Trying to wake up for the Texas November elections

The Texas General Election in November has failed to capture my attention so far this year. Why is really not that important to discuss except that some candidates have done their best to keep away from the news media. I especially note Republicans Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, respectively, candidates for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.

Patrick did manage to surface from meeting with small influential crowds long enough to debate Democratic State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte last night in Austin. I tried finding the only scheduled debate for Texas Lieutenant Governor on the TV last night but couldn’t. Oh well. Media stories covering perhaps the one opportunity to see the two candidates say it was pretty much what I expected, charges and counter charges about raising or not raising taxes.

I did watch a debate between Republican Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott and Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis, the two candidates for Texas Governor. It was of slightly more substance. Of course, I have been getting email up the ying-yang all year from Wendy’s people and Obama and every Dem politician running for public office it seems. It seems as if they want money. Hey, I will clean your windshield. Sorry, it’s all ho-hum. It just seems like the election has already been determined and we will have a repeat of all these Republican nut jobs in state offices, as well as a majority in Legislature.

Perhaps I will be surprised. Maybe at least Van de Putte will win, that would put her in what is constitutionally the strongest office in the state as head of the State Senate. Of course, Good Hair Perry did put a sizable dent into that power by his ability to appoint people to boards and commissions.

Maybe I will feel more like becoming a part of the political process as time goes on toward the election. I hope I do. It will take my mind off other things like the spread of Ebola.

Forest Service proposal could endanger First Amendment

Over the years I have generally supported the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service. That has not been without difficulty considering certain policies which have surfaced over many vastly-different presidential administrations. I won’t go into details about which ones because that would require depth beyond my intentions for this post.

I have camped at several national forests in recent years with the most recent in the Angelina National Forest in East Texas. A particular spot I like is Boykin Springs Recreation Area, located off State Highway 63, between Zavalla and Jasper. Most of the pertinent information on the park is contained on the linked site above. Mainly, I would stress to anyone interested that it is a place that should best be visited in off seasons — fall and winter if camping is your bag — due to the limited spaces. Of course, spring and even summer in East Texas hold some majestic scenery, if you can keep cool during the hot summers.

This isn’t a travelogue though. I wanted to link to this article in Firehouse.com, the Website for what is considered one if not the most thorough firefighting publications in existence. I began reading it when I first became a firefighter more than 35 years ago. It was founded and edited then by retired New York City firefighter, Dennis Smith (not related to anyone I know), who also wrote several compelling books including his most famous, “Report From Engine Co. 82.” The article I link is reprinted from the Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford, Ore. I thought it important enough that I mention both publications.

The gist of the story is that the Forest Service has a proposed rule that would assign permits and charge fees of up to $1,500 to journalists who cover “non-breaking” news stories at national forests. This is as opposed to “breaking news” such as a big wildfire. An example from the article is forest management policies. A forest service official said the rule was meant to preserve the “untamed character of wilderness areas.”

I think the rule is the proverbial “slippery slope.”

This serves as a shining example of how government agencies can trample upon the First Amendment rights by restricting a free press. I don’t know specifically about the Forest Service but I know of other agencies that restrict the American people from knowledge about their government by charging excessive fees for public information or even copies.

The linked story says it as good or better as I how misguided a proposal the rule could be if enacted. It is already difficult enough for some journalists, such as myself sometimes, who freelance. We may or may not have credentials from a newspaper or other publication and thus encounter difficulty in access to news and areas where a story may happen.

Today was the first I heard of the proposed rule and it concerns me just how sheltered my fellow citizens are from rules that endanger our Constitutional freedoms. I found other news stories today after searching that told of fears citizens had that the rule would prohibit innocent picture taking. The Forest Service clarified the information about the rule to say it “only” applied to commercial media.

One always seems to ask what else are they, the government, hiding. The Forest Service is probably well-intentioned. I also support keeping our wilderness areas wild. But it should not be done at the cost of our freedom.

Coppers and copper theives; Travolta, make the local news news

Our local daily had a couple of interesting stories online today. The interest is personal, like me, to use other words. One story is about something I saw. The other is about something I didn’t see.

Heading back home from the office I saw Beaumont police cars and SUVs parked downtown on Main while others parked on Liberty Street. They seemed to be looking for something. It turns out they were. The coppers were looking for copper, or rather, a copper thief. The Beaumont Enterprise story said the men were found in a vacant building there. A “K-9 Officer,” a dog in other words, and his “partner,” I won’t touch that one, discovered one man in an upstairs bathroom stall. The suspect reportedly possessed cutting tools and strands of copper in a large plastic bag. Police caught the other alleged copper thief as he was leaving the building.

Copper appears to be the modern-day gold, except it is copper, and gold is gold. Got that?

At 2:34 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time today, gold was moving at $1,216,96 USD per ounce, down 0.37 percent, according to Goldprice.org. When you look again it will be different, marginally up or down. But some experts think gold prices are bottoming out. Who knows? Gold is more mysterious than gasoline when it comes to prices. It’s been that way a lot longer than I have been around.

This chart from MetalPrices.org shows that copper prices have hit a three-month low.

Still, with local recyclers paying between $2.40-2.60 per pound — USD about 3 p.m . CDST — for copper, it wouldn’t take a whole lot to pay for a couple of 40-ouncers and pack of Kools.

Whole lotta 40-ouncers here. Photo via Creative Commons by Giovanni Dall'Orto

Whole lotta 40-ouncers here. Photo via Creative Commons by Giovanni Dall’Orto

Yes, copper is a much sought-after metal. It has been for awhile now. The last Texas legislative session enhanced penalties on copper theft. But, just remember, prices for everything are like gravitation laws. What goes up, must come down. It is a cliche, but it is the easiest way to say it.

The local Enterprise, then later The Baytown Sun, reported Beaumont police nabbed two more alleged “modern copper miners” yesterday who may be involved in more than 70 thefts of the metal. Man, you could buy a s***-load of 40-ouncers with that. Of course, if you are going to steal copper you might as well steal beer and cigs, not that I am advocating that. It’s just an observation.

Also, the Beaumont daily reported that some folks trying to exorcize a few pounds at the World Gym last night were taken aback when John Travolta showed up. The actor, who was a fancy dancer more than 30 years ago in “Saturday Night Fever,” was sporting a full beard (no touch of gray) and told the management he was looking for a place to workout while shooting a move about 20 miles away in Sour Lake. The drama “Life on the Line” is a film set for next year about electrical linemen who do all kinds of stuff (my characterization.)

Now I like some of John’s movie. “Fever” and, OMG, “Urban Cowboy” are shows a dude would only see for a date. And that’s the only way I have seen them at the moving picture show. I think I have admitted this before, but I stopped wearing Western-style shirts when the “Cowboy” sparked a Western-fashion craze.

I have been highly critical in private lately about our local daily. It has been kind of crappy for awhile if you want to know my opinion. These stories are good and are of the kind a “community paper” would have. Maybe you don’t care for Travolta. I am interested in movies being shot in the area. I have once thought of doing location scouting for films. I became a newspaper reporter instead. Now that I am not doing that so much, who knows, maybe I will scout a location for some picture. You never know.

But you take stories such as these, something that grabs your interest because you saw something happening or have some dog you would like to have a hunt in, then you got yourself some journalism. Thanks, BE, but don’t bask too long in the glory. There are always deadlines to meet.

 

Happy 40 and 30: Celebrating the old, the older and the odd.

This year marks my 40th anniversary for graduating from high school. I could say the same for marking 40 years ago that I joined the Navy. On the other hand, I received my bachelor of arts in communication 30 years ago this year. That’s a lot of anniversaries for one year.

In a year that saw physical difficulty with a ba for a major portion of 2014, it sadly also saw two of my four brothers pass away within two months of each other. That is the way it goes sometimes, triumph and tragedy, or vice versa. The last time I saw my Dad was at my college graduation. I suppose that if there is a time when it is right for someone to last see one another, perhaps that time should be on the upswing.

But I sit here not to sound a melancholy note. Nor do I write here to praise one milestone as opposed to another.

The fact is I have been a bit more involved in the planning for my high school reunion than for that of my college reunion. The reasons include simple arithmetic. There were between 80-to-100 students in my high school graduating class. I wouldn’t venture a guess for the numbers who graduated with my college class. I do know that that during the spring semester of 1984, when I graduated from college, saw a record enrollment that has since been broken once or twice. About 11,800 enrolled during that semester at Stephen F. Austin State University. The college is tucked away among the “pine curtain” of East Texas. “Home of virgin pines and tall women,” we would joke.

I have a fairly simple role in my high school reunion next month. It is our entry in the parade. Yes, parade. Survivors of my class get to ride on a trailer of some sort pulled by some mean machine. My friends involved in the locomotion aspects are in the forest products industry and so the ride itself doesn’t seem like a difficult part to pull off. The hard part is to find out where we should meet our chariot and how should it be decorated. Oh well, it’s a small town. We will likely figure that all out by the time the parade actually takes place.

As for my college reunion, I have no immediate plans. The reasons for that is that my college friends seldom were in the same graduating classes. Most of these friends were younger than I was. I doubt many of my friends will attend festivities at SFA. There are varying reasons for that as well including wives, kids, and/or living in far away places like Tokyo.

My college days were not what you called traditional, to be honest. The fact that I was in the Navy for four years before going to college is a big factor. It wasn’t so much I was “an older guy.” I also got a job before starting school as a firefighter. All but two of my final semesters were spent working. I also didn’t worry much, if any, about finances. That was fairly odd for most of my college friends. Tuition was cheap back then. I received a stipend of around $200 a month from the GI Bill for those semesters I was enrolled. I didn’t do much in the way of summer semesters. It would have been too difficult to manage working and going to school every day, which basically entailed one’s day in summer school all five days of the week. I wasn’t a typical firefighter either, for that matter. Most guys got off work and would go to a second or perhaps even a third job. I worked one summer off-duty, before school had even started. It involved moving mobile homes and getting dirty, not exactly in that order. When I decided to take a week’s vacation, I recruited my best friend, Waldo. I finally left this part-time mess. Waldo, who wasn’t exactly working in his master’s in speech field, stayed on for a little while.

Even the days moving mobile homes was something to look back upon with, while not exactly fondness, amused memories.

All in all, I could not have asked for a better college experience. Oh, my final semester was sheer hedonism. I wasn’t working and we, as was the saying back then, partied like the proverbial big dog! There are lots of differences between looking backward at high school and taking the same long look at college. Especially when you come from a small town, school is literally growing up. It’s tribal. Although I haven’t seen some of my high school friends since we graduated 40 years ago, we are bonded by years, age and place.

But for college, it will always be about walking out into the field on a hazy, warm December morning and hearing Canned Tuna playing on the gigantic Klipsch stereo speakers a friend brought over for the weekend-long party. Or that girl who, no matter what happened between us, will always be your friend. And of course, throw in a couple of fires some that were to be celebrated and others to be extinguished …

Will NCIS pull off the hat trick?

One never knows how a “TV franchise” will pan out. It isn’t that a group of similar shows with similar sounding-names and often sharing actors or producers is an invention of the Dick Wolf-produced Law and Order franchise, and his newest franchise Chicago Fire and Chicago PD. Not all of the Law and Order bunch were as successful as the original and Special Victim’s Unit. Criminal Intent only lasted 10 or so seasons.

I wondered if, as a fan of the Mark Harmon-starred NCIS, the program would die from over-exposure once its NCIS: Los Angeles previewed more than five seasons ago. Apparently not, as a third franchise vessel NCIS: New Orleans debuts tonight.

To put an exclamation point on the NCIS franchise, the original itself is the third most popular show on U.S. televisioin and the most-watched TV drama in the world.

For a show to have the popularity of NCIS it must have aspects that viewers share. I would say the show’s quirky humor is probably what I like the best about both NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. I saw the pilot episodes of New Orleans and it will hopefully keep that funny groove that has made the other two shows very likable. I have long been a sucker for a successful ensemble cast, shows that made many of the 1960-80s-era memorable as a “second TV Golden Age,” such as Taxi, Barney Miller, Hill Street Blues, and yes, even Andy Griffith and the Beverly Hillbillies. Of course, clever writing helps.

The fact that NCIS has become such a hit is a bit of a wonder, even though it did spin off from the Navy lawyer drama JAG. Even though I am an ex-sailor I had no idea that NCIS, for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, was even called “NCIS” when the show premiered. I remember the 70s agency as “NIS” for Naval Investigative Service.

Sometimes when one experiences something in real life, there may often reign confusion when its portrayal is in fiction. So it was with NCIS. I had met a couple of idiots during my naval service who were NIS agents, so when I saw Mark Harmon and the others acting as Navy civilian agents, I wondered how was this action about to work? Likewise, I wondered about the title of the succeeding show based in Los Angeles. Even though there was still a Navy station in Long Beach long ago when I stayed there with my ship in drydock, LA didn’t seem like a big Navy (or even Marine) town. Why wasn’t the show NCIS: San Diego? Well, I guess the two largest cities in California aren’t all that far apart. And,  San Diego and Los Angeles really aren’t separated by much more that a jumble of city limit signs, for that matter.

Like the DC-based original NCIS, New Orleans actually is home to a NCIS field office. Back in my Navy days in the 1970s, when I spent a great deal of time in New Orleans, the city had two Navy stations: Naval Support Activity New Orleans and NAS Belle Chasse. New Orleans makes a great backdrop for a drama or many other types of fictional work. Let’s face it, New Orleans is an odd place as it is fun. Hopefully, the third program will be a charm for the NCIS franchise, not to mention charming.

Three tacos and a flashback of a side of empathy

It is another rainy Southeast Texas day and I felt like wherever I ended up is where I should stop for lunch. As the work clock ticks down to about 10 minutes — I thought I was supposed to start at 3:30 p.m. but beginning time is instead 1:30 p.m. — I will have to quickly relate my lunch and flashback.

Where I ended up was Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp, 5555 Calder, Beaumont, next to the popular Willy Burger and their new pizza place. I have eaten at Willy’s a few times. It is usually crowded and though the place is aesthetically funky, and the food is good, it’s far from my fave local joints Chuck’s Sandwich Shop (486 Pearl St.) for its wonderful old cheeseburger basket, and Daddio’s, up the street on Calder at Lucas, with their wonderful buffalo burger and hand cut fries.

Tia Juanita’s has gone through quite a few incarnations of food places. But it still has the huge covered patio and a darkish inside setting. While it has a Spanish name and a Mexican owner, the place is, unsurprisingly, seafood-oriented. The menu includes fried fish and shrimp as well as poboys, gumbo and tacos of a different variety. When I say that I mean fish, shrimp and beef. You can order a three-taco plate with either or a combination of the three. One also has the choice of flour or corn tortillas. So I chose shrimp tacos on corn tortillas. The three tacos for $10 ($9.99)  comes with a small salsa cup with a great-tasting spice enough to last through about nine tacos. It’s hot yet very delicious. It likewise comes with an equally small cup of charro beans. I likewise got an industrial-sized glass of unsweet tea.

The tacos came with cooked and spicy salad-sized shrimp, cilantro and shredded red cabbage inside two small corn tortillas each. With the salsa it was delightfully spicy and a treat. Although I really didn’t leave hungry, I was a bit put off at the size of the bean amount. Of all that was served, the beans were certainly not made of gold so the serving could have been twice the size I received easily.

Also, I am unsure if chips and salsa are automatic or if they are an extra charge. The waiter asked if I wanted anything else, I suppose I should have asked her what else was there, without sounding like a smart ass.

While I felt I waited a bit longer than normal for my food, I didn’t mind it at all. A large screen with ESPN Sports Center was on as well as a rather loud stereo system playing a number of tunes from the 60s and 70s by Jerry Jeff Walker, James Taylor and even Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Buffett. The rain also played a steady, though not heavy, beat outside the fenced patio. It was watching the rain and hearing Loggins and Messina’s rather sugary but nonetheless pretty “Danny’s Song” that I had a flashback from my military days overseas.

This recall was not from war. It was from sitting inside a pizza joint in Olangapo outside the Subic Bay Naval Station. I chose to order a few cold beers inside the big picture windows of the Cork Room Cellar watching the goings on of a hot, dusty day on Magsaysay Drive. Passing by those large windows to the world would be the whores, the Philippine constabulary in their fatigues, boonie hats and M-16s slung around their shoulders, as well as those who did everything from selling cheap trinkets to picking pockets. Inside, listening to the same songs from the same Loggings and Messina’s albums I remember feeling such sadness for those who made their living from can to can’t. Maybe it was — at 21 years old — my first discovery of empathy for those I felt who were less fortunate than I. Perhaps not the first, but perhaps the first time as an outsider of a foreign land looking in. Or maybe it was just the cold San Miguel catching up with me. I don’t know. But today I remembered it as if it was earlier this week.

The tacos were great though. Were I not scheduled to work later, and had an icy San Miguel been around — doubtful, as you don’t see San Miguel around too often in these parts — I might just have stayed for awhile.

A sick puppy speaks up

Sick and tired? Ever heard of being sick and tired of being sick and tired? That’s kind of how I feel right now.

I feel as if I have an old fashioned cold. I stopped having those in my middle 20s. Same went for “upper respiratory infections.”

Now, I seem to get an URI (Upper Respiratory Infection) about once a year. It starts off with a slight bit of congestion for a couple of months. It doesn’t seem worth it to bother the doctor when you can’t even see the phlegm. Then all of a sudden, you are stopped up like a 30-year-old pickup that wasn’t driven in the last 10 years.

Plus my back hurts. And I’m gassy.

It’s no wonder I feel sick and tired. Too much information? Too bad. But that’s it for today so consider yourself one lucky mutt.

Forty years past. Ah, and a slow ride around the town square listening to Humble Pie.

This year marks some interesting anniversaries in my life as a scholar. I graduated from high school 40 years ago. And received my college degree 10 years later. It will be the high school anniversary I focus upon this year. There are several reasons why but mostly because it is the most distant year from the original date. A few of my high school cohorts — most I have known from as far back as the first grade — and I have kept in touch with Facebook. That shows perhaps that social media isn’t as bad as many portray it. A wider circle of classmates came together and we have put together some events for our 40th anniversary.

Our hometown is about 60 miles away so it shouldn’t be much difficulty to physically attend. However, I somehow mixed myself into the planning portion of this celebration. Although we come from a small town and school, we will not have just one event. We’ve got a brunch on the Saturday of Homecoming followed by a parade. Later that evening we will have dining and dancing. Plus there will likely be some private parties. There are other groups celebrating including my brother’s class who graduated 10 years ahead of us. I don’t know if the classes of ’84, ’94 or ’04 will get together. I have only been to a 10-year reunion and one, I suppose that was 36 years after our graduation, which was a small, improvised gathering. I have been selected as the “go-to” person for the parade this year. I do not know why.

I need to get this wrapped up so that I might call a classmate who supposedly is supplying a tractor-trailer for our parade “float.” I don’t know that for a fact. I suppose if worst comes to worst, we can hitch a trailer to my ’98 Tacoma pickup. If we can get some of my classmates occupied like in the old days they might not even know the difference.

I remember while practicing for our high school graduation on the football field, we inserted some of our eight-track tapes (yes, it was awhile ago) into the sound system including Humble Pie’s “30 Days In The Hole.” We can blast some music like that while riding around on our parade float. No one should know the difference.

Fall brings the good, bad and indifferent of television

With fall comes new TV shows for however long. The seasons seem shorter with the advent of cable programming. That beats seasons-long reruns all to hell although it leaves viewers wanting more of a particular product should it be worthwhile.

A friend mentioned on Facebook her joy at the return of “Sons of Anarchy.” It will be the final season although I am sure to watch many of the early episodes down the line as reruns, or hopefully, that is. I think SOA was on for several years before I came an avid viewer.

Since the new season aired only last night, I won’t give away much to prevent spoilage. I will say the show seems much darker and bloodier than in the past. I mentioned to my friend that the blood and guts are cause for my stomach to considerably weaken. The “autopsy shots” and those of “crispy critters” featured on “Duckie Mallard’s” table in NCIS episode absolutely make me turn away. As I told my friend, Tere, I don’t know if all the horrors I saw as a younger man –as a firefighter/EMT and later as a reporter — have finally caught up with me. The last real “Doctor” psychiatrist I spoke with about 10 years seemed to think it inevitable that I had PTSD, though it was never a real diagnosis. WTFK, right? (Who the f*** knows, if you wondered about the acronym. )

I am glad to see Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” returning on CNN. Bourdain is known as a chef, though since his books including “Kitchen Confidential,” unearthed the dirty business side of restaurateurs and chefs, Tony has become much more well-known as a TV travel guide. Bourdain combines eating and drinking along with traveling, done in almost equal parts humorous and poignant, he is definitely a favorite multimedia-type of mine.

I  suppose that I live somewhat vicariously through Tony Bourdain since I doubt I could find anyone who might finance me on a junket to explore sights, sounds, eats and drinks in exotic places. Most of the exotic travel I did was as a 21-year-old in the Navy. I could write about my exploits and have to some degree. Some of said exploits might be a bit too harsh for certain loved ones. Strolling down Magsaysay Drive in Olangapo, Philippines, at night while toasted, a cold San Miguel in one hand and a piece of barbecued monkey on a stick, could pass for a young salt in the 70s. But other entertainment, while certainly amazing in some respects, might also seem to others as somewhat perverse.

Television standards prevent, supposedly, an on-air person getting baked on ganja or s***faced on some foreign assortment of liquors. Nonetheless, Anthony Bourdain can be seen at the end of some evenings in his exotic travels, looking much worse for wear though no doubt happy for it.

Some TV shows disappearing or reappearing do not matter at all to me which way they go. The “reality” programs are high up on that particular scale. “Big Brother,” I never watched it. “Naked and Afraid,” sad to say, yes. But it is ridiculous to a high degree. If the embarrassment would fall to another’s face, I might watch it if I was without reading material. However, since I just took control of a new HP laptop today. I don’t foresee that happening.

Now, if I can just get used to Windows 8 and things going “bounce” in the day, I will find myself okay. Catch you here or there this fall.

Serving up a tad more Rice

Nothing of great significance in the Ray Rice saga today. Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh had a brief news conference last evening and clearly wanted to talk about football rather than his indefinitely suspended star running back. The “Ravens Nation” should clearly thank their lucky stars that their coach is John Harbaugh rather than his brother, San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh. Sometimes known as “Mr. Intensity,” the West Coast Harbaugh brother might one day be gone from the Niners not because he is a poor Xs and Os guy but because his team and its big dogs can’t stand the coach.

Today, newlywed Janay Palmer Rice released a fireball on Instagram ripping, practically, mankind on the most recent video of her taking a forceful blow to the face from her then-fiancee Ray Rice in the now famous Atlantic City elevator incident. One could shake their head and “tsk, tsk” all they want but she has every right to shout and blame her exploitation. It doesn’t matter that her husband deserves some time behind bars and into a court-ordered program for such abuse.

Finally, no matter how much of a violent bully Ray Rice may be, the question must be asked whether a person should lose their livelihood for one documented episode of domestic assault? I say “documented” because no proof has yet to surface that Ray Rice has a history of such behavior. Even convicted robbers and murders get a chance at gainful employment after serving their sentences. True, Rice has yet to face charges for the recorded brutal assault.

I am by no means defending domestic assault. I was repulsed seeing Mrs. Rice knocked out brutally by her now husband. I am only saying this is one of these terrible moments, perhaps exploited by the media, that raises more thoughts and questions than answers.

Perhaps even some good may come from what has become much larger than a sports story. Let’s hope so. It would be such a bummer for such a sordid story to be just one more blip on the media screen.