business the other day. It seems that one of their older lady patrons had chosen Rayda to ask the question, “What is a Graphic Novel ?”. Rayda replied with the answer that set off the aforementioned  rhubarb, stating that “It is a glorified Comic Book.”


Either the answer itself, or more likely the tone in which the information was conveyed, set off her friend and co-worker Monica like a skyrocket (or at least a bottle rocket depending on how much of the story Rayda has embellished). Monica felt that Rayda’s definition was incorrect and demeaned the art form of the Graphic Novel.


Based on what I have seen and read, mostly in Wikipedia (a glorified internet encyclopedia) a Graphic Novel indeed  is a subspecies of the comic book. It differs in its binding, its tendency to be a complete “book” as opposed to an episodic adventure, and, most importantly in  its use of more mature themes. Comic Book aficionados also believe that the art work of the Graphic Novel is inferior. But Monica’s point was correct in that you can place the Graphic Novel into a different artistic medium from comic books or regular novels.


It is axiomatic in the art world that no artistic medium is inherently superior to any other. I personally have always felt  that that point, far from deserving axioms  is quite   arguable. I would have to steal a line from the late Ernie Kovacs and say that the only reason I can see that  graphic novels are  a medium at all is because it is they are “neither rare nor well done”. This is not meant to be a criticism of Graphic Novels. Merely a comment putting it in its proper place. Where is the proper place for a Graphic Novel ? I believe strongly it to be in the library.


Graphic Novels are a wonderful, and possibly necessary, bridge for adolescent boys to move from video games to reading. I know that many females and mature adults read Graphic Novels, and that is fine, many adults also spend the majority of their weekends and evenings watching children’s games being played by adults on television (guilty !).I happen to think, and the statistics will prove me correct, that the fall of the percentage  of college entering boys to its pitiful rate of today, coincides exactly with the invention and subsequent spread of the video game. Getting a boy from a video game (and this may be done through the use of making characters from video games the protagonists of Graphic Novels ) seems to be the only entry of these boys into the concept of reading which may, if they are lucky lead them to higher educational opportunities than they are currently receiving playing “Grand Theft Auto”.


I am certainly not the perfect person to write about Graphic Novels. I have attempted to read them and find them tedious, totally lacking in color  and genuinely hard to see. Perhaps if my eyes were stronger I could enjoy them more. I once made the enormous mistake of asking a young lady lawyer I used to work with to tell me about the Graphic Novel as a genre. She proceeded to go through the plots of several books which she assured me were classics and recommended that I read them . After her recommendation I asked her one question, “Is Jughead in any of them ?” I can only assume that it was that kind of sarcasm which my wife employed the other day when using the term “glorified”, it was probably accompanied with a rolling of the eyes. I can see Monica’s point, this not only denigrated the books, but prejudiced the patron from even looking at one, possibly (but not probably) denying her what might have been a lifetime of enjoyable reading.


It is all subjective, I lived a childhood without the Graphic Novel, although by adolescence,  friends of mine and I would often read “graphic” novels down at the bayou. I would certainly rather see children reading Graphic Novels than hanging out at the mall or spray painting “Can’t ‘09” around  the word “Stop” on a stop sign. In fact, as I see it, only good can come from this reading. In that sense maybe Rayda is right, maybe it is a glorified comic book, but  maybe it deserves to be (glorified that is). Honey, it  is all in the way you say it !

Friday, October 24, 2008


You never know what the little computer chip is going to deliver. When I first heard about the World Wide Web, or as it used to be called, the Information Super Highway, I was excited about having all of the information in the world at my finger tips. I did not really believe that would happen, but I was excited about the possibility. It turns out that the  internet has furnished me joy beyond anything I could have imagined from, in the words of a Senator now on trial,” a series of tubes.” But the greatest gifts have come from the least expected places.


Now and then I check my blog list (provided for me free of charge by whoever the hell BlogSpot is) to see if any of my work has drawn comments. Yesterday, I noticed for the first time that I had gotten a comment on a story I did some time ago on the death of T.V. anchorman Ron Stone. A nice woman, I assume that it is a woman from the name, had been conducting a Google search on “Sid Lasher”. Lasher was a TV weatherman in Houston who died more than 30 years ago. He had been mentioned in my blog about Stone. The woman read my blog and was nice enough to say that she enjoyed it. It must be a fact that there is no one, living or dead, who has not been searched for on the internet. The amazing thing is that you almost always turn up something about the one you search for. I mean what would you think the odds are that you would plug the name of a weather man who has been dead for three decades and find a story about him ? My experience it that the odds are about even. That’s a wonderful thing.


My best internet moment happened a few months ago when my father was dying. I was in a nostalgic mood and entered into a search engine the name of my old Little League, wondering if there was anything about it. I came upon a story written by a man a few years younger than me that mentioned the League. But that was not what was important in the story. The story was a well written memory of a man’s relationship with his father. The father was dying of dementia at the time the story was written. The  story would have been poignant whenever I would have seen it. But during my dad’s dying months, of dementia, it had a tremendous affect on me.


I was able to trace the man down, he worked in Corpus Christi for a baseball team there. I wrote him to tell him how much the story meant to me. Within a day I received a reply, thanking me for the e-mail and assuring me that he knew what I was going through. He even said that he would put me on his prayer list. All of that was nice, but it was the ending of the note which shook me up. He said that he hoped that my mother could continue to rely on his mother for help in the coming days. What ?


I looked at the name again and thought that his last name was familiar. My mother had been telling me about a woman in the neighborhood who had been giving her a great deal of support. I called my mother and sure enough, this was the son of the woman who was helping her.


I know that this does not qualify as a miracle, or even a minor miracle, but it certainly qualifies as something to wonder about, and as something that you will remember the rest of your life. To me , it was a spiritual experience. I know for a fact that a person can touch God,  and be touched by God, through a “series of tubes”, wires and a liquid crystal screen. It may not be a burning bush, but it gets the job done.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

From the Bark of the Willow

I was taking some prescription drugs this morning, wondering how many pills a day people in the United States, or the world for that matter, take . It must be at least a billion. Of those, the only ones that I am sure have any efficacy are Tylenol (for fever) and Advil(for certain pain relief). For all I know, the rest are placebos, taken on faith, as promoted by your doctor or a drug company or , more likely a combination (conspiracy ?) between the two.


When I was growing up I knew of four analgesics. Aspirin, Anacin, Buffrin and St. Josephs Aspirin for Children. The drug aisle at the A&P was nothing like the drug aisle that you see at your grocery or pharmacy today. Drugs have exploded because people  demand an  instant end to suffering, in part because advertising convinces them that they should so demand. Brand names are capitalized on and are divided into niches of drugs. Once someone discovered that you could put Benadryl in just about anything and add the term “night time” or “p.m.” to the label, you could divide drugs into night time and day time medicines, the difference being that one made you drowsy, although neither was safe to take and still operate heavy equipment.. Then someone had the idea of doubling the active ingredient in any single pill (something people had been doing for years by taking two of the same pill) and you could sell it as “extra strength”.


The one thing that people should be leery of is ingesting any kind of drug. Yet we pop them each day without a second thought. It is not only that the drugs all have side effects (erections lasting more than four hours is the most popular one currently) but they are made and sold by a combination of greedy people who have, to a great extent, bought off the people who prescribe them. I know that it is popular to curse the drug companies today, but the fact of the matter is that they have always been hooligans. Take Bayer for instance. Bayer synthesized the bark of a willow tree and began to sell it as aspirin. Probably the most important drug in the history of pharmaceuticals. What kind of company was Bayer ? Well, let’s put it this way, they sponsored the Nazi medical experiments of Dr Josef Mengele during the Holocaust, manufactured the gas for the gas chambers at Auschwitz and their chairman ended up being sentenced by the Nuremberg tribunal to seven years. They have cleaned up their act since, but you get the picture. You have to keep an eye on drug companies.


It is always important to remember that the drug industry had its start in witchcraft and sorcery and managed to evolve into traveling snake oil salesmen. I suppose that there have been improvements, although I cannot say for sure. I, personally have never eaten the bark of a willow tree. For all I know the whole industry is just based on colorful packaging of folk remedies. Still, in my whole life I have never refused to take a single drug which was prescribed to me by a Doctor. Only with the advent of the internet have I even bothered to check into what the drug can do to me, good and bad. You take a lot of things on faith in this lifetime. I took three of them this morning.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Does it feel like Wednesday ?

Kramer : It doesn’t feel like Tuesday


Newman: Tuesday doesn’t have a feel, Friday has a feel, Monday has a feel



One of the odd things about human beings is the way we react to  similar  stimuli.

Take the above dialogue for instance. Newman is right, certain days of the week have a feel. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I am told by younger people that Thursday has a feel to them because they start the weekend drinking   that evening. It has no feel to me. So if we suppose that Thursday night has a feel, that leaves only Tuesday and Wednesday without feels. People have been working on giving Wednesday a feel for a number of years. “Happy Hump Day” is something that you hear about as we go “over the hump” sliding downhill toward the weekend. But I never got a feel from that, and I don’t know anyone else who did either.


Actually, these “feels” are all part of the very same phenomena, they just manifest themselves differently based on the psychological reaction to how close we are ,or how far we are, from having to go  to work. I am told that Sunday night is the most common time for a suicide, which, of course, makes sense, unless you really hate church. I actually “feel” better on Friday because the anticipation of getting to sleep later on Saturday and watch “The Soup” at 9:00 a.m. is always better than the real thing. These days can lose their feel when you go on vacation. After a few days, all the feelings are the same. This is exactly what Adam and Eve felt in paradise and what they lost once YWH chose to introduce the Sabbath. Things got worse when he came up with that “sweat of your brow” thing as the couple left Eden, where everyday had been sleep late  Saturday. So really, this feeling for days stretches back to the beginning of mankind.


Now one of the reasons that Fitzgerald knew that the rich were “different than you and me” is because they have no feel for the days of the week. That’s good and bad. The feels of the day operate because of hope (or perhaps the theory that you beat yourself over the head because it feels so good when you stop). But presuming that it is hope that we are working with, you don’t need hope if every day is Saturday to you. That’s why rich people get bored. It is also why you are always ready to come home from a vacation, unless it is in San Diego. You miss the excitement of getting the boulder all the way up the hill, and unlike Sisyphus , knowing that you get to sit up on that hill and rest a couple for days before starting again.


I do have to admit that there are things which  people feel that they assume that everyone feels. They are often shocked to find out that they are wrong. If you are nearsighted, your first pair of glasses shows you how much darker the chalk seems on the blackboard at school. Not everyone saw those fading words. Darrel Royal, upon his retirement from a stressful position as a football coach, commented that he honestly believed that everyone gagged badly  when they brushed their teeth in the morning. I personally was shocked to find that most people did not agree with my simple statement that the water you drink out of the tap in your bathroom tastes different than the water you drink out of the tap in your kitchen. I thought that everyone felt that way because there was no doubt in my mind that it was (and is) true.


But variety of feeling is what we would expect, we are all different. It is the things that feel the same to all of us that are surprising. I once took a test which presented four urinals in a men’s restroom. Each page had different people standing at different urinals with some, or in one case all, unoccupied. The test question was; being presented with this urinal configuration, which one would you use ? Upon picking each  urinal I was shocked to look at the answer sheet and find that the test devisers had predicted the exact urinal which I would pick. How in the world can every male make exactly the same decision ? It can’t be something we inherit, or can it ? Whatever it is, it is amazing. Happy Hump Day !

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The World's Serious

The World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays (nee Devil Rays)  starts tomorrow night. This will mark the 48th World Series I have watched. It would have been 49 except for the strike year in 1994. The first game I saw was the third game of the 1960 World Series. In those days, all Series games were played during the daytime and the third and fourth game were always on Saturday and Sunday. Bobby Richardson hit a grand slam in that game and drove in six runs in an easy Yankee win.


The World Series lost a good deal of its appeal when it switched to an all night time format. My memory is that that started sometime around 1970, at least for week nights. Finally, everything was played at night. When played in the daytime, the World Series was a great unifier of the country. Kids in schools snuck radios into the classroom, businesses set up an old black and white TV set for people to view as they walked by, or eat lunch in front of. Nighttime series games changed all of that. Part of that may be because baseball is not the national sport anymore, but part of it is certainly because baseball is more fun when shared with a group, and a lot more fun when you feel like you are watching a game when you should be working. Keats McKinney, a childhood friend snuck a radio into his class for the 7th game of the 1964 series. His seat was at a window in a temporary building located exactly opposite my window seat in another building. Through a series of hand signals I was  able to follow the Cardinal defeat of the Yankees that year.


All of this reminds me of the day I played hokey from a law job to watch a baseball game. The Astros had not made the World Series in 1980 (although they came within six outs). It would be another quarter century until they made it (and even then, not for very long). In October of 1980 I had been on the job at Fulbright & Jaworski for about 2-3 weeks when the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Astros took place. Game three was a day game and somehow my new friend Lanny Temple got the firm tickets to the game. I say somehow, Lanny, a first year lawyer was the only one brazen enough to ask for them. He called me and asked me to come along. I turned him down flat. The last thing in the world I wanted to be known for was a slacker who would sneak off to a baseball game.Lanny was persistent. “When is the next time the Astros will be in the playoff  he asked. He had a good point. In 19 seasons this was the first time. So I checked my docket and got everything in order and agreed to go. I called my secretary in and explained the circumstances, asking her to cover for me and then off we went to the game.


A great game it was. The Astros won in the 10th behind the great pitching of Joe Niekro, 1 to 0. But I never really relaxed, worried about what might happen. About the fifth inning I went to the public phone booth, dropped in a dime and called my secretary. “You have not missed a thing. “ she said, no calls and only one visitor and that was not about a case. “Who was it ? “ I asked. She replied, “Oh, Leon Jaworski came by to welcome you to the firm, I told him that you went to a baseball game.” Now I had not met Jaworski yet and had been looking forward to it. I began to feel light headed and the round skylight roof of the Astrodome began to circle swiftly overhead. I could honestly feel my heart pounding as I choked out, “You told him I was at a baseball game ?”. After a brief pause I began to hear laughter, the laughter of half a dozen secretaries crowded around her desk listening in on the conversation. They  got me, they got me but good. So relieved was I that it never crossed my mind to get angry at what was, after all, quite a cruel joke to play on a naïve young lawyer !  I went back to my seat and told Temple what had happened. He appreciated the joke much more than I did. Lanny never worried about trivialities like a job when baseball was involved. That’s one reason why he will live longer than I will.


Twenty eight years have gone by since that day, but you know what, I remember that game as well as I do any case I ever took. I’m glad that I went and I’m glad that I have the memory of my first secretary literally putting the fear of God into me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Banks of the Pedrenales

Lyndon Johnson has been dead for 35 years. I travel out to the LBJ ranch every five-ten years to look at his grave and make sure that he is still not among us. Rayda and I went out on Sunday to walk through his newly opened office in his ranch house. It was the first time I had ever been in the house and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. Rayda seemed to have a good time too. When we speak of long suffering wives, we often thank of golf widows or fishing widows or wives who hear the roar of the crowd on television all day Saturday and All day Sunday every September-January. Rayda’s suffering is different. For years she has had to travel with me, distances long and short, to look at various American Presidential monuments. From New York to D.C. to

Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania to Virginia, Illinois, here in Texas,Tennesse and out to California, she has walked with me to look at various libraries, homes, offices and graves . I can still see her face in the twilight of the day at Arlington Cemetery, searching with me for the grave of William Howard Taft. Greater love hath no woman than she give up part of her vacation to look at the tailor shop of Andrew Johnson, the home of Abe Lincoln’s son Robert Todd or the George H W Bush Library in College Station.


The trip to the ranch is a much shorter trip. But it takes me back to the violent passion of my youth. No one ever hated like I hated Lyndon Johnson. Because he did so much for so many, we tend to forget how America felt when he left office. It was best summed up in the movie “Shampoo” by the actor Jack Warden, who played the cynical rich business man (representing the corrupt establishment of the times) when he uttered offhandedly to Warren Beatty (the hairstylist) on the night of the 1968 election,  “God Damn Lyndon Johnson”. That was about the nicest thing I ever said about him.


No one can hate like a teenager, unless it is a teenager of draft age during a miserable and useless war, which I happened to be during the last part of the Johnson and the first part of the Nixon administrations. Even the purity of the moronity of the W administration has not caused the anger I felt back in the old days. I recall Lyndon’s last day in office and just how happy I was to see him go, even if it meant that he was coming back to Texas.


But that hate is all gone now, replaced by sympathy, better understanding and just plain curiosity. The newly opened office brought back a flood of memories of mid-sixties furnishings and decorations. God but it has hideous. They had to tear up a very nice room to bring it back to the schlocky state Lyndon had left it in. Cheap paneling, a large T.V. built into the wall, crummy portrait of the homeowner , phones with six lines, hunting knife, everything but the head of a deer. But I could not get enough of it. I would have lingered for hours if they’d have let me. It is so much more interesting than the Oval Office. This is what the man was like. Here were the tools of his domination of the Western world for five years. Here were the telltale signs of the Texas farm boy from Southwest Texas State Teachers College ,overcompensating so that he could overcome in his own mind the fact that he was not like a Kennedy.


We wandered out toward the river, not even a stone’s throw from his front door. It gives you a sense of place. Here is where a man was from, where he got his values and dreamed his dreams, and where he came home to die. We miss that sense of place today, Whittier, California, Eureka, Illinois, Abilene, Kansas even Hope, Arkansas seem to have all been replaced by the vanilla suburbs of the last half century. I would not go back, I guess, the grinding poverty, hard scrabble soil and the total lack of electricity of the Johnson youth have no appeal to me. Poor is poor and hunger is hunger, no matter how colorful the setting. But places like that could make somebody. They could make a saint, and they could make a monster, depending on your perspective, but they made real men of flesh and blood. I cannot honestly say that we are poorer without them, but I can say that the times are a lot less interesting.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Number one in the time of the Cholera

The excitement in Austin would be palpable if that was not such a trite word and if anyone knew what it really meant. The local college football team, the unifying factor for the city, is sitting at the top of the polls, both official and unofficial (as if that made any difference)and will be defending that number one ranking tonight for the first time during the regular season since 1984. Hardly an undergraduate at the University of Texas had been born the last time the Longhorns participated in such a game. I am thrilled by the prospect of watching the team take on a strong rival tonight, the Missouri Tigers. I trust that by morning, the entire city will be suffering from one enormous hangover from all the celebrating.


In 100 years, should this blog survive, somewhere out there in the ether , someone may pause and wonder why all the fuss over an amateur athletic event at the same moment that the market broke and capitalism went down for the count in the USA. Or even why anyone bothered with a football game when the first African American was days away from being elected President of the United States. Thus it has always been. No matter what history unfolds before us, the games go on. The first time the Longhorns clinched a regular season number one ranking, the President of the United States had been shot and had been interred only one week before. The games went on. Two days after John Kennedy was shot, the NFL played a full schedule. Football games were played right after Pearl Harbor. Baseball games went on throughout the Second World War, although the fact that one armed men played the outfield did lower the quality of play a bit. An earthquake tore apart the city of San Francisco and the World Series picked right up again in that very city in a matter of days.


The fact of the matter is, as Judge Charlie Barrow used to say,  that history, real history, has more to do with how Joe Six Pack and Joe DiMaggio lived their lives than how Joe Biden does. For a couple of hundred years, history was taught using what was known as the “Great Man Theory”, a phrase which by its very definition limited the number of people who were relevant to history by 50%. Sometime ago, the “Great Man” (which was actually the Great White Man ) theory of history fell out of favor among all the women and assorted Bolsheviks who obtained PHDs in history while waiting out the Viet Nam war. These people, like our current President and Vice President had other priorities at the time, the main one being to not get shot. The newly minted Docs began teaching history as “social” rather than political and what people ate for breakfast in the olden days became every bit as important as the battle of Waterloo. So what I am saying is that the UT /Missouri game and the rest of the NCAA football season are every bit as important from the perspective of someone in the future viewing us, as is the current national election. What I am also saying, if I may expand on that, is that we need not feel ashamed that we are attending circuses as the empire is squandered. This is what we are expected to do, it is how we are expected to act. We simply have, in the words of Dick Cheney, “other priorities” and tonight’s priority is that the Longhorns of Texas kick the shit out of the Tigers of Missouri and their overrated Quarterback, Chase whatever, the lousy turncoat from Texas, may he die a thousand deaths tonight , his limp body slammed into the playing field that is dedicated to the soldiers who died in the First World War ( a great time in history where Babe Ruth starred in his last world Series for the Boston Red Sox about a month before Armistice Day).


I suppose that it is possible that the “Great Man” theory will come back again. If so, this particular edition of the blog will look pretty silly to the thin and completely bald man with the massive cranium who is viewing this work in the year 2525 (that is, if man is still alive….). But the blogger of the twenty first century cares nothing for the laughter and scorn of the years still to come.He/She is concentrating on things that really matter. Hook ‘em Horns.

Friday, October 17, 2008

When We All Meet Again

Let it come my love my truest,

Let it sail on silver wings.

Life’s a twinkling that’s for certain,

But it’s such a fine thing.

There’s a gathering of spirits, there’s a festival of friends

And we’ll take up where we left off

When we all meet again.      Carrie Newcomer, “Festival of Friends”


The Pastor of the Church I attend left our Church last Sunday to take on the job of Austin District Superintendent. This is a promotion within the church hierarchy, although in the Methodist Church they tend to down play these rankings out of the traditional fear that we will look too Romanish. We are all the same before God, except those of us who sin more than others and even we can “get right”.


At any rate, this is the second time this particular Pastor has left a Church I attended and thus the second time I have been disappointed. I will refer to her in this piece as Bobbi Kay which should be enough to hide her identity, lest I embarrass her (or any member of St. John’s United Methodist Church of Austin). I actually think that she may now be entitled to be called Superintendent Jones (not her real name) like those cops on all the English mystery shows my wife watches. They are always Chief Detective Superintendent something or another. On the other hand, she may want to stick with being called “Reverend” which I think probably is more likely to get you a good table at a club.


We had a little ceremony, dictated by the Church, on Sunday in which she forgave us and we forgave her for pretty much anything that happened during her tenure. I’m not sure if this was a blanket pardon since some members were not in attendance and may still have unresolved issues. As mentioned above, this was the second time she has left me and the second time I have forgiven her for leaving me (although the first time I had to say it out loud). I checked scripture to see how many times she could leave and expect my forgiveness. St. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying 70x7 times which means that she is still entitled to at least  488 more forgiveness’s, if my math is right. I say” at least” because some commentators, obviously not fundamentalists, state that the 70x7 was simply a metaphor Jesus gave and that what he meant was that you had to always forgive someone. Indeed, I ran across a few places where he seemed pretty specific about that.


It is hard to lose a Pastor, even when they hang around some as this one seems bound to do since her husband has picked up the stole as it were and is set to become the new Senior Pastor in charge of getting me to heaven. I have always had a lot of issues with Church and any change in something I have become comfortable with upsets my life. My problems with Church started because I so rarely ever attended as a child. My parents had been turned off by the fundamentalism of their youth, something that until his dying day my father referred to as “warped religion”. With no real background as to how to behave in Church, after we were married , my wife allowed me to migrate to very large institutional churches in which I never really had to know anyone or do anything except watch the service and listen to a good sermon every Sunday. That is still the most comfortable way for me to attend church, just like I do the theatre.Sometime in the 70s it became popular at most churches to “pass the peace” which meant that I had to shake hands with someone, but this was at the end of the service and I could often sneak out before we got to that.


For the last few months, however, my view on Church has changed. I have started attending a Thursday night service at the Church which is held in a smallish room that was the Church’s original sanctuary in 1948. This service is different in that the main focus is music, old time gospel and newer hymns, and has a band and singers who would fit in comfortably on any edition of “Prairie Home Companion”. Attendance runs from about 35-50 or so every week which pretty much fills up the little sanctuary. It has made me see a different view of the church, one which Rayda and I have enjoyed very much (and Rayda always did). Sometimes when the group is singing one of the older classics, I get the feeling of what it must have been like to go to a small  church circa 1935, and how much comfort that would have given to people during the hard times. It seems to me that that of late I have started to understand the old time roots of American Protestantism and appreciate more the strength and power of a tightly held belief in a community which feels like you do, and is always willing to support you. It is a nice feeling. It appears to me that this service will continue, perhaps with my old Pastor even showing up once in a while to help out with the singing or preaching. That’s a good feeling. The universal feeling of the Christian church that no matter what happens, we will “take up where we left off when we all meet again” and the certainty underlying that phrase, that somehow and in some way, we WILL all meet again. Can I get an amen ?


Thursday, October 16, 2008

What about Josephine ?

All this talk about Joe the plumber during the debate  last night glossed over the real issue, who is Josephine the Plumber going to support ?


In the 1960s, Comet Cleanser introduced Josephine the Plumber to millions of commercial viewers. As near as I could tell, Josephine was the smartest plumber who ever lived. Josephine had figured out a way to fix every sink problem with Comet. I think Comet is still around. Comet is a cleanser which Josephine used to get “tough Grape Jelly stains” out of the sink and “rings” out of the bathtub. She mentioned that it worked in toilets too, but in those days that was too indelicate to talk about at any length.


Josephine was such a smart plumber that she always wore white overalls which contained no telltale signs that she had worked at all !  That was because all she did was sprinkle Comet Cleanser on every problem and walk away. I often wondered, as a child, how a plumber could make a living if everyone knew that all you needed Comet  to fix any problem. I assumed that a lot of people simply did not watch television and were unaware that plumbing was an unnecessary expense.


I kept thinking last night that Josephine (if she is still alive) is probably a lot smarter than Joe the Plumber and would be a lot more reliable in giving advice on how to vote. I’d like to see who would get her endorsement. The more I watched the debate, the more I realized that Josephine the Plumber is also a hell of a lot smarter than the two guys who are running for President. I have never seen either one of them get a tough grape jelly stain out of a sink by sprinkling on Comet. Everything they want to do is so complicated that no one can understand it. Josephine’s philosophy was more like Ronald Reagan’s, simple solutions to every problem. Pour on the comet and” let it soak it soak for a minute”. At least I think that was what she said. Madge, the beautician, who worked for some kind of liquid dishwashing detergent used to say the same thing I think, so I may have them confused. Madge was pretty smart herself as she had found a way to use the dishwashing substance as a skin softener in her place of business, much to  the initial horror of her customers when she finally admitted it. Madge would have not made a good President, she was too gossipy and too deceptive.


So old Joe the Plumber, who has found a way to make a quarter of a million dollars a year (the reason why he is worried about Obama’s tax plan) needs to be careful. If Josephine shows up it will be his income, not his taxes that he will have to worry about.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Taking Stock

My partner Allensworth, while not wise beyond his years (nobody could be wise beyond that many years) is, none the less a wise man. One I listen to. He generally speaks for the leading edge of the baby boomer generation, at least the articulate ones. As he often points out, when he gets an idea, about ten million others get the same idea more or less contemporaneously. His idea today was that he was heartily sick of the markets. Sick of playing the markets, watching the markets, fearing the markets and thinking about the markets. Just sick of it. So am I. The fact that the market went up 1,000 points yesterday and may go down again today is a fact that I have as much control over as I do the weather. I can get out of the market, like I can get out of the rain, but, in or out, it does no good to fixate on it. It really is time to turn to other things.


What I choose to turn to is my view, hardly unique, that the race for the Presidency is over. If I read the polls correctly, Obama support has hardened at about 50%, McCain’s at about 45%. These have been the average numbers for about the past three weeks. Short of Obama choosing to moon the American people on Wednesday night at the last debate (which I encourage you not to watch),or the Bradley effect truly existing, the last 5% will divide about 3 to 2 toward the Democrats giving Obama about 53% of the vote, and an easy victory with about 300 electoral votes. It is possible, given the economy, that I am way understating how the undecided’s will break and am understating how much the Democratic registration drive will pay off, and Obama may go over 54% and over 300 electoral votes for what will then be close to a landslide. If that happens, the Democrats will make good gains in Congress and will be firmly in control of 2 of the 3 branches for the next few years. I could play the scenario out even more with my view that the Republicans will do a great job of picking up the pieces by focusing on the Sam’s Club vote and Hockey Mom Palin will be in the White House in January of 2021. There, now you don’t have to focus on financial or political news until the roaring 20s. You can focus, as I intend to, on the sports page. Or, you can plan on which country you will choose to immigrate to after November of 2020 (stay away from Iceland).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Day of release

With the market up almost 1000 points in one day I thought everyone needed a break from my moaning and groaning, so I put the video of my favorite joke on here. I think anyone who ever reads this blog has seen this, but you can't see it too many times.

wade sent you a video!

wade wants to share a video with you

Looks Like you Blew a Seal
Monkey tells a great joke


Personal Message

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Market shuts Doors for Good as Dow falls to zero

The New York Stock Exchange, which began in 1792, closed its doors for the final time this afternoon as the DJIA finally hit Zero (0). The action of the NYSE follows the closings last week of the American Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ   after the Federal Reserve Announced that there was not enough money in the Treasury, or even enough paper in the country, to print the dollars that were needed to recapitalize every publically traded company in the United States.


Old Traders lingered on the floor one last time, shedding tears and  watching the big board flash 00000. A rally, early in the afternoon, which had taken the Dow Jones Average up to a two month high of 6 and given some hope that the market might yet open again tomorrow, quickly dissipated when the rumor spread that Warren Buffet was seen walking down Wall Street wearing only a barrel ,handing out a dime to a reclining and drunk derelict who bore an “uncanny  resemblance “ to the long missing Bill Gates.


One veteran trader said “It was nice while it lasted, when you think about it, 216 years is a long time for a scam to survive, even that old chestnut about getting money out of a bank for rich Nigerians is not as old as the stock market, yep, we suckered ‘em in for a long time.” When asked where he would now seek employment  the trader responded, “Grifting is grifting, whether I go back to selling phony insurance policies or Florida swamps to retirees (if there are any left) it’s all the same to me. I’ll get by, there’s still one born every minute.”


Party Chairman and Supreme Leader Paulson announced plans to preserve the Stock Exchange Building so that future generations could see for themselves the last bastion of capitalism before America converted to an all barter economy. “ I know that it will be hard for people to believe that you used to use paper to buy goods instead of having to trade something of value or do some hard work to acquire it. Imagine what they will think when we tell them what went on in this place.” Paulson was quoted as saying.


The final company to hit the zero mark was former energy giant Exxon. Exxon had been hanging on by its fingernails, selling the barrels that oil used to be stored in when oil had some value, prior to the shutdown of all  automobile manufacturing in the world. Exxon announced that it too would be shutting down as soon as it figured out a way to fund its CEO’s golden parachute.


Former Senator John McCain could only shake his head as the final bell rang the Exchange off forever. “I simply don’t understand how this could be happening when the American Economy is so fundamentally sound.”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Great Debate Waste

I have seen virtually every Presidential and Vice Presidential debate this country has ever held. I admit that my viewing of the Nixon/Kennedy debates in 1960 did not do a lot to inform me of the issues because I was only seven years old and in the second grade. Presidential debates in this country are generally aimed at about Fifth Grade level, so I was still a little young. Also, in order to understand the debates of 1960, you have to understand where Quemoy and Matsu were, something I still don’t know.


The debates were revived in 1976 because the incumbent, Gerald Ford, was behind in the polls and was desperate, so he allowed himself to face off with former Governor Jimmy Carter who was on his way to one of the least effective Presidencies in the annals of the Republic. The irony is, that by the pivotal second debate, Ford had pulled even with Carter and had a real chance at winning. Then, for reasons we will never understand, said in the middle of the debate that the Soviet Union had no domination of Eastern Europe, something that you did not have to be a fifth Grader to know was untrue. This gaffe stopped Ford’s surge in the polls and contributed greatly to his razor thin loss. After that, debates began to turn solely on which candidate said the dumbest thing (possibly not a bad criteria) and debate preparation for any and every possible  question became all important.


Then in 1984, during the Vice Presidential debate, Dan Quayle casually mentioned that he was older or had more experience than Kennedy had had when Kennedy was running in 1960. Lloyd Bentsen humiliated young Dan with his famous “You are no Jack Kennedy” remarks. It was later revealed that, far from an off the cuff remark, Lloyd had practiced the line before the debate. From that point on, the nature of the debates began to change to a format where every answer to a question was  totally scripted. Now there was no chance for a gaffe.  This was not so bad, because at least you got an answer to the question and knew (as well as anyone can) what the candidate thought about the question.


This year we have seen the final evolution of the debate. Now candidates give answers that have nothing what so ever to do with the questions, but are merely forms of their stump speeches. Last night was the worst of all. Using the town meeting concept, where an “ordinary” citizen asks a question, the candidates insulted the citizens and America by not answering their questions. The first question was asked by a senior citizen, specifically about senior citizen issues, during the current economic crisis. Senator Obama proceeded to answer the question without reference to senior citizens and all we heard was a warmed over version of his view that George Bush, and hence John McCain, took this country down the steps to economic perdition. The night advanced with no change in style or substance by either candidate.  We should have known that this was coming. Neophyte Palin in her first debate had let the cat out of the bag by telling the moderator that she was not necessarily going to answer the question the moderator asked, or respond to the point her opponent (“Say it ain’t so”) Joe Biden made. She was going to say what she wanted on the subject she wanted and the only subject that she wanted to speak on was mavericks.


It is now time to end these debates. They serve no political purpose, they are an insult to the intelligence of every American above the fifth grade, and are a disservice to the future of everyone younger than that. Virtually any method of vetting candidates would be better than running these hour and a half commercials that cut into valuable prime time programming. I noticed last night that some cable channel is now rerunning “Third Rock from the Sun” and I considered switching over to it before I decided simply to read for awhile. I never really watched that program much when it was on T.V. the first time, but at least John Lithgow did not intentionally insult me on the show. I knew that he was playing things for laughs. The fact that two United States Senators do not think that I can tell when they are not answering a question from one of my fellow citizens shows me exactly what contempt they hold me, and all of us in. I think it is time to stop these debates. I would replace them with a format like that lie detector show where you have to sit alone in a chair and get asked questions in front of your family (in this case your country) and if you lie in your answer, a disembodied computer sounding voice tells you and everyone else this that your pants are on fire. This is not meant to be sarcasm or wit. I really think that that is how we ought to do things from now on.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Airport Moment

“Every hour spent waiting in an airport takes an hour off of your life expectancy.”   W. Wade Porter to Thomas Hudson, Hobby Airport, Houston, Texas,1984


I had an airport moment on Saturday. I had not had one for a number of years. Friends and family who have traveled with me are aware of these airport moments, times when my exasperation regarding problems related to traveling on airplanes bubble over into dangerous and maniacal behavior, always toward airport personnel or airline employees. These categories of workers are perhaps the stupidest people on God’s green earth and the kind most susceptible to believing any drivel doled out to them by their lying scum employers which, no matter how preposterous, they will pass on to you as gospel.


The horrible events of 9/11 have  had the salutary effect of calming me down to the point where no one is forced to draw a pistol on me anymore. I recognize that it is no longer appropriate to try to intimidate or even respond with sarcasm to officials in the airport. You can now end up in a little room being strip searched, or put on a watch list which will make your continuing ability to board a plane very problematic. Gone are the days when  I could jump on an electric cart at an American Airline gate at DFW and tell the gate agent that I was going to drive it over to American offices since it appeared to be the only thing that the airline owned that could move ( I was blocked in my attempt to do this and told to remove myself from the cart). No longer will I kick open a door at US Air (or as we called it Useless Air) in Pittsburgh, after my flight had been cancelled and ask (at the top of my lungs) just what kind of a “Mickey Mouse” operation were they attempting to run here when they could not even get a “God Damned airplane from Pittsburgh to Bethlehem PA. ?” and demand to see the passenger list because “I know that you only canceled this flight because no one was on it.” Actually, the uniformed man from U.S. Air never got upset with me, as my tirade went on, he kept handing me one after another of free coupons to the airport Bar which I eventually took in bulk and went to the bar  determined to get hammered. Which I did and proceeded to take a cab to my hotel where, on the way, I saw Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys, opening up one of his restaurants. That was the last time I saw Roy Rogers in this world.


Gone are also the days when I reduced my wife to tears by my standard act I began when told that my plane was late. “Oh yeah” I would always say,” how late ?”   “About 20 minutes sir, look at the monitor.” The lady would say.  “Monitor” I would spit, “that’s always the first lie.” And it is, there can be a flight delayed for three hours but the monitor will never admit more than a twenty minute delay. Back in the old days, they used to instruct airline workers to just flat out lie to your face. “We expect that it will be within call in range very soon sir, please take your seat and stop stabbing your pencil into my desk.” They no longer lie to you because they figure that going through a security line and paying $15 to check a bag is likely to have a passenger on edge anyway. They don’t want any ugly confrontations. I never knew why my antics upset Rayda so much. She would be moaning and complaining about how miserable she was, but when I got up to try to do something about it she was horrified. Most of the time she would grab a bag and announce that she was no longer going on vacation with me because I was such a jerk Actually, this particular scene has also been played out at hotels, theatres and restaurants many times on two continents. So far, she has never actually left the building.


As I said, it has been a long time since I had had an airport moment. I finally had one on Saturday. Having been booked on Northwest Airline on what ought to be advertized as their “Pygmies only” flight to Memphis and stuffed into my window seat in roughly the same manner that you stuff an oversized suitcase into the overhead compartment, and having forgotten to remove my jacket and having the A.C. system go out, my flight up  to Memphis had been a nightmare. Part of it was my fault, the Northwest bag checker told me that I did not need to check my third bag. “But your sign says two bags only” I protested. “Yeah, put one bag inside the other” she advised. “But, the bag won’t close, they will see that I have a third bag sticking half way out of my second  bag.” I responded. “They won’t care” she said, and they did not. Some rule, I guess if I had stuffed five more bags into the opening of my zippered suitcase they’d have ignored it. I was only really carrying two bags. Anyway, the walk with all the baggage was very awkward and long and it had been very hard to get them in the overhead because I kept hitting my head on the airplane ceiling which could only have been properly walked under if your name happened to be Happy, Dopey, Sleepy or Doc.


But I made it to Memphis and everything went fine, that is until I came back and they directed me to the wrong gate, causing me to march roughly half a mile more that I should have had to. But I got over that. It was when we landed in Austin that my moment came.


Having talked Northwest into checking my third bag for the flight home, I had to go to the baggage claim area to pick it up. It took, as usual, an unconscionable amount of time for the conveyor belt to start to bring down the bags, but once it did, I sat down in a chair and relaxed. Let the others scramble for their bags I thought. I will pick mine up when they clear out. And I would have, if the bags had continued to come down. Which they did not. Because three bags jammed together maybe six feet from the passengers collecting their bags, at most two and a half feet straight up the conveyor built. The belt stopped, we stared. For fifteen minutes. Then a uniformed guy climbed out from the exit chute on the wall down the conveyor belt for maybe a foot. He turned around and scrambled back, looking like one of those old cartoons where a guy gets caught trying to break through a hole because his butt is too big, and someone beats his ass with a club to get him through it.(Do they still show those ?)


After about ten more minutes, a young lady of perhaps 19 came over and briefly observed the situation and then left to go back to the Northwest baggage office where she pulled her homework out and started studying. This was the moment, I could feel my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels and I jumped out of my chair and ran to her office. “What in the hell is going on ?” I demanded. “Oh, those bags up there are jammed.” She said. “Everyone can see that, unjam them ! “ I stated, perhaps a bit emphatically. “I can’t, it’s against the rules, only the City of Austin Security can do that.” She explained. “ But they are only a couple of feet up, you can probably reach them. I know I can.” I  (again) screamed. I followed up by throwing my arms above my head and screaming “This is crazy” and, in my defense. It was. “I’m going to unjam the thing myself.” Why I had not done this in the first place is a pretty good question. “O.K., great, but if Security comes, don’t tell them I approved.” She whispered. I turned on my heel and walked back to the belt, throwing down my carryon bags and rolling up my sleeves.


At this point, the crowd waiting for the bags streamed right past me walking away from the conveyor.. After 40 minutes, Northwest had figured out that they could simply use another carrousel for the rest of the bags. This spoiled my day. I grabbed my bag and went to find a cab. I don’t know if they ever got the jammed bags down.


I write this not because it is something I am proud of, on the contrary, it is certainly the sign of a deep psychosis. But in a way , it was nostalgic. Once again, it was 1988 or 1991 or anytime before the World Trade Center Towers went down, I was young, carefree and feared neither airline nor airline employee. I miss those days.