Dawning of the Web age, redux

This afternoon I came across something on the Web, an ad, perhaps. Hell I can’t remember. What it was, in fact, was a gateway to my life on the internet.

Some years ago, maybe two or three, I can’t remember these things, I lost my password on my Yahoo Mail account. I spent about a week trying to coax the yahoos at Yahoo into returning me to my mail. It didn’t happen.

I took this with a disposable camera back in 2003 or 2004. I was on the top of Enchanted Rock in Central Texas. Yes, ye old rock climber, just walked on up to the top.

I eventually got onto Google Mail. I had Google everything else, so why not Google Mail? I had a learning curve, but a symbiosis developed between Google and I.

This afternoon, with the opportunity to revisit my Yahoo Mail account, I traveled ahead although I felt that if that chance failed, I wouldn’t sob too loudly, and probably not at all.

As it happened, Yahoo had my telephone number and it offered a code sent via text. Then, taa-daa! There was my Yahoo mail account some two or three years later. Daunting was the 9,999+ unread messages that await me. I know probably 95-plus percent of these messages are spam, or mail that is what I now consider as spam.

I did manage to access some files and found messages from as far back as 2001. Among the messages were some photos of mine of friends and those pictures I took. One of those photos is the new header media. This was one of two of the best pictures I took with a disposable camera back in 2003 or 2004. I didn’t even have a personal computer, well at least one with internet connectivity. Most of my internet usage back then was done  at my job as a journalist in Central Texas.

After leaving that job for a short-lived freelancing-only career, I had a jerry-built desktop, constructed by one of my computer science friends. I don’t know how identifies himself professionally these days since he has been on what is seemingly an extended vacation since at least summer 2016. That is when Ross and I went on a week-long expedition of the southeastern U.S. During Hurricane Rita in 2005, I was freelancing for a large U.S. metro newspapers but didn’t have laptop. I needed a laptop. If you are going to work outside an office, you pretty much have to own a laptop. So I bought a rebuilt laptop in Dallas less than a week after Rita hit. Since that time I have had  four, five, crap, I don’t know.

The picture that is my header now was taken on my way up to the summit of Enchanted Rock . As is suggested, Enchanted is a rock. It is a large dome of pink granite located near Fredericksburg, Texas, about 100 miles northwest of Austin. A Texas Monthly article about the rock said its incline is about 30 degrees. I was in much better shape when I walked, yes, walked up the rock, than I am now. I was somewhere around 47 or 48 back then. I walked a lot and did some hiking.

I have no idea how, or if, I will deal with the thousands of emails on my Yahoo account. I am glad to have recovered some of my early web days though.

The Uber rides to the Texas Senate

Lately I have been transported here and there by Uber.

The ride-hailing firm has received a ton of negativity during its brief existence. From knocking the taxicab business down through some, seemingly, inexperience at the top, there have been some turbulent times.

I am not really interested in the level of intrigue at the corporate level of Uber. I am most interested in making sure that there are Ubers around that will get me where I go during the times I need a ride to hail. Lyft, an Uber competitor recently were approved by the local government here in Beaumont, Texas, where I reside. I may check them out just to see what they like. But so far, I like what I have seen with Uber.

Most appealing to me is that Uber does not stick it to you for a ride like a taxi would. I have taken a Greyhound Bus to Houston and back a couple of times since December, when I had my first cataract operation at the Houston VA Hospital. Last week, I had surgery on my other eye. Both times, since I was not supposed to drive for 24 hours after the cataract surgery, I hailed Uber to take me to the bus station. When I got to Houston I walked the block up from the Greyhound place and rode the Southbound Metro Rail from the Downtown Transit Center to the Texas Medical Center Transit Center where I took the bus to my hotel that was located just behind the NRG Stadium. If I wasn’t riding the shuttle to and from the hospital from the hotel, I used Uber.

For whatever reasons that I can’t wrap my head around, Greyhound decided to move from the station on Magnolia Avenue in downtown Beaumont. Until a few years ago, the station was at that location for many a moon. The bus station was moved to the truck stop in Rose City, between Beaumont and Vidor. Because the physical address is in Vidor, the bus line calls the station “Beaumont-Vidor.” The latter city raises some eyeballs from some African Americans who have never been to the Greyhound station there but have certainly heard of Vidor. The town has a checkered past as a so-called “Sundown town.” It was once pretty much all white and was once a haven for the Ku Klux Klan. Although there are klan members living there some city officials have tried to distance the town from the KKK.

I do not know much about how Uber goes about letting people drive wherever. But there are no Ubers to be found on one’s iPhone app when looking for a ride at the Beaumont-Vidor Greyhound station at the truck stop in Rose City. Got that? I have been told by the service’s drivers that there are no Ubers to be found in Orange County, which is where the bus station is located. I was told a way to circumvent the problem though. One can enter the location of where you want to go and then put a physical address of where to be picked up across the Neches River in Beaumont. I usually use the McDonald’s on I-10 near Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Then you can look up your driver’s profile and press a button to call and tell them where you are. I have had no problem. It’s a good $15 or so cheaper that a flat taxi fare of $30.

I have found the drivers for the most part as courteous and nice. Many are just downright personable. I’ve met a couple of military reservists driving. One is a former Navy Seabee and still another driver a former SEAL. Many can make a nice little sum driving around the city. Sometimes the drivers will be asked to be taken to Houston, almost 90 miles away. I was told by drivers that it is almost $100 fare to be taken there with the driver making about $70 of that $100. Those who are not registered in Houston as a “Transportation Network Company” driver — a permit costing about $12 for two years as well as a sticker with an “U,” can drop off but not pick a passenger.

One note here. Uber passengers may only use a credit or debit card for pay. A person may tip a driver, but it isn’t required. I have found a reasonable and appreciated gesture is to give the driver a 4 or 5 star rating when you get the receipt back via e-mail. I point this out, not so specifically to ask one to tip. I am just saying the drivers have little to no cash on board lest one would want to do something stupid. I hope you get what I mean.

Some city governments are downright hostile to Uber or Lyft. Beaumont City Councilman Mike Getz helped these hail-riding firms get a foot hold here. Getz, an attorney, has been quite controversial at times but I feel he deserves much credit for his support of ride-hailing companies.

Those who do not deserve our support are the knuckle-heads in the Texas Senate who want to place stricter controls on ride-hailing drivers.

Senate Bill 176, authored by Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Republican and orthopedic surgeon from Georgetown, authored the bill which is captioned: “Relating to the regulation of transportation network companies; requiring an occupational permit; authorizing a fee.

While requiring some screening measures which some drivers already face in cities where hail-riding companies are allowed there are measures which seemingly regulate the corporations as well. This includes a sliding-scale fee for companies with the highest number of employees to pay $125,000.

I thought Republicans want no regulation!

This afternoon I called the Capitol office of my state Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican from The Woodlands to let my voice to be heard. He also serves as vice chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. That body will hold a public hearing on this bill tomorrow, March 14.

An analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Senate Research includes the intent of this regulation by the bill’s author. In it, Schwertner’s concerns conclude:

“However, no consistent and predictable statewide regulation of TNCs exists in the Texas. This has resulted in an inefficient and confusing patchwork of rules across local jurisdictions. These myriad regulations are often arbitrary and onerous. As a result, they may inhibit TNCs from growing their business and network or providing their services in many areas. The loss of TNCs results in less mobility and fewer safe transportation options, as well as a withering economic climate.”
Some of the Tea Party/Trump types have a great disdain for government, at least anything above the local level. But I also believe that some locals in many towns across the state have a dislike for technology.
I think that merely piling on regulation to where similar regulation exists would hinder the growth of such business which could benefit many as well as the environment. I especially think that when any amount of money going to the state, whether it comes from a company or a contractor driver, would increase the prices which make such ride services so attractive. This is what I told Sen. Dr. Chreighton’s office this afternoon. If indeed, a ride service being regulated by a local government and the state is allowed to exist, I see a pathway to disaster. Perhaps a reasonable state permitting system with limited cost to the contractors with some city or county government input might just be something acceptable. Then again, maybe not.
I have found nothing wrong nor expensive with Uber on my end and live in a town in which I once could not get ride home from the bus station on a Christmas night when the  station was downtown. And taxis are just too expensive to hire. One may also find that the only game in town gives its employees a sense of entitlement. I know many hard working cabbies, past and present, who drive after coming from another job. Some are bleary-eyed after working a shift in a cab and going to English as Second Language classes or even coming to the job after a grueling afternoon at law school.
Tech has changed the American face. Perhaps grabbing a little here and a little there — the taxi industry and ride-hailing might some day come to pass. It will take a lot of changes in attitudes but, we need to drive on outside the 20th century into the 21st, in 2017.

Home, home on the range

How would you like to own 10 acres in West Texas for only $2,000? Does such an offer sound fishy to you?

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.

I have been searching high (prices) and low (parcels) everywhere around Texas over the last month. I am trying to find a place to call my own. I am not looking for a piece of land and a house with great financing and reasonable city taxes. I am searching for just a relatively small parcel of land where people won’t tell me that I need to build a certain style of home in so many weeks that must conform with the home owners association standards for which I must pay  $3,000 per year.

The last picture show. Well, I don't guess any area landowner near Sierra Blanca, Texas, will watch a cowboy movie with a big bag of popcorn. Library of Congress. Carol Highsmith photo
The last picture show. Well, I don’t guess any area landowner near Sierra Blanca, Texas, will watch a cowboy movie here with a big bag of popcorn. Library of Congress. Carol Highsmith photo

The truth is my friends, I don’t have much money stashed away and I won’t be making much money in the future because I face disability down the line. Unless I write a hell of a money-making best seller at some to be determined time, I will see a life full of macaroni and cheese, maybe with a bit of Spam. I actually looked at a can of Spam today in the grocery store. It wasn’t that intended to buy the mystery meat. Rather, an old college friend — a Filipina-American — was on vacation in Hawaii with her boyfriends and they showed pictures of Spam and eggs, both a traditional breakfast in Hawaii and the Philippines. When in Rome …

Getting back to West Texas. The particular property I have just discovered on a particular website is 10 acres and only a few miles from the largest city in that area, Sierra Blanca. The city is actually the unincorporated county seat of Hudspeth County. The place, with a population of 553, although that population reportedly fluctuates during certain times due to the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint a few miles west on Interstate 10. The stop has become a notorious location in which people with drugs are sniffed out by police dogs resulted in arrests for the “snifees.” Famous folks from Snoop Dog and Fiona Apple to Willie Nelson have been busted there at one time or the other. Those arrested had been taken to Sierra Blanca on county changes. Although, the outcomes have been different in recent times.

The Sierra Blanca area features mountain ranges surrounding the property. Sierra Blanca is one such mountain range. The realty website says that electric and  phone lines run along the state ranch road that borders the property, though there is no mention of water and sewer. Perhaps one could dig a well with an old-fashioned windmill to power it. And there is plenty of room to build a constructed wetlands for sewerage, providing such a contraption would work at that particular property.

I have seen other ads while searching for my own little piece of heaven that offer 5-to-10 acres of desert land in West Texas that offer great stargazing plus the “kick” of one owning a few acres.

If I could make such a place work for me, I would look closer. The problem is I am 60 years old, I have a few health issues. El Paso is the nearest place with a VA hospital. A cursory look shows a medical center about 40 miles away.

Other than the difficulties of building some sort of place out in West Texas is that most of my friends live hundreds of miles away to the east. I do have a close friend who lives in El Paso who I seldom get to visit due to the miles.

I will look back one day and I doubt I will be looking at this blog post while sitting under the shade of, whatever one can find for shade, in Sierra Blanca. But one never knows. Some day I could have 10 acres of home, home on the range.

History keeps repeating itself in Jerusalem on the Brazos

You can put lipstick on a bear but it better be knocked out with animal tranquilizers. That is my piss poor attempt at using some old saying a different way. If you get my drift, you might know I am talking about a pig. But I used a bear as a better symbol since the bear is the mascot  for the largest Baptist school in the Universe. Yes, I speak of the Baylor Bears.

Two major stories came out of Waco — home of Baylor University — this week. One story was a good attempt by CNN’s Ed Lavendera to show that jack hasn’t happened with the Twin Peaks bikers shooting that happened a year ago this week. I say good attempt because when you have such a case involving so many people and so many lawyers, to say things can become complicated is way overstated. Some nine bikers were killed and  nearly two dozen were wounded. The case resulted in nearly 180 arrests, most for engaging in organized criminal conduct. The abnormally slow justice system was shown in the CNN piece to move slower than Interstate 35 on a Baylor game day.

The second major story from Waco is ongoing. It involves a criminal culture among the Baylor football team with several arrests and even more allegations of sexual assault, and perhaps a cover-up either within Baylor, (including the university’s president Good ol’ Ken Starr, who was the special prosecutor in the Clinton-Lewinski affair) or even maybe a cover-up by the Waco Police Department and Baylor, according to some media stories.

I suppose that if these two stories mean anything it is that bad juju is quite frequent down there in the place the 19th century columnist — and no Baylor fan — William Cowper Brann called “Jerusalem on the Brazos.”

Brann was such a disagreeable cuss that he wound up in a shootout with a local Baylor supporter over alleged sexual indiscretions involving housemaids from South America and the Baylor elite. Brann, who preferred to be called by the name of his paper, The Iconoclast, was shot in the chest. He turned around and fired multiple rounds at his assailant, who then fell dead in the door of a local cigar shop. Brann died the next day. As ancient history that it was, the shooting of Brann The Iconoclast, was quite a story way back when as the The Iconoclast, the paper had around 100,000 subscribers.

What happened just outside of Waco in 1993 in which David Koresh and his followers engaged in a gunfight with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents at Mt. Carmel is more recent history, as was the fiery ending to that saga less than two months later. I know some of the individuals, both Davidians and other parties who were there both at the beginning and the end of the siege.

So now we get to more recent history. It was history that happened this century, but it is still history and likewise carries a lesson that should have been learned, although from the news coming out of Waco today shows that apparentl the lesson was forgotten.

I speak of the scandal involving the men’s basketball team in 2003 in which team member Patrick Dennehy had gone missing only to be later discovered dead. His fellow teammate Carlton Dotson was found guilty in his murder and sentenced to 35 years in prison. The missing player set off the scandal in which then-head Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss portrayed Dennehy as a drug dealer to hide the fact that Bliss had paid Dennehy and another player under the table after limits had been reached on team scholarships.

I think this commentary I came across today by CBS Senior Sports Writer Jon Solomon puts the whole sordid basketball scandal in better perspective that I can. I happened to be working then in Waco, fortunately I had limited exposure to the story. If one looks back to these stories of the past — both ancient and the more recent one — one might find a common thread throughout was religion, in some form or the other. That’s not to say religion is bad but I would say religion and pride is poor  two-some. One might even say it is as terrible an ordeal as is putting lipstick on a fully-conscious bear.

Does coffee fuel the separatist Texas nut movement? I hope not.

Today might be a slow news day for Time.com. The website for the long-running news magazine reports today that a screwball amendment for screwy right-wingers who say Texas should secede from the United States is up for a vote in a state GOP convention.

Texas Republicans will vote on the secession measure Friday during  the state GOP convention taking place at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. How appropriate is it that the Texas Republicans are convening in the former Dallas Convention Center? The center was renamed after the former GOP U.S. senator from Texas, who was also state treasurer and legislator as well as a television legal correspondent in Houston and a University of Texas cheerleader.

I didn’t always agree with Hutchison — I did let her use my office bathroom on a RV stop to my little East Texas newspaper during her treasurer candidacy — but I don’t remember hearing really off-the-wall ideas from her like her fellow Texas U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

"Big Sam" Houston towers over Interstate 45 south of Huntsville, Texas. One can see her a tall Texan who loved America, not like those who want to destroy both.
“Big Sam” Houston towers over Interstate 45 south of Huntsville, Texas. One can see here a tall Texan who loved America, not like those who want to destroy both the great state and union.

The idea of Texas succeeding from the union is nothing new in the Lone Star State. I suppose one act by Texas military hero, former president of the Republic of Texas and later governor of the state, Sam Houston, which makes him an American patriot as well as a Texas hero was his opposition to Texas leaving the Union during the Civil War. Houston was removed from office and refused a Union army offer to put down the rebellion then quietly retired to his home in Huntsville, Texas. If you happen to pass on the southern outskirts of Huntsville on Interstate 45, either in day or night, you will see the 67-foot-tall statue of this larger than life hero.

Since the United States put the kibosh on states taking off on their very on — with a heavy price to both the Union and the southern confederacy — talks of secession have been just talk.

Most of the recent talk has been fueled by one man, a Daniel Miller who lives about 15 minutes away from me in the city of Nederland, Texas, and someone who does make great use of the internet. But the Texas Nationalist Movement, or TMN, claims to have had a 400 percent jump in membership since the 2012 elections.

Among the reasons why the TMN seek a separate nation in Texas is a government wholly in the state,  and “an end to the siphoning of Texans’ hard-earned money by D.C. bureaucrats.” The movement also says that: “Independence is what the people of Texas want.” Well, I suppose I can’t argue with that although the independence is the one that many have sought in coming to the United States.

More than 125,000 people have signed the Change.org petition asking the White House to grant Texas independence. Only 25,000 signatures are needed to elicit a response from the office of the U.S. chief executive.

Jon Carson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, responded to the 2012 petition. He said that debate is healthy in our nation of  300 million people and can get noisy, but it shouldn’t tear our nation apart. Carson said the founding fathers created within the Constitution a right to change our nation through the power of the ballot. It didn’t create a right for a portion of the country to walk away from that union.

 “Although the founders established a perpetual union, they also provided for a government that is, as President Lincoln would later describe it, “of the people, by the people, and for the people” — all of the people,” Carson wrote. “Participation in, and engagement with, government is the cornerstone of our democracy. And because every American who wants to participate deserves a government that is accessible and responsive, the Obama Administration has created a host of new tools and channels to connect concerned citizens with White House. In fact, one of the most exciting aspects of the We the People platform is a chance to engage directly with our most outspoken critics.”

It is difficult to imagine what makes people seriously believe that life in the United States is so horrible that they would want to set off what would surely be a battle with the federal government, no matter how many “Texas Nationalists” there really are.

I served in my nation’s armed forces during the Vietnam era and the Cold War. By the time I served it wasn’t at all a really “hot” war. Still, the specter of terrorism was lurking around even back then in the mid 1970s. Three Navy Seabee officers were killed by Philippine terrorists while inspecting a road about three months before I enlisted in 1974. Three years later I would spend quite a bit of time near that same site in the Philippines on a ship. Some of that time included petty officer of the watch duty, armed with a .45-caliber pistol at my side. Knowing what had happened and what could happen would give me a scary edge, no matter that it was “peace time.”

Maybe the kind of strong coffee one gets down here in Southeast Texas, itself considered Cajun country, has something to do with the wild ideas like those who seek a separate nation in Texas. I note that the TMN website listed locally manufactured Seaport Coffee, a family owned and operated company in Beaumont, as it the “official fuel of the Texas Nationalist Movement.” Whether Texas Coffee Co., which makes Seaport as well as many different wonderful kinds of spices, knows of its TMN distinction I do not know. What I do know is that the nationalist movement does not speak for Texas nor Texans. A separate Texas nation is just a dream, a joke, and a dream.