Friday, October 16, 2020

Appreciating the Moment

These last few weeks have been fun as I’ve been able to improve the audio video capabilities of our modest home theater system.  We updated the audio quality by switching to an optical digital cable that’s now hooked our television, and anything that goes through the television to the sound bar speakers.  I had no idea the difference would be that noticeable, speaking as a half deaf senior citizen.  We also changed out the RCA type cables that run from the Laser Disc player to the back of the television to ‘Monster Cables’ that are supposed to have better transfer of information.

But that’s not why I’m writing today…

One of the laser discs enjoyed this morning was Horowitz in Moscow.  There were images of various patrons soaking up the music produced by this world class pianist. There was a camera shot from the balcony seating area where someone had placed their personal cassette recorder hoping to capture the experience so it could be played again once they’d gone home.

Here I am on the other side of the world watching and listening to a command performance given many years ago, as if I were there.  I’m fortunate to own a laser disc which captured each moment visually along with crystal clear reproduction of music.  It’s a good bet the audio reproduction on my copy far exceeds anything that was on the cassette recording made from the balcony.

The image shown includes a couple of items of importance.  Center stage is Horowitz as his fingers carefully and methodically move across the keyboard; but secondarily, as the laser disc progressed, are images of those in the audience taking in the performance.  It occurred to me that I was among those in the audience, no different than if I’d purchased a ticket to sit among them as my reflection ghosts in from my vantage point on the sofa, nearly invisible until you study the image looking for that ghost.

Do we express our appreciation for the gifts we’ve been provided?  Perhaps we should say Thank You more often, not only for the things which are pleasing; but for the challenges that make us appreciate when things aren’t quite so hectic.  Gratitude is our way of paying for those moments, tears of sorrow for the passing of someone close, someone who was part of our world and made a difference, tears of happiness that they’ve gone home to continue their eternal progression. 

Think I’ll put on the laser disc with Harry Chapin’s Final Concert, the one that has Cat’s in the Cradle ; yeah... “but he smiled as he did and he said, I’m gonna’ be like him, yeah, you know I’m gonna be like him”. 

It dawned on me, my father passed away four years ago, those tears must be for the beautiful music I’ve been enjoying; yeah, must be the music…   

Monday, October 12, 2020

Safety Issues Tied to Police Cutbacks

The public is starting to realize that using the Police Department as a ‘whipping boy’ for all the ills of society has consequences.  An article by Melanie Torre of CBS Austin relates some of the safety issues associated with cutbacks to police services.

The Austin Police Association says understaffing is causing 911 calls to go hours without a response.

According to APA president Ken Casaday, Saturday night some shifts were staffed at just 50 percent.”

A little further in the article more information was shared:

Casaday says -- on the shifts he’s worked-- the department has enough officers to respond to Priority 0 calls. According to Casaday, Priority 0 includes shootings, stabbings, assaults and serious crashes. He explains, Priority 1 calls are where there’s been a delay. Priority 1 calls include criminal trespass, simple assault and non-active burglaries.

Citizens requesting police service might see this as a minor inconvenience since really important calls are being handled in a timely manner.  Being told that you’ll have to wait an hour to file a burglary report or some other non-life-threatening incidents might not be as bad as all that. 

The City Council in Austin decided to cut-back police services and payroll; and, after all, slower response time goes with the territory.  These measures were taken to make a bold statement, that police brutality, shooting suspects without cause and such won’t be tolerated.  Other major metropolitan cities like Portland, Oregon have taken a similar stance.

To be sure, those municipalities which are making such drastic cuts in police services have turned their police departments into political footballs with little regard for either the safety of their law-abiding citizens or for the police officers performing these important services.

Several years ago, prior to my retirement from the Houston Police Department we were considerably understaffed; perhaps matching the observation made by APA president Ken Casaday, working with roughly 50 percent of the number of police officers needed.

One Friday night prior to the beginning of our shift several of us were in the kitchen area of the police sub-station enjoying ice cream bars donated by the local Borden Creamery.  An Assistant Chief of Police entered and I recognized and welcomed him informally to the younger officers who might not have known who he was since he wasn’t in uniform.  I asked if he was here in an official capacity or was it simply a casual visit.

His answer was polite; but hinted at something he had on his mind. “I’ll wait until Roll Call when I can address everyone at the same time.”  He smiled as if he had been dealt a winning poker hand, not wishing to tip his cards just yet.

I responded directly, “Then you might as well tell us now; this is the entire shift you’ll be addressing.”  There were only six of us in the room.  Consider the area we were assigned to patrol on a Friday night in Houston, Texas, an area that stretched from the 610 Loop out to the city limits between the I-10 corridor and Highway 290.  That’s a two-man unit and a one-man unit in Four District and the same in Five District, four police patrol units to cover the area equal to Rhode Island. In layman’s language, don’t get into any situation that requires a back-up unit, there won’t be any, none.

The cheerful countenance the Assistant Chief had upon entering quickly vanished as the reality of our being understaffed well below anything reasonable landed on his mind.  Originally, he’d planned to give us some kind of Pep-talk; but we’ll never know since he changed his remarks, sounding more like an apology for putting us in harm’s way without sufficient manpower should anything, anything at all go badly.

My retirement date came up a couple of years later and it’s with great pride that I display a shadow-box hanging on the wall of my office, a small reminder of my twenty years of service as a police officer.  I also am well aware of the dangers each police officer faces, a danger multiplied to an unacceptable level when those they work for don’t like police officers in general or appreciate the hazards that go along with that job.

One line that most officers are familiar with is shared at the end of each Roll Call prior to hitting the streets.  It’s both a warning and a reminder, “Y’all be careful out there”.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Irregulars and Militias - Are Militias Legal in the State of Texas?


By T. F. Stern 

(Image: The Concord Minute Man of 1775, a monument created by Daniel Chester French)

The most uncomplicated definition of Militia – military force composed of ordinary citizens.

The question has been asked, “Are Militia groups legal in the State of Texas”?

From 1903 to present, following the Militia Act of 1903, the Texas Militia is legally empowered by Title 32 of the United States Code and Article 4Section 7 of the Constitution of the State of Texas to “execute the laws of the state, to suppress insurrections, and to repel invasions”.

Wikipedia addressed the topic of Unorganized Reserve Militia as follows:

“Militias thus can be either military or paramilitary, depending on the instance. Some of the contexts in which the term “militia” can apply include: forces engaged in a defense activity or service, to protect a community, its territory, property, and laws, the entire able-bodied population of a community, town, county, or state available to be called to arms…

a private (non-governmental) force not necessarily directly supported or sanctioned by its government,

an irregular armed force that enables its leader to exercise military, economic, or political control over a subnational territory within a sovereign state, an official reserve army composed of citizen soldiers known as the militsiya, a select militia composed of a small, non-representative portion of the population…

The definition is wide open for interpretation; however, that one line, “a private (non-governmental) force not necessarily directly supported or sanctioned by its government”, leaves such an interpretation up to the individual rather than leaving that interpretation up to the government.

Wikipedia went on to include:

“Within the United States, since approximately 1992, there have been a number of private organizations that call themselves militia or unorganized militia.  In states such as Texas, the state constitution classifies male citizens between the ages of 17 and 45 to belong to the “Unorganized Reserve Militia”.  The Texas constitution also grants the county sheriff and the governor of the state the authority to call upon the unorganized reserve militia to uphold the peace, repel invasion, and suppress rebellion, similar to the early “Texas Rangers”.”

It should be noted that the age limitation mentioned as 17 to 45 represent those individuals who can be drafted according to the mandates of the Governor of the State of Texas; however it does not preclude the involvement of individuals who are younger than 17 or older than 45 from being able to serve voluntarily if they so desire.

Other points of interest brought out through further links provided include the following statement:

Most militia organizations envisage themselves as legally legitimate organizations authorized under constitutional and statute law, with reference to state and federal law of an “unorganized militia”.  Others subscribe to the “insurrection theory” which describes the right of the body politic to rebel against the established government in the face of tyranny. (In the 1951 case Dennis v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the insurrection theory, stating that as long as the government provides for free elections and trials by jury, “political self-defense” cannot be undertaken.)”

Bare in mind that much of the article related to militia groups focused on those groups formed to respond against government tyranny, real or perceived rather than on citizen groups organized to maintaining law and order being threatened by domestic terrorists such as Antifa and/or BLM thugs.

So…If a group of local citizens living in a small community organized themselves into an Unorganized Militia for the purpose of defending their lives and property from those who would violate the laws of the State of Texas, such a non-sanctioned group would be within their Second Amendment Rights as protected by our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Since their militia does not fall into the “insurrection theory” aspect by definition alluded to in the above paragraph, that portion does not apply (even though the Supreme Court got that one wrong; but that’s a whole other article).

The Lone Star Watchmen Militia is by definition an "unorganized militia" group in Texas which apparently fits the legal parameters which other communities might consider as they work to protect each other’s lives and property.  The following was copied from their website:

“Lone star Watchmen is a Texas Mutual Defense Group. We are Second Amendment based (first and foremost) and are sworn supporters of the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution. 

Our Mission is clearly defined as providing for the protection and survival of our families, communities and ultimately Texas through medical, tactical support/security and survival training.

First and foremost we are your average American citizens. We are your citizen soldiers who are always ready to serve.  We are doctors and lawyers; firemen, EMT and police; teachers and tradesmen; retirees and young families like everyone else in your local community.  We come together as a group united by our moral beliefs, and our loyalty to our Constitution and Texas. We live by and support what the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights decrees.

We are not revolutionaries. We are not a hate group. We are not Anti-Government. We are, however, in favor of promoting education and resources for the protection against Tyranny and the corruption of Government officials, bad and unconstitutional legislation.

The word Militia has been linked to many negative groups in the past so now is a good time to learn the truth. 

We are not a militia- because you are already a part of the Militia.

Everyone is welcome regardless of age, race, religion, gender or political affiliation provided you believe in our great country and the Constitution being the supreme law of our land. We are a diverse group of ordinary citizens with a love for our Country and for Texas. We promote the Constitution as a way of life and the only medium for our lives.  Our forefathers fought for us to have this Constitution, and we will carry the torch of liberty they lit for us and our future generations."

That should be enough information to validate the legality of forming a militia group as long as their stated purpose is to uphold the Constitution and Laws of the State of Texas.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Suspicious Ordinance Boxes and the Bomb Squad

This afternoon there was an article on Facebook about a French Air to Air Missile that had been found at MacDill Air Force Base, something that seemed to put them all on alert.  It included a picture of the bomb squad loading the item onto a transport vehicle to be taken away.

It’s not every day that the bomb disposal team from MacDill Air Force Base gets called out to deal with a French air-to-air missile. But last Friday was no ordinary day.”

That brought back a memory from when I was a police officer back in 1980.  My partner, Donnie White and I were assigned a walking beat in downtown Houston, part of an attempt by the police department to establish what they called Community Policing.  Basically they wanted us out meeting local business owners and the public in a less threatening manner rather than driving by in a patrol car on our way to a call.

While performing the duties as assigned we observed a delivery truck parked next to a multi-level parking garage owned by Foley’s department store in town,.  In the back of the pickup truck were two OD Green military style ordinance crates strapped together, one being about four foot long and the shorter one about two foot long.

(Image of a similar crate configuration courtesy of Dreamstime)

What got our attention was the stenciling in bold letters.  I wish my memory were better; but the one in the smaller of the two boxes was listed as a Warhead for a certain type of rocket launcher while the box below it was listed as that type of rocket launcher.

We hadn’t seen the delivery truck driver and so we waited a while, and waited some more.  Each minute passing gave us time to be more concerned.  Perhaps something or someone had spooked the driver away as we never would leave.  It was about this time that we called our supervisor and asked if it might be a good idea to have the bomb squad check by our location.

About twenty minutes went by before the bomb squad technicians showed up in their specialty box truck.  They carefully examined the ordinance boxes and were about to open them when the driver of the delivery truck happened to come along.

They asked to see the paperwork for his delivery items, mostly to see what was listed in the two ordinance boxes.  The inventory sheet showed they contained industrial bearings.  Upon opening the boxes, very carefully I might add, it turned out to be just that, industrial bearings for some kind of oil field project. 

Whoever packed the bearings didn’t bother to paint over the military ordinance markings, something which is required by law.  It all made for an interesting dry run for the bomb squad technicians and a memorable day for two walking beat police officers.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Instinctive Reaction – Rationalizing Criminal Behavior

Having been around on this spinning planet for quite some time, I thought I’d heard most of the excuses for bad behavior.  But; there’s a prosecutor in the Portland area who added a new twist, a dangerous precedent in rationalizing criminal behavior.

 It was difficult believing what my eyes were reading in a PJ Media article explaining that most of the individuals arrested for rioting in Portland would not be charged or their charges dropped due to their Instinctive Reaction to extreme circumstances caused by…the police.

“Multnomah DA Mike Schmidt says some of the actions of protestors represent “the instinctive reaction of people who have been gassed repeatedly, who have been struck with kinetic projectile weapons, and who have seen other protestors arrested in ways they deeply disapprove of”…

Well, there you have it; when you are involved with a riotous group and don’t want to leave when the police tell you that you’re violating the law it’s now permissible to set dumpsters on fire, burn the American Flag, spit on anyone wearing a MAGA hat or throw rocks at those attempting to enforce the law because it’s only an instinctive reaction.

My head is still spinning after reading what a District Attorney has claimed is reason enough to drop charges against those arrested in the Portland riots.

The Rule of Law is being tossed in the garbage along with common sense. 

Let’s take this “Instinctive Reaction” for a test spin, see what it can do; kind of like taking a new sports car out of the showroom prior to purchasing one…

Consider if you will...There’s a line of police officers standing in front of an unruly mob burning American flags, aiming high powered lasers at them in an attempt to blind them while at the same time tossing flaming bottles of incendiary liquids at them.  Is that a fair picture of what’s been going on in Portland?

Instead of ordering the rioters to leave or be arrested, some of the officers “deeply disapprove” of how these individuals are behaving based on societal norms.  Using the DA’s own words, these police officers “deeply disapprove” of the assaults being waged against them and draw their weapons in defense of life and property.  A hail of bullets takes out several rioters and the rest leave with their tails tucked between their legs.

According to the rationalization of “Instinctive Reaction”, the police officers shouldn’t be charged with any criminal act since they had been subjected to hours of harassment and minor physical assaults which culminated in their “deep disapproval” of the situation.

I remember the first time I watched the movie, The Blues Brothers, where the NAZI Party was holding a protest, shouting and rebuking those who didn’t agree with their cause.  It was a welcome sight to see the Blues Brothers drive their car through over the bridge forcing these NAZI protesters to jump into the water in order to keep from being run over.  I suppose the Blues Brothers “deeply disapproved”, as did most of those watching the movie as folks were laughing and slapping their knees in agreement.

I don’t think America is ready for the application of criminal law that would turn America into a lawless chaotic third world country, a country devoid of the Rule of Law.  Perhaps Portland’s citizenry will figure out that “Instinctive Reaction” is just another excuse for not upholding the laws of the land, they’ll replace their District Attorney with someone who actually intends to do their job.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

A Temple Experience

My friend David Nell asked if I’d share an experience regarding the Temple, something that could be described as a life altering moment.  There have been several ‘Temple Moments’; but this evening I’ll focus on only one of them.

About 13 years ago my friend Richard Sutton was President of the Houston Temple.  He was also a member of my home Ward and so we often got to visit in the hall after meetings.  He mentioned a change of policy for Temple Ordinance Workers that had gone into effect Church-wide.  Men were no longer to sport facial hair like mustaches or beards; instead, they were to present themselves clean shaven, much as young missionaries serving a full-time mission.

In that moment, the conversation registering in my mind, I had to consider how I’d react to being asked to shave off my mustache and beard, something I’d enjoyed for quite some time.  I wasn’t a Temple Worker; but there was something in the way the conversation was going, a tone in President Sutton’s voice that hinted that he wanted to hear my response.

I remember pausing before answering as I considered how unimportant, in the scheme of things, how unimportant my beard and mustache were.  I’d accidentally shaved off most of my beard when I got careless with the razor; but it grew back in a short time. 

“Not an issue, Sir”, I remember addressing him as if he were my commanding officer in the military.  “I’d shave it off, if asked”.  He nodded and I couldn’t say if the conversation continued at the time.  But, I did go home and shave off my mustache and beard to prove to myself that they really weren’t that important, that I would still be me with or without the facial hair.

Several days went by and we were sitting on the sofa watching a movie when my son looked over at me and asked, “Did you get a hair cut; you look different for some reason?”  Nobody had noticed I’d shaved my beard and mustache; that’s interesting and worth noting.

A couple of weeks went by and my Bishop asked me to step into his office. Apparently President Sutton had requested I become a Temple Ordinance Worker, sent over the required form and wanted to know if I’d accept that calling.  I’ve been working at the Houston Temple ever since, a little over 13 years now. 

I did grow some facial hair for about a month during the Temple closing due to the COVID 19 Virus; but decided that I’m better off with a smooth face, having an industrial grade broom on my lip isn’t stylish and it itched something fierce.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Sharing an Important Message

You might recall a wonderful black and white movie from the early 1950s, The Day the Earth Stood Still, with Michael Rennie playing the part of Klaatu, an extra-terrestrial humanoid type being who came to visit Earth.  Don’t confuse this movie with the environmental alarmist garbage movie made in 2008 that had the same title.

After circling the globe at phenomenal speeds (bear in mind that in 1951 when this movie was made 4,000 mph was considered beyond our capabilities), everyone was glued to their broadcast radio station headed toward the Mall in Washington, D.C..  In its day the movie captured the imagination and praise of movie goers

As the movie unfolded, the alien’s spaceship having landed with media outlets covering the event along with most every available military unit on hand ‘just in case’ the alien wasn’t friendly…where was I…  Oh, yes, there appeared an opening in the spacecraft as a ramp presented itself to everyone’s unified gasp of hysteria.  Every weapon in the Army was trained on the alien as he ventured onto the ramp holding some unknown object out from his body.

Ka-blam!  A shot rang out striking the object and injuring the alien visitor.  The soldier who fired the shot was simply too frightened of the circumstances and accidentally pulled the trigger.  He’d been told all his life to be afraid of the unknown and his reaction almost got the alien killed.  The object that he’d been holding was an interstellar encyclopedia, for lack of a better term, a means of understanding the mysteries of the universe that mankind had been seeking ever since leaving the safety of the cave.

It’s been a long time since viewing that movie so I can’t remember exactly how the scene was presented or the order it was shown; however, Klaatu looked at the destroyed object and remarked how important that item was, how it was intended to help all mankind.  There was a look of disappointment on his face that said more than words could express.

Why do I bring this scene of an old Sci-fi movie up today?  Good thing you asked; I was about to explain that.

Yesterday I posted a comment on a friend’s Facebook page that contained my testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon being the word of God.  Instead of thanking me for sharing something personal and of great spiritual value; the comment was erased, as if it had never been shared. 

There was no explanation given, no text message asking me to buzz off, no reply to my email inquiring what happened.  My first thought was of anger; but that quickly changed to one of sadness.  I’d offered something that had been in the making for thousands of years and protected by the Lord Himself to be brought forth in our day; but instead of learning or reaching out to accept the gift it was tossed away like an unwanted Kleenex.

While watering the garden this afternoon, back in the recesses of my mind came the image of Klaatu looking at the object which had been destroyed, the galactic encyclopedia of science secrets that had been prepared for all the Earth. 

The loss of information doesn’t have to be permanent; but for now it is unavailable to anyone who doesn’t see the value of a gift, much less a gift from an old friend.  Perhaps one day…