Friday, February 27, 2009

Cowboy Clay

In honor of "Go Texan Day" in Houston, I thought you might like to see this vintage cowboy photo "Cowboy Clay Porter" on

View and comment on the photo. also included this personal message:

"My Brother Clay on Go Texan Day !"


Political Anger

In the line of work I am in, I have a lot of conservative friends. Very conservative. The kind that are already circulating hate mail about the current administration. Most of the things I get are alleged “testimonials” from some hard working American whose pocket is being picked by the bail out plans. I got one today from some guy (these are all urban  myths) who says that he survived on Ramen Noodles for three years while he built up a thriving business which is now being taxed away from him. I know that this story is made up because I recognize the lines about single moms having their fourth child and collecting welfare. I have been seeing that crap for years and what it generally shows is someone is not informed about how welfare works in this country since its reform under the Clinton administration. Old myths, especially when they are based in racism, die hard.


Let me be fair. The liberals are not much better. There is, what appears to me to be, a plan on the part of the administration and Democratic members of Congress to turn people against the rich merely because they are rich. I don’t mean by taxing them. That’s a legitimate political strategy. If you don’t like it, win the next election. I mean by lumping together everyone in the country who in the Presidents words “makes over a quarter of a million dollars a year” as being outside the realm of  the respectable humanity which we care about. Every time I saw Nancy Pelosi at the speakers rostrum the other night I cringed. Not because I dislike Nancy Pelosi, the jury is still out on  that, but because I don’t understand why when my party takes control, they look around and pick the person from the most liberal congressional district in the entire United States to run the House of Representatives. Why do we always have to rub each other’s nose in things ? The typical Republican reaction is that they will just withhold all support.


At its very core, this nation is governed by children. No mature adults would act ,for one second, the way  Congress acts 24 hours a day. Even children who act like they do get put into timeout. There are many ways to deal with the problem. In good times we ignore it, in bad times we fight over it and act like our side is the only side with wisdom and maturity while we spit on millionaires or welfare mothers, depending on your particular taste. I’m sick of the whole thing. Sometimes the only honorable thing to do is what Pontius Pilate was so reviled for, just wash your hands.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

America to Pass Go ?

President Obama today announced a proposal to allow Monopoly money to become legal tender in the United States for certain specified uses.”We want to do everything we can to help the real estate and construction industries at this critical time. My administration is proposing that Americans may use Monopoly money in the purchase of  lots and in the building of specified  low cost housing and hotels." Prototypes of the houses and hotels were displayed on the White House lawn. “These houses and hotels will not be luxurious, but will meet demanding specifications” The houses will be made of a green plastic, the hotels will be red. All look just alike.


Shares in the Milton Bradley company, the maker of the game Monopoly were up sharply in early trading and Wal-Mart’s across the country reported selling out of the popular games within minutes of the President’s announcement. When asked where the administration had come up with the idea, Obama said that it had originated last Tuesday which is the traditional “Game Night” for the Obama family. “We were playing Monopoly and I had just landed my race car token on Park Place, with a hotel, which was owned by little Sasha. As I was handing  over the money to Sasha she turned to Malia and said , “Don’t you wish that this was real money?”  “I thought about it” said the President “and I looked over at Michelle and we were  both like well ,why not ?  and I went in and gave Geithner a call. He was a little gun shy after the beating he took the last time I sent him out with an announcement, so he asked that I handle this one.”


Republican Senator Mitch McConnell was immediately critical of the idea, saying in his usual sour puss fashion.”It’s one thing to let people spend Monopoly money, but House and Senate Democrats are already talking about loading up the bill with a bunch of sweeteners for their constituencies. They want to be able to use Monopoly money to pay electric and water utility bills and to ride on the nation’s railroads. There is even a proposal for a new “Luxury Tax” for the rich and an idea to hand out two 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards to every family in the country. Some Democrats want $200 of Monopoly money given to every citizen who passes a designated spot (labeled “Go”) each day.” McConnell did admit that the Republicans have debated trying to amend the bill to help the nation’s retailers. “There has got to be something for Main Street” said McConnell,” we are talking about building each city a giant “Free Parking” Lot downtown. Democrats are said to be supportive of the idea if all civil and criminal penalties are paid into a fund and awarded on a random basis to people who park in the “Free Parking” lot. McConnell was predictably sour on the idea. “I know that some families do that when they play Monopoly, but if we are going to do this we need to be strict constructionists of the Milton Bradley rules. That is not in the rules.”


The President is hopeful that much of the Monopoly money can be used where it is needed most. “I was over on Baltic Avenue the other day” He said. “The place is a real blight. I bet that someone could buy that whole street for about $65 and put three or four real nice green houses on it. Maybe even a hotel.” While Baltic Avenue residents were excited, home owners on Park Place were upset.”That’s all we need are a bunch of plastic green houses brought in here to ruin the character of the neighborhood.” Said one bearded old man wearing a top hat. “Boardwalk and Park Place have been the silk stocking communities of this town forever, something like this will destroy them. They need to keep these houses on the other side of East Asia (formerly Oriental) Avenue, near the Reading Railroad tracks.”


The bill will be introduced to Congress this week and the President hopes to have it on his desk by April 15. In response to a question as to whether money from the electronic versions of the game could be used, the President replied in the negative. “Look, we can’t just have a bunch of people printing out money with nothing to back it up, I mean come on.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Oscar Goes To.....

I did not watch the Academy Award presentation last night, which means that I heard all of it from the next room and switched to it now and then. The Oscar night is the second most overhyped event in America each year, right after the Super Bowl. Except every four years when it slips behind the Iowa Caucuses into third place. I had already correctly predicted the winner of each major category last night, so I saw no reason to watch it. I was able to predict the winners because I have been told for weeks who the winners would be. Except in one case. Some people thought that Sean Penn was going to lose out to Mickey Rourke as “the Wrestler”. Anyone who knows how the Academy votes knew that a poignant portrayal of a gay City Councilman was going to triumph over a guy who had spit on Hollywood several years ago. Hollywood  does not forget.


Like the Super Bowl, the Oscars now have a long pre-game show called “The Red Carpet”. I did see some of that. Last night’s Red Carpet event was particularly satisfying as dozens of millionaires paraded around in dresses worth tens of thousands of dollars and jewelry worth hundreds of thousands. All of this at a time where unemployment is reaching toward double digits and the country is fighting the worst economic situation since the 30s.I did see my wife’s nemesis Angelina Jolle wearing emerald ear rings and an emerald ring which, together, were worth much more than my house. Fortunately, she and her husband Brad the Pitts,  the  pretty boy,  barely talented dufus who played the baby who ages backwards, both lost. Chalk up another win for Jennifer Aniston.


But back to the Red Carpet. All that is wrong with America can be found on the Red Carpet and summed up in two words. Ryan Secrets. There he was, all four foot six of him, standing on a box of some sort so that he would not be towered over by the 5 foot one actors he interviewed. I have never seen this guy Secrest’s show “American Idol” because I don’t like that smarmy English guy who is on it. But I do see Secrest hanging around the “E” channel every Saturday morning while I am waiting for my favorite show, “The Soup”, to start. What a Bozo. I have never forgiven him for getting one of my heroes Kathy Griffith fired from her Red Carpet gig. Remember the year Kathy sent out her “message of hope” to Dakota Fanning who Kathy said had just entered drug rehab ? Now that is stuff that is worthwhile to watch. Not the eighth dwarf asking some overrated starlet “who” she is wearing. Just once, I wish one of those bimbos would say, “It is a dress, not a person, it is not a who, has never been a who and can never be a who.” But they don’t, they play along with it and plug the designer so that they can keep getting free clothes.


The  big news last night was that woman who was in “Titanic” finally won after 102 nominations. I understand that she is really an excellent actress. She is certainly better than the guy that was in “Titanic” who used to play a little kid on “Growing Pains”, Leonardo something. I saw him interviewed one time and he said this, I swear . “I made a movie which happened to be called “titanic and which happened to gross more than any movie in history.” Modesty, thy name is Leonardo.


I was glad that Slumdog won, I hope they gave a special Oscar to that poor kid who (spoiler alert) had his eyes gouged out with a spoon. I was also happy that Penelope Cruz won. She was wonderful in her movie. Think about it, you win an award for a comic portrayal you made in movie where you spoke a language which is not your own. That’s a pretty good achievement. I could never learn Spanish in a decade of trying.. I could never win an award which required me to speak it. Then they gave an Oscar to that dead guy who was in  “Batman, the Millionth Remake” which was O.K. with me. It’s not like he is going to  be up for anything next year.


Now that Time-Warner has cancelled the T.V. Guide Channel, I won’t get to see Joan Rivers make fun of everyone’s dress for the next two weeks while I am trying to find out what is on at 8:00 p.m.. I am going to miss that. I guess that’s the end of the award shows for awhile and American can concentrate on American Idol and Dancing With the Stars and America’s Next Tope Model for the next few months. Now that is television worth watching ! As Ernie Kovacs said, “Television is called a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.” See you at the movies !



Sunday, February 22, 2009

Remembering the Alamo

Tomorrow marks the 163 anniversary of the beginning of the 13 day siege of the Alamo in the Texas War for Independence. I don’t know what the Alamo means to younger Texans, but when I was a kid it was bigger than just about any other historic fact (probably because it had been turned into an historic myth of gigantic proportions ) not only in Texas, but in all of America. This was  because Walt Disney’s “Davey Crockett “ T.V. shows had immortalized it. Crocket, who died at the Alamo, either in battle or by firing squad, depending on  whether you read Texas history or Mexican history, was quite possibly the first great myth created by  television. Every boy worth his salt owned a coonskin cap and could sing the Davey Crockett theme song, “Born on a mountain top in Tennessee”, as well as the schoolyard parody, “Born in a pickle jar in Jones Café. “


My greatest memory of the Alamo is not from a childhood visit, but from a visit when I was in my twenties and already married. My wife and I were entering the Alamo when some lout attempted to walk in with a Stetson on his head. He was stopped by a large security guard who barred the front door and  screamed out “Take off your hat boy, this place is a shrine !” I liked that. I liked that a lot. I doubt that you get yelled at for leaving a  backwards baseball cap on in the Alamo these days, but you should.


Most people don’t realize, or have forgotten that there were actually two sieges of the Alamo. The first one was won by the Texans, then called “Texians”. General Cos, a brother in law of the dictator of Mexico, Antonio Lopez be Santa Ana, and his band of 150 soldiers were holed up in the Alamo during the first siege of Bexar by the Texians. The Texians seemed prepared to sit around all winter rather than storm the city when finally, one of the officers, Col. Ben Milam, rebelled, called a meeting and asked “Who will follow old Ben into Bexar ?” Most agreed to go and almost all came back except for “Old Ben” who was killed by a Mexican sharpshooter. But “Old Ben” had forced the Cos surrender and sent what was left of his little army back across the Rio Grande.


Upon the return of the Mexican Army the next year, things did not turn out so well  for the Texians at the Alamo, although Walt Disney, and later John Wayne, made a lot of hay out of the slaughter. Disney even made a lot of money. The Texas Revolution was marked by three outright massacres. After all hands were killed at the Alamo, the Garrison at Goliad was captured and all of the Texans were executed. A few weeks later, the good guys came upon Santa Ana’s army during afternoon siesta time and despite being outnumbered, possibly by  two to one, over ran the sleeping army in 18 minutes. During this battle, the Texians decided not to bother with too many surrendering Mexicans and killed many in what we would consider cold blood. “Remember the Alamo” being the battle cry. Documentary evidence from the time claims that many Mexicans soldiers through up their hands and cried “Me no Alamo”. An expression that is used to this day in Texas by anyone falsely accused of an act. Opinions differ as to whether it is politically correct  today to use the phrase. I do notice that most everyone still using it  has dropped the phony Spanish accent that used to go along with the saying when I was young.


Because the causes of the Texas Revolution were complicated, and because the result of the Texas Revolution was an unfair war against the Republic of Mexico that stole California, New Mexico and Arizona from the Mexicans, there will never be true agreement as to  the righteousness of the Texan cause. Unless you live in Texas. Let me state that again, unless you are an Anglo in Texas who was  taught Texas history in school prior to about 1975. For all of those, the cause will always be just, the memories everlasting and the righteousness of the victory will never die. I fall into that category, even though I know better. Remember the Alamo !

Saturday, February 21, 2009

7up your way to health

The airwaves have been filled with ads for a new Cherry 7UP “antioxidant”. I was excited that drinking a non caffeinated soda each day would protect me from the ravages of cancer, so I decided to look into it.


An antioxidant, for those who don’t know, is defined as substances that are capable of counteracting the damaging effects of the physiological process of oxidation in animal tissue. They are both nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and enzymes and some believe them to play a role in preventing the development of chronic diseases, cancer being the most often listed. This, despite the fact that a long term study of 40,000 women reported in 2005 in the British Medical Journal concluded that vitamin e had no effect on cancer rates of any kind. Maybe it works for men. Anyway, Vitamin e is considered to have antioxidant properties, so 7UP, has put together an antioxidant cherry drink which, as it turns out, is 7UP and cherry along  with a splash of vitamin e. Undoubtedly, M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital is, at this very moment, developing a new chemotherapy consisting solely of Cherry 7UP.


Now to be fair, the 7UP folks will never tells you that 7UP prevents cancer. To do so would be against the law. But they also don’t advertize their miracle soda as” 7UP with vitamin e”. No, they say that it is an antioxidant, playing on the hazy memories of the American consumer who will relate that as somehow being a cancer preventative. If this is so, we have come full circle.


Back in the 60s, diet drinks  were sweetened with saccharine  and something called “cyclamates”. By the 70s certain studies of these two sweeteners had caused panic in the scientific communities of Canada and the United States. Although most of the defective studies were Canadian, as you might expect. Cyclamate and Saccharin studies found that a 10 part cyclamate mixture with one part saccharine produced bladder cancer in 8 out of 240 rats in one study (in Canada, never replicated by any other study anywhere in the world). The levels of ingestion for the rats in that study was equal to human consumption of 350 cans of diet soft drink a day, which some people at the time doubted was a realistic consumption level, even in  the United States, even in the south (remember, this was before the 7/11 people invented the Big Gulp).A study on these  Canadian rats, which may not be as hearty as your New York sewer variety , found that they were also more likely to get bladder cancer when fed a large amount of saccharine. The battle against saccharine went on for 14 years with those in favor of the sweetener finally winning out in the U.S..  Cyclamate was not so lucky. By the time the Reagan administration claimed that no study had ever been able to replicate the original findings, the United States was so far down the road with the ban that it has simply maintained it every since, and not just for rats, but for people too. This, despite the fact that NO human study has ever found a link between cyclamate and anything more than a bad after- taste from drinking  the Choo-choo Cherry Brand of the “Funny Face” powdered drink. By way of irrelevant comment, Choo-Choo Cherry had originally been called “Chinese Cherry” and was represented in trade dress by a slant eyed cherry wearing one of those old broad straw hats that all the women wore in “The Good Earth” right before the locusts hit. This female Asian cherry (then referred to as oriental) also spoke with an eastern Asian accent. The name  change over from Chinese to Choo-choo was among the first signs of Asian racial sensitivity in a country that was still bombing villages in North Vietnam on a daily basis.


But now may be Cyclamates hour of deliverance. I propose that the diet Cherry 7Up antioxidant mixture be sweetened with cyclamate. Although cyclamates don’t really cause cancer, and vitamin e does not really prevent it, I for one would feel better with these two harmless elements canceling each other out. Maybe it’s not too late to bring back “Funny Face”. I am not sure if they ever changed the name of “Injun Orange” and so we will have to work on that, even if it means changing the  commercial with the guy on the package with the big feather saying “How !” That was a real knee slapper. As a tribute to those who died for us, I propose changing the name of the Raspberry flavor from”Rootin’ Tootin”  to “Rat”. “Raspberry Rat”, It seems like the least that we can do.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The May Dilemma

Rayda showed me a picture in the newspaper this morning, one of those columns which companies use to place  blurbs on  their folks  when they get a promotion. This fellow’s name was Randy May and Rayda asked me if it could have been the Randy May I knew in Junior High. To begin with, the guy  in the paper was a systems engineer. That’s a guy who engineers systems that I don’t understand and have to get my secretary to tell me how to turn on even the  small portion my office manager lets me touch. The  Randy May I knew could no more be a systems engineer than I could be a rocket scientist. Let me say right now, I’m no rocket scientist. They made that clear to me when I graduated from law school. “Porter” they said “under no circumstances are you to use this degree in any way toward working in  jet propulsion, with solid state fuel, or in the design, engineering or building of rocketry.”


May was one of those guys whose career peaked around the 9th grade. He was a hero on the football team, a  Romeo with the ladies, an all star drummer and was elected the most popular boy in our class. He also wore a Nehru jacket to our final dance which was about as cool as a guy could get in the spring of 1968. But I knew that Randy’s fame would not last. He was not the sharpest tack in the box. Randy sat behind me in Mr. Turner’s History class. I had to carry Randy through that class, despite the fact that it was taught by a guy who had “Assistant Principal in charge of Boy’s discipline” written all over him. Something he attained later in life. Mr. Turner gave the world’s easiest tests. Every week, a multiple choice test with 14 questions. May, however, was not up to them. Now ,despite the fact that I finished high school ranked 310 out of 450, I did know something about history. As much as the teacher and considerably more than Randy May. So May, who sat behind me, asked if I would not mind sitting to my left in my desk when I took the weekly test. May could then copy each answer from me. He would always change one answer so he would not get an A. Randy was a modest cheat. He was mortified the week that I missed a question and he had chosen that as the one to “get wrong” and somehow he guessed right. He got an A, I got a B. That did not sit well with me, but I got over it.


I did not see Randy again until my Freshman year at college ,which may tell you something about the standards of colleges in those years, that they had let a pair of dufuses (dufi ?)like us in. He was in my Astronomy class which had been set up for “non science majors” (they could have substituted the word remedial, the Prof called vectors, “numbers with hats on them” ). May seldom came to class, and on test day he sat over next to me and sort of took up where we had left off. But unfortunately for Randy, Remedial Astronomy was not my best course. Randy figured that out when he saw me struggling through the multiple choice exam. I noticed that he would turn his attention to the answer sheets of other scholars for help. On the way out of one exam he developed what my friends and I thereafter referred to as the May Dilemma when he asked me “What are you supposed to do when the guy on your right says one thing, the guy on your left says something else, and you have got opinions of your own ? “  Unless the picture in the paper this morning was  Randy May, that was the last time I saw Randy May in my life.


But the thing is, the picture could be Randy. People can shock you. There were two contemporaries of mine in my old neighborhood. We lived right around the corner from each other and were always in the same grade at school.  One’s name was Steve, the other was Mickey. They were bright enough, but they were just two run of the mill normal guys that you see around the neighborhood. Nothing special. I lost track of them and the next time I looked up they had become as successful in their chosen fields as it is possible to become. Mickey, now Mike, became not just a heart surgeon, but a world class heart surgeon. Literally, one of the best in the world. Steve did even better as far as that goes. He was at one time the head of a syndicate that was the largest drug cartel operating in the United States. Newspaper stories said that he had warehouses where cash had to be baled like hay. When they finally got him, he spent all of his time being hidden from Columbian hoods, and moved from one safe place to another so that he could testify against all of his old compadres.FBI agents stated that he was a “genius”. Here are two guys, who lived within yards of each other, and within yards of me, who were nothing special  in high school, and look what they accomplished.


I even made a modest showing in this department. A client I worked with  found out that an old school chum of mine was his secretary. When he mentioned my name as his lawyer, she is reputed to have said, “No ! that idiot is a lawyer  ? ” Well, at least that proved she remembered me. So you just never know how things are going to turn out. I hope that picture was my old buddy Randy. I hope that he still has that Nehru Jacket.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Momentum Growing Within Administration to Cancel the Rest of February

Sources within the Obama White House admitted yesterday that a plan to cancel the rest of the month of February is looking increasingly likely and may happen as early as next Monday. A secret Cabinet level task force has been meeting since just after Valentine’s day to discuss the possibility of the cancelation. Said one Cabinet level official from the State Department, who said that she could only speak under an agreement of complete anonymity, “The President has looked at our report and tentatively agreed with us that, for the rest of this month, nothing good can happen in this country following yesterdays President Day sales at retail stores ..With so much bad news on the horizon for the rest of the month, and believe me, there’s a bunch of it, there seems to be little reason to continue and not go straight to March”.


February is a traditional gloomy month in America. People are sick of snow and overcast skies, the flu and all that comes with the end of winter. Football has ended and baseball has not begun. The only basketball games are meaningless tune ups looking toward the coming of “March Madness” and the traditional jolt to the nation’s workplace by the distribution of millions of NCAA “brackets” followed by hours and hours of no productivity while clueless employees fill them out. Key administration officials believe that any coming bad news, and again are adamant that there is plenty of it, will be better accepted by the public during a month which is synonymous with the coming of spring. Some sources admitted that March often “comes in like a lion” and that there has been some sentiment to skip the calendar all the way to March 21, the first full day of spring. This was finally dismissed because it was felt that the Nation’s landlords would ask for a bailout if they all had to skip receiving an entire month’s rent.


Admitting that the decision would be unusual, it was vigorously defended by those who pointed out that it was not unprecedented. “Look” said one official, “we have screwed around with daylight savings time to the point where no one really knows what time it is. Plus, in 1752, the country gained eleven full days when we switched over to the Gregorian calendar. We went right from September  2 to  September 14 that year, and the world did not fall apart. Besides, February is the shortest month of the year by two full days, we will miss it less than any other.”


The next step will probably to be consultation with the nation’s business leaders, the few who are left, to try to figure out how to deal with wages and prebooked cruises for the month. These are felt to be minor irritants to the plan, as one official said “We can always print more money.” The only real potential problem involves the states of Indiana and Arizona who have never gone onto to daylight savings time. Governors of both states have said that they are going to go ahead with the rest of February no matter what the cost. “We won’t give the government a free hour every year, why should we give them a week ?” seemed to be the attitude of most Hoosiers, almost all of whom have plenty of time to debate the subject since they are all out of work. “Do you think this means that we won’t get our full unemployment benefits ?” asked one worried Arizonan. These details are still being worked out.


Polling shows that Americans would support the plan, by a margin of 72% to 24% with 4% “ready to just give up all altogether”. Many, when polled, indicated a willingness to skip the entire rest of the year and 2010 also if it meant a quicker end to the recession.”I keep hearing that things will get better after the third quarter of this year. I never understood why we could not go ahead and skip to that quarter so that we could be better off immediately.” Said one citizen who has been closely following the debate. Out of an abundance of caution, the planned celebrations for the 275th anniversary of George Washington’s birth have been moved up from the 22nd of the month to 6:30 p.m. tonight and will preempt scheduled P.B.S. programming. The President has scheduled an address to the nation from the Oval Office following those festivities.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

In Search of the Milner

My wife and I had dinner with our old friends Gary and Debbie Marfin last night. They were in Austin, staying at their posh lake front condo which gets them out of Houston on a regular basis. Gary had taken slight  exception to my stating in these pages that he had never taken any math classes in college and that , perhaps, that that was unusual for an Associate Dean of  one of the nation’s best  Engineering schools. He reminded me (actually I did not have to be reminded, I knew)that he had taken numerous statistics courses in his Political Science graduate programs. Gary does not fully understand that while this blog is all about the truth, it has nothing to do with accuracy. Now if Gary can show me how he is able to use his social science statistics classes to do the civil drawings on a coal fired power plant, which he can design, I will admit that I have strayed from the truth. Otherwise I have simply been inaccurate as I generally always am when looking for a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense. He can ask my wife about that.


During what was a delightful dinner, the Marfins are the world’s best dining companions, I got to complaining about my daughter’s all consuming interest in a “study abroad program” which I fear will cost your correspondent a lot of money. We all laughed about how times have changed. Gary asked about my study abroad program at the University of Houston and I reminded him that it had lasted one day and that he had been there too. In Matamoras, Mexico. This gave us an excuse to talk about the escapades of our Junior year in college when we had taken a Greyhound down to Brownsville. I  wrote something about that bus trip last August, but the talk last night turned to our lodgings for the trip.



After we disembarked from the Greyhound, Gary and I checked into a flop house (a flop house is one step below a flea bag) across from the bus station. The hotel, as Gary reminded me, was called the Milner. I learned this morning that at one time there were a lot of Milner Hotels. It was really the first hotel chain the country, started after World War I by Earle Milner, he built up over 200 properties with a business plan of catering to average travelers and charging between $1.00 and $1.50 a room. Earle died at the age of 56 and it has been downhill for the Milner chain ever since. Today, I find evidence of four properties still owned by the company, which is still controlled by the Milner family. I have on my desk a map of the Milner hotel empire at its peak. There, down in deep South Texas, is the Brownsville Milner.


When I say this place was a flop house, I am trying to be descriptive and not pejorative, It was a place where people went to flop. Sometimes with prostitutes, sometimes with drugs and often with guns. By the early 1970s when Gary and I checked in, the place was as ratty and disgusting looking as any hotel I have ever been in. Gary recalls the shock on the desk clerk’s face when we told him that we wanted to check in for the night and not for an hour or two. The desk clerk spent several minutes quizzing us as to what we were doing in town. In this he was joined by his side kick “Charlie”. I had recalled that the side kick’s name was “Ray” but Gary corrected me, and he was right. “Ray” was fictional sidekick that Gary and I had invented in college who worked with a fictional policeman named Murdock, whom we always dreaded was going to arrest us at 2:30 in the morning coming out of the Richwood Supermarket with a bag fill of munchies.

Anyway, Charlie never could get it out of his head that we were not traveling salesman. The desk clerk, whose name I have forgotten ,if I ever knew, was constantly cutting off Charlie’s inept questions by telling him. “They’re not on the road Charlie”. For years, those were my watchwords  every time I checked into a hotel.


The room had to be seen to be believed. It had one double bed and a bedspread, no sheets. It had two small pillows with no pillow slips. It had one light bulb, with no globe, that was turned on and off with a long string coming down from a slowly rotating overhead fan, coated with dust and spider web remnants.. It also had a small basin with one faucet, a cold water tap only. Down the hall, we were made to understand, there was a community bathroom and I did see various derelicts tumble down there over the course of a few hours. Neither of us ever went down to look. It goes without saying that the place had no A.C. and I recall falling asleep on the bedspread, or maybe I passed out from the heat. When I awoke Gary was looking for his pen. “Check under the bed” I advised. “I’m afraid that there’s a tarantula under there” he said. “It’s not worth it.”


Now that I have told “how we got there” and “where we stayed” in two different blogs, I’ll save the “why we were there” and “what we did” for another day. My focus today is the hotel. My assumption was that the hotel was torn down long ago. Actually, my assumption was that the hotel had burned down long ago as  that is how real property of that sort usually turns its final profit for someone. But I wanted to know for sure. The hotel seemed ancient them, and thirty five years have passed since Gary, Charlie and I yucked it up in the lobby. The trail is cold.


But maybe not. In my in depth research on the internet this morning, I found  a story about a hotel in Brownsville across from the Bus Station and next to the Cathedral called “Hotel Econmico”. The hotel was shut down by health authorities in 2006 (sounds plausible) and put up for sale in 2008 with no prospects for buyers. Because the hotel was built in 1925 ,and appears in some architecture book, a modest effort to save the hotel had sprung up. I have not been able to determine how the effort played out and since you can still book a room there, I assume that the battle still rages, albeit quietly.  The description of the hotel in the stories I read certainly sounds like  the Milner.


“Inside, it looks as if the building and hotel have been stuck in a time warp. An old cash register still works on the desk. An old Coca-Cola machine selling sodas… Ceiling fans hang in every room over dilapidated beds.”  Bingo !  The story goes on to say that rooms rent for $10-$15 a night and a Brownsville Police spokesman is quoted as saying “It is a known location for drug users, prostitutes and illegal aliens. We’ve had so many calls there over the years. It’s still the case.” Even the mayor concedes “it’s not a good place at night”. Boy, a statement like that will hurt reservations.


Is this  the old Milner ? Who knows ? It is certainly descriptive of the Milner I knew. I guess there’s only one way to find out. I need to call the Greyhound bus company and see what a ticket from Austin to Brownsville runs these days.



Friday, February 13, 2009

Political Science 101

I was listening to “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio this morning. The story was important and timely in these days of economic chaos. It was about a college student who had spent two years living in a tent in Africa recording and studying the sounds made by the spotted leopard. Somehow, my mind wandered. I am sadden that this stimulus package is divided down partisan lines. Had McCain been elected, his administration would have proposed something similar, as main stream economics says that you need to stimulate the economy in order to avoid deflation which can cause true depression. Many, if not most of the Republicans want the package to pass, they just don’t want to vote for it so that if it fails, they can draw a clear line between the parties in the 2010 congressional elections.


What is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat ? That’s not a good question. The question is, what is the difference between a conservative and a liberal ? The political party labels are all just brand names. Both conservative and liberal thought springs from the purest of motives. A conservative is someone who does not want to see people (often themselves) held back. A liberal is someone who does not want to see people (often themselves) left behind. The tension between these two different modes of thinking forms the basis of all economic political argument in a democracy. In a totalitarian state, all those in opposition to the state are “liberals”. It is only after voting rights are granted that the definitions as I posit them begin to come into focus. Liberalism is an evolution of the concept that defines conservativism. Once you establish that the state should not be able to hold you back, the more successful in the market place tend to dominate the less successful. Liberalism then  evolves from the perceived need or desire of some to bring a measure of fairness to the society, so that no one is shut off from a decent living. Some people think that everyone is entitled to the same living. That is what we call socialism .It’s never made much of a mark in our country.


America started out as a classical liberal state, that is, a “conservative state”. The Pilgrims came to this country for liberty. The principles set out in the Declaration of Independence are principals of liberty. The concept of placing “justice”, as in social justice, not due process, on the same plane as liberty in America arrived much later. By definition, even liberty was not established in the country until after the Civil War. Justice as we view it today is really a late 19th century response to what we call the “Gilded Age”.


A stimulus package is all about justice, and has nothing to do with liberty, except in so far as it indirectly benefits some with tax cuts. That’s why Republicans don’t like it. That’s why Democrats do like it. But the parties, as mentioned above are not pure. The stability of the political system in the United States, or any democracy is based on the “haves” who want total liberty, voluntarily giving to the “have nots”, whatever slice of the pie is necessary to avoid a social revolution. Remember, there are always more have nots than haves. Politics in the United States involves the see sawing back and forth between liberty and justice. The country has come to more of a consensus than just about any other democracy as to how far  each side of  the see saw is allowed to go up and down. Theoretically, both American Political parties would fit very comfortably within the Tory party in Great Britain. The reason we  have such knock down and drag out fights in our Congress is because the political parties still pretend that they stand for something. Otherwise, they would have to admit what everyone really knows is the truth. That any individual politician is concerned only with his own political survival so that he/she can continue to run the country. Often into the ground.


Now back to the stimulus package. What will it do ?  Who knows ? my best understanding is that in terms of jobs, it may help to the extent of about 2%. So if the unemployment rate goes to 10%, maybe we can get it back down to 8%. That sounds like a lot of money for not much of a return, unless you are in the 2% that gets helped. The price of buying off the have nots is getting a lot higher, with a lot less return I fear. But there are less have nots than there used to be, so maybe that’s inevitable. The real fear of this down turn is that its depths and the issues that brought it about, may turn many haves into have nots. I’m thinking about planting a vegetable garden myself.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Guy down the Street

Today’s 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln has had the wonderful effect of focusing attention on the great man’s life. I have read three books on Lincoln this year so far and have watched various television shows about his life. I believe that Lincoln scholarship is at its peak today, primarily because of its objective focus on “Lincoln the Man”. There are things about Lincoln that we wish were not true, that we wish we did not know. Having reviewed the lives of almost all of the men who have held the Presidency, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the same misgivings apply to all of them.


There is a branch of Lincoln scholarship which seeks to compare his views of the world with what our more evolved views of the world are today. That is fair if there were people of his time that were more progressive than him. There were. Despite the fact that he, individually, was responsible for freeing millions of slaves, Lincoln himself was no abolitionist. He was in the moderate wing of the Republican party and believed that by preventing the extension of slavery into the new territories of the United States, slavery would eventually collapse. Which it would have. That view put him ahead of most of his fellow citizens, but he certainly lagged behind people like William Lloyd Garrison. I thought that it would be interesting to place Lincoln in a nice neighborhood in Austin today and leave  his views, circa 1856 as he expressed them. No one can know for sure what his true feelings were and which were political. But let’s assume that he meant what he said.


The fellow down the street from you is an odd duck. He is remarkably ugly, a word that you don’t use much in describing people, but which fits him. A beard would help cover his chin and perhaps give him some dignity, but it would not help much. Despite this fact he is vain. He is constantly having his picture made and has even hired painters to do portraits of him.


He is the oddest figure of a man that you have ever seen. The tallest man, by far, in the neighborhood and just about the thinnest. His arms and legs are so long that the kids, and some adults, secretly call him the “gorilla’ or the  baboon”. Still, the children love him, he has four boys of his own and you can see him out playing with them. Despite this, he obviously suffers from clinical depression. When he walks his dog around the block he is literally dripping with melancholy. A couple of times he has just disappeared for a week at a time after getting bad news. He is the saddest man that you know. It may be because of his wife, an imperious woman who thinks that she is better than the neighborhood and constantly berates him. She was a debutante in her youth and has never lost her superior attitude. He is a lawyer (like most of the Austin neighborhood) but travels about half of his time. Many say that he does it to get away from his wife. He is a senior partner in his own firm and is well thought of in his profession. He makes good money.


He seems to try to cover up his depression with jokes and funny stories. In fact, it is hard to have a serious conversation with him because he always introduces old stories about people he knew or claimed to know. About half of his stories are racist in nature which he tells with “Negro dialect” as he calls it. This is very uncomfortable for those listening, and because of that and the fact that everyone hates his wife, they don’t socialize with many on the block. His views on race are extreme. He has said, in public, that the white race is superior to the black race and that the races will never be able to live together as social equals. He honestly believes that the best thing for both races in America is for the government to find a way to ship all members of the black race back to Africa. He does believe that the more intelligent of blacks should be allowed to vote, as well as those who have served in the armed forces.


At times he appears to be a religious man, but he does not belong to a church. In conversations about religion, it seems obvious that he strongly questions the divinity of Jesus. He spends a lot of time working for the Republican party and is interested in elective politics, in which you would not think that he had a future. He believes in a very strong executive branch of government, almost dictatorial when the situation calls for it.


Well, there’s your neighbor. Strange fellow. As strange as you would be if dropped into a neighborhood in 2159 and perhaps let it be known that marriage is a state reserved for men and women as President Obama stated during the campaign. Sensibilities change over time. My belief is that in all ways political, the movement is always to the more progressive view on any matter. It can be slowed, but it cannot be stopped. Lincoln would be shocked, and possibly very upset over Obama’s election. But Lincoln himself, despite the flaws we see in him today, set in motion the possibility of it happening. Auden was right,"the words of a dead man are modifed in the guts of the living", but for the man who truly does good, time forgives. When placed in his proper perspective, Lincoln is the greatest of all Americans



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coffee vs. Tea

I don’t drink coffee, never have ,never will. I may have had half a dozen cups in my life, always to save myself from embarrassment after it was poured and everyone else was partaking. I think that it tastes bitter, and even when drowned in cream and loaded with sugar, still tastes like coffee.


I drink a lot of iced tea. By a lot, I mean a lot. Above average. You know those giant iced tea glasses they give you at lesser dining establishments ? I average about three of those a day. When I am on the road I will pull over and get the largest iced tea the fast food place will sell me. I drink it in just a couple of minutes.


Tea has about half the caffeine of coffee and enters your blood system at a much slower rate. It does not give you a jolt like coffee does and some colas do (I do not drink carbonated beverages either). In order to make sure that the tea does not add any more weight to an already quite hefty body, I have never put any sugar in it. Just ice and tea. I have been drinking this much tea since 1989.


Late one night in 1989 I arose with a shooting pain in my back radiating down to the groin area. I was up walking around for two hours, unable to sit down or lie down without the pain. After a couple of hours it went away and never came back again. I decided to forget about it.


Some months later, I had eaten some Chinese takeout  and watched a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie on T.V. when the pain returned. With a vengeance. I don’t know what child birth pain is like, and I never want to find out, but this was bad enough. The pain got so bad that my wife had to rush me to the E.R. because otherwise she would not have been able to get back to sleep. I was slapped on a gurney and wheeled off someplace where it was explained to me that they were going to inject some type of goo into my system so that they could x-ray me and find what they suspected to be a kidney stone. A very pretty young nurse came forward to insert something into me. I smiled and threw up on her. That is a bad feeling, throwing up on a nurse. Not as bad a feeling as the nurse has, but still, pretty bad.



After I was good and x-rayed I was carted into a room and approached by a  nurse who told me that I would be getting a shot for the pain. The fellow who had wheeled me back winked his eye at me and said “All right, you gonna get a high.” And I did. They tied me into a tube and ran that stuff into my veins all  night and all the next day. I never spent a more relaxing day. I wish I had some of that stuff right now. I felt like one of the Lotus Eaters in the Ulysses tale. I don’t recall for sure If there are any Lotus Eaters in that tale. I know that there are Sirens and Cyclops’s, Cyclopsi ?. I did not feel like either of those.


As I felt too good, they unhooked me and sent me home. They told me to get myself a pantyhose and urinate through it in order to catch the stone which they described to me as a small jagged rock that would rip its way through my system, causing the utmost pain when I passed it. Days went by and no rocks, jagged or otherwise, showed up in my pantyhose. But the pain came back. At one point, so bad that I had to go back to the E.R. where they gave me some heavy duty RX.Since it was after midnight, I had to find a 24 hour drug store to fill it. I handed it to the all night pharmacist and he took a look, frowned and filled it. Then he did a funny thing. He came around the counter and handed me his card. “Look” he said, “this is heavy duty stuff, they would not give this to you unless they were planning on stretching you on a rack (or something like that). “ This is my phone number, you call me day or night if you run out of this stuff. We don’t want you to ever be without it.” I remember thinking “hmmmmmmmm”. Then I swallowed a pill real fast.


After a few more days I went to see the urology team of Chopp and Hitt. As God is my witness, those were my urologists. Mine was Dr. Chopp.Although Hitt was always around too, kind of hanging out. They had a rough guy, about 60 ,who did their nursing. He had probably been a Master Sgt. at a Mash unit in Korea. Had craggy hands and was always bumping into things like trays and examining tables. Chopp recommended  a  hospital procedure to break up the stone. Hitt did not comment, but stood in the back and  nodded his head vigorously up and down during the recommendation.


To  make a very long story short, the procedure did not work. They put a stent into my penis which caused terrible pain upon urination. They sent out some pills to stop the pain and forgot to tell me that the pills would turn my urine a bright orange, which caused me to panic. After a week I went back and Nurse Craghands threw me up on a table for an x-ray, tripping over a chord of some kind. After the x-ray was done, he took the picture to Chopp who threw it up on one of those light boards in the next room.


What you don’t want to hear in the next room while you are lying on an examination table is . “Oh no, look at that” (Chopp). “Yeah, it’s wrapped all around there.” Nurse Craghands, “Better call Hitt” (Chopp).  Short delay, enter Hitt, “oh no, look at that.”


Finally they came in and told me that the stent was wrapped around something down there, I don’t recall what. They showed me the x-ray and told me that they would try to get it out but that maybe I would have to go back to the hospital. I did not have much of a choice but to let them try, which Chopp did while Hitt stared over his shoulder and Nurse Craghands held me down, there being no available whiskey for me to take a slug of. In this effort, Chopp was highly successful and what looked like fishing wire was pulled out of the penis. Hitt shouted out encouragement through the whole procedure.


Some days later, I finally passed the stone with no pain at all. I went back to see Dr. Chopp who made me promise to drink 64 oz of water every day for the rest of my life. It turned out that that was a boring thing to do and so I substituted tea. I have been stone free ever since.

Monday, February 09, 2009

God Blogs in Mysterious Ways

The recent comments I have been making regarding the eternal have sparked thoughts from other (“Man is born to trouble as sparks fly up.” , Book of Job). Not only did my wife’s friend Rev. Paul, who actually knows what he is talking about, respond, but my old friend Marfin was moved to write a religious essay of his own called “Why God Ticks Me Off”. I will put this up on the blog as soon as I can figure out how to do it. Herein, I will comment on it. My correspondent Paul had a few things to say about it also and I will soon display those, although for those reading, be for warned that Paul’s comments tend to be somewhat insightful, if that is not your cup of tea, you can stick to Marfin, or me, there is not an insight between us.


I don’t recall if I have mentioned that Marfin, Paul and I all went to the same Jr. High School, as did my wife. I did not know Rayda or Paul, but knew Marfin a little bit and got to know him better in high school and college. Many people I went to college with remember Marfin as one of my roommates. This may have been true in the technical sense. He ate, slept, drank and smoked dope at the apartment where I lived, so he did have those indicia of “roommate”. But he never paid any rent, which many people think is the real key to the roommate definition.


At any rate, Marfin is a lapsed (unless he has relapsed) Roman Catholic. He started out in academia  as somewhat of a Political Theorist, but switched to the policy side when he found out that the Oil and Gas Industry paid more than the Platonians. He went to a Big Eastern University for Grad School and taught at prestigious colleges until his desire to eat overcame his desire for prestige. Despite having never taken even so much as a math class, past Logic  I (and that was in the Philosophy Department), Marfin has risen to be an assistant Dean of a major Engineering School which, as is our policy, shall go without mention in an attempt to further the fraud he has used to gain employment there. I don’t so much care about his security, but am quite fond of his wife and son (soon to be a lawyer).


Marfin’s argument in this present epistle, moves beyond the ancient question of “How can an omnipotent  benevolent God exist in the same world as evil ?” In other words, he skips the “why” question and goes right to the “Why the hell… ?” question.  Since no one can answer that first question question, Marfin assumes that bad things happen for a reason and proceeds to set out four option as to why they happen. The thesis of his work is that God, no matter how the evil is caused, must be responsible for it. In other words, he is interested in the “accountability” of God for any given evil. In his essay he posits four options regarding this accountability. One is a restatement of Dualism, one is a restatement if deism, one is a restatement of Woody Allenism (“God is not dead, he is just an under achiever”) and one, for a lack of  better categorization, shall  be referred to as the “shit happens” argument. This last argument, at first glance, appears to beg the question, until he explains that mankind should not just shrug off the “shit” that happens, but celebrate it, with T-shits if I understand him correctly.


At any rate, once Marfin’s essay is fairly published herein (without his permission, as is our policy) and the remarks made upon it by Rev. Paul are displayed, we will be calling a temporary halt to my blogs regarding  God and go back to explaining more simple concepts, such as string theory. This is not done out of any sense of boredom on my part, but foreboding. Having always lived my life according to Pascal’s wager, I realize that commenting on religious matters could put me in serious jeopardy , from the Lake of Fire perspective. That’s one perspective that I really want to avoid.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Gospel and Ted Williams

Paul, a dear friend of my wife’s wrote me yesterday to comment on my most recent  semi-blasphemous blog. “Blasphemous blog” would have had more alliterative value, but upon rereading it, I think that “semi” covers the subject more fairly. Paul has the advantage over me in writing about religious matters as he actually knows something about the subject. I, on the other hand, not being an ordained minister as he is, have an advantage over him in that I don’t much care about the accuracy of anything I write, and so tend to be a little less careful in the content department. I have published Paul’s reply to me without his permission (see below). I have deleted his last name so that no one in his congregation ever finds out that he has any association with some of the prose that comes spewing forth from this particular keyboard. That would be grounds for defrocking in many churches.


A former pastor of mine ( let’s call her Rev. Jones, or perhaps District Superintendent Jones, in order to protect her identity from the Methodist Bishop she works for here in Austin) came to me after a meeting or a service of some kind once with a bit of a flush of anger about her. She asked me what I, as a lawyer would do if any particular client of mine ignored my advice and told me what he thought the law really was on a subject of  which he knew little about, and then contrary  my advice, went out and did  the wrong thing.”You’d fire him wouldn’t you ?” she exclaimed (these ministers do a lot of exclaiming). The answer depended, I told her. The other variable in the decision is how big the retainer was and how much of it had been exhausted.


Rev. Jones point was an interesting one. In most professions, you expect that the years of training and experience you have in your work, fits you to give advice that has value to the lay person. The divinity business is different. No matter how many degrees you have, from how many seminaries, and no matter how long you have preached and pastored and, generally speaking have labored to pull back many in  your flock from the jaws of Hell, no one will ever concede that you know more about God than they do. This applies mostly to Protestant Churches. I understand  that many Priests still have a good deal of authority amongst Roman Catholics..


Of course, the whole idea of the Reformation, other than allowing Luther to marry a nun, was to attempt to get rid of what stood between the individual and God. That might be a communion rail, a saint, a Latin prayer book, a pope, or your Priest. The Reformation was one big jail break in a lot of ways. That may be a little harsh. It was more like the freedom you enjoyed when you were a fifth grader and your teacher told the class, “Be on your best behavior, I have to go down the hall for about ten minutes.” Chaos ensued  and chaos has continued to this day forward. Can I have an amen ?


What the Reformation did to religion is exactly what the internet did to the news business. You no longer had to be a Priest to be able to comment on anything having to do with God. Just as today, you don’t need to be hired by a newspaper or T.V. station in order  to publish your views to the world at large. As we soon had more denominations and beliefs than we could count, blogging has provided us with more opinion givers than there are opinion receivers. In this, technology has out done the Reformation. At least most ministers have congregants to preach to. Most bloggers I know have about a one to one relationship with their reading public. The question is, will this fractionalization of authority finally lead us to believe that there is no authority. In the future will all lawyers be usurped by online forms and all doctors by computerized diagnostician web sites ? Who is to say ? We are certainly rushing toward that goal. That day when everyone can claim to be  an expert on every subject. On that day I fear that we will end up with the realization that Glendower must have come to after he bragged to Hotspur that he could call upon spirits from the vasty deep. “So can I” said Hotspur, “so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them  ?” Any of us can claim to be Ted Williams, but can we hit a slider ?

FW: It's fun to make up your own liturgy, isn't it?



From: Paul
Sent: Friday, February 06, 2009 2:41 PM
To: Rayda
Cc: Wade
Subject: It's fun to make up your own liturgy, isn't it?


Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen. Amen.


You asked a good question. And you came to the correct conclusion: ultimately it's a love story.


Very simply put, worship is thanksgiving and praise. 


We acknowledge that God is greater than we are.  That is why we praise.


The Doxology is simply Greek for, "Words of Glory."


You could just as well change the word "praise" to "worship"  or "thank"


Praise\Thank\Worship\Glorify God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise\Thank\Worship\Glorify him all creatures here below.

Praise\Thank\Worship\Glorify him above ye (the) heavenly host,

Praise\Thank\Worship\Glorify Father, Son and Holy Ghost . 

Why worship God, the God we proclaim as Father, Son, Holy Spirit? There are all kinds of other gods. Why worship this particular god of the Old Testament and the New Testament?


The answer really is in the first two commandments:


2.  "I am\[YHWH is] the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  3.  "You shall have no other gods before me. 


4.  "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5.  you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6.  but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 


Just think of this: the rest of the Old Testament is a report on how well the House of Israel followed those two first commandments, and how miserable their lives were when they didn't.


There wasn't any exclusive praise of YHWH in Israel and later Judea -- but there wasn't any love of YHWH either.


Yet, lots of folks worship and love other gods. Or they invent their own gods, easy and non-demanding gods who don't really demand anything, and gods who can give nothing in return. Not much to praise there. Or give thanks for. Or love.


Praise contains love, but it also contains an acknowledgement that this God is greater than we are.


Back to the Love Story: The real question is why did God make us anyway?


Why does a god need company? It's like Ted Williams not tipping his hat, nor acknowledging the cheers of the crowd when he hit his last homerun. "Gods do not answer letters," wrote Updike.


The vulnerability of our God, the lack of total self-satisfaction of God is the real mystery.


At the end of the incident in the concentration camp when the Jews put God on trial, they condemned God for God's lack of care for them. And at the end of the trial, it was time for prayers. So they prayed.


In the first paragraph of Augustine's Confessions, Augustine posits the idea that we are made to praise and thank God, and we are miserable until we do so. "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in thee."


It's fun to make up your own liturgy, isn't it?


But most importantly, it's in the end all a love story. You got that right. Have a good weekend.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Questioning the doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise him all creatures here below.

Praise him above ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost .    Protestant Doxology, 1674, Reverend Thomas Ken



“You know what I don’t like about God ?” my wife asked me on the way home from a church service last night. I replied that I did not, but was anxious to hear. “It’s all this praising, why is that part of the religion, why does God need this constant praising ?”. She had a point , of course, God, by definition being omnipotent ought to be omnisecure, right ? Why does God need to be praised ? “What got you thinking  about this ?” I asked. “Oh”, she said to me,” I was looking at a book by Rick Warren today….”.  Whoa, this is one problem with Rayda working at a library. She is surrounded by books, many, if not most, of which contain dangerous ideas. “Warren turns everything into praising God.”  Well, Rick Warren I could deal with. I am like most liberal Christians. I have never read a word written by Reverend Warren, but I am positive that it is all nonsense. Narrow minded people may believe that this is abject prejudice (as Dylan said), but we liberals prefer to think of it as prescient.


When God first got started, at least as far as we are concerned, he was not all that interested in praise. After he made Adam and Eve, by the contradictory  methods of either of the two authors of Genesis you happen to believe, he did not say anything about praise. He had only one instruction (almost immediately disobeyed) which was not to eat the fruit from a certain tree. Even after he exiled the first couple, he did not mention anything about praising, and it would have been difficult for Adam and Eve to praise a being that they had actually seen walking around their garden in the cool of the evening.


Then a funny thing happened. Attempting to suck up to God, Cain brought an offering to him, and by doing so, invented religion. The first praiser. Of course, the offering was turned down, for reasons ever really explained, and this set in motion  another invention of Cain’s, jealousy. Cain went on to invent a third basic tool of humanity, murder, just a couple of verses later. For all of this, Cain was exiled, just as his mother and father had been exiled. This seemed to be the primary punishment God had come up with in those early days. That and pain during childbirth which was not so bad for half of the population.


By the time we reach the critical moment at Sinai, however, praise has pretty much become the focal point of what God is about. It is a quid pro quo arrangement. You praise me and I won’t smite you dead or have you carried into captivity. When God handed down the law, and I always thought that it was a good thing for humans that Moses was up on the mountain advocating for us, or the ten commandments would have been a lot longer and tougher, the first four, fully 40%, are aimed right at praising God. I don’t know what happened to God between Eden and Sinai, but whatever it was, a real degree of narcissism had crept into him.


It appears to me, a non-religious scholar, actually just a non-scholar period, that this unending praising from there on out began more from fear than from faith. I mean here is a God, who is fully capable of drowning almost everyone on the earth, raining down fire and brimstone on cities, turning people into salt and killing all but about two people that he had liberated from Egypt to go on to the promised land. You’d have to be pretty stupid to worship a Golden Calf with that guy around. If he wants praise, better give him praise or your next meal might be in Babylon.


As Karen Armstrong explained, God evolved over time. By the time that Jesus shows up, I really think that the focal point of the religion changed from praise to love. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus did not say to “praise” the Lord they God, he said  to “Love” the Lord thy God, and for good measure he threw in something about neighbors. Mainline Protestantism today now actually equates the two, just like the Recording Angel did in the poem, “Abu Ben Adhem”. Like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other. And loving God seems to be a whole lot more democratic than praising God, more useful too, especially when you can do it through loving your neighbor. Maybe Rayda is right. Maybe the Doxology needs to be changed to “Love God from whom all blessings flow.” My bet is that after all these years he/she (see how we have evolved?) would like that more anyway.



Thursday, February 05, 2009


The national media is turning a political dispute between Ashley Judd and Sarah Palin into a high tech cat fight. I saw a split screen of the two on NBC this morning, both looking fetching, inviting viewers to imagine them rolling around in the grass (or snow) attempting to scratch each other’s eyes out. The fight is an esoteric one, one that will amuse those in the 25th century studying our history, Should Alaskan wolves be allowed to be shot from helicopters ?


Imagine if this argument had been between Ted Stevens and Barbara Boxer. The story would not have made the papers. But here we have star power. Palin is pretty hot for a Governor, and Judd goes her one further by being pretty hot even for a movie star. The fact that no one really understands the issue they are arguing about does not matter, as long as they keep hissing and spitting at each other.


I don’t know enough about hunting wolves from a helicopter in Alaska to have an opinion on this. I certainly see both sides of the argument, I just don’t know the facts. It does seem rather unsportsman like to hover over wolves, possibly blasting the Flight of the  Valkyryies out of speakers, picking off mama wolves and their cubs with scoped rifles. On the other hand, if predators need to be thinned to keep the moose and caribou from being  killed off, for all I know, this is the only effective way to do it.


The real question for me is, who would do it ? Ever been in a helicopter ? No, I don’t mean one of those neat clean Bell Helicopters for a jaunt to the airport or one of those new fancy ones that take you down into Maui volcanoes. I mean a real working helicopter, flown by a grizzled pilot, pieces of the chopper falling off now and then as you hover too high above the ground. Well let me tell you, it is a terrifying experience.


I had a ranch case one time down in Val Verde County. The ranch owner, a fellow by the name of Travis Snake Rio Grande was suing my client the Farm Credit Bank of Texas over some theory involving the land they had sold him, which, by the way, went straight up and down, being  not good enough for him to raise pure bred Santa Gertrudis Cattle, which he felt , if he only could have done so, he would have made a bazillion dollars. Mr. Rio Grande was a real piece of work. He and his wife (who had recently divorced her first husband, a professor at Rutgers) lived in a hunting cabin on this big spread, 150 miles from no where. The lawyers had to go down to view the various problems Travis was having, one of which required aerial views and videos of the views. The client had hired some Vietnam vet who looked as crazy as any man I have ever seen to fly one lucky lawyer around the ranch to do the filming. The senior partner on the case decided that I was just the man for that job.


It was freezing cold that day, so I thought that at least I would be warm. As it turned out the helicopter did have heat of sorts. It had a pipe which blasted hot air directly into my back. This turned out to be useless to us, except for turning my back bright red, so we shut off the heat and took off. Let me say that I don’t like helicopters. My brother likes helicopters. He and his friend Luke used to watch some helicopter show every afternoon at my house when they were about five years old. The show was called the Whirly Birds and had two characters ,whom they were always pretending to be, by the name of Chuck and P.T. Moore. At least that’s what Clay and Luke called them. I never knew if Chuck did not have a last name or was just a brother to P.T. Both of the guys wore aviator sunglasses just like my dad had brought back from the Second World War. One Christmas my brother received a giant white military helicopter as well as a small blue civilian  helicopter which flew around the room attached to a rod. All of this bored me to tears since I had gotten the “Fighting Lady” battleship for Christmas which had workable depth chargers.


Back to my flight, the conversation I had with my pilot went like this as we first went up, I swear that this is the exact conversation.


Wade: How long you been flying ?


Pilot: Since the Army, I was a pilot in Nam.


Wade: How long were you over there ?


Pilot: Seven months.


Wade: That seems like a short tour.


Pilot: After the third time you are shot down they have to send you home.



They can also send you home for a Section 8. As if this was not worry enough I soon received a call on my Walkie Talkie.


Ben: Wade, tell that pilot to get away from those cows.


Wade: We can’t I’m filming them


Ben: Wade, get out of there, Travis says that if you don’t stop spooking his cows he is going to shoot you down.


One thing I forgot to mention, Travis Rio Grande had a lot of weapons in his cabin, and boxes and boxes of surplus ammunition that he said that you could get from the Chinese. He apparently carried his rifle with him (some damn military looking thing)  everywhere  he went and had taken it out with him that morning, explaining that wildcats could get us and we needed protection. He had also casually mentioned to me that I had better not spook his cows, that he was going to be watching.


I doubt that Travis would have shot us, but the guy I was with had made a habit of being shot down and I did not want to hang around and find out. Besides, when you are dealing with an armed man who lives in isolation with enough ammo to hold off an invasion, a man who has legally had his name changed to Travis Snake Rio Grande, you tend to take the more conservative approach to these kinds of situations. My pilot peeled off and we did not come near a cow for the rest of the trip.


I actually kissed the ground when I got back from that ride. I vowed that I would never go up in another helicopter again, and I have kept that promise. That is why it seems to me that only the vey fool hardy would hunt wolves from helicopters. Maybe we should allow them to do it. Maybe the predators we would be thinning are the ones with the guns up in the sky. People with minds like that just foul up the genetic pool, even in Alaska.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

“Victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan.” John F. Kennedy


“ I screwed up.”  Barack Obama



So the President of the United States admitted he screwed up by appointing tax cheat Tom Daschle to his cabinet. Too bad, of course he still needs 4,000 deaths on his hands  before he tops the last President’s screw up. One which was never admitted. The admission by Obama was the most forthright given by an American President since JFK took the full blame for the Bay of Pigs invasion (commonly called a “fiasco”, a fiasco is apparently a cut above a mistake on the screw up scale).


Well, it’s nice for the President to take the blame, while former Majority Leader Tom Daschle slinks back to South Dakota or to whatever lobby shop on K Street will have him, now that he is damaged goods. The arrogance of a former United States Senator, to say that a clerical error prevented him from reporting $80,000 in income is astounding, but what is really irritating is his use of a chauffeur for extended periods of time, perhaps years, which was lent to him “by a friend”. Tom Daschle knew that that was income, or he is the dumbest man ever to serve in the United States Senate. Actually, both of those statements may be true. It is reprehensible to cheat on your income taxes by hiding income, but, in a democracy, nothing is more obnoxious to us  of the working class, perhaps soon to be revolutionary class,than to see the laws broken by a guy so that he can be chauffeured around to try to show everyone what a big shot he is. This is the exact kind of thing that brought down Louis xvi , the kind of thing that introduced Madam Guillotine to the French aristocracy. This is the kind of America, to steal from Churchill, up with which we should not put. I can just see Lord Daschle in pre-revolutionary France with his coach and matched horses, footmen and driver, running over peasant children in the streets of Paris so that he can get to dinner with the King on time. Right out of Tale of Two Cities. What Charles Dickens could have done with this.


The more we go down in this country, the more we find corruption at the highest levels of business and government. We were bought off for years with soaring markets, phony money and cheap credit, but the chickens have now come home to roost, or more probably, be roasted. It is time to reopen the Bastille for people like Daschle. No more of these country club white collar prisons. I say throw him into a cold stone room and shackle him to the walls. Feed him gruel when he gets to eat at all. It is going to take years, more probably decades to clean all of this up, but we should at least start with a chaufferless society.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Freud and Allen

Depression is anger turned inward,  Sigmund Freud


Humor is the escape valve of anger,  Wade Porter


Humor is pain plus distance, Alan Alda, line  written by Woody Allen




My wife was angry with me over my lampooning of her in yesterday’s blog. Worse than that, she said that the things I had written about her were “mean”. People have called me lots of things, mean is very seldom one of them, so that comment stung. It got me to thinking about the nature of humor.


No one can fully define humor, it is too varied and too subtle. It is like trying to define “nature”. In the movie Crimes & Misdemeanors, Alan Alda plays a pompous humorist who defines comedy as “pain plus distance”. The Woody Allen character , hired to make a documentary of the Alda character, has these words coming out of the mouth of a jackass in his “film within a film”, but pain plus distance does define a portion of comedy. People seem to laugh at tragic things, as long as there is considerable distance from the event. The further back the event, or the less painful the event, the easier it is to laugh at. In fact, we often characterize jokes as “sick” because they describe a painful event too close to its actually taking place. No one really gets offended if you make a joke about the Titanic sinking. But back in 1906, I presume that it was not so damn funny. Likewise, if I had written yesterday about something my wife had done twenty years ago, instead of the day before, she would have seen a lot more humor in it.


Not all humor involves pain. It can involve irony, perspective and word play, among other things. The funniest joke ever made on this planet “ The Penguin says, “No that’s just a little ice cream. “has no pain in it at all, unless you are truly worried about the Penguin’s car problems. But more and more, humor, at least in our country, seems to involve pain. I personally think that that is anger coming out. Some of it is self loathing but some is pure anger. This is a good thing, but it can be overdone. The curiously respected  American humorist ,Don Rickles actually transferred his  anger from laughter at hypothetically painful events to direct insults of people based on their appearance, race or heritage. It was despicable humor, and as a 14 year old I thought that it was hilarious. Of course, at the age of four, I thought that the word “do do” was hilarious, I outgrew that too. Ironically, Rickles humor was a throwback to humor we, as a society had allegedly outgrown. The kind of humor that allowed 19th century Londoners to pay to tour the Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane in order to get a good laugh.


Rickles had discovered that you can deal with pain turned inward by using the escape valve of humor. Although in Rickles case, the valve blew up in his face. Even if he would never admit it. Apparently, mine did the same yesterday. I had fallen into the same trap others have. Just because something is true does not mean that it does not hurt when handled in a humorous way. I don’t like being called “fat”. This is a long way to go for an apology, but if you are still with me Rayda, sorry !

Monday, February 02, 2009

FW: Super Sunday at the Supermarket



From: Wade Porter
Sent: Monday, February 02, 2009 6:14 PM
To: The world at large
Subject: Super Sunday at the Supermarket


I am sure that I have mentioned before that my wife has little patience with me on the weekends. Nothing sets her off like her having to   ask me to lift my legs so that she can vacuum under them, or get out of bed at 11:00 a.m. , so that she can make same. She seems to believe that simply because she is working, I should not be sitting around watching old movies, reading books or nodding off in an easy chair. Sunday was a typical day. About 10:30 she decided that if I really had so little to do that I could be watching television, I could go to the grocery store.


I like grocery shopping. That is because it is like preparing for a party, buying all the neat things that catch your eye. But shopping for Rayda is a whole different thing. It is a no win situation. If you stick to the list she asks why you did not show more creativity. If you go off the list she questions any purchase. She is a terrible grocery store second guesser. I either bought the wrong product, spent too much money on an item, bought an item that I don’t need (too many calories or is too expensive) or one that will spoil before I get to it. Consequently, shopping is an anxiety filled experience.


I got to Central Market early enough on Sunday to have beaten the Super Bowl party givers. None the less, the experience was woeful. Sunday was the last day that you could use the $10 off coupon for produce which the store sent out last week (the coupon, not the produce), and the normally placid produce aisles were filled with vicious shoppers trying to get their money’s worth of free fruit and vegetables. It does not help that a family of four could live in the carts the Central Market gives you to shop with. I spent most of my time trying to find an open space just to get out of people’s way. There were also battles at the weighing stations. One particular old lady pushed past me twice to weigh some vegetables. Then a couple of scales ran out of tape and so the other scales were crowded by people with large carts and sharp elbows. Finally, an eight year old pushing a cart  stared me down and said “excuse me” in a way that did not really mean “excuse me” but in fact meant “you are an ass, blocking my way, move it”. It was then that it hit me that these big grocery stores really need more formal policing.


If I owned a big grocery store, I would hire off duty cops to come in on the weekends. They could keep the cart wrecks  under control by supplying basic concepts of traffic control. They could keep people from cutting in the lines to the scales and they would just act as a general deterrent to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. They could really help out at the meat counter.


Central market has this amazing meat area where you can buy any kind of flesh which can be pulled off of an animal or fish. You have to take a number to get served by the understaffed butcher’s department. I drew number 68 on Sunday and they were only up to 52. Things went quickly until customer 65, an idiot couple who had apparently never had any meat before, based on their questions to the butcher. A good cop would have been there to “move it along, you are holding up traffic” and maybe give them a not so gentle poke with a billy club.. Another problem appeared when we got to number 67. A 20 something year old 400 pound man answered the call. He looked like Orson Wells would have looked if Orson had gotten fat at 25, rather than have waited  for 40.. Now, when there is a long line,  I think that you should be limited to two items at most. This guy, who reminded me  a lot of the “Big Boy” who used to hold up that fiberglass hamburger  outside the coffee shops, only a lot fatter, bought seven different selections, and that was probably just for dinner. I had to cool my heels while he fussed over beef ribs and pork loins and New York Strips. The way he looked at them, I figured that he would eat a couple before he even checked out. There is nothing more irritating that a freely perspiring fat man holding up the meat line when all you want is two lousy pork chops. If the store had hired a cop he could have straightened the situation out right away. After the second or third order he could have banged the top of the glass meat display and yelled out “O.K. Newman, two orders is enough, now why don’t you take your cart over to the bulk items and buy some sunflower seeds. You might want to stop and pick up some aspirin too while you are at it, you could need one at any minute the way you are sweating.” That would have fixed “Big Boy’s” wagon.


The worst part of the experience was a mistake I made at the salsa aisle. Central Market makes these salsas and I was thinking that I should buy some Pico de Gallo to go with the two free avocados I was going to be eating on Monday night. I took one of the plastic containers and began the process of filling it with Pico. Then it hit me. Rayda had purchased some tortilla soup “fixins” last week (for what reason I don’t know, she never made the soup) which contained about a cup of diced tomato and everything else you would need for Pico. It was sitting there in the refrigerator, just  waiting for my guacamole. I panicked and stopped filling the container. I would catch hell for bringing this redundant  item home. I looked around and sure enough there were four people behind me. I could not casually throw the Pico back into the Pico receptacle as I  would have if no one had been looking. I decided to put the lid on my container and weigh it. “Just needed a little” I laughed, moving away from a family of healthy, organic type  eaters. They looked at me with suspicion. Who buys half an ounce of Pico de Gallo ? I assume that if my wish for a cop had been granted, I’d have been taken in for questioning. “All right there mister, just what are you going to do with six cents worth of Pico de Gallo ? You can’t even cover a chip with that. You plan on using that to make a bomb ?” But there was no cop, so I wheeled off.


The final nightmare was the checkout line. No matter how careful I am about picking a line, I always get the worst one. If I find one with a lady with one can of beans, and nothing else, standing in front of me with her exact change, the register’s  computer is bound to crash, leaving me standing there with ice cream melting, for twenty minutes. Sunday was no different. What appeared to me a perfectly normal shopper turned out to be a pin head who had to keep running back to pick up items she had forgotten or arguing over prices. I was in line for most of the afternoon.


I survived the grilling when I got home. I managed to put everything up before Rayda came down stairs so she could not get a head start on me. She looked around and made some comments about a few items, “What did you pay for this ?” being the most gentle of the questions. I got in enormous trouble for the pork chops which Rayda said had to be consumed no later than 45 minutes after purchase or else we would die from triganosis. ‘What did you pay for these, twenty dollars ?” No, just seven, I had cunningly asked for the smallest ones. I then  escaped what I thought was certain doom over buying low fat buttermilk, instead of buttermilk. How can you even make low fat buttermilk ? The whole idea of buttermilk is that it is milk turned  to  butter fat. In that respect, low fat buttermilk is like decaffeinated coffee (or DEEcaf as we call it in Texas). It defeats the whole purpose of the product, just like non- alcohol beer. But that’s for another blog. I am set with groceries for another week.