Thursday, June 26, 2008

Guns and Gold

The thump you just heard was the stock market falling 350 points today. I predicted at the beginning of the week that the market would drop 600 points this week, wiping out about 6% of the value of a common 401(K). Retire at 59 now you son of a bitch ! I hope I am wrong and there is a rally tomorrow, but I see no reason why there should be. I see where gold closed at $900 an ounce. I went down to our mail scale to weigh my wedding ring to see if I am now wearing the most valuable thing I will own by next week on the fourth finger of my left hand, and decide whether to put it in my safety deposit box with all of my baseball cards. I was disappointed to find that my wedding ring weighs only .3 oz and even when combined with my .4 oz. signet ring, I have only $630 on my fingers. That’s not going to be enough to pay the rent.

 

So while riches allude us we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the United States Supreme court held today that the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms is an individual right and not a collective one which applies only if you are  a member of a militia. My sigh of relief is because I can now finally come out of the closet and admit that I have always thought that to be the case, but have argued otherwise because of my personal fear of hand guns (as well as rifles, hand grenades, missile launchers,etc, etc.). There, I’ve got that off my chest at last. I feel better. And now that there is not going to be any money left in my stock portfolio I can buy a hand gun and use it to make a living with, or shoot my financial advisors.

 

I always secretly thought that the Second Amendment was an individual right because I figured that Congress would never be given the power to outlaw the only means of obtaining food that about half the population had in 1789. What were the settlers going to do ? Throw rocks at the deer and the ducks? Sneak up on the bear, trip him, and hit him on the head ? No, I figured that someday the truth about the Second Amendment would come out. Now it has, and now comes the onslaught of litigation. What does the Second amendment protect ? Why not thermonuclear weapons ? Those are arms. Why can’t I have my own little H-Bomb in the attic ? Justice Scalia says that is nonsense, that the “arms” the constitution is talking about are “ordinary arms” the kind most folks have. In other words, it’s a popularity contest. If everyone buys a tank, then ipso facto, they become  ordinary arms ! The only way Scalia’s argument makes any sense is if we limited arms to those borne by the citizens in 1789. Flintlocks. Those were the ordinary arms at the time of the passing of the Second Amendment. Scalia says that’s preposterous. One of my partners said that the test will be like Potter Stewarts old definition of pornography (“I know it when I see it”). The Judges will mostly  agree that howitzers are not normal arms, Berettas are, and M-16s fall into that gray area. Just because there were no automatic weapons in 1789 does not mean that society has not evolved to a different standard by now.

 

I have never owned a gun (and now I can’t afford one). This ruling will probably not make a huge difference in my life. Especially since I don’t often go breaking into houses at midnight to steal flat screen T.V.s. But you never know. I could “get mine” from a bad shot out a window as I walk past a neighbor’s house, or maybe  a ricochet off someone’s front porch. If that bullet has your name on it………

 

The good thing is that life here in Texas will not change at all. We have never outlawed the hand gun and we will never outlaw the hand gun. But at least now we can sleep easy if we have to move to the District of Columbia. Wonder if the President will go to a gun show this weekend ?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obit for the Metro Man

A local real estate developer, politician named Robert Barnstone committed suicide this week. He was 61. His wife of 40 years was an editor of Texas Monthly and he counted many fine writers as good friend. Consequently, I was looking forward to his obituary and it did not disappoint.

 

Without quoting too much from it, let me say that it captured the essence of the Austin Metro Man. The kind of guy who in a less enlightened time would have been presumed gay because his taste was so good. The kind of guy who lived for high rise condos and was an expert in musical theatre and archery. But the most compelling part of the obituary referred to his sartorial splendor. Here, I will quote, because the prose deserves to be remembered.

 

“His sartorial experiments-vintage Boy Scout campaign hats, black velvet sports jackets, fashion forward clodhoppers, and disposable Japanese jeans-were noted less for their success than for their exuberance.”

 

Now Barnstone was about 5 foot 2 in a pair of “clodhoppers”, fashionable or otherwise. I have been trying to imagine him walking down Congress Avenue wearing a vintage Boy Scout Campaign hat and black velvet sports jacket. It would probably not be the best image for the Boy Scouts of America. But then again, I never understood the lure of those round broad brimmed hats that make every Scout Master a human reminder of Smokey the Bear.

 

As I have explained in these pages before, my obituary is very important to me. Sort of a last shot that less prescient people than myself often forget to take. Reading the Barnstone obit amused me in that I wondered what anyone would chose to write about my particular sartorial splendor. I think that the following might be used.

 

“ His sartorial style was known more for its terrifying redundancy than for its distinction. He  owned  twenty five pairs of Academy walking shorts, of which he wore the same two every day of his life. His dress shirts were an amazing array of white with small red spots which had been transferred there through over exuberant experiences with Pico de Gallo and pasta sauces. He had over 20 suits, of which no more than three fit at any particular time in his life. As casual wear he preferred to don golf shirts from different time share resorts he had obligingly purchased from Rumanian salesmen over the course of his legal career. The T-shirts which he wore each morning to walk his beloved dog Amber were known and admired all around the block for their faded humorous statements( “Old guys rule “ ) and stretches around the mid-section. He never went to a ball  park without buying a cap, and he never wore the purchased cap again unless he found it rummaging through the trunk of his car and managed to bend it back into good enough shape to fit on his pointy gray head. Like the pig of song and lore, his shoes were a “terrible disgrace” and his woven belts were each frayed to perfection at points where they could almost, but not quite, be hidden behind the belt loops of his pants. His penchant for wearing a pair of socks each day, one black and one navy blue ,was a tribute not only to his poor eye sight, but to his refusal to be hemmed in by fashion’s dictates, need for peer approval, or even good common sense. He will be missed by all whom he made feel better about their shoe shine each and every day. “

 

That’s how I want to be remembered.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

FW: Life Liberty and Property

 

 

From: Wade Porter
Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 8:58 AM
To: 'wadeporter.stacey321@blogger.com'
Subject: Life Liberty and Property

 

The classical liberal John Locke wrote of the sacredness of life, liberty and property. Jefferson changed the American version of the formula to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which seems to imply that happiness can come either with or without property and the “pursuit” is left to the discretion of the individual.

 

I am, like most Americans, schizophrenic on the subject, which is to say that I am like Ebenezer Scrooge (who was not an American, or even real for that matter) who pointed out that nothing in the world is so criticized as the pursuit of property and yet there is nothing that the world is harder on than the lack thereof.

 

I entered this week expecting one of the great economic storms of the last 100 years. I just had a feeling that this was the week of the stock market meltdown, which, combined with the dive in the value of housing would create the devastating “one two” punch which would go far to limiting the “happiness” of those Americans who chose to rely on the pursuit of property as a means of obtaining same. It has not happened yet, but it is only Tuesday. Never the less, it shows that those of us who pursue happiness through the pursuit of property are never really relieved from the fear that someone is going to take our property away from us. One of the things Jesus understood best was that no one who pursues property for happiness ever really rests easy. There is always something to fear as you attempt to build up your earthly treasures, or just hold onto them.

 

The idiocy of all of this is that any American who reads this is rich by the historical standards of our country and by present world standards. Most Americans suffer from the same malady, we think more of the luck of the 1% of the people better off than ourselves and assume that it is natural that 99% of the people who have ever lived on earth were (and are) worse off. Suppose the market crumbles. Suppose all that I hoped to retire on is wiped out in a week. It has happened to many before me. I guess that will mean that I will find a smaller place to live and work for the rest of my life. Guess what ? I am still better off than 98.7% of the people who have ever lived on earth . By the way, these percentages are estimates only and were completely made up by the writer, who heartily believes them to be true. But suppose they are not, suppose I am left better off than only 95% of the people, or 80% or 60%. That still should make my pursuit of happiness successful (as long as I have air conditioning).

 

In the great scheme of things, it does not matter that the Canadian “loony”( or is it “loonie”? ) has reached par with the American dollar, or that the value of the equity in the average house declines 30% or that haughty western Europeans are laughing at our comeuppance. What matters, as Mr. Jefferson told us, is the “pursuit of happiness”. Maybe the means of attaining that goal will shift a little bit. Maybe it’s time.

 

 

Life Liberty and Property

The classical liberal John Locke wrote of the sacredness of life, liberty and property. Jefferson changed the American version of the formula to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which seems to imply that happiness can come either with or without property and the “pursuit” is left to the discretion of the individual.

 

I am, like most Americans, schizophrenic on the subject, which is to say that I am like Ebenezer Scrooge (who was not an American, or even real for that matter) who pointed out that nothing in the world is so criticized as the pursuit of property and yet there is nothing that the world is harder on than the lack thereof.

 

I entered this week expecting one of the great economic storms of the last 100 years. I just had a feeling that this was the week of the stock market meltdown, which, combined with the dive in the value of housing would create the devastating “one two” punch which would go far to limiting the “happiness” of those Americans who chose to rely on the pursuit of property as a means of obtaining same. It has not happened yet, but it is only Tuesday. Never the less, it shows that those of us who pursue happiness through the pursuit of property are never really relieved from the fear that someone is going to take our property away from us. One of the things Jesus understood best was that no one who pursues property for happiness ever really rests easy. There is always something to fear as you attempt to build up your earthly treasures, or just hold onto them.

 

The idiocy of all of this is that any American who reads this is rich by the historical standards of our country and by present world standards. Most Americans suffer from the same malady, we think more of the luck of the 1% of the people better off than ourselves and assume that it is natural that 99% of the people who have ever lived on earth were (and are) worse off. Suppose the market crumbles. Suppose all that I hoped to retire on is wiped out in a week. It has happened to many before me. I guess that will mean that I will find a smaller place to live and work for the rest of my life. Guess what ? I am still better off than 98.7% of the people who have ever lived on earth . By the way, these percentages are estimates only and were completely made up by the writer, who heartily believes them to be true. But suppose they are not, suppose I am left better off than only 95% of the people, or 80% or 60%. That still should make my pursuit of happiness successful (as long as I have air conditioning).

 

In the great scheme of things, it does not matter that the Canadian “loony”( or is it “loonie”? ) has reached par with the American dollar, or that the value of the equity in the average house declines 30% or that haughty western Europeans are laughing at our comeuppance. What matters, as Mr. Jefferson told us, is the “pursuit of happiness”. Maybe the means of attaining that goal will shift a little bit. Maybe it’s time.

 

 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Rate of Inflation

Inflation is in the news today. Pork prices went up 8% which is good news for pig farmers. Fruit was up almost 6%. We won’t touch gasoline as that is a dog bites man story. But high food prices are certainly something to worry about. Although I have not checked my personal inflation barometer, the price of a package of Hostess cupcakes.

 

The inflation which had been brought on by the Vietnam war, and several ill advised large union contracts at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s caused food prices to really jump. For the first 16 years of my childhood I had never paid more than ten cents for a package of two cream filled chocolate iced, with a white squiggly line ,cupcakes. I loved them. Some people preferred the more traditional Twinkie , but I was a cupcake man.

 

Then about 1970 the price of cupcakes began to surge. First to fifteen cents, then to a quarter, and by the time I entered college, 35 cents. No longer a bargain, but still affordable from time to time. Then one day in my sophomore year, I was standing in a long line at the student cafeteria which was just not moving. No one could figure out what the problem was, so I walked to the front and found that my old friend Trey Fectaeu was trying to pay for a hamburger with a hundred dollar bill. “it’s the smallest I have.” He explained to me. There was not $100 change in that whole cafeteria, even if all the customers threw in their money, so the line was at an impasse.

 

Fectaeu was always pulling shit like that. It was critical to him that he be thought of as a big shot. I’m sure that he hoped that the presence of the $100 bill would cause people to ask him about his job and he could then brag a bit about the lucrative nature of part time house painting, which he and my roommate Gary Smith did during the summers. I don’t recall just how the standoff ended, but eventually the line began to slowly move again. It never moved at too rapid a pace anyway. No college line ever did. I had not made my selection yet because the cupcakes were kept in a bin next to the cashier. When  my turn came ,I grabbed a cupcake and reached into my pocket.” 52 cents “said the sleepy eyed cashier. “It can’t be 52” I replied. “Yeah, there’s two cents tax on fifty cents” said the slug, “says so right here. “ He held up a sheet of paper onto which someone had helpfully  handwritten for this troglodyte,  the ranges of sales tax he needed to charge. “Not the tax you dope” I helpfully explained, ” the fifty cents. Hostess cupcakes don’t cost fifty cents.” “ Well they do now” he opined and showed me a newly fastened sticker which had been placed over an old printed price. Blood rushed to my face, I am quite sure that steam came through my ears, my lips curled into the most hideous of scowls as I screamed loud enough for the whole cafeteria to hear (and maybe some outside as well). “That’s bullshit, you can’t charge fifty cents for God damned Hostess cupcakes.” I’m pretty sure that I said something about “rip off artist” too. In those days it was considered mandatory for college students to scream “what a rip off” every time they were charged for something, no matter what the price. It was an Abbie Hoffman thing.

 

But it was the cursing which had gotten the attention, especially of Trey Fectaeu who was sitting at a table nearby. He walked over and asked if I needed any money because he still had more than $ 98 on him. “No, I don’t want your money, I simply will never pay 50 cents for Hostess cupcakes.” I said this in not so much of a scream as a determined, tight lipped remark. Trey retreated back to his table. I took one last lingering look at the cashier, who had adopted an attitude of total neutrality  toward the subject, and raised the cupcakes over my head, slamming them back into the bin, trying to look like Wilt Chamberlain. I had hoped to walk away from the event as something of a folk hero, but alas, no one seemed to much care for the stand I had taken for the proletariat. I never bought a package of Hostess cupcakes again.

 

I did continue to eat chocolate cream filled cupcakes. My roommate and I found a “day old” Mrs. Baird’s bakery where you could buy their stale knockoffs for a nickel. You had to put them in the freezer for a couple of days to try to get some moisture back in, and even then, dry crumbs would run down your throat sending you into a tubercular coughing fit, but it was better than paying 50 cents to the “man”. Even if this particular “man” was just a cupcake man. Years later I still think of those cupcakes and get their pricing tied up in my mind with the war in Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Those were the things that had destroyed America. It was not enough that 50,000 kids had to die in those stinking jungles, but even those who returned found that they had to pay half a dollar for Hostess Pastries. I wonder if the Iraqi veteran thinks the same when he fills up with four dollar gas ?

 

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Oh it’s Father’s Day dear father,

And we’re giving you a tie.

It’s not much we know

It’s just our way of showing you

That we think you are a regular guy !

 

You say that it was nice of us to bother

But it really was a pleasure to fuss !

Because according to our mother your our father,

And that’s good enough for us !

Yes, that’s good enough for us !     written by Harry Ruby, as sung by Groucho Marx

 

 

It is a different Father’s Day, from both ends of the spectrum. The day began with a call from my 18 year old daughter, at the Louvre in Paris, standing in front of the painting “Liberty Leads the People”. Just one more symbol I suppose of  her emancipation and graduation. I noted the irony and had a wonderful talk with her, although it was a bit one sided as she is doing a lot more exciting things than I am these days.

 

I then talked to my mother about my own father, confined to a nursing home,and I assume that he will be in that or a similar facility for the balance of his days. This is the first father’s day when I could not call him at home and wish him the best of days. It is a hard pill to swallow, much tougher on my mother and brother, but hard for me none the less. Yet it is inevitable, it comes to all fathers and to all children of those fathers.

 

The truth of the matter is that my Dad never made a big deal about Father’s Day. The Porter family was not into the lesser holidays. We pulled out the stops for Thanksgiving , Christmas and the Fourth of July, so much so that we seldom had energy for Memorial Day or Labor Day or Mother’s and Father’s Day, or even birthdays. As kids, Halloween and Easter were big deals, although Easter was not really a religious Holiday. The first time I recall hearing my father make a sarcastic remark was on Easter Sunday in the early 60s. He had taken the family to see either “King of Kings” or the “Greatest Story Ever Told”, I can’t recall which. My mother was overcome during the crucifixion scene, prompting my father, sitting in the dark, quiet theatre, to blurt out, “Oh Hell Jay, he’s back again in three days.” This brought rounds of laughter from my family, although not so much from anyone sitting near us.

 

Age and progressive dementia have robbed my family of the joy of my dad’s sarcasm. But my brother told me that it still surfaces at surprising times. Recently, my father was being given one of those dementia tests that doctors give before they examine you. What’s your name ? “Allen Porter”, Who are you married to ? “Jay Porter”. How many kids do you have ? “You mean just with her ?”. My dad and mom have been married for almost 58 years and we are his only family. I don’t know if the doctor knew that or not.

 

Once the family was passing through Memphis, Tennessee and my Dad had booked a room in a very seedy part of town. About 12:30 a.m., after the four of us had been in bed for about two hours, there was a drunken knock at our motel door. All of us awoke, started and clenched in terror, except my dad, who rolled over and looked at me and smiled and said “See who it is.” Then he turned back and went back to sleep. This was the same trip which saw us move in for a couple of days on my mother’s aunt who lived above a funeral parlor in Milton, West Virginia, something that my brother and I were somewhat  amused by. On the outskirts of Milton, my dad pulled the family car over to the side of the road and parked. He looked back at Clay and I  and said, “All right, get it out of your system, I don’t want the hear it after we get there.”  My brother and I broke  into convulsive laughter and threw out every joke we had been thinking. “Stopping in for a cool one ? “what’s for lunch, cold cuts again ?”  “If you go downstairs for a glass of  water tonight, don’t worry about waking anyone else up down there.” We got them all out. That night my dad came up to say goodnight and sat on the old double bed with my brother and I. “  “Dad, I said, we really appreciate this vacation.” “Oh, don’t worry about it,” he smiled “ we are eating off the in-laws tonight.”

 

He is a great man, my Dad. As kind and gentle a man as God ever put on this earth. I am unaware of anyone he ever hurt in life, and I never met anyone who did not speak kindly of him. Happy Father’s Day Dad, thanks for a job so well done. We love you.

 

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Circumstances of Pomp

Having graduated from high school last Thursday, my daughter and three of her friends thought it prudent to board an airplane for Paris  this  morning, lest someone decide to put them to work. Since my head was already spinning from all of the graduation events, I think she thought that it was a good time to get out of town, before I had a chance to really think about it.

 

It was somewhat surrealistic to see my daughter graduating down on the floor of the Erwin Center, in exactly the same spot where we watched Ernie and Bert and Big Bird in a Sesame Street Live production ,which seems like it happened very recently. There she was, up on the big screen, smiling and looking better than all of the other graduates, accepting her diploma and walking back down the aisle, completely finished with 13 years  of public education. I appreciated the big screen. She had looked small down there in the same cap and gown the other 500 graduates had. I had finally picked her out when she was asked to stand for a couple of the honors she had achieved. Her name was prominently mentioned in the program and, for the most part of the evening, I stared at her name wondering if she was as proud as her mother and I were. I don’t see how she could be. These exercises are as much for the parents as the students.

 

Graduation has changed since I walked down the aisle of the old Houston Music Hall 37 years ago. They were quite formal and solemn things then. Placed in the Erwin Center, sitting in the same seats where you have cheered on the Longhorns, people become a bit more rowdy. Air horns were employed by proud parents to signal the joy (and relief) that Junior had made it through. Some folks had made masks of their kids head, taped to sticks which they then placed over their faces. When the orchestra played, they swayed the heads in time to the music. It was not quite the crowd you’d see at a professional wrestling match, but it was close.

 

The ceremony itself, like everything in the public schools, was wrapped up in politics. Down on the floor, handing out the diplomas, was the President of the School Board, with his $85 haircut. I think he sees bigger things on his horizon. I noticed that he hugged the daughters of some prominent developers. Then we had to hear from the superintendent, who gave a boilerplate speech that could have been written by a chimp, and perhaps was. I recalled a graduation of my wife’s where Barbara Jordan spoke with all of the eloquence she was famous for. I don’t recall her ending with the stirring quote that “the public schools are the backbone of America”, but then again, that was a long time ago, when a lot of people still knew how to speak to crowds.

 

The Principal of the school, performing his last duty, after being ridden out of town on a rail by a group of parents who though that he did not clearly understand the high schools traditions, was in an awkward position. He made the best of it by sticking it to those parents that had ousted him by referring to one of his sins. That sin was bringing a book to a football game. Horrors ! He told the students that if they had a book with them, they would always have a companion with them. Even at a football game. Good for him.

 

The strangest thing of all was seeing the kids, some of whom I’d known from the cradle, walk across the stage. There was the kid who used to pretend he was a cat ! There was the kid from pre-school, there were the kids that were in Stacey’s gymnastics classes and dance classes, and the ones she traveled all over the country with as a debaters. There was the gang she hung out with in middle school, the girls that had slept on her floor , all the ones who had been her companions and been discussed out our dinner table for all these years. Down there was the salutatorian, the kid I had sponsored for confirmation at Church. I always liked to point him out and tell people that I had “brought him to Christ” when, in fact, we sat around different area bars and he had to listen to my views on both the history and the future of Christianity. It was amazing that after all that that  he still  agreed to be confirmed. Also down there was the valedictorian, one of the great kids from the neighborhood, heading off to North Carolina to continue his studies and his  fencing. I got a good look at his proud parents and thought of all the times his dad and I had worried about our kids as we walked our dogs in the mornings.

 

I hope that I will have these memories forever, the site of my daughter with all the medals around her neck, including the prestigious Henniger award for the top social studies student at the school (as voted by her teachers). It made me realize that 18 years of non-stop talking  about history and politics had rubbed off on her. Her mother deserved most all of the credit for getting her through, but I would always claim the Henniger as  my contribution.

 

 

I hope and trust that there will  be other ceremonies for Stacey, many  I hope to live to see. But there is something unique  about the high school graduation. They walk on that stage( where Bert and Ernie once cavorted ) as  children, and they walk off as adults.  Adults capable of traveling to Paris without being under  the watchful eye of the old man. God Bless them on their next journey, and God Bless those of us they leave behind,

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

All over except the shouting

Sometime tonight or tomorrow, Senator Obama will become the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, something he has actually been for a couple of months now. Because of the extraordinarily poor way that Bill Clinton has campaigned for his wife this year, and a sleazy article in Vanity Fait that came out this week, there will be no Obama/Clinton ticket (unless Obama has a suicide penchant that we don’t know about). The long war of attrition among the Democrats has raised the  hopes of people who should logically have no reason for hope (audacious or otherwise) the Republicans. I hear people, whom I respect ,telling me that Obama cannot win. I disagree, and still believe that when all is said and done  he will, but there is certainly no reason for you  to be believe that  I am right about that.

 

Still, it is terrible how people decide who they are going to vote for. There may be enough Reagan Democrats that will never forgive Obama for having a minister that can’t disagree with America agreeably, or a wife who says that she is only now proud of America for the first time, to cost the Senator  the election. Things looked O.K. for John Kerry until the Swift Boat vets got a hold of him. He never recovered from that stumble. There are themes in American Politics that you can’t overcome. You can’t be too rich, you can’t appear too clever (as opposed to smart) and you can’t ever say that our country (government) is really responsible for a lot of the bullshit its citizens and citizens of the world have had to put up with since World War II. Because our country, unlike every other country in the world, never has bad motives for anything we do. I don’t know how grown men and women can stand up and repeat that great national lie, but they do, every four years. And any slip up destroys you. Why can’t we be content to say, “We think that we are the greatest country in the world, and we are going to really try to live out the ideals we profess, but now and then, we screw up” ?

 

We have just spent almost eight years wasting virtually every advantage, economic and moral, that we had on September 11, 2001. I defy you to show me one country which has ever fallen so far, so fast, and not had occupying troops within its borders. We spent 7 years of precious time with two paid lobbyists of the oil industry holding the jobs of President and Vice President of the United States. Well folks, we got what we deserved ( $4.00 gas) and their backers  got what they paid for (record profits). We have spent more than five years at war with a country that never attacked  us and never threatened to attack us. All for a stable middle east (and cheap oil). How’s that one working out for you ? We must have been out of our collective minds to twice turn our children’s future over to those greedy little hustlers that have been running this country into the ground . Let me ask you the question you are going to be asked this fall. Are you better off today than you were 8 years ago ? More importantly, is the world better off today than it was 8 years ago ?

 

Yes, I am going to vote for Obama. It can’t get any worse.