Friday, October 30, 2009

FW: Lobby clock- For heaven's sake, no! I've seen the future



From: Chris Griesel
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2009 10:34 AM
To: Wade Porter; A&P Personnel
Subject: Lobby clock- For heaven's sake, no! I've seen the future


Anchor 1:  Some sad news tonight from our Austin affiliate,  lawyer Wade Porter, disappointed that the clock in the lobby of his building had been off by an hour for an extended period of time met a tragic end this weekend. After sending out a firmwide email noting how he was going “to fix it myself this weekend”, Porter- Instead of enjoying “Miller time”-attempted to fix the clock and apparently became entangled in it’s Inner working.


Proving that “time waits for no man”, a portion of the clock detached, struck Porter in the head ,and sent him off his ladder to the floor, where he  met “an untimely end” at some point this weekend.  The exact “time of death”  can’t be pinpointed because the clock was broken and Porter was not discovered until Monday morning despite crack building security patroling the office building.  Bystanders who reported the smell of decomposition where mistakenly told that the smell was from the operation of a nearby Thai eatery.


Porter, a lifelong Houston Astro’s fan loved “Lima Time”, his law partners reported that his favorite band was Morris Day and the Time, and he had recently attended a halloween costume party as Flavor –Flav, from the hit MTV series “Flavor of Love”,  wearing Mr. Flav’s signature crown and a  large timepiece around his neck.  Now,  it’s  weather time with Burton Fitzsimmons


Burton: ha, ha. Thanks for that “timely” story. It was funny,except for the death part. Seriously, Wade was a fan who took the “time” to give me a shout out on his blog , but hey folks “time marches on “ and its marching toward fall. Better break out those sweaters, it going to be highs in the 60’s.   


From: Wade Porter
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2009 10:02 AM
To: A&P Personnel
Subject: Lobby clock


I have had it with the lobby clock being an hour late for all this time. I promise that I will fix it myself this weekend.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Son And Heir

I had an e-mail this morning from Eric Marfin. Eric is a second year law student at the University of Notre Dame. The job market being what it is for future lawyers he was excited at the idea of making a living catching Pythons in the Florida Everglades. This is a high risk/high reward proposition. The reason the Burmese Python all but disappeared from what used to be Burma is because the Python  skin was found to be a wonderful leather for all kinds of goods. Marfin could do worse than this trade. Still, there is an element of danger to the job. No one who went into the law practice was ever constricted to death by an 18 foot snake. At least not in the courtroom.


Eric worked for us this summer. That is he had almost all the indicia of having a job here. The one he did not have (pay) was a pretty important one, but at least there was no snake handling involved. Eric’s job was a classic win/win situation. The firm won by getting a lot of hard work out of him, then the firm won by getting the work for free. See ?  win/win. I like to think that Eric learned a lot here in his apprenticeship role. I also like to think I am “Movie Star” handsome. Sometimes I delude myself.


At any rate I did not write about Eric this summer because I had too much respect for him and also, I thought if I did he might leave the job and my senior partner would not have anyone to remind him of where his next arbitration was located. William has been known (honest) to get on a plane for a  Corpus Christi hearing  and end up in Nashville. But I digress.


The main reason I did not write about Eric is that it took me the better part of a week not to be freaked out by him. None of this was his fault. I am a long time friend of his fathers and when his dad and I were around Eric’s age we spent a lot of time together. I don’t see Eric’s dad all that much anymore and so my mental image of him is the way he looked and sounded as a College and Graduate student. For my usual slothful reasons, I had not been around Eric very much as he was growing up so I had not paid attention to the fact that he turned out a carbon copy of his dad, in just about every respect that a superficial guy like me can see. So the first day Eric came in I had him into my office and as we were sitting at the table talking, strong waves of déjà vu overpowered me. It was literally one of the freakiest moments of my life.  I could not distinguish between Eric and the old image of his Dad. I had to cut the meeting short to convince myself that I was not back on Harold Street in Houston drinking bad red wine and laughing about the George McGovern campaign. Now I know that you may see a little hyperbole in this blog from time to time, but this is not it. This was sort of like an out of body experience seeing myself and Eric’s father as 24 year olds again.


How does this kind of stuff happen ? One minute you are happy and stoned on a couch, reading a Kurt Vonnegut book. The next minute you look up and you are talking to the adult child of the guy that had been sitting next to you, and he’s in law school at Note Dame. That thirty five  years that has gone by has vanished with the wind, leaving you fatter and grayer and not really all that much smarter. Then you think to yourself, thirty five years, that’s not all that long, until you stop and add thirty five years to your present age. It is then you realize that you are no longer even middle aged. Most people don’t live to be 112, so I’m probably safe in saying that I am on the way down the hill (although, like Sisyphus I always seem to be pushing a large rock uphill, go figure).


So there you have it. I have managed to turn another blog away from the main topic and back to my usual lament about aging. It’s funny though, I never believed when I was young that your children would give you some sense of immortality, the survival of the line. They do though. It’s easier to get old if you watch your child living a good life. It is especially easy to get old if you think that you can count on that child to financially support you in your dotage. I know I’m certainly counting on that. Hope you are listening Stacey.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Escape From Myanmar

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.   Genesis 3:1


I’ve had it with these mother fucking snakes on this mother fucking plane.  Samuel L. Jackson. “Snakes on a Plane”


Ain’t no Lion, ain’t no Tiger, ain’t no Mamba Snake.    Randy Newman, “Sail Away”( explaining to a little African boy why he should leave  Africa and come with him to the American South).



As I was walking out of the house this morning my wife pointed out  the headline of  a story that was appearing on her default web site page. I think it is Google. The story was called “Giant invasive Snakes Threaten U.S.” Wow “ I said, what kind of snakes ? “I don’t know” she replied.” Where are they coming from? “ I asked. “I don’t know” she replied. “Have you read the story” I wondered. “No” she replied. “Are you going to read the story ? “ I inquired. “No” she said.


People all have different interests. Variety is the spice of life, or it used to be before salsa became so popular. Here my wife was one click away from finding out which giant snakes were invading the United States (and where) and she was not interested enough to even think about it. I, on the other hand, could think of nothing else.


It turned out to be as chilling as I thought a I found out when I got to work. Listen to this, tens of thousands, that’s right TENS of thousands of Burmese Pythons now populate the Everglades in Florida. The first ones were released by families that raised Pythons as pets and then grew tired of them (possibly after they grew to 18 feet long and ate the family dog). Then, after these first few few were released, “nature took its course” as the Kingfish  once said about Chinchillas. The Burmese Python, who used to live in Burma damn it, when there was a Burma, and is actually somewhat endangered there, is now competing with alligators for the spot of the number one predator in the Florida Everglades. Do you know what they eat ? Alligators !


Now I must assume that they are eating small or baby alligators, but what kind of a country has this become where we have tens of thousands of 18 foot snakes roaming around Florida eating alligators ? Did you know about this ? Did you know that in Burma they used to occasionally kill and eat children and use their constrictive power to kill adults ?


When I was a kid I used to watch a show called “Jungle Theatre”. Every Saturday afternoon a Jungle movie would be shown. Tarzan, Jungle Jim, Bomba of the Jungle. These types of movies were once very popular because they were very cheap to make. A lot of the film was stock footage taken in Africa years before of a Rhino charging or an elephant spraying water. What always got to me were the snakes. Snakes and quicksand. Someone, usually a bad guy, was always getting squeezed to death by a snake on one of those shows. You’d get a little scared, but then you’d turn off the TV with the certain knowledge that while you might someday be burned beyond recognition in a nuclear holocaust, at least you did not have to worry about being squeezed to death, and possibly eaten, by an 18 foot long snake. At least you had that much going for you.


Now fast forward to the 21st century and there are more 18 foot snakes in this country than western  wolves or buffalo. What went wrong ? What will be next ? Pockets of quicksand appearing in parking lots ?I mean could you even go to sleep at night if you lived near the Florida Everglades, knowing that you could be awakened any night by your spouse or child screaming that an 18 foot snake was crawling through the bedroom ?


So why don’t we do something ? Here is a comforting quote from the story “At this time we have no tools which would eradicate a large population of snakes once they have spread.” Where is this quote from ? USGS biologist Robert Reed in testimony before Congress ! The story also indicates (honest) that the biologists would feel a little insecure allowing small children to be wandering around  near the snakes. My God, gold medal for those guys. Category ? “The Bleeding Obvious” as John Cleese use to say.


So there we have it. One of the most terrorizing things to hit this country since the killer bees got here, and Rayda had no interest in it. Well it’s a good thing for her  that she’s married to me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

White Fang : Requiem in Pace

I got a text message from my brother Clay yesterday afternoon informing me of the death of Soupy Sales. Sales was a staple around our house on Saturdays in the early 1960s. He had a children’s television show that  was always the last kid show of the day on Saturday. Right after Soupy ate his lunch with you on the show, it was time to watch Baseball’s “Game of the Week” with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese (“Well howdy baseball fans, this is your old podnuh Dizzy Dean”…but we will leave him for another day).


It is no longer possible to understand how important Saturday morning T.V. was to my generation, just as it is no longer possible for my father’s generation to explain what was so important about going to the movies each Saturday morning. While children’s popular culture and adult popular culture have more or less merged in today’s world, things were quite different in my childhood. After a long and exhausting week of school work, it was indescribably wonderful to get up on Saturday morning and watch three to four hours of entertainment on television aimed right at you. Today there is never a time when a child cannot see something interesting to him/her on T.V. There are cartoon channels that run 24 hours a day, videos of favorite movies, TiVo’s from what was missed yesterday, and “on demand “ programming. In my childhood, once you were in school, you really had only the Saturday morning shows to look forward to.


As a young boy I’d get up early on Saturday, often before the shows started. I would usually have to endure watching the Saturday morning farm report show (which began with the sound of a dog barking). I recall being mystified by commodity futures. Some man would stand in front of the camera and say things like “pork bellies up ½”. What did that mean, who was buying only the belly of a pig ? At any rate, after getting through that (and when you are a child, thirty minutes creeps by) it was onto the kids programming.


Although I did not know it then, the first couple of shows each Saturday were old nighttime T.V. shows that were syndicated and sold locally to our channels. These shows had apparently been made for adults, but were so infantile that they actually became semi-hits as Saturday Morning staples. “The Tales of Texas Rangers”, “Sky King” and “Fury (the story of a horse and the boy who loved him)” were three I always  watched, even though there were not all that many episodes made of each. You just watched them again and again, every time they came around. A little later were reruns of the “Lone Ranger” and “Superman” which were better known and better made shows, although you might get an argument from “Sky King” fans, especially those who had a crush on his “niece” Penny.


After these shows came the main events of Saturday, the cartoon shows. Some were straight cartoons, some were cartoons hosted by humans and puppets. Sherry Lewis and  her sock puppets Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse were big stars. The cartoons were just like the adult shows, there would be brand new shows and brand new episodes every September. The shows changed with the taste of the times. They started out being mostly reruns of old movie cartoons,the Warner Brothers stuff was the best. Then the cereal companies who ran commercials for most all of the shows (along with Hostess and Red Goose Shoes) started making cartoon characters from their cereal box stars. “Sugar Bear” of Sugar Crisp cereals was my favorite, he was a cool bear who sounded a lot like Bing Crosby. I recall him spying a witch one time and saying “Ring a ling Granny, here I come.” Pretty funny stuff.


There was Rocky and Bullwinkle, Linus the Lion Hearted, The King Leonardo Show, Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales, etc. Eventually, space travel became an important component of Saturday, “Fireball XL5” was a show about puppets in space. Well, not actually puppets in space, the astronauts were just played by puppets. Adam Ant, Secret Squirrel, Milton the Monster and others came on a few years later. By the time I was getting out of the Saturday morning business, the whole thing was being taken over by Super Hero cartoons.


But Soupy was something else. Soupy came on at lunch time, or just before. Indeed, the last thing on the show was sitting down to eat lunch with Soupy. Sometimes my mother timed our lunch so that we got to eat with Soupy. Once, I recall, we even had the same thing as Soupy (Tuna Fish). But when we bit into our sandwiches they did not sound like springs recoiling or gravel being turned in a cement mixer like Soupy’s did. Soupy’s world was different, the rules of physics did not apply, nor did  the mores of Western Culture.


As near as I could tell, Soupy’s show had no script. Soupy would come out on the stage every Saturday and act, well, manic. That was the show, Soupy was manic. For thirty minutes, until he sat down for lunch, he would run around on the stage in disorganized skits which always ended up with him getting a pie in the face. He had at least three recurring characters on the show. There was a Lion puppet named Pookie, a dog named White Fang and another (I think) named Black Fang. The only part of the dogs that you ever saw was their out stretched arms and paw. Actually, just one arm. In White Fangs case, it was a long fury white arm that extended toward Soupy, occasionally grabbing him and pulling him off camera where you could hear his slobbering licking going on (Fang’s not Soupy’s).


The rest of the show, as best I recall, was literally Soupy running around the stage acting silly. This was not unusual in those days. Jerry Lewis had a similar act, and as hard as it is to believe today, it was funny. It was funny to a child because it was so different, it seemed almost risky. Soupy was the internal child in all of us who simply wanted to run amuck like we wished we could  without having to be concerned about our appearance, our deportment, or whether or not we broke most of the items in any given room. It was no accident that he was the last children’s show of the day, the transitional show, the barely pre-pubescent show, Soupy had a purpose in life. He played to what is today called the “tweens”, although the culture is so different now that you could not get an eleven year old to watch one of Soupy’s old skits. Even  with  the  pie in the face ending.


Childhood eventually outgrew Soupy, even though he never outgrew childhood. Children changed and Soupy did not. Thus his show left the air. The last time I recall seeing him on a Saturday morning, he was trying to introduce a song called “The Mouse” which he hoped would spawn a dance which would become  a national rage. “Do  The Mouse yeah, you can do it in your house yeah.”  I don’t recall “The Mouse” making a splash and Soupy’s attempt to relate to a new generation of children was unsuccessful .He went off to become a regular panelist on day time game shows until he slipped out of site a couple of decades ago.


Now the generation who applauded him is aging rapidly. With them will die the memories of Soupy’s show and of White Fang. With them will die the innocence that childhood used to be before all of our children became too smart and sophisticated to laugh at a cream pie covering the faith of a hapless human being. I read an obituary  a minute ago that said Soupy had taken more than 20,000 pies in the face. It is actually an enviable record, but unless the world turns backwards, it is a record which will stand forever.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Up Up and Away

“Seeing a woman preach is like watching a dog walk about on its hind legs. Of course it does not do it well, but you are surprised that it can do it at all.” Boswell, James, “Life of Johnson” quoting Dr. Samuel Johnson


“The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon. It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon.” The Fifth Dimension, “Up Up and Away” .


I tried three different news shows this morning and each one featured as its top, almost exclusive story the drama involving  some reality show refugees who had sent up a helium balloon, reporting their son was on board and then when it turned out not to be true, having the six year old son give away to Larry King the fact that it may all have been a stunt. I did not pay any attention to the original harrowing chase of the balloon by local authorities, so I had no interest in the story, other than to be disgusted that real news was being hijacked yet again by nonsense.


The real news of the day was over on CNN where they were reporting that before the year is up there will be more females than males in the American work force. Well that did not take long. When I was a kid it was 20% and in my neighborhood of baby boomers it was much less than that, only an occasional nurse or teacher and a rare secretary bucked the trend of stay at home moms. Moms in my Reading books at school always stayed home. Moms on T.V. always stayed home. There was a difference in “men’s work” and “ women’s work “with the women’s work being, if not looked down upon, devalued. Today you would think men and women  would do mostly the same things in the work force (although the women somehow do it for less pay) but that is not strictly true. The reason women are becoming the majority this year is because recessions more heavily land on traditional men’s jobs.


Was America a better place when discrimination was the rule and women stayed at home to raise children ? Define better. Anyone who reviews the literature will find that women are less happy today than when they comprised only 20% of the work force. Everyone knows the reason for that. It is because the traditional “women’s work” still fell on most women and, added to that, was a job outside the home. You’ve come a long way baby ,as they used to say in the Virginia Slims commercials (aimed at getting women to smoke 100 millimeter cigarettes so that they could add  lung cancer to their burdens) and they have come a long way. Only an idiot or a Middle Eastern male would say that women have not proven themselves the equal of men in every area of work life with the exception of “sperm donor”. Without a doubt that means that they will start dying sooner and paying higher life insurance premiums.


My mother in law’s assisted living facility had a party for their 100 year olds the other day. Guess how many men attended ? I think you know (the number does not have a digit in it). Stress is now theoretically spread over the entire population. I say theoretically because I know from observation that women, at least those with kids, appear to be under a lot more stress than the men. Thus I can say that my prediction in 1971 has turned out to be true. The women’s movement made it easier than ever to be a man. While all my  friends were concerned about feminism, I selfishly embraced it as a way to be able to relax and slack off a little more.


The big issue then, as now, is what will this do to the children ? As far as I can tell the only difference is that men stopped going to college and stayed home to play computer games. Women started dominating many of the professional schools and virtually all of the Universities. So I guess that somehow the movement worked as I predicted, it allowed men to be slackers in greater numbers. That’s not so good for the country, but if you know as many men as I do, you can see how it was inevitable. It also coincided with the explosion of sports on cable T.V. which tells us a lot.


So congratulations to the ladies for making it over the 50% mark in yet another category. The meek have inherited the earth so to speak. I really think that they will do a better job with it. They do have the advantage of men setting the bar in that regard awfully low.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Potato/Potato Tomato/Tomato

You say potato and I say pot(o)to

You like tomato and I like tom(o)to,   Astaire, Fred,  “You Say Potato”


No, you left out the “e’ at the end of potato,   Quayle, Dan in correcting a fifth grader’s error in a spelling bee.



I noticed that I mentioned attention deficit syndrome the other day. What I meant was attention deficit disorder. I am sorry if this caused in confusion to anyone. Psychological terms are confusing. A “disorder” in psychological terms is what we lay persons often call a mental illness, as a short hand rendition. We use other terms too, loony , batty, nuts, crazy, the list is endless. But when we use those words they are nonspecific in what they describe. A disorder is one of the many subdivisions of mental “illness” (a word which is often frowned upon). In other words, a shrink will not say, “he is bat shit crazy” and often will avoid “mentally ill”, she will say that the patient suffers from a specific disorder, such as “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” which is determined by looking at a book called the DSM and deciding if the patient has the requisite  number of symptoms under a specific heading to qualify for the label. I don’t know what you have to do to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit disorder (ADD) but I do know one thing, ADD is a syndrome, so I correctly labeled the disorder yesterday, I just did not call it by the name by which  it is commonly known .Potato/Potato as Astaire used to sing.


So what’s a syndrome ? You hear about syndromes all the time and the word is thrown around like it means something, “We are concerned about Stockholm syndrome” says the CIA agent ,if he is concerned that a long kidnapped person is becoming sympathetic with his kidnappers. Why the Swedes are particularly susceptible to this syndrome is unknown to me, but I assume that it has something to do Ingmar Bergman or perhaps massage where less pressure is applied than a deep tissue massage. Of course, it could relate to meatballs.


What a syndrome really is is several symptoms or signs that occur together , one often alerting  the therapist to the others and ,when placed in combination by someone allowed to diagnose such things,  are known as a syndromes (from the Greek for “running together”). Interestingly, there is such a thing as a “culturally bound syndrome” which means that what you and I think of as a disease, is considered perfectly normal elsewhere. Ironically, the first cultural bound syndrome (which involved sheep initially and then other animals) involves behavior considered perfectly normal behavior in Greece (and at Texas A & M ) and nowhere else. Another example, Wendigo psychosis, is a culturally bound syndrome once confined almost solely to the Algonquin Indian tribe. It  is the fear of becoming attracted to eating flesh and because of this fear of  becoming a cannibal. Not so many diagnosis of this are made any more as there are fewer and fewer Algonquians and no one else ever worried about it, either because it would never cross their minds or they saw nothing to particularly fear about becoming a cannibal.


The most common place to find culturally bound syndromes is in the Old Testament ( or , more politically correct, the Tanakh). Virtually all of the prophets and holy men in ancient Israel would be locked up today. In Ancient Israel, it was not only acceptable to know and speak to God on a first name basis, it was considered the prime road to social advancement. The guy preaching  on Sixth and Congress whom  many of us see every day is not so lucky.


I make these points only to indicate to you how time bound and culturally bound syndromes are. There are probably a good number of times  places where ADD would be considered helpful and not a syndrome. We just happen to have a society which puts a premium on a certain type of education and study. If syndromes and disorders are as  flimsy as I believe them to be, why do we worry about them at all ? The main reason is to preserve order in society. You just can’t have half of the population living in fear of becoming a cannibal. No one would ever get anything done. So we have to label it (really criminalize it) so that we can root it out and continue to advance as a species. Therefore we spend much time and treasure in not only convincing people to be “normal” but stuffing pharmaceuticals down their throats to get them to act “normal”. Mostly, because the non-normal guys make us feel uncomfortable. We would not feel uncomfortable around the non- normal if we had not bothered to decide, on a more or less political basis, what would pass as normal in our society. But we did. To be human is to label. To label is to exclude. To exclude confers a feeling of power or superiority on those who exclude That in itself is a disorder, but it is socially accepted and even demanded (as you may recall from Junior High School).


The basic issue we deal with in all of this is that there is no reason to believe that those doing the labeling are correct about the label or even about  what should be labeled. Dan Quayle was Vice President of the United States when he decided that potato had an “e” at the end and disqualified a young man from a fifth grade spelling bee because of it. Potatoe/Potato, Quayle/Quail , these are trivialities that do not matter at all, except insofar as society demands that they matter. The fifth grader was lucky, all he got was disqualified from a contest.  There are an awful lot of people in the world who look at things just a little bit differently than you and I and they suffer a lot worse.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Joke's On Me

“I’ve got a real treat in store for you this weekend !”  Fitzsimons, Burton . Local TV Weather man, 10/9/09


 She says the joke is on me.

 I say the joke is on her.

I said I have no opinion about that

Well, we’ll just have to wait and confer.  Simon, Paul  “Fat Charlie the Archangel “



Sometimes the joke is on you. This weekend was heralded by the “experts” in weather prognostication as the “perfect fall weekend”, which it may have been if you live in say, Minsk. But here in God’s country we were looking for sunshine and 75 degrees. It is now Sunday at 1:45 and we are still looking. What we are seeing is weather in the high fifties and constant drizzle, sometimes turning into real rain. The sky has been the color of an aircraft carrier and it feels like those days you had as a kid when you would be lucky to be stuck indoors with a cold. No recess at school, just eraser tag. Yes, that’s it, it’s an eraser tag day.


I don’t know if the great game of eraser tag is still played. Probably not, it was a dangerous game. The rules required two elementary school students to stand back to back at the schoolroom’s chalkboard with a chalk eraser on each head. At a signal from the teacher, both students took off and the student getting all the way around the room with their eraser still on their head was the winner. Usually the linoleum floor was slippery from the students tracking in mud of dirt and wild spills were often the rule, especially if you were trying to make up time.


The best eraser tag player I ever saw was Bobby Smith. Bobby had the advantage of having the perfect flat top that seemed to allow the eraser to stick to his head. He was not fast, but he chugged around the room at a pretty good clip, arms pumping for balance, lowering his head and shoulders to give him a low center of gravity. I never saw him lose. If there was a Hall of Fame for eraser tag, Bobby would have been its Babe Ruth. If the Babe had had red hair and attention deficit syndrome.


I guess Bobby had ADS. Looking back I often wonder if I had been put in an entire class of ADS sufferers. I have mentioned before that, in the fifth grade, Bobby and I were unceremoniously hauled out of class and made to repeat the standard achievement tests. It turned out after the second tests came back that neither of us was as  stupid as several higher ups had thought, but were spectacular underachievers. We had the scores to prove it. Lack of brain was not our problem, lack of interest and lack of patience was. But whatever causes you to make a 70 on a Geography test, it is still a D. If anything, the underachiever was more looked down upon than the simpleton (of which there were plenty)in my class. By the time we reached 8th grade or so, our laziness unimpaired by the certain knowledge that we were not dumb, Bobby and I were spending a lot of time in summer school together. So, as smart as we figured we were, the joke was on us.


Bobby turned out to be  a pretty good trumpet player and ended up at a different high school than me for music reasons. I lost track of Bobby after that but heard that he had  been drafted  and ended up a thirty year man in the Army. I never could see Bobby in the Army. I thought that in drafting Bobby the joke was on the Selective Service system. How were they going to get him up in the morning, how were they going to get him to make his bed, clean his gun, find his way back to camp ? What do you do with a fellow whose greatest physical  skills require an eraser on the head ? Most importantly, what can the army make of a guy with that sweet a disposition ? I heard they made him a sergeant. Probably the only sergeant in the history of the United States Army who never raised his voice.


Bobby, I hope you are out there somewhere, living on the soldiers pension, sleeping late and, all in all living the kind of life that you always wanted. I bet that you are. I hope I see you again someday, if not in this life, than the next. There’s a special place in heaven for us underachievers. A place where a 70 on a Geography test is as good as a 95.At least I hope that’s the case. That’s the final joke old friend. We will see who it is on.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel Prize

I was shocked to learn this morning that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Talk about a fast track. Jimmy Carter brokered the Camp David Peace agreement and did not get his for another thirty years. Teddy Roosevelt got his pretty quickly, but he had settled a war between Russia and Japan.Dr. King spent years leading a true revolution to overcome three hundred years of slavery and its vestiges. As far as I can tell, Obama has taken a couple of trips , (one to get turned down by the Olympic committee) and decided not to put up a nuclear shield in Eastern Europe. Most of the rest of the term he has watched and at times participated in the health care debate.


What this prize really is, is an award to the American people for finally getting rid of George Bush. It is a European  sigh of relief that the cowboy is gone, replaced by someone who listens as well as demands. The Nobel Committee should have been more forthright in what they were doing, but I guess that  the committee could not give the award to the Twenty Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Still, it could have been given to the American people and we could have had a national lottery to see which citizen collects the $1.4 million. I can’t say that I have done as much for world peace as the President, but really, at this point into his term, I am not that far behind.


With this surprising award I guess we should be on the lookout for other accolades for the President. A Pulitzer, the American League MVP, Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and “employee of the month” (executive branch) are probably all forthcoming. I am pretty sure that there will be a Tony presented to him along the way. An Oscar is too much to ask, since he never made a movie, but he is a shoe in for an Emmy for any number  of his T.V. performances over the past year.


Readers of this blog know that I like the President, I voted for him and support him in what he is trying to do. He has done a remarkable job in repairing the U.S. image in a very short time. But this is a bit much. How long did Mother Theresa have to wait ? and she will soon be a saint. I really think that the President ought to consider humbly not accepting the award. Maybe the committee could put it on hold for four or eight years to see how all of this turns out. There are going to be some pretty red faces in Oslo if this guy hauls off and nukes Iran next week, or even if he waits a couple of years for appearance sake.


Still, these things happen,Zolio Versailles had a good year for the Twins in 1965, but did not deserve his award and I will never figure out how Robert Preston won for Victor/Victoria.  I am still mad that Joe Niekro did not win the Cy Young in 1980 and I don’t even recall the bum who beat him out for it. Not that the President is a bum. I have not changed my opinion about him in any way, but let’s see a little peace break out which can be attributed to him before we go this far. He can start in Iraq and Afghanistan

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Go lie down; and it shall be, if thou be called, that thou shalt say: Speak Lord, for Thy servant heareth.

1 Samuel 3 (9)



I was trying to finish the biography of Rutherford B. Hayes last night (I know, but you will just have to wait for my review) when I had a series of three phone calls, each hard on the other. I believe that the series of calls( total) lasted about two minutes, but since I had to get up to go answer the phone three times, and since I did not want to answer the phone even once, each ring was followed by a loudly screamed obscenity.


I never considered not answering the calls, although I assumed that each one was a solicitation. I just can’t screen a phone call. I prefer to rudely hang up after making an indignant noise. At any rate they were not all solicitations. One was a call for my wife from a good friend of hers. One was call from AT&T where they seem to have switched over from boiler room grumbling voices to happy, cheery voices, possibly because (as I was told) the call was being recorded. “Great” I replied, “Record this” , click.


The last call was the strange one. A recorded voice asked me to accept a collect call from a prisoner (whose name was then inserted from a previous recording of his voice) who was located at a state prison. This one I hung up on immediately. That was the one I sort of regret this morning.


I knew what the call was, and it was a mistake. This prisoner was probably  trying to call “Wayne Porter” a local criminal lawyer. I will say that my experience with criminal lawyers is that he would have probably  gotten the same message I gave to him, he would have been hung up on. These criminal lawyers would spend all day, most nights , and lots of money if they continually accepted collect calls from their clients who are languishing in the various dungeons of the State of Texas. The guys in the cells have nothing better to do than come up with ideas as to how they can be sprung. Generally speaking they are stupid ideas.


I thought later though; maybe I should have listened. There is so much noise in our lives now that I tune out a great deal of it, believing that the good things I miss out on are over balanced by the crap I don’t have to hear. But maybe I should listen more. What would it have hurt me to listen to a prisoner for a couple of minutes and add a lousy dollar to my phone bill ? It would have meant that I would not get back to Rutherford for a few minutes, no great loss there. Maybe I could have helped the guy. It’s one in a million that I could have, but it would not have cost me much to see. Now I will never know.


As the boy Samuel was taught, sometimes when you listen, you hear the voice of God. Mostly you hear the voice of AT&T, but sometimes it’s God. Only by listening do you know for sure which one it is who is speaking. I hate to think that I hung up on God last night, but maybe I did.



Sunday, October 04, 2009

Life's Plateaus

I seem to have plateaued. This happens to everyone who is trying to lose weight. Mine started about two weeks ago and during that time I have not lost or gained any weight. It is a generally discouraging thing and often results in giving up on the diet, which I have not. But maybe I have. Diets are never abandoned all at once. We kind of slide out of them much the way the human being is said to fall into sin. A little bit at a time.


My problem began when I badly pulled a muscle in California which prevented me from walking my 3-4 miles a day. Once the muscle was healed, I found that I had enjoyed sleeping late and I have been inconsistent in the walking every since. Really the walking is the key to this whole thing. It is the walking that makes me feel better and helps me be optimistic about the weight loss which in turn makes me happy to eat healthy things. Not walking depresses me which makes me hungry.


I do not write all that much about this diet for fear that the blog will turn into a diet blog. I think diet blogs are fine, I just can’t imagine anyone who reads this blog wanting to know what I ate for dinner every night and wanting to see my new recipe for low fat cornbread. There are lots of blogs like that and I think they are helpful to the writers as they do not want to fail in front of their readers. All of this leads us to Larry Besaw.


Back about a million years ago, not long after I came to Austin, there was a writer for the local paper named Larry Besaw. Larry was fat. Real fat. Now you can be fat in many ways that are not all that bad. You can be “distinguished” fat if you dress well. You can be “cute” fat if you have that kind of face. There are models who make a lot of money because they are “glamorous” fat. They call them plus size. Besaw was none of these. Besaw was a sloppy, disgusting fat guy. The kind of fat guy who gave the rest of us fat guys a bad name. He needed to lose a whole lot of weight and he hit upon a way to do it.


Besaw got his publisher to let him right a weekly column on his attempts at  weight loss. The column was promoted all over town with billboards and T-Shirts of a big fat slob (Besaw) eating a chicken fried steak or a piece of pie, or something fattening with the slogan “Watch Larry Besaw take it off”. Upon seeing the picture, you desperately hoped that what was going to be taken off was weight and not his shirt, and indeed, that’s what the plan was.


So Besaw starts writing this column. I can’t recall how much we weighed. It was probably about 300 pounds, so he needed to drop quite a bit. He probably thought that the weight loss column was a key to job security because it takes a long time to lose 150 pounds or so. I guess he saw himself employed for several years. At any rate, a lot of people in town are reading his work and rooting for Larry to drop a ton. At first he did all right.


The first weeks on a weight loss program are an illusion, if you are greatly over weight. I have a friend named Bob  who is over  300 pounds. He told me that he once lost 25 pounds just by “cutting back” on French Fries. That first week or two on a diet you lose a lot of water and you are so stoked that you eat less than you really should. The pounds drop off. That’s the way it was for Besaw. He would report going to his favorite barbeque place and getting a salad or his favorite Mexican place and eating a chicken breast. The guy was doing great. Then as the weeks went by you began to spot signs of trouble.


Besaw began to report little sins of commission in his eating habits. Not bad at first, an occasional hamburger, maybe he was not going to the gym as much as he should have. But then it got worse. He seemed to be plateauing and that plateau extended  on for quite awhile. Then it got depressing. Besaw began eating like there was no tomorrow. Worse. He reported it all to us. “Well, I was doing great but I decided to get an order of cheese enchiladas and then I had three margaritas with it”. After a few weeks the guy seemed to have no will power at all and by that point he wished he was plateauing.


How embarrassing must it be to write a weight loss column and report that you have gained three pounds that week.  Let me tell you, you lose a lot of readers. Eventually, the weight gain became such that the whole column became a farce and the paper canceled it. In his last missive, Besaw reported that he was not giving up, he  felt that he could make a headway if he just stuck to salads and lean meats. I guess he put Thousand Island on his salads and did not trim all of the fat, because the next time I saw him he looked like a self of his former shadow and a big fat self at that. It was all quite sad, and I am sure humiliating. He soon thereafter left the paper, and I was told that he died very young (defined now as anyone below the age of  56).


There is a lesson in there somewhere for just about everyone and I wish that the story had a happier ending. Everyone I knew that knew Besaw loved the guy. He apparently was quite funny and was an excellent writer. While no  ancient Greek dramatic character had overeating as his fatal flaw, it is certainly not worse than having sex with your mother. Indeed, Oedipus might have saved his vision had he been merely fat. But it is a tough flaw to  overcome. I can tell you that for sure as I stand at the plateau with two clear choices.



Coda: Death greatly exagerated ?- I did a Google search and found a Larry Besaw who is the current head of publishing for the Texas Medical Association. I hope this is the same fellow, if only for the irony.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Muddling Through

That government of the people,

by the people and for the people

shall not perish from the earth. Lincoln, Abraham   Gettysburg Address (1863)



Democracy sounds good in theory, then the day comes for every citizen when he or she has to make a trip to the D.M.V. ………

Democracy in action, especially when the action is taking place right in front of you, is not pretty. I don’t disagree with Churchill ,who said that, and I paraphrase, “Democracy is a very bad form of government, but all the others are worse.” It is important to note, however, that I don’t disagree with either sentiment in his statement.


The evolution of forms of our earthly  governments are merely representative of the evolution of the thinking of the human species. The long term trend of government is away from authority and toward the autonomy of the individual. Yet, paradoxically, it is away from individual consequences, and toward collective responsibility for the good of each citizen (or in the thoughts of some, each ”person”, whether citizen or not). This leads to inevitable conflict from the two sides of the equation, each tugging at the other for temporary supremacy in the body politic. The upshot of this  is that the trains don’t run on time. Or, as in Austin, never open at all and bankrupt the public transit system.


When people say government is too large, they are really saying that a lot of people in the world are incompetent, and so the more people involved in the government, the more incompetent( and expensive, and destructive) that government is. That does not necessarily follow as a syllogism, but I have found it to be true none the less. It is also the collective wisdom of the world that the fewest possible people in government (one) is the most dangerous government of all. “Absolute power,,.” and all that crap we were taught in high school. That has certainly turned out to be true. So what is one to do ? Some argue for a capitalist based anarchy. Some believe in the Easter Bunny too, but we don’t base our society on fairy tales of either sort. If you take the American system as representative, about half of the people drop out of the political process for one reason or another. When I was in college, I was taught that that was caused by a lack of a feeling of efficacy on the part of the individual voter. I have come to believe that this lack of efficacy is, at best, a secondary reason as to why people do not participate in the system.


 What has really brought us to the “tomb of the unregistered voter” ?  I think that it is something my old friend Gary Marfin used to call “ Civic Confusion”. Civic Confusion, according to Marfin the elder, is  exemplified by the loud, incessant and unnecessary honking of the horns of automobiles in crowded city centers (at the time, he was speaking of Matamoras). It is confusing, even dizzying. Your best option is to retreat, run away from it, even hide. This, in a nutshell , what democracy is today. It is hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to scream at a group of individuals (most of whom live in Florida or Ohio) in an attempt to persuade them that one philosophy or another will make a difference in their lives. The din is so much that it makes it impossible to think. Tell me what you like and dislike about the Health Care bill. You probably did not know that there are at least four such bills currently being debated. If you are a conservative, the thing you think you most dislike is probably not even in the bill. If you are a liberal, the thing you think you  most like is probably not even in the bill. We are all arguing over nothing because  we can never get clear of all the shouting. We can’t think because we don’t understand the subject enough to think about it and neither do most of the political hacks in Washington or Austin. That does not keep them from screaming at each other, screaming at us, and urging us to scream at each other (I think “ice cream” used to follow that sentence).


And that my friends, is the underlying reason of why when you go to the D.M.V., you lose faith in your government. All we can do is muddle through.