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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Cruise to Remember

A couple months back, our daughter and her husband gave Gayle and me a Cozumel cruise our fortieth anniversary. To say we were surprised is as much an understatement as suggesting Noah’s flood was a passing summer shower. We’d never been on one. I don’t know why. Maybe perhaps we’re pretty much homebodies with a cluster of families and mass of cats that keep us on a predictable and comfortable routine of our own. This was something new, precipitating tasks beyond with which we were familiar. In other words, our little daily routine, plebian in nature, was blown to smithereens. From that day on, our lives had been altered. Warily, we barged ahead. Most of the details of the cruise were done online. Technology savvy, I do not possess. Why, I have ‘missed alerts’ on my cell phone that are two years old and don’t know how to get them off. Fortunately, Susan’s husband, Mike, came to my rescue and got us registered and accounts set up for the cruise. We even printed up the luggage tags. After that, it was left up to me to take care of passports. Both Mike and Amy’s husband, Jason, are handy with computers. Me? I can turn them own and go to Word, and that’s about it. Securing passports is not hard unless you don’t have all the information on the birth certificate. And naturally, one of ours was missing a couple pieces. In the blank for father’s name on Gayle’s, the hospital put in his line of work, Farmer. That meant we had to drive to Lake Charles and spend the day to pick up a complete certificate for Gayle. Then we came back. At the post office, we raised our hand and swore to just about everything, then forked over about $250 bucks for two passports and attendant fees. I griped and complained all the way home. If only I had known what lay ahead! Then came clothes. Jeez, more time and money, but the adventure that lay ahead served as Sirens calling out to Odysseus and his sailors. Irresistible. So we plunged ahead, telling ourselves this was a once-in-a-lifetime venture. “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed head,” cried Admiral David Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War. So it was with the Conwells. ‘Damn the hassle, full speed ahead.” And we barged forward. It was a sort of blind-leading-the-blind project. With our daughters and grandkids, we made a run to Galveston to find Pier 21 where the ship was moored and set up a tentative, very tentative, plan of action. On the fateful day, we left early. I had nightmares that we’d break down on the road or the ferries would be sinking and we’d end up on the side of the road watching the Carnival Triumph chug out of port. I shouldn’t have worried. We had time to spare. After dropping our luggage at the pier, we parked and caught a shuttle back, and got swept up in a maelstrom of passengers going through customs. It was organized chaos, and before we had a chance to stop and look around, we were onboard and sitting at the bar in the mail lobby. Then the fun—well, if being lost, turned around, and constantly confused is your idea of fun, we were having fun. Not to offend anyone, but after two or three Bud Lights at $5.95 a whack, we didn’t care if we were lost or turned around or not. The rooms were nice, really nice. We were on the First Deck. Gayle laughingly referred to it as Third Class, but I tell you, if it were Third Class, I’d take Third Class any day. We got to our room about two o’clock. No luggage, so we toured as many of the twelve decks as we could. Sailing time was four o’clock. I’ve never seen so many elevators and stairs. A couple times, we got off an elevator only to find stairs on either side. It reminded us of the Great Maze of Crete that housed the Minotaur. Every time we turned around, there was another damned elevator or set of stairs, but like Farragut, we persevered. We finally found our dining room at the stern (notice the nautical slang? who says I'm slow?) on the Third Deck and our assigned table with a couple from Freeport. They were wonderful folks, but the food was lousy. The grilled chicken breast was dry; the golf-ball-size Imperial Red Potato was cut in quarters; and the green beans numbered four. Oh, and no rolls. The tea—well, it was tea in name only. I would have preferred staying at one of the numerous bars drinking Bud Light. Still the meals were part of the deal. We discovered there were several dining areas around the big liner, and all were free. You just stepped into line at the buffet or waited to be seated to order as much of whatever was on the menu. To be fair, only dinner at that specific dining room was not tasty. Breakfast and lunch were delicious, as were the entrees at all the other dining areas and grills. And it was all you could eat. We sat across from one gentleman who devoured a grapefruit, waffles, and two servings of bacon. They did not skimp on portions either. What was left over would have been a Dumpster diver’s dream come true. Twenty-four hours a day there was someplace open to quench your thirst or satisfy your hunger. After dinner that first night, we headed for the bright lights of the casino. What happened there will have to wait until next time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sixty Thousand in Debt and No Job!

I imagine none of us would like to be in such a position. But if you have a youngster or three or four in college, you’d best be aware of just how expensive it has become. An English major, speech and science minor, I always believed a college education was essential to a satisfying life. After ten years in the English classroom, with a three-year break in the business world, I came to realize that college was important only to a select group. Now by select, I don’t mean elite or rich or popular, but those interested in occupations in demand in today’s ever changing world of business. The definitive phrase in the last sentence of the previous paragraph is ‘in demand.’ What might be ‘in demand’ in one part of the country might be ‘no demand’ in another. That’s why I spent my last thirty-one years in Career and Technology Education, once called Vocational Education. A college education doesn’t mean a four-year baccalaureate. A college degree can be a one-year certificate, a two-year associate, or even a trade school certification. The point is, after high school, young folks must have additional education if they wish to earn salaries beyond entry-level wages. Now, entry-level wages are from work as honorable, as honest, as respectable as a doctor’s job. Trouble is, the doctor makes a heck of a lot more money. Of course, he’s spent a heck of a lot more time and effort gaining the additional education. There are degrees that are worthless although at the end, they cost the same as a practical one. What’s happened is that the public has been sold a bill of goods about college. Go to college-get rich! That’s the mantra flying like a banner from the flagpoles of colleges around the country, and most public schools jumped on the proclamation. The colleges market themselves because of the additional income. Years back—way back in the days of trolls beneath the bridges, college tuition ran ten bucks an hour, thirty a class, one-fifty a semester—not counting books and fees. Today, after Lamar announced an increase, tuition is over two hundred and hour, six hundred for a three-hour class, three thousand for five classes for one semester—not counting books and fees. So it should come as no surprise that many graduate from college with sizeable student loans. And it should also come as no surprise that there is much talk in Washington about forgiving the loans. While we’re talking about ‘no surprises’ it should come as no surprise that this also an election year, which probably accounts for the sudden lagniappe from the administration. For those saddled with college loans, I can offer no advice except to set up a payment schedule and stick to it. You opted for a convenient financial answer to college. Well, you got it, and now that you’ve graduated, it is time to pay the proverbial piper. For those making ready for college, don’t let emotions or wishful thinking guide your decisions. I once had a superintendent who wanted his daughter to go to Texas A&M before getting her certification as a registered nurse. He claimed the A&M experience would be to her advantage. My Health Occupations instructor, an RN, informed him in no uncertain terms that what really counted was the initials, RN or MD or DO, not A&M. There’s a lot of folks who can’t handle twenty thousand a year tuition, or even six thousand. Gayle and I knew there was no fairy godmother who would swoop down, wave a wand, and hand us money for the girls’ college. So we saved a little each month. We made sacrifices early on so we wouldn’t have to later. We didn’t drive a new car, take a lot of expensive vacations, and that sort of thing. It paid off as both young women went through Lamar’s nursing program and gained RN degree and certification without going into debt. It was a satisfying feeling to have the savings to pay tuition and books each semester. If you go to a college because your parents went there, or because your friends are going, or because your high school counselors favor it like far too many in Southeast Texas prefer University of Texas or Texas A&M, then prepare for hefty expenses. Don’t complain when it’s over. Believe it or not, there is no law saying you have to finish in four years. As hard as it is to believe, there are people who work and take a couple classes a semester. Takes a while longer, but they pay as they go. A novel concept, but it works. Even though Lamar raised its tuition, it is a good school at reasonable prices compared to larger universities. In fact, many of the smaller colleges are good, and a heck of a lot less expensive than the name schools. Believe me, most businesses don’t care where you matriculated and graduated, but that you did.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Never Trust a 'Me-First'

To a greater or lesser degree. All of us possess the capability to assess an individual by the tenor of his or her manner of speaking. Another way to put it is that from the speaker’s selection of tone and words, you can get a fairly good handle on his true thoughts even if they are contrary to what he is saying. Sort of like the ‘Freudian Slip’ in reverse. You know what a ‘Freudian Slip’ is—an old boy who meant to ask wife if she were ready to go to bed, but instead said “Are you ready to go to boobs?” He said exactly what he was thinking, not what he planned to say. That’s a ‘Freudian Slip’. Much has been written recently about our president boasting of the death of bin Laden. Don’t misunderstand. While I do not believe he is the president our country needs, in all fairness, bin Laden’s death happened on his watch. He gave the word. He gets the credit as it should be. But, look at this from a different angle. In a memorandum from the CIA director, Leon Panetta, there was what the Wall Street Journal called an ‘escape clause’ for the responsibility of the raid on bin Laden’s compound. It stated “The timing, operational decision-making, and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands.’ It went on to say naturally that all details would be passed before the president for his approval, but that one sentence designating responsibility also designates blame. If it had failed, Admiral McRaven took the hit. After the success of the mission, President Obama stated his own role in the plan that the admiral put together by Panetta’s own admission. “I directed Leon Panetta to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority—even as I continued our broader effort. Then after years of painstaking work by my intelligence community I was briefed. I met repeatedly with my national security team, and finally last week, I determined that I had enough intelligence to take action. Today, at my direction---“ That’s far enough. In those half-dozen clauses, he referred to himself nine times. This from a man who has compared himself to Lincoln. No comparison. After Lee’s surrender, Lincoln spoke to the citizenry from a window of the White House. Not once did he mention his achievements, but those of his officers and soldiers, the hope for peaceful reconstruction, and a call for black suffrage, a call, according to the Wall Street Journal, that doomed him, for among the audience that night stood John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln said nothing of his part. Great leaders, says Michael Mukasey of the WSJ, have on occasion placed themselves in great events, but usually it is to take responsibility for failures. Lincoln, he wrote, took responsibility for General McClellan’s timidity and sluggishness at Chesapeake Bay down to the James Peninsula in August 1862. Mukasey also pointed out that when Saddam Hussein was captured, President Bush stated the achievement was ‘a tribute to the men and women now serving in Iraq.” Bush attributed the success to “the superb work of intelligence analysts who found the dictator’s footprints in a vast country. The operation was carried out with skill and precision by a brave fighting force.” The only time Bush referred to himself was when he added “Today on behalf of the nation, I thank the members of our armed forces, and I congratulate them.” Our 34th president, Dwight Eisenhower once said “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.” No wonder Eisenhower was ready to take the blame if the Normandy Invasion failed. When it succeeded, he gave all credit to his forces, and thanked them. He believed that “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” I say this in all charity, withour rancor or umbrage, but from what the president has said and done in the last four years, I cannot believe he even begins to fathom Eisenhower’s concept of leadership. Leaders, truly great leaders, do not have to pretend. I have yet to know a ‘Me First’ or and ‘I Person’ upon whom I would chance my future. Have you?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Too Much Technology?

I don’t know about you folks, but sometimes I get a headache from all the political and global ‘stuff’ going on. Now I know it is my responsibility as a citizen to stay informed, but sometimes I just want to throw up my arms and say to heck with it. Same way with all the new technology out there. Sound familiar? My frustration is more pronounced when I’m messing with computers. Even after all these years, I know very little about them or their programs. I don’t know. Maybe I just fell out of the ‘dumb’ tree and hit too many branches on the way down. Looking around, it seems as if our whole lives are being swallowed up by technology. I remember a line supposedly uttered by some shade tree philosopher when the telephone came into being. It went something like “when you pick up the telephone, you lose the charm of seeing what is over the next hill.” That happens to us all. With the cyber-technology available to us, we are, at least I am, inundated with information of every sort. The days of leaning back with a cup of coffee and leisurely perusing the local newspaper are growing short. The recognition of a loved one’s cursive letters will soon be a thing of the past because of the convenience and speed of email. Back when I was a teenager in Fort Worth, Mom would receive chain mail, those sneaky little letters promising fame and fortune if you would just make copies and send them to twenty people. One I’ll always remember had a list of addresses. The instructions said to send the top address a dollar, then add your name to the bottom. Within a month, you’d receive over $5000.00. Dad snorted that it was just a scam. "Nobody gets something for nothing," he said. Of course, at thirteen, I knew better, so I retrieved the letter from the trash and faithfully made my twenty copies. I dropped them in the mail along with the dollar to the name on top of the list. Then I sat back to wait. I’d show Dad. Well, I waited, and waited. You know how much money I got? Zip, Zilch, Zero. I may be slow, but I learned my lesson. And I was lucky to get out so cheaply. Mark Twain hit the proverbial nail on the head when he wrote “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. It wasn’t until years later when Dad and I were camping in Central Texas on a deer hunt that he told me he had been suckered more than once by such scams. The only difference, he explained, between him and me was that I was smart enough to listen to my father. He had ignored his own Dad’s advice on several occasions only to come up on the short end of the deal every time. Back then, life was nowhere as complicated as it is today. We did not have the means for today's extensive social networking that beckons you with every click of the mouse. Today, many folks get carried away with the ease of putting their names and achievements (good or bad) out for everyone to see. Years back, there were various newsgroups on the Internet. I joined one on writing. One of the group members claimed when he had writer’s block, he would wander down to his sailboat and pass the time. Now, I’d had three or four westerns published by then so I thought I knew everything. I commented on the forum that ‘perhaps he should stay away from the sailboat and plant his seat in front of the computer. To overcome writers’ block, you write.” Well, sir, the old proverb “The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ had never been more clearly illustrated to me when the gentleman in question wrote back, blistering my hide for criticizing his methods. I learned another lesson then. I don’t comment on anyone unless it is something very positive. Don’t misunderstand. I am on a couple social networking forums, Facebook and LinkedIn. Facebook because I can post a weekly blog of ranting and ravings; LinkedIn because of a Crime Writers Forum. I don’t spend too much time on them as some folks will attest. In fact, I don’t think I know how to reply to comments on either forum. Several friends sent me birthday greetings. A couple asked if I had received the. I did, and I replied, but they didn’t get it. I guess I punched a button that sent it floating around out there in cyberspace. If you stop and think about it, the coming of computers and the attendant technology has brought about abrupt changes in our lives. You can buy everything online. You can bank, purchase insurance and on and on and on. And all without leaving the comfort of your home. Now, that’s really spooky—and neat. Would I go back to the old days? As appealing as their memories are, I don't think so. In fact, these might just be the good old days. www.kentco