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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Baby Jesus in a Onesey

Baby Jesus in a Onesey
A few more hours, and the big day is here.
Merry Christmas to all, whether it be Kwanza or Hanukkah or the celebration or not of your choice.
I heard a report the other day that 78% of Americans still believed in the traditional Christmas. Of the remaining 22%, 8% believed in nothing.
I was glad to hear the 78% figure for given all the hue and cry in the media, Christmas is on the way out. And that would be such a shame for there is nothing to my way of thinking any more precious to a parent than the excitement and anticipation twinkling in his child’s eyes as he hears the Christmas story and looks upon his presents under the tree. And how do you measure the joy in his face when he tears into his presents?
The weeks leading up the day of Jesus’s birth have always taken on something special to me. I can’t explain it except that it seems as if everything about us is a little more hopeful, a tad more promising, and bit more happy. Maybe it is all in my imagination, but I don’t think so. I like to think it is the inherent goodwill in mankind making its way to the surface after months of wear and tear we’ve endured living the ‘normal’ life.
Churches around us help stimulate the feeling just like the children’s play last week at Proctor Street Baptist.
The play wasn’t the typical Christmas story, not exactly.
Entitled ‘O Little Christmas Town,’ it was a musical with a subplot of the community trying to decide whether they wanted to let their town grow larger or keep it small. The discussion was moderated by a character named ‘Mrs. Talkalot’ who was played by Anna Licatino.
The youngsters did a fine job. The three citizens were Raegan Graves, Vivien Thames, and Keegan Johnstone, the latter who happens to be my grandson. Darrell Marsh played the Inn Keeper, Alyssa Licatino was Ima Gossip, and Ross Marsh played the shepherd.
The townspeople were Logan Chapa, Ayden Licatino, Caylee Licatino, and Mikey Wood. Mikey is also my grandson. Ayden and Caylee also played the angels in the next scene.
During the community discussion, word came of baby Jesus.
The players left the stage, and then here came Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus in her arms. Baby Jesus was played by the world acclaimed actor, Noah Wood, who incidentally happens to by my little five-month-old grandson. Mary was his sister, Hannah Wood, who was a perfect Mary. Eric Bankston was an excellent Joseph.
Little Noah’s whole family, both sides, was sitting on the second and third rows, holding its collective breaths.
Decked out in his striped onesey, an infant sleeping type garment, he did fine, no crying, no tantrums; he just lay quietly in his sister’s arms staring out as the hundreds of eyes watching him. He was perfectly content as long as Mary kept feeding him his pacifier.
Now, there were couple spots that didn’t fit in that time frame, but I’m sure the fact that baby Jesus was wearing a striped onesy instead of swaddling clothes, and was nursing on a pacifier did not detract from the story.
The only grandchild not in the play was my younger granddaughter, two-year-old Kenli-bug. She’s a little fireball. She would have been all over the place, even inspecting the star on the tree. Fortunately, she was quite content back in the nursery drawing Christmas trees and making decorations.
The little production was very enjoyable, and fortunately, my two grandsons, To our relief, Mikey and Keegan, didn’t stumble over their long robes or fall down the steps.
Now, I might be mistaken here, but after the service when we went to the nursery to see Kenli, I could have sworn I saw the nursery attendant breathe a sigh of relief when my wife and I walked into the room.
Thanks, Proctor Street. I have a feeling that if the other 22% who don’t believe in Christmas had seen the little play, some of them might have given their beliefs a second thought.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas is on the Way

Decorations are strung (almost), tasty treats are being prepared, folks are enjoying cheese and libations in front of a cheery fire, a sense of goodwill is in the air.
Unfortunately, there are always the Scrooges.
It once was that the bah-humbuggers made only themselves miserable, but today, they do their best to make everyone as miserable as they.
Regardless, the season is here despite the war the folks are trying to wage against Christmas.
How well I know times today are different than fifty years ago. People claim to be much more tolerant, but if you’ll permit me to say, I’ve noticed that their tolerance extends only to the points at which you begin to disagree with them.
I watched a news story recently of an elementary school taking some of its students to see a play called ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas’, being held at the local church.
One parent did not like the idea so she went not to the school, but the local ‘Free Thinkers Organization’, an Arkansas group whose mission is to create a supportive non-religious community for atheists, agnostics, skeptics, scientists, and free thinkers.
And no, I’m not making this up. Check the group out.
But, back to the story.
From one disgruntled parent’s complaint, the Free Thinkers bombarded the church with tons of hate mail and threats of lawsuits.
The church caved.
The kids stayed at school.
Who lost here? Not the idiot parent. Not the idiot Freethinkers. The kids lost, little kids who possess an innocent sense of fair play of which that parent and Free Thinkers have no concept.
Christmas is that time of the year when grownups make themselves happy by making kids and the less fortunate happy.
So maybe you think that’s corny.
Those of us who believe in Christ (supreme being- sorry, satan not included) understand that helping others is a bottomless source of satisfaction and joy.
Living only for yourself insures you a cold and withered existence despite surrounding yourself with expensive toys.
What someone wants to believe is his business. Why do they assume they have the right to make life miserable for others just because their decisions have made them miserable?
I feel sorry for those people.
A perfect example of Christmas joy took place at our house the other day with Keegan, my grandson. He’s eight, and he’s already been questioning his Mom about Santa Claus.
My older daughter, Susan, an RN working in hospice, is pretty good with the computer. She found a program called A cute program, it personalizes, via email, a youngster’s visit with Santa Claus at the North Pole.
She did it for her son, Mikey, and he was blown away with it. I would have loved to have seen his reaction. It was probably pretty much the as Keegan’s when he saw the video.
She put it on my computer. When Keegan came over, we told him there was a message to him from Santa. “He wants to talk to you.”
His eyes popped open. The cold see the excitement on his face. Money couldn’t measure the anticipation in his eyes.
I said ‘Let’s go watch it.”
“Oh no.” He insisted on watching it alone.
Gayle and I grinned at each other. The little guy was kinda leery about what Santa had to say.
We let him got to the computer by himself.
A couple minutes later, he called out. “Mee-mee, Pa. Come see.”
Apparently, he liked what Santa had to say.
The video was cute as Kenli Bug, my little granddaughter.
The North Pole was as we all imagined, snow, big house, gadzillions of stars. Santa welcomed Keegan by name, went to a huge library of books, found the one titled, KEEGAN, and sat down by the fire. He showed pictures of his elves looking over Keegan’s room as well as reading notes from the book about Keegan’s behavior. Keegan had been a good boy, but he needed to be sure to keep his room clean, mind his Mom and Pop, and be nice to everyone.
Then he showed Keegan through the workshop with all the toys, pointing out a couple boxes slated for Keegan’s Christmas tree.
Talk about excited. His eyes shone and he jabbered on and on about Christmas.
There was no one any more tickled than his grandmother and me. Right before us was the epitome of Christmas.
Now you can see why I feel sorry for those who do not believe in Christmas.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Forget Pearl Harbor

Hard to believe it’s been seventy-one years since Pearl Harbor. Not too many of us around who remember it, at least in real time. Last figure I saw was that about 13 or 14 percent of the population is over seventy. That means around 85 percent of our country came along after December 7, 1941. (you see, I’m not too bad in math)
I tried a little experiment the other day, and in doing so probably reaffirmed what a lot of folks probably think about me, that I’m halfway nutty.
At random I asked various individuals (as in strangers) what they knew about Pearl Harbor. I followed that with inquiries about Fort Donelson. Gallipoli, and Luzon
I was not surprised at most responses, or lack of.
Time is a devious foe and/or collaborator. Time soon erases the memories of battles the carnage of which at the time shocked the world. None with whom I spoke remembered Fort Donelson where, according to, over 30,000 casualties were suffered in February, 1862. In all fairness, that was 150 years ago. Only a Civil War scholar would recognize the name.
Nor did any remember the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI where 400,000 casualties took place. Some thought it was Italian pizza.
Now, some recognized the WWII Battle of Luzon in August 1945, but naturally everyone knew Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some, the younger, had never heard of Pearl Harbor.
I can still remember when we heard the islands had been attacked.
In our little town, there was one picture show (theater, movie), The Rogue, and it had Sunday afternoon matinees, one showing, preceded by a newsreel and a cartoon.
“Wizard of Oz’ was the matinee feature. Halfway through the film, the lights came on. The owner, Mister Guthrie, hurried up on the stage and gave us the terrible news.
I didn’t know what was wrong. All I knew they weren’t going to show the rest of the film. It wasn’t until I got back home where a lot of the family had gathered, that I realized whatever had happened at Pearl Harbor, wherever that was, was bad.
For all I knew, Pearl Harbor could have been over in the next county by Pampa or Borger.
All the men in the family talked about ‘joining up’. Dad too, but Mom was pregnant with my younger brother, Sam.
Dad was thirty, and they didn’t take him right away. He kept trying to volunteer, and finally got the Navy where he wanted to be. He trained on the East Coast, then was shipped to Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Kansas, and then South America.
Our little town of farmers and small business people were furious over the sneak attack. People all around the country were, and while there was some dissent, by far the majority pitched in with work, sacrifice, and hard-headed stubbornness that screamed victory at the top of its lungs.
We followed Dad to Los Angeles. Mom worked at a service station. She left my brother with our neighbor in the duplex in which we lived. Days I wasn’t in school, she took me to work with her.
It hurts me to say I don’t really believe our country will ever again see such strength, such cooperation, such support from ninety plus percent of its population.
Those at home gave the men and women overseas all the weapons and ammunition and supplies they needed. Aircraft and tanks rolled off the lines. Great battleships were launched one after another.
Talk about working together!
For four years, Americans did without so our fighting women and men could have what they needed.
We had paper drives, metal drives. We rationed gasoline, tires, sugar, and just about everything else except sweat and determination.
I couldn’t help noticing there wasn’t too much said a few days back on the anniversary of President Kennedy’s death. I hope we don’t forget about Pearl Harbor like we did him.
I’ve been urged to ‘get with the changing times’, but there are some times that we need to remember.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Even a Blind Dog Finds a Bone

A few months back, I did a column about being orphaned as a writer. To rehash the incident without boring anyone, I’d been publishing with Avalon for about twenty years and Leisure, an imprint of Dorchester, for about seven or eight.
Then  bing, bang, and bong!
Avalon sold out to Amazon and the next week, Dorchester went on the block. Amazon put in a bid for Dorchester and around the end of September, won the bidding.
        So now, my snug little writing homes were blown sky high. My security blanket was rudely jerked away with the same alacrity that Snoopy employs when he yanks away Linus van Pelt’s blanket.
Old Charlie Brown was right when he said, ‘happiness is a warm blanket.’ I can tell you, it is mighty cold out there in the publishing world when your blanket is abruptly taken away.
Some of my friends say it’s getting colder. On the surface, it might appear as such. Traditional mortar and brick bookstores are being forced to rethink the way they do business.
One thing is certain. Publishing today is a heap different than fifty years ago, than twenty years ago.
Now Amazon did say they were going to publish all of our backlists in paperback and ebooks.
And they have. At least, they’ve started. My first with them is ‘Murder in a Casbah of Cats,” a Tony Boudreaux cozy on the edgy side. I say without shame I posted an image of the cover on my Facebook page.
The beauty of Amazon is they offer the books in Kindle at around four bucks; in paperback at around eight; and hardback for around fourteen or so.
In all the years I was with Avalon, I had no paperbacks, only hard cover. You see, Avalon’s primary subscribers were libraries, so all of our books were hardcover with accompanying prices.
And who could blame any reader for not wanting to fork over twenty plus bucks for a writer they didn’t know. Even if they knew a writer, most would prefer a six-dollar paperback to one three or four times the cost.
Then seven-eight years ago, Leisure bought one of my westerns. They put out one a year for the next five, all paperback. I was on a roll. I figured within a few years, I’d have ten, fifteen soft covers out there selling and reselling, drawing those royalties.
Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, drawn from a Robert Burns’ poem, said it better than I, ‘that the best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray.”
My dreams of royalties from fifteen or twenty books went up in smoke as Dochester went down in flames. My sixth western with Dorchester/Leisure was caught up in the bankruptcy and has yet to see the light of day.
The old world of publishing is changing.
Do I like it?
I’m like all old codgers. Not crazy about change as some of my faithful critics will testify, but I’m smart enough to know everything changes. This last presidential election made that clear. It’s like I always taught not only my own children but those hundreds in the classroom during forty-one years in education. “If you’re not moving forward, then you’re going backward.”
I still prefer the physical book that I can dogear, crumple, stick in my back pocket, toss up behind the seat or level a table.
But electronic books are coming fast.
Last year I put three young adult books up on Kindle just to see what would happen. They were the kind I grew up reading, but they haven’t done too well. I guess that tells me something about how I fit in today, huh?
I did make contact with a European publisher with whom I signed a contract for several books, all electronic. I kept all other rights. My first one comes out in March. It is another Tony Boudreaux mystery titled, “Galveston.”
Here in the United States, I have three or four under consideration with the brick and mortar publishers.
And who knows what lies ahead. I’m like that blind dog looking for a bone. Maybe I’ll stumble on it sooner or later.
In my writing classes in Continuing Education with Lamar before the last Texas legislature cut funds, I always started my classes by telling students that if they had a choice between writing and bullfighting, they’d be smarter to take up bullfighting.
But then, as writers reading this little opinion piece are aware, writing gets in your blood—for better or worse.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Booze, Mangoes, and Dead People

It’s over. ‘And in more ways than one,’ remarked one of the old boys during lunch the other day, referring to the election. He pretty well summed up all our feelings on the subject.
I’ll make no bones about it. I was disappointed in the outcome of the election. I still find it hard to believe that my conservative values are now in the minority in this country.
On the other hand, when I look around at the state of welfare today; the garbled mass of new regulations being put on us, I don’t guess I should be too surprised.
Thomas Jefferson said it a lot better than I ever could when he proclaimed that ‘democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.’
Maybe if it were just welfare, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we could get a handle on it, but when you add deliberate waste of tax money to the entitlements, then the country’s asking for trouble.
There’s one guy who takes the time to point out this waste, Senator Tom Coburn, M.D, from Oklahoma.
On your 1040 tax return, have you noticed the little box that asks if you want to give $3.00 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund? Your insignificant three bucks morphs into over thirty-five million by the time all the returns are in.
This year, according to Senator Coburn, $17.7 million was given to each major political party for its convention to help pay for the stage construction, confetti, balloons, food, and booze during the three or four day affair.
That’s $35 million of our taxes for wild parties. If the high rollers want such a gala, let them dig into their own pockets, not mine. Why not let the Super PACs pay for the bacchanalian event? Really, what was the need for them? Was there any question Obama would not be chosen as the Democratic candidate? Or Romney the Republican?
That’s the reason I never check that box. If I have to pay taxes, I want it to go to the general fund. (where Congress will find other ways to waste it)
According to Senator Coburn, in 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) undertook a four-year, $90 million effort to spur hiring and sales among Pakistani businesses.
You read right. Pakistani businesses. To hell with U.S. small businesses struggling in the recession. Let’s help foreign countries, which I might add is simply an extension of the present administration's intent.
Two years later, the USAID Inspector General found ‘no measurable increases in sales and employment in four of five product areas the USAID had targeted, leather, livestock, textiles and dates’. The agency then abandoned its efforts on those products and focused on funding the fifth product area, mangoes.
Mangoes! Can you believe that nonsense?
So, how did the mango production project go?
It failed.
Why? Good old bureaucratic planning. It seems like of the thirteen farmers picked for the mango project, only one had received the promised equipment, but could not operate it because of a design flaw.
And to add insult to injury, the bungled project hurt the farmers by forcing them into default on loans they had taken out against expected sales that now would never take place.
Ninety million down the drain.
It gets worse.
Over the last five years, the federal government has sent $601 million in retirement and disability payments to deceased former federal employees.
That’s right.
In a September 2011 report, the Inspector General for the U.S. Office of Personnel reported that every year for the last five, payments averaging $120 million have been paid to dead people.
In one example, wrote Senator Coburn, an annuitant’s son cashed his death father’s checks for thirty-seven years. The only way the Office of Personnel learned of it was when the son died.
Now if that doesn’t illustrate just how cumbersome and ineffective large government is, maybe the next example will.
What do you think about the government wanting to spend $398 million on a bridge to nowhere. The Gravina Island Bridge was to connect Ketchikan, Alaska to Gravina Island, which had 50 residents so they would not have to use the ferry any longer.
How about almost a million for generators for Vietnamese villages so the University of Pennsylvania State could research ‘the causal link between television and family formation and reproductive health?’
I don’t even know what they’re talking about, but they got over $700 thousand to do it.
There are hundreds of more examples of government waste, spending our taxes for frivolous nonsense.
Yep, the election’s over, but not our troubles.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thanks to My Heroes
    Well, the elections are over, but I don’t want to talk about them today. Instead, let’s talk about those heroes who have given us the freedom to have elections.
    Now, I always enjoy the holidays. The richness of our national celebrations add to the fabric of our lives.
The blessings of Thanksgiving, the gaiety and joy of Christmas, the holiness of Easter, the exuberance of July 4 are all important to me, but the one holiday very precious is Veterans’ Day because so many in my family, as in hundreds of thousands of others, have shouldered the arms of war and went out to do battle to preserve the freedom we all now enjoy.
    November 11 is the anniversary of the Armistice, which was signed in 1918 in the forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans “bringing a halt” to World War I. At five a.m. that morning, an order to cease all firing was issued. Arms were lowered, whistles blew, impromptu parades erupted, and business closed in celebration.
    You’ll notice in the preceding paragraph the quotation marks around bringing to a halt. And that’s exactly what the Armistice did, but contrary to what the majority believe, it was not a proclamation of Germany’s surrendering, but rather a truce—one that lasted almost twenty-one years until Hitler made his move.
    In 1938, Congress passed a bill that each November 11 would be celebrated as Armistice Day. Fifteen years later on November 11, 1953, instead of only an Armistice Day program for WWI veterans, they honored all veterans of all wars.
    Ed Rees, of Emporia, was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name to Veterans' Day.  After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday.  The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954. 
    In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly. The President referred to the change of name to Veterans' Day in honor of the servicemen of all America's wars.
    I served, but during peacetime, which to me doesn’t count. Many of my family served during world conflicts. My father spent a year on the west coast, a couple years in South America; a cousin served in the Army Air Corps; an uncle served in the Army, and one in the Navy. Another uncle served earlier in the Philippines, but was discharged with a blood disease that, according to oral family history, eventually took his life. Another cousin served in Korea and is still listed as a MIA after sixty years.
    During the war, family gatherings were filled with empty chairs. Word always turned to those not present. I can remember seeing every eye in the family filling with tears as their innermost prayers went out to their loved ones.
    We were one of the lucky families. Dad returned. My uncle in the Army returned having received a shrapnel wound on Okinawa. My uncle in the Navy made it back. My Air Force cousin returned safely. The only casualty we faced was my uncle who had served prior to the war in the Philippines.
    Then five years later, another cousin, Henry Shoop, whom we always called Dooley, shipped out to Korea.
We never saw him again. We never heard a word of his fate. All we know is he went out on patrol one night. The patrol was attacked. None returned, and no bodies were found.
    You might remember Dooley from some of my other stories about growing up in the country. My main tormentor, he was about six years older than me. Dooley was the one who hauled a box of damp cow patties up on the roof of the Papa Holley’s milk shed and bombarded my cousin Ed and me.
    We got him back later though when we cornered him under the windmill and let loose with Roman candles.
    I just checked the MIA database a couple days back, and Henry G.’Dooley’ Shoop, Sgt. U.S. Army, MIA since 1952, is still one of the thousands of our men and women who have yet be accounted for.
    I look around now at our brave men and women going into harm’s s way for America, and I want to cry out of compassion and pride. I know the families of those serving realize just how dear the sacrifice our military is making, but I wonder about the rest of America. Do they understand?
    If they don’t, they should drop to their knees and pray for the understanding be given them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Government Waste

In a couple days, you’ll be out voting if you haven’t done so already.
We popped into the Port Neches Library Friday week ago and carried out our responsibility as U.S. citizens. I hope you do also.
If you do not, don’t you dare complain in the coming four years. Voting gives you the right to fuss and gripe. Not voting means keeping your mouth shut.
I’ve said it for years. We need a change, not just in the White House but in most of Congress. Most of the research I’ve read concerning the intents of our Founding Fathers was they did not mean for legislators to make a career out of legislating.
Pardon the cynicism, but much of the legislating that goes on in Washington and state capitols today is legislation benefiting those doing the legislating.
But let’s just talk about the federal guys and gals.
Trish Turner of Fox News reported on the waste of taxes documented by the Government Accounting Office, the GAO, one of the few trustworthy sources of federal finance.
Do you have any idea how many job training programs are funded by the federal government? How about 10? 20? Would you believe 47? And would you also believe that 44 of that number overlap in duplication of services.
How about 80 overlapping programs for the ‘transportation disadvantaged’? You know, people who don’t have cars.
And keep in mind, we’re just talking about federal programs, not state.
Ms. Turner went on to point out that the GAO stated the feds have 82 programs spread across 10 separate agencies designed to improve teacher quality, a task every school district in every state has been working on for the last two hundred years.
How does something like this happen?
Pork! Earmarks! The fodder for reelection. "Let’s build a bridge even if we don’t need one." The community picks up some unexpected income and the political sponsor of that project picks up another term in office.
The problem is, as you all can now see, is 16 trillion debt—and climbing by three billion daily.
Representative Eric Cantor claims the GAO report “confirms what most Americans assume about their government. We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we are doing. The executive branch doesn't know. The congressional branch doesn't know. Nobody knows."
Ms Turner reported that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn stated "This report also shows we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services."
Without cutting services?
That’s hard to believe, but read on. This information comes directly from the GAO report. Look at the duplication.
       1.Fifty-six programs across 20 agencies dealing with financial literacy.
2.More than 2,100 data centers--up from 432 a little more than a decade ago across 24 federal agencies. GAO estimated the government could save up to $200 billion over the next decade by consolidating them.
3.Twenty programs across seven agencies dealing with homelessness. The report found $2.9 billion spent on the programs in 2009. "Congress is often to blame" for fragmentation, GAO wrote in this section, explaining that the duplicative programs in multiple agencies cause access problems for potential participants.
4. Eighty-two "distinct" teacher-quality programs across 10 agencies. Many of them have "duplicate sub-goals," GAO said. Nine of them address teacher quality in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
And now our president wants to spend more money of math and science teachers.
5.Fifteen agencies administering 30 food-related laws. "Some of the oversight doesn't make any sense," the report stated.
6.Eighty overlapping economic development programs.
And there are many more, writes Ms Turner in her analysis of the GAO report. “In some cases, the programs in question struggled to account for what they did. In the domestic food assistance initiatives, for example, 18 such programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services with GAO estimating $62.5 billion spent on them. States the GAO, "little is known about the effectiveness" of 11 of those programs.
And of the 47 job-training programs run out of the federal government, only five could provide an "impact study" since 2004 looking at outcomes.
About half of them have provided no performance review at all since 2004.
Now stop and think about the last couple paragraphs. Political parties be damned. We’re talking taxes, yours and mine.
In the domestic assistance, $62.5 billion is spent on 18 programs and those monitoring have no idea just how effective are 2/3s of the programs.
And of the 47 job training programs, around 90% failed to come up with impact studies since 2004.
If a private citizen ran his business like that, he’d be bankrupt even before he got started.
There is much more, but you get the idea of the waste going on. Sooner or later, we’ve got to do something about it.