Hillary Time is Our Time

Friday, July 29, 2016. Grocery store. Strange sensations.

I had to wonder why my face seemed stuck in smile mode as I maneuvered my shopping cart through the aisles.  Why did my step seem livelier, my back a bit straighter, and, implausible as it sounds, why did I feel like I had grown an inch or two taller?

As I tried to account for these oddities, I flashed back to a vision from the night before – that of a woman on a national convention stage being applauded by thousands as she beamed and opened her arms in an expansive welcome to the millions of us watching and wiping away tears. Like so many, I had no idea how much my eyes had hungered to witness this event until it happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton standing on that stage, accepting the ultimate validation of a woman’s worth and sharing it with us all.  It will go down in my books as an unforgettable moment, as it will for many women and, I suspect, many men who respect women and admire accomplishment.


I can only imagine how it must feel for Hillary, the woman who has withstood more attempts to destroy her than any woman in history, I suspect.  The criticism has always seemed so unfair when she has consistently shown herself to be a woman with an amazing heart who from a young age made it her life’s mission to work on behalf of the disenfranchised, to be a spokesperson and advocate for those without voices, even while having other opportunities. For example, upon graduation from Yale Law School she could have taken a lucrative job in a silver-stocking law firm, but instead, she went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Her mentor, Marian Wright Edelman, sent her into impoverished neighborhoods to interview residents and collect data for a report that eventually prevented school in America from pushing out disadvantaged, minority, and disabled children. She joined the CDF board in 1978 and chaired it from 1986 until 1992. Hillary also stood up for voiceless with her founding of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families even before Bill Clinton became governor.

In fact, it’s Hillary’s commitment to making life more fair for everyone that has made her public enemy number 1 among the business-as-usual crowd and the right-wing that doesn’t cotton to helping those whose boots don’t come with bootstraps.  When she started her efforts to provide universal health care in this country, the insurance and medical business interests aligned with the right-wing and went full throttle with their public relations and intimidation machines to sidetrack her efforts and besmirch her personally. They even weaved a conspiracy theory that Hillary was behind the death of Vince Foster, her former law partner, family friend, and White House counsel, which many still brand her with, despite the ruling by special prosecutor Ken Starr that Mr. Foster’s death was a suicide.

Remarkably, Hillary’s head has never bowed and she has unceasingly displayed her competence, intelligence, and pride, even while experiencing true heartbreak. She has not broken stride in her efforts to continue serving her country in various capacities. Now that she is attempting to reach for the highest rung in our government, the vitriol and criticism has become proportionately more intense and ugly.

Benghazi has been the most ludicrous of all the attempts to diminish her. As anyone who watched any portion of her 11-hour grilling before the Benghazi investigating committee knows, she came out looking more capable and less guilty of any wrongdoing than before it started. She made her inquisitors look small in comparison with her rational, unflappable demeanor.  Quite reasonably, she reminded them that after other attacks on diplomatic facilities during the Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations in which hundreds of Americans were killed (see chart), members of both parties “rose above politics” to examine what had gone wrong in partnership with the State Department – not as antagonists.


But despite, once again, being exonerated of wrongdoing, she has been equated with Lucifer, an accusation that demonstrates the right wing’s sheer terror of change and Hillary’s ability to make it happen. They scream for her imprisonment and propose her death by firing squad, thereby committing a murder far greater than any of which they accuse her: the cornerstone of our criminal justice system – innocent until proven guilty. Without the imposition of any court’s judgment or verdict, they declare that everyone “knows” she is guilty, so a failure to nail her with a crime is proof that investigators are themselves accomplices to her evil acts. (That means you, FBI Director Comey and Ken Starr!)

And as long as I’m pointing out the absolute lunacy of the attacks against Hillary, what’s the deal with damning her as being “inauthentic?”  How can people say they don’t know “who she is?” Are they confused by her hair styles?  Is that code for wanting to know how many tears she’s shed over Bill’s strolls along the “Appalachian Trail?”  If so, those folks need therapy.  To know who she is, all one needs to do is take into account the causes and projects to which she’s devoted her professional life, along with being a wife, a mother, and dancing in heels. Maybe it’s hard to recognize the unassuming workhorse who for most of her life has toiled unflaggingly in the shadow of her more dazzling and politically-gifted husband. But just consider what she has aimed to accomplish and you’ll know who she is.

I have a vivid memory of seeing Hillary up close in 1991, when she came to Austin to officially open the campaign headquarters for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. I was invited to attend the occasion by my friend, Tony Proffitt, who had worked with Bill and Hillary on the 1972 McGovern campaign in Texas.  After he educated me about who the Clintons were, I agreed to go and see whether I’d be interested in the candidate. It was a mid-afternoon, low-key gathering of about 25 or 30 people standing around in the former living room of an old downtown house, but I’ll never forget the dynamic woman, dressed casually and sporting a head band, who spoke that day about her husband’s agenda. She was so compelling and forceful that I told Tony afterwards, “I’m not sure about supporting Bill, but I’m sure ready to vote for her!”

Hillary 1992

And, now, 25 years later, I’m even more ready to vote for this impressive woman who continues to show us what true grit means.  She embodies the women’s movement — the quest for equal rights, equal pay, and equal representation in boardrooms and the halls of government.  After watching state legislatures and the judiciary chip away at Roe v. Wade and remembering the loss of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) by three states, Hillary brings us hope.  She will be our living proof that when a ceiling collapses, it opens up opportunities for all.

So, on July 29, 2016, I felt taller as I savored the vision of Hillary standing tall on that stage in Philadelphia! While she told us that she is the daughter of her mother and mother of her daughter, we know her to be the sister of millions of women everywhere. Women around the world remember China, 1995, and still hear her voice proclaiming, “Women’s rights are human rights!” She’s our Rocky, our fighter, all bloodied and bruised, but still powered by her own two feet, saluting the suffragettes of yesterday in dazzling white and embracing those of us today with her radiant smile and open arms!

She claimed a victory for us all and – while the music was never played at the convention – I couldn’t help but hear its strains and reflect on the prescience of President Clinton’s campaign song, “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow!”

Yes! Tomorrow is her time!! Tomorrow is our time!! Hillary. Rodham. Clinton.


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Why Spinach Reminds Me of Hitler

Maybe it’s the barrage of disturbing news – presidential politics, terrorist violence, coups, or Americans shooting other Americans – or maybe it’s the melting Texas heat. Whatever the case, I’m going to give my whirling mind a rest and hand over my metaphorical pen to Grumpy Old Woman (GOW) so she can stew a bit about her latest pet peeve.

[Enter GOW] It’s about time! So, what I want to know is what’s the friggin’ deal with all the spinach? How did that vegetable which once minded its own business quietly in cans become the darling of the restaurant world? Used to be, I’d only see spinach, which looked like oozing seaweed or fish tank goo, on school lunch trays and I never saw anyone actually eating it! Now, it’s everywhere I turn and “it’s making me sick,” as Roseanne Roseannadanna would say.


I think this turn of events began in the 90s when restaurants began offering spinach salads. Up till then, we were an iceberg culture for the most part and these salads would have never been eaten if they weren’t served with some high fat and high sugar dressings to hide the bitterness of the spinach. I tried the hot bacon dressing at Hyde Park Grill, for example, and suddenly, I could wolf down a spinach salad, no prob.  Drinking ramekins of dressing would have been unseemly, after all.

Unfortunately, our short relationship came to an abrupt end one day when I experienced a prolonged work stoppage that alerted me that my body was not going to tolerate any more spinach in its factory. Since I wasn’t eating that much, I thought it strange that the powers-that-be-me were so adamant on the subject. But a line in the sand had been drawn and even two or three leaves were sufficient to interrupt the assembly line.

At first, I figured it would be easy come, easy go. After all, what was there to miss?  I had actually despised the vegetable for most of my life. And in the final analysis, isn’t spinach just a bitter leaf that tastes like dirt?

But, in fact, there was no easy go. About the time of our disaffection, you see, Austin began turning into a Foodie/Vegetarian/Farm-to-Table town and these groups adooore spinach. The darn vegetable began popping up everywhere, often unannounced – spinach as a side dish, spinach as a bed for meats, spinach in a smoothies, spinach swimming in soup, spinach mixing it up with lettuce leaves in dinner salads – in essence, everywhere! Some restaurants with French and Italian-inspired menus are kind enough to give notice of the vegetable in a particular dish by designating it “Florentine” (spinach was introduced to France from Florence, Italy) but you can’t depend on that heads-up. Many restaurant cooks, with the crazy mindset that no one cares, just throw it on plates willy nilly, with nary a whispered mention on the menu. Surprise, surprise!Mr. SpinachUnsurprisingly, spinach leaves show up most commonly in salads, especially those purportedly made with “field greens.” The field green salad (as per Wikipedia) generally consists of “a mixture of very young leaves and shoots of wild and cultivated plants, including endive, dandelion, arugula, lamb’s lettuce, oak leaf, mache, radicchio, chervil, sorrel, frissee, purslane.” Notice that spinach is not listed. Yet, most of the time, a “field green salad” that reaches my table will include spinach. So, when the wait staff can’t guarantee the greens are free of spinach (since no one else has ever asked them what’s in the salad), I simply ask them to make my salad with romaine lettuce only. Easy enough, you’d think.

But, I have found that once there is spinach in a kitchen, pure romaine can be hard to get. Spinach is an aggressive vegetable – refusing any peaceful co-existence. For instance, I ordered a Cobb Salad recently at the Central Market Café that demonstrates my point. Customarily, a Cobb Salad is made with romaine lettuce and CM’s menu even says “romaine lettuce” in what I consider plain English. Upon receipt of my salad, however, I saw spinach leaves gloating up at me along the surface – no telling how many of the devils were hiding inside! I returned to the counter to explain that I didn’t want spinach in my Cobb. The gal at the counter said they couldn’t make a Cobb without spinach because – get this -– the containers of romaine and spinach are very close together in the kitchen and the leaves invariably get intermingled.

“Would you like me to get you something else, maybe a hamburger?” she asked. For a few seconds, I must have stopped breathing I was so flabbergasted. She wasn’t even going to try to prepare a salad that conformed to their menu!? And since when is a hamburger a logical substitute for a salad? Who considers a beef patty and bread as even marginally equivalent to romaine, tomatoes, feta cheese, eggs, bacon, avocado, and kalamata olives? (Is our education system failing, or what?!!!)  Needless to say, before I was done, the restaurant manager persuaded his kitchen team to produce a Cobb salad sans spinach. But, what an ordeal!

You’d think it’s just the traditional “foodie” venues where spinach is pursuing its agenda of manifest destiny. But noooo.  Spinach infiltration is happening now at our neighborhood Cheddar’s, known for its simpler, less healthy fare. Last week, I ordered an item I had often ordered from the “lighter side” menu featuring fish, ginger rice, and a garden salad, always spinach-free in the past. This time, however, the garden salad had been transformed into a spinach salad so generously apportioned, I could barely find the fish under all the dark green spinach leaves!


As you can see, I’m losing the war against a vegetable that has overwhelmed all former resistance to it. Spinach containment is so yesterday! Kitchen workers have been brainwashed so thoroughly, they are incapable of imagining why any diner would object to the dump of some spinach leaves on their plate. It’s like Hitler marching across Europe – it will work its way into as many countries (menu items) as possible! Where is Eisenhower when I need him?

My only hope is that some ingenious researchers will determine that spinach causes baldness and, now that I think about, how about erectile dysfunction, too?! Imagine how quickly male diners would start rejecting even a molecule of the vegetable! Chefs would probably designate it a vegetable non grata and have to quit thinking of more ways to bombard us with it. No more lettuce due diligence for me!

So, if you hear of any research about the spinach-baldness-ED connection, please alert me. Better yet, why not start an internet rumor to that effect since folks will believe most anything they read on the internet? Just ask Donald Trump. And once he hears about it, he’ll probably want to build a wall around it or deport the vegetable back to Italy. He could be useful for that.

Now, having gotten this off my chest and enlisted your help with my cause, it’s time for my nap. But, it just goes to show you, it’s always something!  So, I’ll be back with another something. [Exit GOW]


As she lays down, I hear her grumbling about the Nike uniforms at Wimbledon that were like baby doll pajamas and made the female players look like prepubescent girls or lingerie models. “It’s enough to make me sick,” she mutters. As I dim the lights, I start to tell her about a LPG golfer on the cover of “Golf” magazine, dressed in some kind of baby doll outfit. But, I keep quiet. I’ll tell her later . . . once I’m sure I’ve got my pen back.

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Austin Invaded by Zika Snakes!!

Zika Snakes?  Let me explain, I am a desperate woman using desperate measures to keep more people from moving here.  You see, last month, I read this headline that provoked me to sputter out my coffee: “Austin Metro Surpasses 2 Million Residents.”   Talk about a sucker punch of reality, a nail in the coffin – Old Austin is officially no more!  We need Zika snakes.

When my first-grade self was among Austin’s 186,545 residents in 1960, we were a virtual hamlet! Everyone potentially, if not in fact, could have known everyone else! Back then, no one spoke of the “Austin Metro,” and even if they did, it would not have meant an area including all of four counties.  Literally and figuratively, Austin was Austin, Round Rock was Round Rock, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Same for Bastrop, Buda, Kyle, Leander, etc.


But, now, with two million people, we’ve blended and merged into one big glob of humanity. Even while Round Rock is technically still Round Rock and Cedar Park, Leander, and Pflugerville still have their city governments and long histories of independence, they’ve become those neighbors you can hear through the walls!

You folks in Houston might snicker over a mere two million residents. But you were ready to expand — you have roads for your millions!! New Yorkers might also wonder at my distress but NYC has a public transportation system we would die for. Also, both Houston and NYC are peopled with big spenders who dreamed yuuge and built yuuge, which, in turn, fueled public spending on the infrastructure necessary to support those dreams.


In contrast, the Austinites of the past were folks who fretted about losing our small town quality of life, hoping against hope that no one else would discover this little jewel of a city and start dreaming big, much less yuuuge. The powers-that-were joined hands, sang Kumbayah, and adopted the time-honored principle of “if-we-don’t-build, people-won’t-come.” So, we didn’t build and yet . . . the people came.  Given Austin’s complete lack of foresight and failure to embrace growth, where did we go right? Or more pointedly, what does a town have to do to make them stop moving here?  Create the threat of Zika snakes?

You’d think we’d done enough. Haven’t we guaranteed a nightmare of intra-city travel for years to come by restricting transportation options? We had organized groups blocking the construction of new roads and thoroughfares, refusing to settle for anything less than the 1950s integrity and tranquility of their neighborhoods.  We relied on peculiar routes to travel east-west, requiring drivers to weave through neighborhoods and stop frequently at lights and stop signs.


And we haven’t gone crazy building big roads for north-south transit, either. Basically, we only have two major thoroughfares, one being Interstate 35, which is the major trade route linking South Texas with Northern Minnesota. Most of the time it’s packed with truckers, tourists and business travelers waving as they pass the Capitol on their way elsewhere, competing for valuable road space with local commuters or the downtown noon crowd seeking to eat lunch on Riverside. In fact, the segment between Riverside Drive and Dean Keeton Blvd. (26th St.) has been ranked at 10th place on the list of worst highway bottlenecks in America. The other spots, just to give you a frame of reference, are in Los Angeles and New York.

Imagine our excitement when a state highway in far east Austin was announced as a project that would serve as an alternative route for pass-through traffic, truckers in particular, thereby leaving I-35 for the locals! But, those hopes were dashed when it was built as a toll road with very high tolls for trucks. The truckers did some comparison shopping and decided to stay on the free interstate.  Back to square one.

Our other north-south thoroughfare – Loop 1 or Mopac – ain’t no great shakes, either, plagued by the increasing congestion courtesy of our neighbors to the north, residents of Leander, Cedar Park, etc. Some argue that those communities wouldn’t have grown, but an extension of Mopac.  Hence, reverting back to Austin’s no-build-no-grow philosophy, we shouldn’t even think about extending the road southward! But there’s no stopping growth now.  With or without the direct highway extension,  Austin’s southern outskirts are just as fecund as their northern counterparts and any extension, if it ever happens,  is years away.  It’s the Austin way.

Now, with all this vehicular traffic, you might surmise that we have a new miraculous public transportation system in the works. Wrong! Austin has done a great job of sticking with the bus system of the 1950s, although we’ve added and extended routes and bought some bigger (bendable) buses. But, along with blocking road construction, we are champions at shooting down anything sensible like light rail.  The reasons for opposing the painstakingly developed plans of feasibility-study committees are numerous:  too expensive, unpopular routes, unwelcome development around stations, reduction in car lanes, etc.  Austin did approve a little commuter train system (Metrorail) connecting our northern outskirts to a station east of downtown, but only because it runs on existing train lines in the middle of the highway, thereby having no impact on neighborhoods or existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, its goal of reducing congestion on Mopac, hasn’t panned out — ridership is still less than stellar and traffic on Mopac is still bad.  It won’t be selling Austinites on any future rail projects.


As little as our transportation woes work to stop the flow of new folks, could it be our affordable housing that keeps drawing them in? But, wait, affordable housing went by the wayside years ago!  Unlike our transportation system, however, the housing debacle is not a self-inflicted wound. Austinites blame Californians for ruining what was once an affordable housing market. Sadly, those West Coast denizens discovered our city and began transplanting themselves in droves, exiting their crazy-high housing market and plopping down their exorbitant returns for Austin houses – they paid cash for asking prices or more! Naturally, they drove the whole Austin housing market skyward, along with our property taxes, making it hard for even long-established residents to stay in their homes. Minorities were driven from historic residence east of I-35 as all properties in Austin became hot targets for development.  And developers who followed in the Californians’ wake, found their bliss in building expensive condos for downtown living.  Judging by the unflagging changes in our skyline, there are people who love this concept and will pay through the nose for it!


As I ponder what we did “right” to bring the hordes to our rolling hills, I wonder whether our lack of a professional sports team discouraged any significant number of folks.  It would seem like a real shortcoming that we only have college teams, primarily the University of Texas Longhorns football team, to inspire any kind of zaniness and zealous devotion. Moreover, more often than not, even that football frenzy is generally short-lived as the team fails to live up to its hype.  And if anyone were to move here thinking that one day we’d host a pro team, they are probably gone by now, realizing that Austin isn’t going to pick up the check for any team’s sports arena. As our decisions on mass transit prove, we simply don’t do big projects (with the exception of a medical school as a joint venture with a Catholic hospital that won’t provide female reproductive health services, but that’s another story).

A corollary shortcoming is that without a pro team and that big arena, Austin isn’t a regular stop for the big touring musical acts. While we have lots of venues where our great local bands can perform for little more than tips, and some nice theaters that are largely dominated by touring nostalgia acts, it makes you wonder why someone doesn’t call Austin out for calling itself the “Music Capital of the World.” Two ACL festival weekends and one week of SXSW a year isn’t enough to justify that claim, if you ask me. Although it was a good decision to abandon our former moniker, “The Friendly City,” lest it be interpreted as a welcome mat, but was “Music Capital of the World” the most logical replacement? Wouldn’t it be more honest just to leave it at “The Former Home of the Armadillo,” which partly explains how this music thing got started?  How about “The City that Tokes with Willie?”


But if I had to choose another city nickname, why not put our potential new neighbors on notice that Austin’s pollen levels from trees and grasses are known to be among some of the highest in the country. How about “Allergy Capital of the World,” or “Kleenex Capital of the World?” New neighbors should be aware that we sneeze, cough, and suffer from Cedar Fever in the winter and the infamous “Austin Croup,” in the spring. We also have long, hot summers made muggy with high humidity, which often produces strains of mold that cause even more allergy suffering. To put it in perspective, Austin has way more miserable allergy sufferers than musicians, venues, or concerts put together.

So, spread the word before our population reaches the three million mark: Austin’s not an easy place in which to reside, drive, and even breathe, and it’s not going to get any better soon, if ever.

In the meantime, let’s borrow an idea from Donald Trump: Build a wall around Austin! Tourists may enter to visit, students may come to study, but moving vans or U-Hauls full of anything beyond what’s need for one dorm room cannot enter.  Waivers will be granted for folks with expertise in needed fields, such as traffic management and mass transit.  And don’t worry about the expense, my fellow citizens.  We’ll get California to pay for it! After all, they OWE us . . . big time!!

As Trump would say, “What losers! They can’t even keep their own people from leaving!!”And Trump, as usual, would be wrong.  Old Austin is the real loser.

But until that wall gets built, let’s keep spreading the Zika snake rumors.

Posted in Old/New Austin | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Enough is Enough!!

I can only watch so much campaign coverage before I feel the need to think about cleaning and decluttering. Must be Trump’s constant patter about how rich he is and how much stuff he owns that reminds me of how we Americans embrace excess. We eat too much food, drive urban assault vehicles, fill our closets beyond capacity, and simply stated, buy too much stuff. We delight in sales, discounts, and our credit cards, wearing out Amazon’s “one click” button, especially now that it saves us the trouble of actually walking into a store.Amazon

Despite impoverishing us and burdening us with debt-ridden angst, Consumerism seems to be our one true religion and preaching thrift is heresy.  Malls are houses of worship and our residences, which keep getting larger, are warehouses for our bounty. Storage sheds dot the city landscapes because our attics are full!

Attics, in fact, are no longer the romantic places of repose for grandmothers’ love letters or grandfathers’ military memorabilia. More likely, we climb up to find Christmas decorations we no longer have energy to put up at Christmas, old lamps that may have value as antiques (we must look into that!), boxes of college papers, old typewriters, and the toys of our grown children’s youth.  All are testaments to our failings in Possessions Management 101.


Who would have believed that our own failings could spawn thriving businesses? Container Store. Need I say more? Such success for this kind of store would have been unthinkable in the 50s when most people had two or three pairs of shoes, a few dresses, a couple of suits, and maybe a week’s worth of casual clothes and underwear.

And when did people start amassing collections? Not just a few trinkets and knickknacks, but significant items claiming massive storage space in our lives, be they frogs, owls, salt and pepper shakers, beanie babies, antique dolls, political buttons, etc. I used to consider myself immune to such mania, but with the demise of a couple of family members, I, too, succumbed,  as heir to a collection weighted with nostalgia and beauty that would be an absolute crime to dismantle or leave to strangers!

From my collection

Yet, I’ve moved others and myself enough times to realize that we are suffocating ourselves with stuff. As I dispersed the items in my mother’s, and then, my father’s houses upon their final moves, I made vows to make it easier for my kids upon my departure. (Let me apologize, in advance, to my sons for bra and panties drawers. I like my lingerie, but I urge you to just toss them en masse – I promise not to hide any money or other valuables among them.)

Generally, as I make these vows, I’m reminded of reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond in my college days. Although he made a compelling case that the only free individuals are those who can carry all of their belongings on their back (or building them as needed when you go to live at Walden Pond), I had few possessions to worry about then. Accordingly, his philosophy was relegated to the good-idea-someday department that has since been renamed as the wish-I-had-listened department.

Some advice has been a bit more motivating — Sarah Ban Breathnach’s daybook called Simple Abundance, for example. Her collection of 365 essays was written to help women find their authentic selves by uniting spirituality with lifestyle. Breathnach encourages the keeping of gratitude journals and theorizes that the more we divest ourselves of things we don’t need, the more room we create room for abundance, i.e., good things, coming our way. At the time I read the book, the concept of “abundance” seemed a bit vague as reward systems go, but it sounded good enough to try.  Simple abundance eluded me, however, as my efforts were probably too minimal.

Another approach that made a lot of sense to me was espoused by a French woman in an article (which I can’t find now).  She explained closet management from an economic perspective.  A closet, she said, is real estate that has a certain dollar value (proportion of total square footage multiplied by amount of rent or mortgage payment). With that number in mind, the author suggested ruthlessly analyzing the items in a closet. If any piece of clothing is not “working” to earn its keep on your property, get rid of that non-performer! Based on this advice, I removed a few items from the closet, admittedly, extending way too many second chances to some slackers.


Although I’d find it hard to do, the most unique approach to attacking consumerism and its attendant storage problem was devised by David Bruno in The 100 Thing Challenge.  As an athletic and adventurous guy, he quite sensibly motivated himself with a decluttering scheme as something like a trek to the mountaintop and chose the number 100 as a “Goldilocks” number (neither too few or too many). But paring down to 100 things was just the first part – Bruno set a goal of remaining below 100 items for a year, strictly justifying any new purchases or gifts by trading it out for something else in his inventory. For me, this method of decluttering is too much like a 1200 calorie diet! I’d surely tire of maintaining that  inventory and depriving myself of chocolate cake, I mean, something new that really caught my fancy . . . even if only a year.

The latest option I considered in my decluttering studies is Marie Kondo’s NYT best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, claimed by many as the bible of deacquisitioning. The method she prescribes in her little turquoise tome boils down to keeping only those possessions that produce a spark of joy. Yes, spark of joy.  I bought the Kindle “executive summary,” which didn’t spark an ah-ha moment, much less help me grasp the sparking joy part, so I’ve yet to jump on the Kondo bandwagon. Of course, maybe if I read the whole book, I’d be raving about it. Maybe I’d find more inspiration in her mandate to respect your possessions by eschewing hangers and closets and, instead, using Japanese folding techniques and origami-like drawer organization. Perhaps I’d truly appreciate that my clothes “feel” squashed in the closet and prefer being folded like flags and filed in a drawer. Maybe.folding

As one who has studied these various clearing-out methodologies, I have surprisingly made merely a modicum of progress in my own efforts. Maybe next, I need to read Jane Saruwatari’s book, Behind the Clutter, wherein she explores the psychology of retaining our possessions long past their expiration dates. Is it our way of holding on to the past, Jane?

Or maybe, as David Bruno theorizes, we keep buying (and storing) in a quixotic quest to bridge the space between who we are and who we would like to be. As he says,

We can pursue the dream life of American-style consumerism, but only by relentlessly getting more possessions and using them to try to be more than we actually are. We must keep it up, because they will always fail to make us completely satisfied. We must continually ask our things to make us happy.

Yes, there must be complicated explanations behind our fervor as consumers and low-grade hoarders. While our parents could blame the Depression, we baby boomers did not fear scarcity and lack of buying power. Unscarred by the need for austerity, did we succumb instead to an affluenza that was the logical byproduct of our parents experiences? In other words, did our parents indulge us because of the tendency of every generation to give to the succeeding ones the childhoods they wished for themselves?

The bottom line, I think, is that we need to employ deep honesty in dealing with our consumerism and de-stuffing our houses, storage sheds, and attics. I know it will take a commitment that I’ve yet to master, but I intend to keep trying. In so doing, maybe I can conjure up some sparks of joy, find the simple abundance of enough, and hear the sweet sound of waves on Walden Pond lapping the shores and drowning out the voice of Donald Trump!


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Tis the Season for Fearing

Writer’s note: In case you feel like I’m repeating myself, you subscribers may remember a post by the same title that I published here last month.  For reasons that you would not really care about, I removed it from the website.  Now, I am returning the post to its rightful place, but in a much shortened (and editors would say “tightened”)  rendition.


As we shift into the nitty-gritty phase of election season 2016, I wonder how many more belches of fear and hate will emanate from the Republican fear-generating factory. The fact that fear sells so well saddens me. What does it say about our society where so many thrive on fear and boost the poll numbers of Donald Trump, for instance, with every hateful abomination he spews.

Here’s an idea: if you are among the fear-aholics, why not find terror in the governmental gridlock that prevents any efforts to reduce gun violence, respond to climate change, reduce income inequality, address failing infrastructure, or even sustain progress in ensuring civil, voting, privacy, and women’s rights?

Instead of demagoguery, wouldn’t it be much more productive to focus on Congress’s incapacity to address America’s real problems, which have little or nothing to do with ISIS, the Chinese, Russians, Syrian refugees, or border-crossing Mexicans? The current governmental dysfunction makes me fear that my grandchildren will inherit a country that can only remember its greatness with nostalgia. I fear America will be a country that has abandoned its governing principles because our Constitution can’t handle the job.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution provides no easy fixes to an impasse caused by a Congress that sits on its hands. In his book, “The Royalist Revolution,” author Eric Nelson posits that our founding fathers, given their experience with an elected Parliament, sought to control the legislative branch with an uncrowned king called a president, i.e., a mixed monarchy. The president-king would have sweeping powers and a steadying hand to check the factionalism of the Congress. The two houses of the legislature would pass laws, but the president-king would have veto power.

And yet, the document failed to give the president any tools when Congress refuses to act or holds the Executive Branch hostage to their demands by not doing its job working or passing legislation. Is this a fatal flaw in our mixed monarchy model?

In fact, among Latin American countries that emulate our system, governmental impasse has been the cause of repeated failure, explains Yale’s Juan Linz. Unlike parliamentary/prime minister systems where either a deal can be struck between factions or new elections be called, the presidential model has no such mechanism. Hence, Latin American governments based on the U.S. model have oscillated between authoritarianism and dysfunction.

Clearly, our government is verging on dysfunction if not actually dysfunctional. Too many in Congress don’t understand the nature of governing or have long since jettisoned their knowledge of how it’s designed to work. In the name of saying “no” to Obama or taking “their” country back, they claim a mandate to undermine government instead of providing for the well-being of all Americans. Eschewing compromise and deal-making, they employ government shutdown, demagoguery, and non-action, to the detriment of us all.

So, why not vote these do-nothings out of office? Isn’t that the solution to government impasse that our Constitution provides? I realize that idea sounds naive in these modern days of gerrymandering, PACs, and billionaire’s funding of candidates that only serve to mock the principle of government for the people, by the people.

But still, I wonder, why not give voting a chance? The Census Bureau reported that only 41.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2014 Congressional races. So, what if we, the people, tried to get that number up to 80-90% as a national experiment in reclaiming democracy? After all, we know Congress isn’t going to reform campaign laws. And unless Jesus has espoused on the subject, many state legislatures won’t do it either.

The reality is that the U.S. Constitution came with no guarantees and few democracies have lasted as long as ours. Too many among us have taken America for granted by believing in the “genius” of our Constitution. There are also too many believers in the concept of American exceptionalism absent any rational reason for America being an exception among countries or democracies. To the contrary, we are experiencing an unraveling of our system, ripped apart by from the fringes, quarterbacked by the likes of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell, just to name a few.

Is America up to the task of saving our democracy? President Obama says Americans can do anything we put our minds to. But I fear that his message is heavy with hope and light on certainty. Are we at the end of America as we have known it? That’s something worth fearing. I fear for us.

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Austin, Cedar Capital of the World!!

I’m reposting my blog post from January, 2014, because it’s just so darn timely. If you are in Austin now and still not sneezing and dripping, don’t count your chickens, yet.   Our annual pollination festival is amping up slowly. . . albeit surely.  The swallows might forego Capistrano, but Austin’s cedars are a loyal lot and they will bloom come hell or high water. Here were my words from 2014, ringing just as true now:

Among the reasons for not moving to Austin, I bet you think our atrocious traffic problem and lack of mass transit is at the top of the list. Or the lack of affordable housing. Or the high property taxes.

cedar.pollenBut you’d be mistaken. The number one reason not to live in Austin is CEDAR, specifically the pollen that cedar trees emanate resulting in the truly abominable cedar fever. “Cedar is juniperus ashei,” allergist Dr. Eric Schultz told a local television reporter recently.  “It’s one of the worst allergens, or most potent allergens on the planet. Here in Central Texas it’s rampant, especially in Austin.”

You might think I’m talking about a runny nose or some sneezes here and there. Again, you’d be wrong. It’s far worse.  For weeks you can be plagued by sore throat, amazing phlegm production, a nose that won’t stop running, watery, itchy eyes, intermittent sneezing attacks, and ultimately, a hacking cough. A guy who moved from LA to Central Texas reported that he had to start allergy shots after encountering cedar. “The fact that I can hold a regular conversation and see you five feet in front of me means it’s made a world of difference so far,” he told a reporter.

And cedar doesn’t wait to bring us down at a convenient time of the year. No way! Cedar pollen makes its appearance just in time for Christmas, spills over to New Year’s, and stays around until Valentine’s Day, more or less.

I started having cedar allergies as a child, and as a result of being sick every Christmas, I developed a bah humbug attitude toward the whole holiday. My childhood pictures show a young girl with a bright red nose, a la Rudolph, and squinting eyes because she’s struggling to stay awake, being drugged to the gills with antihistamines. Needless to say, the best Christmases were those we spent in Dallas celebrating with grandparents.

Because of cedar fever, I’ve continued to dread this time of year and have been reluctant to plan much, particularly any major outings on New Year’s Eve.  I just never know if I’m going to be sick or not. Even if I slide by Christmas because of a late pollen release, I could be sneezing my head off by New Year’s. Just imagine being in a club with a band blaring or a ballroom with a million noisemakers going off while your head and sinus cavities are pounding in painful rhythm!

Like the LA guy, I get weekly (or so) allergy injections that consist of ever-increasing doses of the allergens that I am sensitive to with hopes of building up an immunity to them. For the last 5 years I’ve been going to the allergist’s office to get the weekly shot, and then I have to wait for 15 minutes to make sure I don’t go into systemic shock. If this were to happen, my understanding is that a shot of epinephrine would be quickly administered to me. (I always envision John Travolta giving Uma Thurman a shot in her heart in Pulp Fiction!) But I digress. How effective are these shots? Usually, they work to minimize my reactions, but this year, with record level highs pollen counts, any dent they are making seems pretty minimal.

So, just to fully inform potential Austinites what else they may be buying with their Austin real estate, here’s a look at the medicine cabinet of a cedar fever sufferer: antihistamines (non-drowsy and drowsy in both pill form and nasal spray), throat lozenges, pseudoephedrine (a.k.a. Sudafed for which you need a picture I.D. to purchase), cough medicine, analgesics, eye drops for allergies, and guaifenesin (Mucinex, Maximum Strength is best). And that’s just the first tier. Second tier drugs are those nasal irrigationneeded after your allergy attack has matured into a sinus infection or bronchitis. Then, you will probably need a steroid injection or prednisone pills, along with antibiotics and perhaps a respiratory anti-inflammatory (e.g. Singulair). Along the way, you may want a Netti pot/nasal irrigator or bottle of saline solution to wash out your nasal passages and a cold mist humidifier. Did I mention Kleenex? Lots of Kleenex.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “This is not going to happen to me – I’ve never had any allergies, so I’m probably immune.” Not necessarily so, I assure you.  You can incur new allergies at almost any time.  And if you think you can predict anything after a single cedar season, again, you are misinformed. It takes about seven years before new residents fall prey to Satan cedar. But, at least you can say you had seven good years.

But wait! It’s not all about you. If you have children, why would you subject them to this torture? They can get cedar fever, just like I did, and if they are miserable, you will be miserable. And if you are in cedar fever hell already, you will be doubly miserable when your kids are sick and you are washing out their nasal passages and sucking out nasal production (polite word) with those bulb things. There’s nothing more pitiful than a sick kid. And if you have a sick spouse? Quadruple agony!

In short, cedar is the most evil tree ever allowed to spread anywhere.  Moreover, I’ve seen recent studies showing that cedar trees suck more water from the ground than any other tree. Here we are in the midst of the worse drought ever and wouldn’t you think someone would stand up and say: death to cedar trees!!??

But, of course, you’d be mistaken. No Austinite is going to advocate the destruction of a single tree, even if it were the last source in the world of hardwood planking for a West Austin McMansion. In Austin, we protect all of our trees without discriminating on the basis of color, country of origin, ethnicity, or costs to society.

But why not make an exception in the case of cedar?  This indiscriminate tree love is bad for at least half of the city’s populace. Imagine the workplace productivity that is lost and the trees that must be killed to produce more Kleenex and replace the printed page I just sneezed all over. Does it make sense that we’ll all end up with three or four enormous rain barrels in our yards before a single cedar tree is slaughtered at the altar of good health and sufficient water supply?

But I guess I should try to find a silver lining to all the misery related to this tree. I’m thinking that if we really publicize it, fewer people will move to Austin, and cedar fever will have served a higher purpose. How about a new city moniker: “Cedar Fever Capital of the World?” And then, let’s have a Cedar Fever festival at Zilker Park, giving our city leaders another opportunity to authorize the trampling and destruction of park grass. To make our point, we would open it up only to musicians who are roused from their sickbeds to perform, all the while sneezing, sniffling, and tripping on antihistamines. Just like Woodstock!

austin trafficWhat do you think? If more people around the world heard about our cedar tree problem, do you think they’d stay away, find other places to live? If so, I could start loving the tree (albeit from a distance). And just maybe, this could be the ultimate solution to our god-awful traffic!!

Posted in Nature, Old/New Austin | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Beer in the Backyard with George W

Lumbering along the long and winding campaign trail to find a Republican candidate to run against Hillary (or Joe, Martin, or Bernie), it’s hard to ignore the reality show that is Donald Trump. He dominates most news and public affairs broadcasts with an act that surely makes Rush Limbaugh sob into his pillow at night, “He’s stealing my shtick!”

Like Limbaugh, the Donald comes without a set of filters, saying whatever comes to mind – most of it rude, coarse, and offensive.  In many respects, he follows the Republican game that started out as “We’ll-make-Obama-a-one-term-president,” and has morphed into “We’ll-destroy-Obama’s-legacy.”  But he also plays a multi-purpose offense that includes Obama and anyone else who steps on his cape or appears to be a serious threat to his nomination/election.


One must wonder about this chord in the key of Ugly that has captivated the ear of so many Americans. I understand the tea party folks — they’ve always reveled in rude, bombastic public discourse as an alternative to simply shooting up the saloon. But there are more than tea partiers at Trump’s soiree. Are these people mesmerized by his “government is broke and I’m the only one who is smart enough to fix it” message? Or are they among the morbidly curious enjoying another car wreck?

Whatever the case, if Trump doesn’t become the next president, any network would be crazy not to give him his own television show. No, not another season of “The Apprentice,” rather one where he stands at a podium and bloviates for a while, kind of Don Rickles unleashed.  They’d call it “The Bloviator.”

He could have guest bloviators.  I suggest his first guest could be the most embarrassing Texan to go to Washington since George W. Bush – Ted Cruz, who is another mystery of this campaign season.  Why does he have any following at all? I mentally cringe every time he opens his mouth. Did my fellow Texans – my extended neighborhood – really elect this guy?  He’s so “unappealing,” to borrow an adjective for Cruz written by Professor Gary Keith (Texas government guru).


In fact, Cruz has a pathological streak of ugliness that renders him worse than Trump. For instance, in the days after Beau Biden’s death from brain cancer, Ted Cruz was trolling for laughs with comments about Joe Biden being a joke, a laugh line. He couldn’t even wait until the man buried his son!  Similarly, the day after former President Jimmy Carter announced the discovery of his cancer, Ted Cruz inserted snide remarks about the former president into his campaign speech, claiming that Obama’s administration is the worst since Carter’s. These two incidents alone speak volumes about Cruz’s true character. Volumes entitled No Decency, No Compassion, and No Empathy.

Leaving aside the question of who is worse, Trump and Cruz both subscribe to the theory that it pays to be a jerk. Actually, this theory has been tossed around by the business community in recent years, particularly in the wake of the Steve Jobs biography. As Jerry Useem notes in his June Atlantic article “Why it Pays to Be a Jerk,” the Jobs biography has caused many people in leadership to ask, “Don’t you think I should be more of an asshole?”


In pursuit of an answer to that question, Useem reviews the research and evidence that is lacking in most self-help “success literature,” starting with the theoretical framework set out in Aaron James’s book, Assholes: A Theory.  It just so happens that James’ definition of an asshole coincides almost perfectly with the definition of narcissism in academic psychology, according to Donald Hambrick, a management professor at Penn State.

The further I read in Useem’s article, the more I realized that Donald Trump fit the definition perfectly.  If I’m right, what Trump allows us to see is not what voters should fear most.  As stated by the Mayo Clinic, the outward manifestations of this personality disorder – an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others – are just parts of a mask. Underneath all this ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

In this regard, consider how Trump has responded in tone or substance to every slight (real or perceived) from the media world or his fellow candidates. They shoot a little bullet and he goes nuclear with his mouth or media ads, surely a measure of fragile self-esteem that needs bolstering by big talk and action. Does anyone really want him, the equivalent of an insecure little boy, having the codes to real nuclear weaponry?  It’s hard to fathom.

Back in 2000, when George W. Bush was a leading candidate for president, I admit to being similarly perplexed about his success with voters. I asked my friend, and renowned political strategist, Tony Proffitt, to explain it for me. He said that it boiled down to the fact that people could imagine sitting around in the backyard and having a beer with George. He could be their next-door neighbor, someone relatable.

At first, I struggled with that idea, but admittedly, nothing else explained it. Bush’s government experience was negligible compared to that of Al Gore’s.  Also, he had a very sketchy record in terms of military service, school records, alcohol, drug use, a whole array of negatives that would disqualify the typical candidate. And let’s not forget his garbling of the English language and common metaphors!


So, do we apply the same reasoning to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon – a relatable, beer-drinking, next door neighbor? A guy who travels in private jets and helicopters? The Howard Hughes of politicians, a germophobe who uses sterilizing wipes after handshaking? Does anyone really think he’s going to quaff a Bud with them?

Maybe people are relating to his anger, recognizing a kindred spirit.  Are they fellow narcissists who believe they know all the answers and could clean up Washington in a week if only given the opportunity? Compromise and working with the other branches of government? No way, they say! Anyone who thinks differently is STUPID!!  Really?

But I’ve often heard that “angry” doesn’t translate into electoral victory.  Just imagine  four years of Trump constantly railing about the bureaucratic pace of government? What about a rotating staff and cabinet as the headline “You’re fired!” dominates the front pages of all the newspapers?  Will he engage in temper tantrums because he can’t fire Congress or members of the Supreme Court? Will anyone who dares to criticize him or ask questions he deems verboten be suddenly faced with an IRS audit or if they happen to be part of the White House press corps, physically removed from press briefings?  Do people really want to buy tickets to these performances for four years?

Overall, it’s been an interesting summer on the campaign trail, but I don’t like what it says about some of my fellow Americans, in particular, and the political system, in general. Trump and Cruz are only two of the scary prospects.   I’m also worried about the retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, along with many others in the field for a variety of issues, including their inexperience, contempt for women’s rights, misunderstanding of the Supreme Court’s role in our government, goal of dismantling the Affordable Health Care Act, and desire to incorporate religion and government.  In short, Republicans keep falling to new lows and as they follow the new Pied Piper, Donald Trump, we can only expect to go lower.

Frankly, it’s all so disgusting, I almost want to turn off the news and go have a beer with George W!  Almost.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Various Shades of Confederate Grey

Aroused by the shootings in South Carolina and the Confederate Flag controversy, Austinites are among many Southerners who are debating whether to purge its city of statues of Confederate leaders, along with considering name changes for the buildings and schools bearing their names.

John h reagan statue

Of the two issues, statues are more easily dealt with, being relatively easy to move from sight and mind. But school names that have a history in the hearts and minds of their graduates is a bit harder. For example, I wonder how I would feel if it were decided that O. Henry (pen name for William Sydney Porter) had been a subversive figure and my junior high school were renamed? I’m not a huge fan of the writer, but that school with that name is a part of my personal history and I’d rather not have to redact those memories now.

The question is, however, do we convenience past graduates or do we finally clean up the last smears of the Confederacy leadership that we still honor with naming rights? While there may be a pretty strong case for rejecting Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, the southerners most associated with the Civil War, there is a Texan of lesser fame, that I think should be pardoned from any purge. (Beware, the history buff is writing the rest of this piece.)

Most Texans don’t have an inkling about John H. Reagan beyond knowing of a high school and, perhaps, a state office building bearing his name. If they have any information about him, it’s been acquired as part of the recent Confederate leaders debate in which he was identified as Postmaster of the Confederacy – the only Texan to hold a Confederate cabinet position.

Reagan.high school


Reagan was a remarkable Postmaster. His main departments were headed by men who had served in similar positions with the U.S. Post Office Department and accepted his invitation to work with him. Accordingly, within six weeks, the Confederacy had functional post office facilities. Showing further flair for organization, he cut expenses – eliminating little-used routes and negotiating lower railroad rates – thereby turning a profit and making his post office department the only self-sustaining government postal operation in American history!

But, before he’s thrown to the historical dust heap for his Postmastership, I believe it behooves us to reconsider this Tennessean-turned-Texan by weighing his Confederate service against his otherwise impressive service to our state.

His resume of public service to Texas is a long one. Having relocated to Texas in 1839 and joined the Texas forces engaged in the expulsion of Cherokees, Reagan was elected two years later as militia captain and justice of the peace for his precinct. A year after statehood, he was elected to be the first county judge of Henderson County, and the following year, 1847, he was elected to the Second Texas Legislature. In 1852, Reagan won election as district judge and, in 1857, East Texans elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives. Although he opposed the institution of slavery, he supported it as a matter of state’s rights. However, he was strongly opposed to secession from the Union.

In fact, historians have explained that Reagan was a Unionist at heart. In his memoirs, written in 1903, Reagan insisted that as a member of the 35th and 36th Congresses, he struggled to maintain the Union. This position is supported by his contemporaries and the press. The Dallas Herald considered him a true patriot, “an able defender of . . . the Constitution and a Union-loving statesman . . . ,” while the Tyler Reporter viewed Reagan as an enemy of “the fire-eating disunionists.”

And yet, as a decision on secession loomed, Reagan made the choice to be loyal to his state and to his friend, Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, accepting his offer to join his Cabinet.

At war’s end, however, his Unionist sentiments reemerged. From a Boston federal prison where he spent 22 weeks in solitary confinement, Reagan wrote an open letter to his fellow Texans, urging them to accept the Confederacy’s defeat, return willingly to the Union, and work to rebuild a unified nation. This letter was not well-received in Texas, but he returned home in December, 1865, and began mending political fences.

By 1875, Reagan had been elected as one of 90 delegates to draft a post-Reconstruction Texas Constitution. Most of the forty-one farmers, twenty-nine lawyers, and other twenty delegates had no previous experience in elected office nor any intent to pursue such office in the future. As the San Antonio Daily Herald reported, they were “men without name, drawn from different sections of the state, most of them never having been heard of beyond their local habitation and district.” But John H. Reagan was one of the exceptions and, as the debates and drafting history show, provided valuable guidance based on his years of experience in various governmental branches.

Constitutional convention

Approximately half of the delegates, including Reagan, identified their political affiliation as Granger, a.k.a., the Society of the Patrons of Husbandry, and Reagan ably represented Grange party concerns involving railroads, including their control by absentee New York capitalists, the high and discriminatory rate setting, and notorious stock manipulation.

During the Convention, Reagan also served as chairman of the committee charged with drafting the judicial branch article. He explained the importance of this article, pointing out that court backlogs and other problems with the judicial system – more than any other grievance – had caused Texans to seek a new Constitution. As passed, the judiciary article maintained an elected judiciary and provided for a more efficient court system by creating more courts (including intermediate courts of appeals) and setting minimum jurisdictional amounts to keep smaller matters from clogging up the dockets of the higher courts.

The year 1875 also marked Reagan’s reelection to his pre-War congressional seat, where he served on the Commerce Committee, advocating for federal regulation of railroads and helping create the Interstate Commerce Commission. He also served as the first chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. In 1887, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, but resigned that seat in 1891 to become chairman of the newly-formed Texas Railroad Commission at the behest of his friend, Governor James Stephen “Jim” Hogg, who had run on a platform of state regulation of railroads.


Reagan chaired the Commission from its inception until 1903. Designed to regulate state commerce as an extension of the ICC’s federal work, the Commission became an institution aiding the state’s manufacturers, thereby fostering state economic growth. It’s been said that his tenure provided the leadership and prestige necessary in the early years of this extremely powerful state regulatory body. I would also venture to say that he prepared the Commission for its subsequent role as regulator of the Texas oil and gas business, which prior to OPEC, became the most powerful state agency in this country because of its role in setting the world’s oil prices.  When Reagan died in 1905, the entire Texas Legislature attended his funeral.  History lesson over.


As Reagan’s struggle with the decision to serve the Confederacy reveals, those were complicated times in our nation’s history, and judging human beings from today’s perspectives should not be done lightly. I would be willing to bet that no one woke up one day in the 1860s and said, “I think I’ll work to destroy the union of the American states.” Most of the men who participated in the Confederate leadership were honorable gentlemen and Southerners, whose loyalties and obligations weighed heavily on the scales of the choices they made, choices that seem so obviously bad to us today, but for them, may not have even felt like choices at all.

The Confederate battle flag, however, is not complicated. As we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was resurrected and used in the South as a symbol of hate and racism in the wake of desegregation and the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. Period.

While dumping the Confederate flag is a no-brainer, I’d like to urge that we think carefully before throwing out all of the historical leaders that may have bathed in the red and blue bath water. We can scrub ourselves clean of our history only so much before we lose the sense of who we are and where we’ve been. And where do we draw the lines amidst so many shades of grey? After all, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson held other human beings in slavery.

As for John H. Reagan, it’s relatively easy for me to draw the line between his Confederate service and the numerous contributions he made as a public servant in Texas. He represented his constituents assiduously and honorably. Over a century later, we still live with the fruits of his service, both as a nation and a state. Surely, he deserves to be honored by the statues and the buildings and schools that bear his name.

In fact, maybe he deserves another laurel. How about a John H. Reagan postage stamp to honor the only postmaster who ran a profitable postal system? Not exactly a moon shot, but a significant achievement as we head toward the half-dollar stamp!

Posted in History | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Texas, Where our Government is Worse than our Weather

One thing we often say of Texas weather: Just wait a day and it will change. Too bad we can’t say the same thing about our political leadership – it just gets (un)progressively worse with little improvement in the forecast.


Our prior Attorney General, Greg Abbott, was known for his campaigning with the likes of Ted Nugent and describing his job as AG thus: “I go into the office, I sue the Obama administration, and I go home.” Not much of a multi-tasker. One wonders how he would have filled his days had he served during a Ted Cruz administration.

But given the weather pattern we find ourselves stuck in, Abbott was elevated to governor, and Tea Party darling/former state senator, Ken Paxton, was elected to fill the AG post despite some legal issues involving state securities law. When asked about the violations during his campaign for AG, he claimed ignorance – poor guy, he was just unaware of those laws. Moreover, compared to Abbott, Paxton is even more interested in political posturing than performing the governmental duties assigned to the AG. We can only hope he’ll find his way to a court room soon – those securities law violations have been more thoroughly investigated and prosecutors are planning to take their findings of potential fraud (a felony) to a grand jury later this month. Let’s hope that works out for us.  Additionally, there’s another possible legal action regarding some questionable land deals. (I’m not sure whether he had any particular mental state – ignorance or semi-awareness – regarding the legalities of those actions.)


But now his legal nonchalance has extended itself beyond his personal affairs as he orchestrates constitutional violations en masse. Specifically, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the same right to marry as heterosexual couples, Paxton looks askance at that court’s supremacy on the issue of interpreting the constitution and has issued his own advisory opinion stating that county clerks may refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Although he doesn’t quite instruct the clerks not to issue licenses to these couples, he makes it quite clear that it wouldn’t bother him if they decided not to do so. So much for his Constitutional oath of office affirming that “to the best of my ability preserve, [I will] protect and defend the Constitution and Laws of the United States and of this state, so help me God.” But at least he is aware and considerate enough to give the clerks a heads up: if they go rogue, they may get sued. When that happens, he assures them, plenty of private attorneys are waiting eagerly to represent them.


Personally, I’d like to meet the clerk who thinks a lawsuit is a reasonable alternative to not doing their job, which specifically requires issuing marriage licenses to legally qualified couples. A job, I might add, that required them to take the same oath of office as Paxton – and one they could quit whenever the conflict between their religious beliefs and their duties becomes too onerous.

I wonder whether they realize that they would be sued in their individual capacity since a county can’t have religious beliefs, and as individuals, they would be unable to claim the governmental immunity that usually protects a public official when something goes awry in the performance of their job. Usually, you see, state or local government officials are shielded from lawsuits and/or liability when sued for acts arising from their good faith performance of discretionary duties that are within the scope of their statutory authority. If an action involves personal deliberation, decision and judgment, it is discretionary; if the official has no choice as to whether to perform a task, it is considered ministerial.

Considering that distinction, it would seem that the county clerks have a ministerial duty to issue marriage licenses to legally qualified individuals. It’s not a discretionary act where they can decide whether or not to issue a marriage license: if the legal requirements are met, they must issue the license. As of last Friday, June 26th, the Supreme Court ruled that couples cannot be legally disqualified based on gender. Therefore, Texas county clerks are required to perform the ministerial task of issuing same-sex couples licenses if they otherwise meet the qualifications. Any clerk who cites religious beliefs for their failure to perform this clear duty, accordingly, is acting outside the scope of their authority and cannot use governmental immunity as a shield from liability, which is why Paxton says – without explaining – that “private” attorneys would be defending them. Government attorneys only defend officials when they act within the scope of their authority.


If it were me, General Paxton, I’d rather not take you up on your suggestion that I get sued. One reason is I’d really hate being on the receiving end of depositions – my preference is to ask the questions, not answer them. Nor would I want to put family members, pastors, co-workers, and others with knowledge of relevant facts in the position of participation in my legal entanglement. And you’d better believe that the plaintiffs’ legal team would ask to collect attorney’s fees along with any kind of fines or damages (like intentional infliction of emotional distress) that could be levied. Frankly, who has the patience for appellate courts to consider the validity of a lower court judgment, not to mention, the money to pay a judgment if it is ultimately upheld? (A piece of legal advice here for the rogue clerks: make sure your home is homesteaded so no lien can be attached.)

But let’s suppose you could find another religious, homophobic organization or person to pay whatever damages were assessed. Not so fast. Judgments in your name tend to follow you around. Any such judgment would probably need to be listed on credit applications and other financial documents. Banks and other institutions may be less sympathetic regarding rogue actions by a former public official than your zealot friends and our current Attorney General. What if your religious beliefs prevented you from paying the moneylenders one day?

Money lenders

But regardless of any actions ultimately taken or not taken by county clerks, Paxton’s urging the clerks to break the law and endure a lawsuit just shows how unqualified he is to be the state’s chief legal officer. The fact that he would be so blasé about these officials subjecting themselves to legal action demonstrates how little experience he has in the court system, and how he should not be supervising an office of over 400 professional litigators. In short, he’s not a real lawyer. He’s a businessman who thinks he should be let off with little more than a slap on the wrist for his violations of securities laws because he was ignorant of those laws. Worse still, he’s also a politician who would join up with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to establish a theocracy of their religion (and that of their Tea Party followers).

There may be others who would sign up for their plan to create a religious state, but I’m willing to bet that a majority of Texans would like these leaders to keep their personal religious beliefs personal and respect people of all faiths (or no faith). In 1620, English men and women journeyed to this country in search of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, not another state-imposed religion. Our founding fathers built on that foundation with the first sentence of the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”


The freedom of religion provision has been interpreted many times over the years as an expression of the intent to separate church from state. Religion has crept into public life in various instances, but there can be no question that your right to exercise your religion, also provides me with the right to be free of your religion. You, Ken “Lawless” Paxton, violate the constitution when you urge the use of the machinery of government to deprive marriage licenses to people on the basis of religious beliefs. And on this, the Fourth of July, 2015, 239 years after our founding, let me say that your actions, General Paxton, are nothing short of un-American.

Let’s hope the weather changes soon. Our land of law is being inundated by incompetent zealots.

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Duck and Cover Redux

Like most of us who grew up in the early 1960s, I remember the strange public safety drills we practiced at school.  The fire drill made sense.  At the sounding of three loud tones over the PA system, we’d line up at the door like little soldiers and be guided out to the playground by our teacher to escape a potential fire. But no one left the building when we heard five loud tones. That alert signaled the bomb drill, and we were required to “duck and cover,” i.e., hide under our desks until the “all clear” signal was heard.


I was never audacious enough to peek out to see whether the teachers also took cover under their desk, but I assume they did – which is really remarkable, if you think about it. Surely, they knew better.  Innocents that we were, the utter futility of desk hiding did not occur to us.

Texans now have another reason for alarm that should galvanize us to brush up on our “duck and cover” skills. This time, we won’t be defending ourselves against bombs from the U.S.S.R., but rather a group of people closer to home. Thanks to local gun nuts and our own elected officials who need the nuts to get re-elected, we can once again meet our end almost any time and any place. You see, the gun people aren’t happy with a concealed handgun license (CHL) that merely allows them to carry their weaponry discretely under their clothes. They now want us to see them strap it on, strut their stuff, or more simply put, display their manliness (whichever the gender). More disturbing still is that law enforcement won’t even be allowed to detain someone to determine whether they actually have the required CHL if the Texas House majority gets its way.

Reasonable minds simply don’t have enough votes in the Texas House. For example, shot down by the House majority was an amendment proposed by Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas that would allow the large local metropolitan areas to opt out of the open carry law. Another representative from Houston made an argument about local voters being able to make decisions on matters of grave local importance, but Rep. Larry Phillips declared that the collective best interests of Texas in having an open carry law trumped any local control of the issue. By the way, Rep. Phillips is from a county with a website boasting a banner that “God Bless America,” located not a stone’s throw from Louie Gohmert’s Congressional district. Does that clue you in?


Rep. Phillips’ position totally belies the fact that Texas is big and varied, including counties such as Loving whose seat, Mentone, has a population of 15 people, Harris whose seat, Houston, is among the most populous cities in the nation, and all sizes in between. Compare the effects of gun fighting in Houston (population over 6 million) with those that might erupt in Rep. Phillips’ home town of Sherman (population under 40,000). Seems like even an East Texan could see a rational justification for allowing large cities to make certain decisions under a local option.  Aren’t their police departments already stretched thin dealing with gun violence and people who have illegal weapons?

Heelllooo!!! Now, we will have visibly armed citizens and law enforcement will have no idea whether any particular weapon is legal or illegal and they won’t be allowed to ask. Could the open carry law, I wonder,  just be a pretext to make all guns legal? If police officers can’t handle the situation now how will they manage when so many more people will be carrying guns that the officers can’t question?  At least we can hope that the chances of getting shot by law enforcement will be spread out more equally among the races and ethnic groups.

Just for the record, I’m part of the crowd who would prefer not to be around guns, concealed or not, but I’m downright panicky at the thought of them being handled so casually, sitting on people’s hips or shoulder like a piece of outerwear. It seems like it would be way too tempting for the random criminal who may try to separate a legal carrier from his penis, I mean, gun? And won’t a gun on the table change conversations or transactions, escalating acrimonious encounters like road rage? Will intimidation become the name of the game?

In the thankful-for-small-favors department, a premises owner has the option of prohibiting guns at his place of business, both concealed and open carry, giving us the option of frequenting only such businesses as wish to guarantee our safety to some degree. You would think that the Texas Association of Business would have tried harder to kill the bill, but they just managed to get an amendment that would allow premises owners to put up one sign instead of two (one for concealed, one for open carry). I guess there aren’t enough business owners in Texas to counter the gun nuts.

Open carry.texas

The bottom line is that Texas with gun slingers is going to be a more dangerous place. In a letter to the Austin American Statesman, Charles Payne wrote about his experience in Vietnam where he and the guys around him all openly carried guns: Did I feel safer? No, just hyper-vigilant. There, final justice became whatever the gun carrier conceived it to be . . . . I hate war zone living where everyone openly carried a gun with a finger near the trigger all the time, including me. Mistakes happened. Good guys get killed by good guys over little stuff . . . . I really do not want to see guns everywhere again – or go looking for mine.

In another letter, Mike Looby, ex-Marine Vietnam vet explains he is comfortable with guns, but up to a point:  If I’m on a hunting trip, I expect people to have guns. But if I’m in a Wal-Mart and there’s some guy toting an AK or packing a pistol, that makes me pause. Just as I’m not against underwear and I think everyone has the right to wear it, if I see a guy with underwear on the outside of his pants, I’m a little worried.

We should all be worried. One of the biggest problems with gun carrying is that there is a tendency for those guns to be used, either accidentally or on purpose. And once a trigger is pulled, there can be little or no control over where that bullet will go. If the mark is missed (and I’m sure most carriers do not have sharpshooting credentials), that bullet can go through walls and continue traveling some distance. Bullets range in velocities from 380 feet per second to 3500 feet per second, so the higher the velocity the longer the trajectory. Likewise, different guns have different “kill ranges,” usually measured in a few hundred yards. A good rule of thumb for a bullet that misses its intended target, assuming there is one, is a traveling distance of one mile, although it may or may not kill at that distance. Are you feeling lucky?

So, imagine the scenario of being in a store at a strip center that you think is safe because the store prohibits guns, but a fight breaks out in the parking lot and bullets come streaming through the front glass windows just where many people happen to be standing because that’s where the cash registers are. How many innocent people could be killed or maimed? Why aren’t our elected officials interested in protecting us from this or any other possible scenario? (Dumb question, I know.)

Accordingly, it occurs to me that we need to bring back the safety drill of the 60s. If they won’t do this at school, we need to instill in our children that the sound of a fired bullet is a signal that they must immediately drop and hide behind the strongest surface they can find. As adults, we need to be prepared as well, keeping in mind that our police cannot protect us, and in fact, may not be able to protect themselves without shooting their own guns more than ever – exposing us to increasingly more errant bullets. Sad to say, but the wild, wild west is back!

wild west

The ultimate irony is that our Republican leadership has always tried to brand itself as the “law and order” party. Now in Texas, trying to use such a brand has officially become laughable — just like hiding under a desk during a nuclear attack!

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