Holy snowdrift!

Those few of you who read this blog every now and then must think I have an obsession with snow. Not so do I have an obsession with snow. But by damn, do I fancy my green eggs and ham. Okay enough Seusseneugen. Hey, I don’t know if that means anything but if it really is a word and it means something really bad, sorry. I don’t Sprechen Sie Deutsch.

My longtime friend Sally, who lives in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, sent me the snow picture right after I woke up this morning and it must have not been long after she woke up. I was watching the Weather Channel and noticed on the map that nothing but snow was on it from Boston to the west. I went to my e-mail and found Sally had by then sent these pictures to her friends, including truly yours or whatever.

Waking in a winter wonderland called Berkshire County, Mass. Photo by Sally McLaughlin

It isn’t I am obsessed with snow. It’s that I am obsessed with wondering how people can live all or most of their lives where it’s cold.  Why???

I know, it’s pretty, the snow is. It’s nice to have seasons. In the region in which Sal lives they have probably the most gorgeous-looking autumn foliage in the United States. There are trade-offs, I know.

Here on the Upper Texas Coast today the wind chill has been in the 30s. We see days once in a blue moon where it stays below freezing all day and sometimes longer than that. We get ice. We get snow. Plus we get rain, lots of it, tornadoes, hurricanes, and steaming freaking hot weather that is humid enough to smother an elephant.

And those who live in the cold all the time don’t do a dance of joy each and every time they see winter storms like the one they had today. I am  not going to repeat what Sally said in a follow up e-mail regarding all of this crazy weather.

You have to admit, though, it is pretty fascinating what it is that draws one to the place they live. It can be a place of family, one gal, or one guy, a place of memories, of having whatever it is in a place that one needs, the world’s best tacos, the list goes on. What about those place near the Arctic Circle that have sun-lit days for 24 hours during the summer? I think I mentioned here before that I had a real homesickness for rain during the seven years I lived in Central Texas where the rainfall averaged only half or so the amount of  rain that falls here in Southeast Texas annually. I guess of what I speak is geographical sociology. I enjoyed the 18 college hours of sociology I took, so maybe that is part of my fascination.

I just can’t help but wonder how people live where they do. In Western Massachusetts during the winter? In Alaska in the summer? In Central Texas during cedar fever season? Anywhere along the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season? In Beaumont, Texas, in the humiditity. Oh, the latter is where I live.

See what I mean?

110 years ago today in our town — 110 years later in our world

” … and up from the ground came a bubbling crude, oil that is, Black Gold, Texas Tea.”  From “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” written by Paul Henning

That description of good fortune found by Jed, of “The Beverly Hillbillies” fame, fits to a “tea” what happened in real life about three miles from where I live. The crude began bubbling — exactly 110 years ago today (January 10, 1901) — at place known as “Spindletop.” A very informative article about the history of Spindletop that was written by Robert Wooster and Christine Moor Sanders, and published in Handbook of Texas Online describes the pivotal moment of the World’s most important oil gusher ever:

“The startled roughnecks fled as six tons of four-inch drilling pipe came shooting up out of the ground. After several minutes of quiet, mud, then gas, then oil spurted out. The Lucas geyser, found at a depth of 1,139 feet, blew a stream of oil over 100 feet high until it was capped nine days later and flowed an estimated 100,000 barrels a day.”

It is pretty safe to say nothing of such far-reaching magnitude ever occurred since in Jefferson County, Texas, located on the easternmost Gulf Coast of the Lone Star State. Although I wasn’t around for Spindletop, I bet that not even Janis Joplin’s triumphant return in 1970 to her 10th graduation anniversary at Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur could have matched Spindletop as a colorful and raucous event. And, from what I saw on local TV, Janis coming home freaked out a lot of folks.

The geyser, simply stated, started the modern petroleum industry as we know it. Some of the world’s most important oil companies had their start within a 25-mile radius of Spindletop: The Texas Company, later Texaco; Magnolia, later Mobil and even later ExxonMobil; Humble Oil, later Exxon and ExxonMobil, Gulf Oil, Sun. The companies read like a who’s who list of the petroleum industry.

Some who share my occasional liberal thoughts seem to believe “oil” is a four-letter-word. But the truth is not even those people can with any type of ease live without the fruits of hydrocarbons. While the oil industry made some people filthy rich and others just filthy, many modest livings — read: above average middle class — came from refineries, drilling and other facets of the petrochemical world. Why yours truly has made even a very modest amount of dough off oil and gas wells that I inherited. Certainly not much, albeit the low five-figure range over 25 years.

Most of the folks in the area I grew up in certainly knew the worth of oil as the industry paid for a lot of those people’s pickup trucks, bass boats, nice houses and for the most part a comfortable life. But other than immediate jobs, those who lived in the area I am from and now live in had no clue 110 years ago how Spindletop would transform the worldwide economy.

Those were certainly heady times, back in 1901.

But all was not quiet.

In September at a state fair that year, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt first mouthed his foreign policy mantra: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Four days later, President William McKinley was shot at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, N.Y. He died eight days later.

McKinley’s assassin, 28-year-old Leon Czolgosz, was an avowed anarchist although none of the known anarchist groups would claim him as a member and some reportedly thought him to be a spy for the government. Before the month of September was out, a jury convicted Czolgosz. In really swift justice he was executed in the electric chair at New York’s Auburn Prison about a month later, his last words being: “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.”

The new Republican president, Roosevelt, showed that year that he would not be  easily buttonholed as a politician when it came to his actions. There was  his bully pulpit rhetoric about carrying a big stick, but after becoming president he also told Congress he wanted trusts curbed reasonably and he also invited noted African American Booker T. Washington to the White House. The latter sat off riots and other unrest in the South.

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, almost 110 years to the day Spindletop blew in, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, allegedly shot almost two dozen people at a congressional meet and greet outside a Safeway store in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge. The target of the shooting appeared to be U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat. Giffords was shot in the head and remains in critical conditions although doctors say she shows encouraging signs that could signal improvement.

Loughner has left a lot of crazy writings behind as he sits in jail. The alleged assassin appears to be anti-government but like Czolgosz  also appears to be a lone nut job.

Perhaps in the days ahead we will learn just what were the motivating factors behind these shootings. Was the act because Giffords is a Democrat, or that she is Jewish, or that she supported President Obama’s health care plan even though she supported tough immigration measures and is pro-gun? Did the relentless cacaphony of political argument that passes for entertainment on cable news and talk radio play a part in driving Loughner over the edge?

We may never know. But just as the world turned 110 years ago today in the town in which I reside, giving rise to the world’s most important — although sometimes exasperating — industry so does our planet keep revolving where it seems no amount of good can ever completely snuff out the anger that lives in mankind.

I am painting broad brush here. But sometimes it does a body good to look at the world through the macro lens inward. Perhaps one must speak softly and carry a big magnifying glass.

A bloodless coup for suckers. Time to call the plumber.

Shellac to have a nickel? Shellac to have a dime?

The word of the day, boys and girls, is “shellac.” Even the president says that his Democratic party took a “shellacking” in Tuesday’s general elections. It wasn’t because voters had an unabiding affection for the Grand Old Party. Perhaps it is closer to the description written by John Dickerson of Slate, saying that the election was not so much a victory as it was voters throwing their hands up in the air.

But what are voters so pissed off at? Is it big government? Is it the deficit? Is the taxes raised by Obama? To begin to answer these questions, one must ask: Do you go to bed at night worrying about big government? Ditto the deficit. I bet it keeps millions up all night long. And the taxes. What taxes?

Welcome to America — Land of the All-Day Sucker!

The candidates selected Tuesday elevate the electorate from All-Day Sucker to All-Term Sucker.

This election has probably been the greatest propaganda job since Dr. Joe Goebbels and Kristallnacht. It started with the 24/7 saturation of anti-health care reform commercials on cable. Of course, you have the conservative talk machine on radio and Fox News as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. The Tea Party was invented and the national media jumped on it like stink on s**t. The national news media had a ready-made drama and since they don’t like searching for the real Mr. Bigs of the operation they have plenty of Mr. Littles. The nuts, who mostly and thankfully weren’t elected, were just what the media needed for the Miracle Whip on top.

Hyperbole was the watchword of the day this mid-term election. And drama. News can no longer be explaining policy, it’s the drama that’s important. The public wants to know if Paris Hilton went panty-less last night so they also require something that will keep them entertained, but mostly worry, worry about politics. The national media chases the drama. Their suits chase the money. Oh my God, so much money, that the candidates spend on TV ads. Except at the local level, you hardly ever see a “My name is Joe Schmoe, I have done this and now I want to do that. My name is Joe Schmoe and I approve of this message.” Instead, you see a story that looks like it is real and may have some basis in reality, but is played by actors on the commercial, which is paid for by some entity of which you’ve never heard called “Americans for Growing a Sound and Sane Government.”

The voters have been suckered, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, Charlie Brown fell on his butt trying to kick the elusive football held by Lucy. You think you’d learn.

A good many voters were convinced Obama’s health care plan was heavy-handed or would change their current insurance plans, which continue to rip their customers off left and right. Others may have liked parts of the plan but were leery about how it was to be implemented.

Big money, big business, the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who now seeks to rule America, seized upon the unhappiness with so-called “Obamacare.” It didn’t help, of course, that the recovery from the greatest economic panic since the Great Depression was way too slow for the Americans who expect everything to be done yesterday. The powers that be, along with Goebbels’ own modern-day ideological ancestors, made the concerns and fear into their own little Holy War. “I want my country back,” says Clueless McEuless. Uh oh, where’d it go. Where’d they put my country?

This all sounds like a lot of paranoia, I know. Rightfully so. I can’t confirm all that is going on behind the scenes among the folks who engineered what in some countries might be called a “bloodless coup.”

Maybe it is paranoia but unlike those people who don’t sit up all night worrying about the deficit or big government, I have to sit up at night worrying if this Congress will try to take away my Veterans health care or at least put it in the hands of some Third-w0rld country. Am I ever going to see that damn orthopedic specialist or am I just supposed to walk around until my knee melts into a big lump o’ protoplasm?  I also worry whether those  who made threats of shutting down the government will do so, which will really make me stay up nights, wondering if the government will pay what they owe me or will my creditors run roughshod over me?

There is really nothing I can do about it now. Obviously, the politicians will not listen to me. People like my congressman for the last four or five years, Rep. Ted Poe,  surely aren’t listening. Our governor sure as Hell won’t listen, but he’ll probably run for president in 2012. Good Hair for President! Maybe a Moose Lady Sarah Palin–Good Hair Rick ticket. That would be perfect. The reality is that with Republicans in charge of our state government and the U.S. House, I am pretty much disenfranchised, in all but certain matters which require the assent of the Senate.

The onus is on you my friends. That is “onus” with an “o” an not with an “a.” You are the ones who wanted to “throw the bums out.” So you have to do your part to participate in government, or else, the government goes down stinking (yes, I said “stinking” and not “sinking” although I could see both terms applicable.) Save us from the big bad, government my opposition friends. Save us from ourselves.

Oh, and when you wake up some day and see what a mess that has been made by the bozos you elected, don’t despair. We all make mistakes. Some only cost us dollars. Others cost us dignity. Still others, like some folks who recently departed after almost a decade, cost us lives. It’s your problem now. It’s your time to call the plumber.

Long early voting lines here in SE Texas

Never, ever did I think I would see a day when I had to stand in a substantial line to vote early here in Jefferson County, Texas.

That would be the case though as I stood in a line of about 30 people this afternoon, a nice Friday afternoon that was more than a full week before the end of early voting. The voting itself didn’t take long despite my weariness from standing about 20 minutes on my messed-up knee. It doesn’t take long to vote a straight ticket.

The early voting turnout is a little bit amazing to me. There are no local races that have people’s knickers in a knot. A couple of justice of the peace races, a couple of county offices. So the crowd is really about the governor’s race. I don’t know who else is on the ballot besides Democratic challenger Bill White and Gov. Doofus Goodhair Perry.

All I know is a fair number of folks are showing up in my neck o’ the woods. As of the end of voting Thursday some 12,300 voters had cast early voting ballots at the 10 polling places and by mail, according to figures on County Clerk Carolyn Guidry’s Web site.

The busiest polling place by far has been Rogers Park Recreation Center, where I voted, on Beaumont’s West End. Almost 3,260 people had voted there by the end of Thursday.

How this plays for my favored candidate, Bill “The Bald Democrat” White, I couldn’t guess. This is a traditionally Yellow Dog Democrat area. But a fair amount of folks have caught that dreaded “Tea Party Fever.” Just an educated guess from someone six hours short of a Poly Sci degree but I think White will do well here in the county just as Obama did well. A lot hinges on the African-American turnout. Beaumont is a majority Black city. It would be hard to guess how the young vote will end up especially at Lamar University, it being traditionally more of a commuter-urban educational institution.

Even though my knee is giving me hell right now I was glad to see the unusually large turnout. Some of them may be pissed off and not favoring my candidates, but at least they aren’t in the streets rioting and fomenting a coup as the disaffected living in some other countries sometimes are wont to do. That’s something.