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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

First Day Magic

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days.’

Remember that? What was the rest of it? ‘Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick—‘

It goes on, these words of an old song written by Gus Edwards and Will Cobb back in 1907.

As kids up in the Panhandle, we used to sing it, at least the first few lines. After ‘hickory stick’, it continued ‘you were my queen in calico. I was your bashful barefoot beau’. That’s as far as we ever went, but it was a favorite for us back in the forties.

Now, we knew about the reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but as third and fourth graders, we weren’t just real sure about ‘queen in calico’ or ‘bashful barefoot beau’ stuff.

Back then during the summer, if anyone had asked if we were ready to go back to school, we’d have grimaced and cried out ‘no’. Same way today. The truth is, then, as now, most of us were eager to get back to school, especially those who lived on farms and had daily chores.

It is easy to understand just how much more preferable it was sitting in an English class diagramming sentences rather than out in the hot sun chopping corn or pulling

And as an educator for forty-one years, I always felt the excitement of that first day back in class. There was a sort of magic about it, and although most of the magic had worn off by the second day, it continued to come back year after year.

And if there is a teacher reading this, he knows of what I write.

After my first year in a school district on the outskirts of Fort Worth, I landed a position as a Penney’s manager trainee, a job that almost half again the size of my paltry $3900.00 teacher’s salary.

I had thoughts of staying with Penney’s. One of my friends was a trainee also. His dad managed a store in Conroe at a princely income of around $25 thousand.

That folks, was good money back in 1959-60.

But a strange thing happened on the way to the forum—oops, sorry, on the way to financial security.

The first of September rolled around.

What an eerie feeling.

For some reason, about a month before the start of school, I started thinking about what we were going to do that year. Unconsciously, I began laying plans.

Now this was before curriculum guides and politicians’ big noses; before George Bush doubled educational testing with ‘No Child Left Behind’ just after his brother, Neil, got into the educational testing business. (What a strange coincidence, but then seems like politicians and coincidences follow one another. Isn’t that a strange coincidence also?)

I was scheduled for a senior English class, which at that time focused on British literature the first semester and grammar the second.

As appropriate, I gave Penney’s my two weeks notice, and being a compassionate business, they appropriately suggested I just take the two weeks off and rest up.

I protested that I needed the pay, and in their sympathetic manner replied, ‘tough.’
But, I was back in the school business.

Even after forty-one years and more changes than I like to think, the first day always remained magical, exciting.

I’ve witnessed the transition from a bucolic educational system to one loaded with stress for students to achieve higher test scores. And if they don’t, the teachers, the schools are blamed, not the kids, not the parents.

Today’s system is more concerned about helping a youngster build self-esteem than readying him to face the world beyond the comfortable confines of high school. What does your boss pay you for, producing for him or feeling good about yourself?

That’s what I’m talking about.

When my daughters were in high school, a teacher friend asked if they were going out for the drill team. He was surprised when I replied they were staying in the high school band.

“But,” he said. “Drill team will be the highlight of their lives.”

“If being on a drill team is the highlight of someone’s life, they don’t have much ambition or any goals,” I told him.

The importance of education is just that, education and skills that give each youngster a chance in a world that is changing by the day.

Every year, kids will return to school, and every year, that first day magic will be there.

I miss it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rick Perry, PPP

A couple weeks back, our own Rick Perry, PPP, (Professional Politician for President) tossed his Stetson in the ring for the top honcho of the country.

I don’t know how far he’ll go. I’ve no idea if he’ll even get the Republican nomination, and if he does, I have no idea how he’ll fare against Jimmy Carter the Second.

I’ve never met the man, but those who have say he is very charismatic. I don’t know about that, but I met Bush once at a Workforce Commission reception in Port Arthur. I can testify that guy is charismatic. Maybe not real smart, but—well, magnetic is a good word.

I did vote for Bush. Unfortunately, he left the country in worse financial condition than he received it. Despite partisan efforts to ignore the fact, Clinton did leave us a surplus.

Of course, Bush was hit with a couple wars, which does cost a little more than an afternoon movie and burgers. And then he came up with a couple unfounded initiatives, a stimulus and Medicare drugs, that stuck us deeper in the hole.

As even the most fanatic of Republicans must admit, he, despite the reasons, started digging this hole of debt, and then the bizarre policies of Obama dug the hole even deeper and much faster.

Can Rick Perry solve our problems?

He hasn’t solved Texas’ deficit, but he won’t demean our country as the current POTUS. He won’t kowtow to other countries.

But will he solve our problems?

Much was made about his August Prayer conference, but the fact is in the last eight or nine years, he earned $2.68 million and gave only $14 thousand to religious organizations. That is about one-half percent of his income while average Americans donated 1.2 percent. And they call him an ‘evangelical’ candidate?

Excuse my cynicism, but I’ve got a nagging feeling the Reliant Stadium Prayer thing was more political than religious.

And then five or six years back, he tried to ramrod through the I-35 Trans-Texas Corridor that would have displaced thousands of farmers and ranchers, taking from them hundreds of thousands of acres at distressed priced. Citizens protested so vehemently that the project was dropped last year.

A couple years later, he came up with an executive order to vaccinate all sixth grade girls in the state against cervical cancer without parental consent. Oh yes, and the vaccine came from Merck, which was represented at the time by Perry’s former Chief-of-Staff. Coincidence? Not hardly.

(You know why Perry, Obama, and others use the executive order, don’t you? It is a underhanded way to sneak a lousy idea around a legislature or congress that won’t go along with it.)

What about the Texas budget?

When Anne Richards left office, Texas had a surplus. George W and Rick Perry took us into the dizzying heights of 27 billion dollar shortfall.

While railing against federal waste and stimulus, Perry used the 6.4 billion of Obama’s stimulus money to help balance the last two Texas budgets. Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. Texas is paying higher taxes since he became governor.

I don’t have to tell you how hot it has been this summer, but Texas under Perry is holding on to millions of dollars slated to aid thousands of low-income and elderly folks pay for electricity.

The Dallas Morning News said Texas has collected $130 million to help those unlucky Texans to cool their homes, but has actually provided only $28 million, half of what they were providing ten years ago.


The budget shortfall--that he helped bring about. (tlk about Obama-Bush clone)
There’s a lot of political rhetoric out there, but here is truthful example of how Perry and politicians of both parties are kicking the unfortunate and old folks in the teeth.

Now, I didn’t know this, but according to the Beaumont Enterprise, in 2004 and 2006, Perry gave Countrywide Mutual $20 million to create 7500 jobs in Texas by 2010 or repay $834 for every job less than the agreed up total.

They failed, repaying Texas $6.04 million. Still, Countrywide came out with a tidy $13.9 million profit.

The flip side of that is that each job Countrywide created cost the Texas taxpayer $2,666.

It appears to me like many politicians, Rick Perry plays loose and careless with tax money.

Let me give you another example. When the governor’s mansion burned, Texas was about $11 billion in the hole. Since then, he has spent over $600,000 in public money to rent a sprawling estate in the hills outside of Austin.

Now, I wouldn’t want our governor to live in shack while the mansion is being rebuilt, but $600,000 is outrageous.

Considering the guy presently in the Oval Office, Perry might fit right in as president.

At least, we’d have him out of the state.

But then, we’d have Dewhurst.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Last Hurrah of Summer

The other day, I did something I’d never done in the forty plus years I’ve lived here.

I spent the night at the beach.

Now, I know that might not seem like much, and I suppose in the Grand Scheme of life, it isn’t. On the other hand, the experience was a good lesson in how so often, many of us fail to take a break and simply relax—just let the world go by for a few days.

It’s amazing how that sort of downtime refreshes enthusiasm, perks up your energy, and helps redefine some of your goals in life.

And strangely enough, it almost didn’t come about.

Months ago, my two daughters suggested spending a few days at the beach. I didn’t think anymore about it until a few weeks later when they gave us some dates.

Four days and three nights. And to our surprise, at no cost.

Can’t beat that, huh?

So we decided to drive down the second day, spend the night, and come on back home, back to the growing grass, feeding the cats, cleaning the pool, cussing the heat—you know, those favorite activities that seem to never end.

We found the house, and when we saw it, our jaws hit the ground. My daughter had told us about it, but the reality was still difficult to absorb.

Three stories, several bedrooms and baths, beautifully furnished, three decks—a heck of a lot nicer than our own home—There had to be a mistake somewhere. There wasn’t.
We spent time at the beach with the kids enjoying the water. One of my son-in-laws even tried some kind of beach surfing in the shallower water, taking several tumbles.

That afternoon, we headed to Galveston, walking the Strand, prowling in the shops, finishing up with a delicious meal at a superb restaurant, Casey’s, on the seawall.

The seawall! I’d forgotten just how long it was and just how many people frequented the beach. Automobiles were parked end-to-end along every inch of the 10.4 mile seawall.

That night, we gathered on the first deck facing the beach. The moon was almost full, laying out a golden fan on the shimmering gulf. From time to time, someone would spot a shadow in the water, and like giggling school kids, we’d speculate the return of Jaws or Mega Shark or even Godzilla. We laughed and reminisced until well after midnight.

Reluctantly the next morning we came back home, pulling in the drive about ten-thirty.

While we had not intended to return, the kids’ entreaties, and the fact we’d probably never again in our life spend the night is such luxury was too compelling. And the fact they planned to grill hamburgers, hot dogs, and boudain on the deck that night was like dangling a carrot in front of a plow horse.

We pulled in about three o’clock. The kids were down at the local waterpark, so Gayle and I sat in the shade on the first deck, enjoying the salty breeze and a cold libation.

We looked at each other and nodded. Life was good.

And as the night before, we sat on the deck until late, enjoying each other’s company while indulging in gourmet repast of wieners, burgers, and boudain. That’s how the magic of the beach works—simple pleasures become treasures.

The kids? They had a barrel of fun; they had no trouble sleeping. In fact, I found the two grandsons asleep on the couch around eight or so. And no, I didn’t wake them.

For three days and two nights, I didn’t know what was going on in the world, and you know something, I didn’t care. The sobering reality of the cataclysmic problems facing us today is that they are very unlikely to ever go away, at least in the years I have left.

I just hope my little ten-month-old granddaughter, Kenli, or four-year-old Mikey or six-year-old Keegan will see the problem solved.

Well, summer's about over with the kids going back to school. This trip was our last hurrah of the season, but as for me, I think I’ll set up another little savings account for next summer. A night at the beach is a sure way to rub out stress and strengthen the family ties.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Publish a Book-For Free

That’s true. I’ve done it within the last few weeks, which have really been busy for in addition to putting the books together, my wife and I have been spending a lot of time with our grandkids.

Those little squirts are a handful, though a joyous one. The boys, Mikey and Keegan are two years apart, and as cousins, they have a great time together—for a few minutes, and then war breaks out.

Most of you are smirking because you know exactly what I’m talking about here.
Now Mikey is going on five and Keegan seven. If we buy something for one, we automatically buy one for the other.

Soon, we’ll be buying a third for the other grandchild, Kenli, who is ten months. We’ve taken pains not to spoil her, not much.

Right now, she’s crawling, and doing her best to stand, so the days we have her keeps us moving. Fortunately, she takes long, long naps.

Ooops. Sorry. Got carried away with the kids. We were going to talk about publishing a book.

I’d been working hard on my mysteries and westerns. When I dropped a western in the mail to my publisher a couple weeks back, I finished off an effort to get about a year’s worth on the shelves ahead of time. I decided then it was time to look into ebooks.

By the way, I will shamelessly inform you that one of my westerns, ‘Reckoning at Dead Apache Springs’ is coming out sometime this month. A mystery, ‘Diamonds of Ghost Bayou’ is coming out sometime after the first of the year.

Anyway, I found myself with some extra time, so I pulled out some of the Young Adult mysteries and thrillers I’d tried to market in the past. They were similar to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries I enjoyed as a youth. Of course, they’re set in the Twenty-First Century, but have, I hope, the same fast pace and suspense as those two series loved by so many.

From my repeated rejections over the years from probably three hundred agents and publishers (just kidding-more like 275), suggests they believed that type of YA novel was passé’ as in out-of-fashion and outmoded.

I didn’t think so. Still don’t.

Now, I don’t know if ebooks are a thing of the future or simply a passing whim, but I can tell you from personal experience that one of my other publishers dropped a mass merchandising line of paperbacks and headed for the ebook and trade paperback business model.

On impulse, I decided to put those three YA, two mystery/thrillers and a paranormal horror, on Amazon’s Kindle.

Believe me, it wasn’t as easy as I thought, especially for an old coot like me whose computer savvy pretty much ends with turning the machine on and off.

There was special formatting, but instructions led me through it.

I had to have book covers. Oh, they’d put one on, but it was plain, like unsweetened oatmeal. If I wanted one that caught a reader’s attention, I had to come up with something myself.

That meant I had to delve deeper into Photoshop and learn the ins and outs of images and putting words on them. I managed to put them together after a lot of mistakes and frustration. I even figured out how to put them on my facebook page. Take a look and see what you think.

But, all three are currently on Amazon’s Kindle at $2.99 each.
My next ebook challenge is for Smashwords, a big player in the ebook business. Their requirements are much more stringent for they market the book in several formats so they be readable on any e-reading device including Kindles, Apple iPad, personal computers, iPhones, Sony Reader, Kobo Reader, Android smart phones, etc…
The big question with for any writer is ‘will they sell?’

I don’t know, but I know for a certainty, they sure as heck won’t sell sitting on the shelf of my bookcase or residing in a file hidden away in the cyber netherworld of my computer.

To be honest, the major problem in this sort of publishing is that you must do ALL the work, the writing and copyediting. If you don’t have a command of grammar, sentence construction, etc.., then you might have to pay for those services.

Neither venue, Smashwords or Amazon, charge to publish the book. Of course, like I said, you do all the work, writing, editing, covers, editing, editing, and more editing.

I have a couple friends on various chat groups who publish ebooks, but they hire people to edit their stuff.

If you’re curious, go to either Smashwords or Amazon and research the process. Oh, there are others, but I haven’t looked at them yet.

Will you make any money at it?

If you’re like me, probably not, but then, miracles happen.

What do you have to lose?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reaping the Whirlwind

If you’re like me, you watch how you spend every dollar. Now, I’m not talking to those almost fifty percent of American citizens and global corporations who paid no tax. They’re part of the problem.

Florida’s Senator Rubio stated the problem succinctly. “We don’t need more taxes. We need more taxpayers.” Right now almost half of the population pays no income tax. The rest of us pick up the tab for them.

In the earliest days of our democratic republic, citizens and businesses complemented each other. From the very beginning, fees, tariffs, taxes, call it what you may, were essential to help government provide in its small way that which would serve the citizenry in a beneficial manner.

I know I’m probably stepping into Never-Never-Land when I state that ‘you’d think the president would take into consideration the economic difficulties we face today before making any financial decisions.’

But, you can decide for yourself when you see how he volunteered a hundred billion (100 B) of your tax money to the United Nations over the next three years.

According to the U.S. State Department, the Obama Administration has agreed to contribute $4 billion to the United Nations Global Fund to fight AIDs, tuberculosis, and malaria.

That is a 38% increase of previous U.S. commitments and comes at a time when our jobless rate is over 9% and the economy is still staggering to recover from the recession and we have just increased our debt limit.

Says U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a total of $11.7 billion has been raised from all countries for this global fund.

Do the math. Obama generously volunteered the American taxpayers to account for one-third of the Global Fund. One-third!

Oil rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and the Arab Emirates will contribute next to nothing. China, which as you know holds most of our $14 trillion dollar debt, agreed to contribute an embarrassing $14 million.

I don’t know what the man was thinking. Sure, I know we’ve always been the biggest contributor to the UN, but in hard times like this, that extra $1.4 billion could have been used here at home for the people from whose pockets it came.

And that isn’t all.

In addition to this contribution, President Obama agreed to provide billions more for various other United Nations projects.

Take a look. Here’s what else you’re giving the UN.

· $63 billion to the Global Health Initiative during the next six years
· $1 billion annually to education programs
· $475 million to the Global Agricultural and Food Security Program’
· $800 million from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa. An additional $3.2 billion will be provided by private equity capital sources to these Muslim nations
· Unspecified millions made available through USAID for developing tech hubs in Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa, and Senegal.
· $80 million through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for small to medium enterprises in the Middle East and North Africa.
· $2.5 billion annually to 90 countries to “strengthen governance and democratic institutions.”
· $30 billion for Obama’s Climate Change Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
· $100 billion a year will be provided through taxpayer and private resources to deal with the alleged threat of global climate change.
· The United States pays 22% of the U.N. regular budget and 27% for the U.N. peacekeeping budget. The president has requested an addition $516 million for the regular U.N. budget and more than $2.182 billion for the peacekeeping budget for this year

It isn’t just Obama; it’s all those jokers in Congress. They haven’t done their jobs. They’re too interested in being reelected to make tough decisions. And if we keep letting them get by with it, we’re as much to blame.

A democratic republic must have an informed and conscientious citizenry. Since only about forty percent of us vote, that means the rest of you are shirking your responsibility to our country.

In Hosea from the Hebrew Bible is the quote “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.” Best we remember that.