Saturday, June 30, 2007

Who Has The Sharpest Pencil?

It’s been an extremely busy and productive week; good thing too, next week is when I submit to the surgeons who will be removing my gall bladder along with a small chunk of my liver that had some kind of “suspect tumor”. I’m not the sharpest pencil in the pencil box, never tried to pass myself off as such; but I’m smart enough to have been setting aside a portion of my income for a rainy day, that looks to be next Friday morning.

I read a couple of articles this afternoon, pretty much unrelated. One was by Lemuel Calhoon over at Hillbilly White Trash which he called,
“I’ve always known, but was taught not to brag”. He provides the score he posted to a test along with a link where you may participate.

How smart are you?

If I’d scored more I’d have been just as pleased; if I’d scored lower I’d have blamed it on my finger hitting the wrong button and tossed this part of my article in the trash. Here’s the comment I left over on his article:

"My mother used to say to me, 'Elwood' -- she always called me Elwood -- 'Elwood, in this world you must be oh-so clever, or oh-so pleasant.' For years I was clever. I'd recommend pleasant -- and you may quote me." --as Elwood P. Dowd in HARVEY.

The other article I wanted to bring up was over at the Liberty Papers,
“The reality of predatory lending” “The reality of predatory lending”, by Doug Manticonis where he delves into the world of mortgage finance practices. The debate continues on where to draw the line of risk in regard to long term debt, who qualifies and why things are the way they are, worth the effort to read.

I’ll return to the quote from HARVEY and explain the beauty of being pleasant. There will always be someone out there who is just a hair quicker, a tad smarter or willing to sacrifice a piece of character in order to advance a particular agenda; but wouldn’t it be a nicer world if, while being quicker, smarter or strong willed we also put forth our very best efforts to be pleasant? Maybe there is something rock solid in the wisdom gained from a man who spent his afternoons “spiffed” with a six foot tall rabbit.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Baseball History Witnessed – Biggio’s 3000 Hit

The Astros are having a forgettable year in so many ways; all the same I’m a fan win or lose. My daughter Jennifer bought tickets to Friday’s game, that’s tonight, as my Father’s Day gift so my Son in law, Justin, and my grandson, JJ, could all enjoy a game together.

Craig Biggio’s quest for his 3000th major league hit has been in the spot light recently. The last three games against the Brewers up in Milwaukee were tough to watch as the wheels fell off, the Astros figured out new ways to lose while Biggio crept ever closer to that magic number shared by only a handful of ball players.

I figured I had a chance to witness history since my daughter Jennifer bought tickets to Friday’s game, that’s tonight, as my Father’s Day gift. I was in the right place at the right time yesterday when I got a call from my neighbor asking if I’d like to use a spare ticket to the Astros game at Minute Maid Park, his wife was out of town. After twisting my arm over the telephone, something which lasted all of a nanosecond, I accepted his offer and we sat in some awesome seats in the field box section on the third base side.

We had fun talking baseball during the the game; trying to second guess Phil Garner’s moves and standing with the sell out crowd of 42,537 each time Biggio came to bat. The Astros were getting men on base but stranding them, a nasty habit.

Biggio didn’t let the record book sit idle as he went to the plate. We cheered as he stroked hits number 2998, 2999 and then broke loose in wild pandemonium when he tried stretching a single into a double on number 3000 with an RBI that tied the game at that point to score Ausmus from second.

The game went bonkers after Oswalt left the game tied and our relief staff took over; they don’t give much relief; maybe they should call them something else until they do. It only took a couple of batters to give the Rockies a three spot; business as usual. The nice part came in our half of the inning as we matched even with our own three. That’s when we began making jokes about which team had the worst pitching staff, whether the game would go into extra innings and give Biggio a chance to tack on some extra hits now that he’d reached the 3000 mark; put a big Blue Star on them all.

We did go into extra innings, our pitching staff gave up a monster homer that landed on the railroad tracks above the Crawford Boxes in left field to give the Rockies the lead in the top of the 11th, Biggio went 5 for 6 by getting another hit in the bottom of the 11th putting him at 3002 and Carlos Lee sent everyone home happy by hitting a “walk off” grand slam as the Astros managed to slip a win in the books.

The team printed a neat looking poster of Biggio to hand out to all the fans as we exited the stadium, an added bonus to go with what we’d witnessed. There’s a place on the poster, “I was there”, the same size as my ticket stub; gosh, you don’t think that’s a coincidence? The frame shop will just have to figure out a way to make it stick, that’s a neat piece of history to hang on the wall.

I’ll have to force myself to attend the game tonight as I celebrate Father’s Day with my Son in Law and try to explain baseball to my grandson. JJ might not understand why grown men get to play a kid’s game, keep statistics on everything; ERA’s, balks, hit by pitch and yes, 3000 hit club members. JJ will get to have some fun at the ball park and take in some of the excitement; when you’re 5 years old maybe that’s all you need, same goes for when your 56.

I borrowed the picture from the Houston Chronicle which has a good article (linked via the title bar) on Craig Biggio’s historic accomplishment.

Monday, June 25, 2007

In a Nutshell…

One of my articles, “DPS/PSB Locksmith License – Follow Up” ( link provided in title bar ), appeared in this week’s Carnival of Principled Government , hosted by Dana of Principled Discovery. While reading articles submitted by others, along with the comment sections, I was humbled by some of the great ideas that were shared knowing that in order to grow it’s important to hang around with folks who exhibit those qualities which you hope to acquire.

One important line of thought which I found in this, the 8th Carnival of Principle Government’s short collection, was Dana’s piece,
Freedom: An Ancient Custom of Rights and Responsibilities , another thought provoking article complete with several interesting comments. (I promise to eventually get close to the target topic of “In a Nutshell”) A history of our language is offered as pertain to the words “Freedom” and “Liberty”; which at times seem to be in opposition, at least in their original context as their roots in the Germanic and Latin are explained.

“In this sense of the word, our freedom is an inherent birthright which cannot be taken away by men. It, however, stems from our belonging to a group of free people governed by law. Our connection to one another is as important as our rights.”

Dana has a complex set of thoughts expressed in a succinct and yet easily misunderstood choice of words. I’ll use as my example, “inherent birthright”, a topic which I found worthy of discussing with other bloggers in an open forum some time back. I found the barriers of a common language to be the source of variance in how something eternal in nature, man’s
inherent rights which come from God, our being made in His image; had been relegated to a lesser and seemingly finite issue, a natural occurrence which could be attributed without acknowledging God’s hand in it.

The use of words and the assumption that we all understand each word and combination of words the same; that we fail so miserably to communicate our thoughts through language “skills”; (how’s that for an oxymoron?) may stem from the time of the Tower of Babel. Confusion fell upon man when he attempted to “build an edifice which would reach Heaven”. Man’s over confidence, arrogance and pride without regard for humility and obedience to God’s laws brought us the many languages and our inability to communicate effectively; that fate would seem to hold true regardless of a supposed “common language” such as English.

Government, a mechanism which has been invented by men to provide a means of sustaining some semblance of order, has the nasty habit of growing far beyond any intended good which it might provide. Invariably government’s tenuous balance between righteous dominion and excessive control is tipped in favor of excessive control; the loss is permanent and not reversible as history has shown.

One of the comments to Dana’s article could easily have “flown under the radar” and the wisdom offered be missed by those who need it the most, our elected and appointed government officials. Unfortunately I may never learn who to give credit since the comment was posted “anonymously”.

A reference was made and attributed to a character out of history, Davy Crockett. (I think I convinced my folks that I needed a coon skin cap after watching the original black and white television shows. “Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier. . .”, my head bobbing like a fool as the tune plays inside my head) In spite of the whimsical portrayals in television and films, I’ve found a more important aspect of Davy Crockett, a substantial respect for the Constitution which he exhibited with calculated reverence.

Speaking as an elected member of congress when asked to pass legislation which would honor a deserving diseased person Davy Crocket reminded his fellow legislators, “We have the right, as individuals to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity, but as members of Congress we have no right to so appropriate a dollar of the public money.” I should probably post the entire comment; but if you are interested all you need do is check the comment section of Dana’s article.

The extensive debt which our country holds is the result of our legislators ignoring this one simple truth; how many other simple truths have been ignored, overlooked or intentionally pushed aside? The Carnival of Principle Government is only one of the forums which provide a review of important aspects of being a free people, a country where Rights, Liberty and the notion that responsible law abiding citizens carefully scrutinize the actions of their government.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Piece of History that Survived WWII

I saw an article in the Houston Chronicle, one that disappeared soon thereafter and I was glad I’d taken the time to clip and save it to my files; it has since reappeared and hopefully the link provided below will work. Tricia Cortez of the Laredo Morning Times wrote, “Warplane tries to finish mission – 65 years later”, about a plane from the Lost Squadron, reclaimed from an icy grave in Greenland and fully restored. Here’s a line from the article:

"People think old planes are like old Model-T cars and trucks, but not at all," he said. "They are like Porsches and Ferraris. They are responsive and can go very fast. This plane is no exception."

I watched a documentary on this on going story a while back which provided considerable insight as to how such an undertaking was carried out. “The Hunt for the Lost Squadron” and “Glacier Girl”, as this one particular aircraft has come to be called, was very similar to, “The Secret Lies with Charlotte”, a line from the movie National Treasure; complete with eccentric motivated treasure hounds, incredible odds for success and lots of nasty extremely cold weather.

Maybe this story wouldn’t be so stimulating if there were lots of P38’s left over for us to see; but from what I gather this is one of only three working P38 aircraft to have survived WWII. ( click on image to enlarge ) I’ve been to the Smithsonian where the Wright Brother’s plane and The Spirit of St. Louis hang from the ceiling; just being near them sends goose bumps down my back. These are more than pieces of wood, metal and spit holding the fabric down; they are reminders of struggles faced by real people, struggles either won or lost; but which testify of our never ending desire to come out on top.

References/Links: ( I couldn't get my HTML language to work; sorry )

Warplane tries to finish mission — 65 years later

Glacier Girl Flies Again

Time Machine: The Hunt for the Lost Squadron

AETN proudly presents, The Lost Squadron, a documentary that profiles the restoration of a World War II P-38

Gotta’ Watch those Barbers

In the Houston Chronicle, under Bizarre Stories, I read where a barber over in Amsterdam stabbed one of his customers with a pair of scissors. This was the second time this same barber had used his scissors to inflict bodily damage, other than to cut hair that is. ( Story linked via title bar )

I worked as a police officer in downtown Houston for many years and my regular barber refused to charge me for haircuts; some kind of professional courtesy; that along with having a hired gun in his shop kept the place safe. Each month I’d visit with him, talk about news of the world, local events or police war stories as he trimmed and snipped until I came out looking civilized once more.

My son William was about due for a hair cut. I took him to my trusted barber; somebody I knew would do a great job. William was at that age when sitting in a barber chair had connotations of impending doom, akin to placing your head on a chopping block just outside the Tower of London. I convinced him that nothing would happen and went first while he sat watching from a safe distance across from me.

My barber friend was noticeably upset, stammering as he talked and a bit pale around the gills. While trimming around the sides he slipped and took a chunk out of the top of my ear with the scissors; not a little slice that could be closed easily with a styptic pencil; a gash that had blood running down my neck and had to be covered with a towel and pressure applied. William was convinced that barbers should have to wear hoods to cover their identities at this point; no, William wasn’t going to have his hair cut that day.

I found out later that my barber liked working downtown because he seldom, if ever, had to cut children’s hair. He was petrified of having to work on a fidgeting child, the chance that he might accidentally clip a portion of their ear off if they moved while he was working.

Rod Serling wrote and produced a short story for his Twighlight Zone series that had to do with revenge. A big wig politician was sitting in the barber’s chair, tilted back and prepared for a full shave when he realized the young man holding the razor to his neck was the son of a man he’d ruined several years earlier. The barber explained how his father had been destroyed as each stroke of the blade glided across the surface of the corrupt politician’s vulnerable neck. The final scene showed the politician died of a heart attack; but the barber had never so much as nicked the skin, gotta' watch those barbers.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It never happened - one of life’s lessons missed

I was standing next to my service truck at the completion of a job a while ago when a purple PT Cruiser pulled up along side. A little girl, grammar school age, let her door swing out wide, just enough to let it brush against the gas cap cover on my truck leaving a small mark. It wasn’t intentional; but it could have been avoided with the simplest efforts.

“Please be more careful in the future.”, I quietly mentioned to the young girl who was hesitant to look me in the face as she pulled the door away from my truck.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” She walked toward the store and that should have been the end of it. There was no lasting damage; a little rubbing compound and some wax would make it a non-event. I was about to get in my truck and drive off when I noticed a rather large and unfriendly woman rushing around to see why I had entered a conversation with the young girl.

Her mother, (presumed), came around from the driver’s side in a confrontational manner, examined the mark; “That was there before; you can see there’s no purple paint!”, as if the thud she heard came from some other door somewhere close by. I can understand defending your children from the dangers of the world or even being taken advantage of by a total stranger, much less from a person of a different race; but wouldn’t it have been better for the young person to take responsibility for her actions and grow from that experience?

The young girl now has to wonder, “Did it really happen; after all, I thought I saw the door swing open and hit the man’s truck, it did make a sound and I did say I’m sorry.” Now that little girl has been shown that if you make a big fuss, try to intimidate the other person that it somehow never happened; “It’s not my fault.”

What kind of lesson was taught this day? Maybe next time the damage will be more significant; which also makes me wonder if that little girl got the snot beat out of her later on for creating a situation which might not have been so easily pushed aside. The young girl may not consider that there are consequences for acting irresponsibly; even something as simple as maintaining control of the car door while exiting or entering, just look at the little cankers on car doors caused in parking lots by folks who could care less. A grown up showed her that all you have to do is deny, deny and deny more loudly and it never happened; what a shame.

Casual Sadism?

I’m not into computer gaming so when I read that a new game has been banned in Great Britain because it contains too much violence I had to read a bit more. The use of censorship runs contrary to my nature; however, at what point should society draw a line in the sand and say, “We will sink no lower than this level of depravity” or is that too much for my libertarian associates? The article appeared on the CNN website and I’ve linked to it via the title bar.

“British censors Tuesday banned a video game for the first time in 10 years, rejecting U.S.-published "Manhunt 2" for what they described as an unrelenting focus on sadism and brutal slaying.”

I read a little further to see what kind of violence could possibly be worse than the general bloodshed and mayhem offered by other extremely graphic “popular games”.

"'Manhunt 2' is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing," he said.”

“"There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game," Cooke said.”

What is casual sadism; no really, how is it that our brave new world is capable of such a cavalier attitude toward death and destruction? Do these “games”, and I use that word with considerable reservations, do these games include any of the emotional triggers that accompany the heinous and deliberate destruction of other human life? I’ve already mentioned my ignorance in regard to these games; do they have blood curdling screams from the victims when grabbed from behind as the escaped mental patient tortures them? As the life blood drips on the cold floor in some dark corner of the game board, are those screams slowly muted to indicate near exhaustion as these game pieces expire for yet another tally mark on some perverted score board?

Is this the legacy we want to leave, our creative license with full digital input, high definition views of arteries spewing blood in perfect hue and tone, saturated and matted clumps of hair and brains from where an axe handle has beaten some unsuspecting target’s head to a bloody pulp? What have we become as a people when our “games” and recreation involve what could only be considered as demented excursions into bedlam?

“The U.S. nongovernmental organization that evaluates games, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, has not yet given a rating for "Manhunt 2," which is slated for a July 10 release.”

I wanted to thank the publishers of this new game, Take-Two Interactive Software, for introducing such a marvelous product, one that can be enjoyed by all segments of our society. I could see how showing this to a child might require trips to the local shrink, young people in their formative years watching this might think Columbine High School was the model for training or that Virginia Tech is the ultimate form of higher learning. With all the fuss and concern for “minors”, what about some concern for the rest of humanity? Really folks, is this kind of garbage fit for human consumption?

I’m not sure what kind of rating system is used to alert potential buyers when they stumble into the video store, money in one hand, an all purpose combat survival knife dripping with fresh road kill in the other. Have the letters “UA” been applied yet, that would be “Unfit for Anyone”, not to be confused with United Artists.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

“Haditha Massacre” Update

Last year we were told about how our US Marines massacred women and children in the town of Haditha. An article by Ellen Knickmeyer appeared in the Washington Post on May 27, 2006 went into great detail about how innocent citizens were slaughtered according to witnesses.

“"Marines overreacted . . . and killed innocent civilians in cold blood," said one of those briefed, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine who maintains close ties with senior Marine officers despite his opposition to the war.”

I'm beginning to think that John Murtha maintains close ties to our enemies and that he’s enlisted his support for them here in our country. “By rights he should be taken out and hung…for the cold blooded murder…”; sorry, that’s from My Fair Lady and somehow it worked its way into my thoughts.

That was then and this is now; turns out that many of the “facts” may have been twisted a wee bit by our loyal media, those ever supportive of our military efforts, bought the whole “fabrication of facts” hook, line and sinker. Gosh and Oh My; you mean to say that our news media would intentionally print a story intended to turn the public’s opinion against our own troops?

I was listening to the Rush Limbaugh show this afternoon, that mind altering show which poses a danger to the more progressive segment of our society. Roger Hedgecock, filling in for a vacationing Rush, announced “breaking news” from the trial of those murdering Marines. It seems that our intelligence network had recorded conversations prior to the event which alerted them to certain facts, which had been classified up until this time, alerted them that a road side bomb would be used to stop the convoy and create a perfect ambush. A white car filled with terrorists inside would drive up; which it did, and the Marines were ready for them. The Marines had also been alerted that insurgents (terrorists hiding among the citizens) would be part of the ambush and shoot at the convoy from adjoining houses.

Some of those killed and listed as innocent students were in fact part of the plot to ambush and slaughter our soldiers once their convoy was halted by a roadside bomb; they were riding in a white car that was supposed to “blend in” and then take out our soldiers. Fortunately our Marines had been briefed about this plot by virtue of some good intelligence work and these soldiers knew about the white car the terrorist would be driving. The “witness” with the video camera may have links to the terrorists and was positioned there as part of the plot; a chance to record the deaths of Marines who would be stopped because of the road side bomb.

I have no data other than what I heard on the radio; here’s my point. Where is the printed version of this information? I checked Google with key words, “Haditha”, “Haditha Massacre”, “Haditha Marines” and all I came up with were the old drive by media stories indicating that our Marines are brutal murderers who killed civilians inside their homes. Nothing in print to indicate that upon entering those houses our Marines were shot at while the terrorists escaped out the back door and used innocent civilians as shields, nothing about the fact that the fellow holding the video camera, the guy listed as a “student” was in his 40’s and had ties to the terrorists. Nothing at all; why is that?

I was hoping to see John Murtha’s statement, something along the lines of, “Gee, I’m sorry for calling these brave Marines murderers; I spoke out of turn. I should have waited for Reliable witnesses. I should have waited for a court to make a decision as to their guilt or innocence before going public with my politically charged statements.” I guess it will be a while before I read or hear that kind of honesty from John Murtha.

I just checked again on the CNN web site, nothing that I could find. There was a lead article about 12 US Troops Killed over Past 48 Hours, Hundreds join search for missing woman, Tax dodgers taunt police from hill tops and so on and so on; nothing about this turn from fiction to fact, from fabrication to reality. Maybe that story is on page 23 next to other updates; the possibility that changing the kitty litter box prior to having company over for dinner will improve the ambience.

Enron Died Without Honor

You’d think that everything about the whole Enron corporate failure had been said by now; it hasn’t. I read in this morning’s Houston Chronicle where the poor grieving widow of Ken Lay, “Linda Lay last month asked a judge to throw out the government's push to seize the assets, which include an upscale Houston condominium she shared with her husband”. ( linked via title bar )

Ken Lay died after he was convicted of looting Enron; unfortunately he died before the process of law had been taken to its conclusion, in effect making the conviction null and void. Ken Lay didn’t have a chance to use all the legal opportunities of appeals, never set foot in a prison because he died; he must be considered not guilty. All the money he stole through a maze of fraud and deceit must now be viewed in a much different light; he must have earned it, after all he died an honest man. Linda Lay, his partner in life, believes she should enjoy the fruits of the crime; her multimillion dollar condo and her life style are the result of Ken’s hard work and labors and had nothing to do with all that terrible insider bickering at Enron.

I watched an old movie yesterday the original “Airport”, maybe the first of the 70’s catastrophe movies. This is the movie that started a chain reaction, more airport disaster movies, high rise fires, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting and tornadoes. The original Airport movie had a mentally unstable out of work explosives expert at the end of his rope plotting to leave this world by blowing up an airplane he was traveling on so his wife could live off the traveler’s insurance she’d receive after the plane went down in the ocean. He does blow himself up in the lavatory taking out a section of the aircraft; but the plane is able to survive and land.

The wife of the deranged bomber understands the wide range of sorrow caused by her husband and begs forgiveness from the surviving passengers as they exit onto the concourse in various stages of exhaustion. There would not have been an insurance payoff because the husband blew himself up; regardless of that, the wife could not live with the knowledge that her husband had caused so much grief.

Linda Lay must not have seen that movie, she’s sitting in her 6 million dollar condo wondering when those horrid people will just leave her alone; after all Ken was an honorable man and every dollar he made was earned, that conviction was never finalized. If she had any honor, any integrity or character Linda Lay would have sold everything, dispersed the ill gotten gain to former Enron employees, those who lost their life savings and begged their forgiveness. The dishonesty and corrupt dealings of her late husband weren’t much different than blowing up a bomb on an airplane, the devastation to life, the misery and suffering; no, I think Linda Lay was a perfect match for Ken. I’m sorry, Linda, I forgot, Ken was never convicted, he was an honorable man, just like you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Interesting Statistics

Almost a month ago I added Stat Counter to my blog; mostly to see what was going on when I walked out the door to make a living; was anyone reading my articles and if so, what were they reading. It turns out that lots of folks drop by for a visit, many more than I would have guessed since I don’t get all that many "hits" in the comment section.

I have to admit I never would have suspected the top of the list would be a coordination skills game called the Air Force Test. Folks from all over the world have visited that single blog article to take the test 44 times. I realize that some of the big time bloggers get that kind of action every hour around the clock; but for a hole in the wall one horse operation like myself, that’s really neat.

The second most visited article was on a gasoline additive product, Power Plus MPG, which I wrote after it nearly destroyed my fuel injection system. Apparently my article pops up fairly close to the top of the Google search engine’s list of related topics which must burn a hole in those trying to sell that crap to an unsuspecting public. They read my remarks and run the opposite direction as quick as they can. Whoever said, “A happy customer will make your business grow because he will tell his friends about it; an unhappy customer will tell everyone!”; well, they were right. 33 folks read about how rotten my experience was with Power Plus MPG; I am still a thorn in that company’s side.

I also noticed that folks from all over the globe had visited; some from the land down under, some from the Orient, the Slavic countries and all over Europe; but mostly the home grown variety from the good old USA. The common thread was an article I’d written, The Mormon Experience in One Night ( linked via title bar). I guess a lot of folks wanted to see if I made it across the Great Plains in my covered wagon. I never would have guessed since it only got 7 comments.

I never would have thought my words would reach so many folks with such varied interests; kind of blows me away. It also reminds me to do a better job of expressing my thoughts, thoughts which after they have been sent out across the internet can never be recovered or retrieved. I better quit, this is beginning to take on the appearance of a sermon.

What Do Cats Do All Day?

I should give credit to R. G. Combs ( linked via title bar) for his article, “CatCam” where he linked to a very neat site by a fellow who attached a miniature digital camera to his cat. Each day he downloads the randomly snapped photographs and posts them on his blog. Please treat yourself to some fun and take a look.

I read where the fellow is planning to market his CatCam to the public; no sale here, I already know most of the places my cat sleeps. I don’t need a picture of her king size bed that she lets us sleep in, her kitchen counter top where we attend to her needs, warming up on the television tuner box, my bathroom sink where I leave the faucet on a slow drip to accommodate her daily intake of filtered water or under her sofa where she hides from strangers we invite into her house.

I heard Rush Limbaugh on his radio show a while back explain the difference between dogs and cats; hope I remember it correctly; “Dogs have masters, Cats have staff”.

“On the other hand”, as Tevia would say in Fiddler on the Roof, I have to wonder; going through some of the snap shots I have on file of our Bubba. In case you’re wondering, my being close to East Texas and all, Bubba is short for Baby Kitty, which turned into Bubba Kitty and; well, you see how that ended up. Bubba eats quite a bit and so my daughter, a Star Wars fan, likes to call her Bubba Fat. I often wonder how much of our language cats take in, Bubba and my daughter don’t get along all that well; Bonnie likes to stomp her foot to scare Bubba and then pretend to chase her until Bubba hides and can’t be found for hours. It might be interesting to see where Bubba hides.

The photograph shown is Bubba face to face, or face to something else, with a turkey that was about to become Thanksgiving Dinner from several years ago. Bubba had the Clint Eastwood look, “Well, punk, did I shoot five times or six? In all this excitement I plum forgot. So, do you feel lucky? Well, do ya'?. . . Go a head, Punk, make my day.” (click on the picture to make it full size)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Our generous health care system

This must stop!

A tip of the hat goes to my friend Jim Orr who took the time to send this to me. Since I can’t email everyone who should see this I’m posting it on my blog. UNBELIEVABLE!!!

Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas is a fairly famous institution and for a variety of reasons:
1. John F. Kennedy died there in 1963,
2. Lee Harvey Oswald died there shortly after
3. Jack Ruby-who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, died there a few years later…by coincidence"

On the flip side, Parkland is also home to the second busiest maternity ward in the country with almost 16,000 new babies arriving each year. (That's almost 44 per day---every day) A recent patient survey indicated that 70 percent of the women who gave birth at Parkland in the first three months of 2006 were illegal immigrants.

That's 11,200 anchor babies born every year just in Dallas. According to the article, the hospital spent $70.7 million delivering 15,938 babies in 2004 but managed to end up with almost $8 million dollars in surplus funding. Medicaid kicked in $34.5 million, Dallas County taxpayers kicked in $31.3 million and the feds tossed in another $9.5 million.

The average patient in Parkland’s maternity wards is 25 years old, married and giving birth to her second child. She is also an illegal immigrant. By law, pregnant women cannot be denied medical care based on their immigration status or ability to pay. OK, fine. That doesn't mean they should receive better care than everyday, middle-class American citizens. But at Parkland Hospital, they do. "Parkland Memorial Hospital has nine prenatal clinics. NINE.

The Dallas Morning News article followed a Hispanic woman who was a patient at one of the clinics and pregnant with her third child---her previous two were also born at Parkland. Her first two deliveries were free and the Mexican native was grateful because it would have cost $200 to have them in Mexico. This time, the hospital wants her to pay $10 per visit and $100 for the delivery but she was unsure if she could come up with the money. Not that it matters, the hospital won't turn her away. (I wonder why theyeven bother asking at this point.) "How long has this been going on? What are the long-term affects?

Well, another subject of the article was born at Parkland in 1986 shortly after her mother entered the US illegally - now she is having her own child there as well. (That's right, she's technically a US citizen.) These women receive free prenatal care including medication, nutrition, birthing classes and child care classes. They also get freebies such as car seats, bottles, diapers and formula.

Most of these things are available to American citizens as well but only for low-income applicants and even then, the red tape involved is almost insurmountable. Because these women are illegal immigrants, they do not have to provide any sort of legitimate identification - no proof of income.An American citizen would have to provide a social security number which would reveal their annual income an illegal immigrant need only claim to be poor and the hospital must take them at their word.

"My husband is a pilot for the United States Navy (yes, he fought in Iraq ) and while the health care is good, we Navy wives don't get any of these perks! Car seats? Diapers? Not so much. So my question is this: Does our public medical care system treat illegal immigrants better than American citizens? Yes, it does!

As I mentioned, the care I have received is perfectly adequate but it's bare bones, meat and potato medical care - not top of line. Their (the illegals') medical care is free - simply because they are illegal immigrants? Once again, there is no way to verify their income.

Parkland Hospital offers indigent care to Dallas County residents who earn less than $40,000 per year. (They also have to prove that they did not refuse health coverage at their current job. Yeah, the 'free' care is not so easy for Americans.) There are about 140 patients who received roughly $4 million dollars for un-reimbursed medical care. As it turns out, they did not qualify for free treatment because they resided outside of Dallas County so the hospital is going to sue them! Illegals get it all free! But U. S. citizens who live outside of Dallas County get sued! How stupid is this?

As if that isn't annoying enough, the illegal immigrant patients are actually complaining about hospital staff not speaking Spanish. In this AP story, the author speaks with a woman who is upset that she had to translate comments from the hospital staff into Spanish for her husband. The doctor was trying to explain the situation to the family andthe mother was forced to translate for her husband who only spoke Spanish. This was apparently a great injustice to her.

In an attempt to create a Spanish-speaking staff, Parkland Hospital is now providing incentives in the form of extra pay for applicants who speak Spanish. Additionally, medical students at the University of Texas Southwestern for which Parkland Hospital is the training facility will now have a Spanish language requirement added to their already jammed-packed curriculum. No other school in the country boasts such a ridiculous multi-semester (multicultural) requirement.

In the meantime, I have to end my column here. I have to go buy a car seat."(Ed: Sorry for the length, but this needs wide circulation - particularly to our "employees" in Congress.) Remember that this is only ONE hospital is Dallas, Texas. There are many more hospitals across our country that also have to deal with this.


If you want to verify accuracy:

Party Lines and Ten Cent Phone Calls

Channel surfing brought me a chance to watch an old movie with Doris Day and Rock Hudson, “Pillow Talk”. The two characters meet when they find the telephone line they share, a party line, is constantly being interrupted by the other’s use. There’s a fair representation of the film’s content offered by Alan Vanneman which is linked via the title bar. I’d bet there are plenty of folks in this modern age of communication; cell phones where satellite signals bounce around without land locked wires, folks who wouldn’t believe that at one time having a telephone in a private residence was almost a luxury.

My folks had a telephone which was on a party line, a single telephone line that had several telephones hooked up in such a way that you could pick up the receiver and accidentally be listening in on a neighbors call. Etiquette and manners prevailed, as a rule, and a quick apology was offered for the unintended interruption before hanging up. Things were a bit different then, folks didn’t stay on the phone chatting to a neighbor; too expensive, instead they visited face to face by walking across the street and knocking on a door.

Jim Croce had a song that I’ve always enjoyed, “Operator”. It’s a sad and lonely tale about a lost love, one who now lives with his best old ex-friend Ray.

Operator, oh could you help me place this call

You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s livin’ in LA.
With my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
But that’s not the way it feels

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
’cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me
There’s something in my eye’s
You know it happens every time
I think about the love that I thought would save me

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

Operator, oh let’s forget about this call
There’s no one there I really wanted to talk to
Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
And you can keep the dime

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

It’s hard to imagine making a call for only a dime, that being such a long time ago. Have I gotten old, enough to remember party lines and dime phone calls? I dream at night of playing baseball, directing traffic and the rush of having cars and trucks zipping by. There’s a young man who lives inside somewhere trying desperately to get out of this body. I look in the mirror and see a young boy’s eyes looking back; but that’s not the way it feels.

Monday, June 18, 2007

HPD Tickets Against the Peace and Dignity of Texas

I have a couple of issues to take with the City of Houston and the Houston Police Department. I read Matt Stiles article in the Houston Chronicle this morning, “HPD Still Issuing Tickets for License Plate Borders” (linked via title bar). My opinion on the matter may have a little more weight, having been a police officer and having written my share of tickets; some of which could fall into the category of “CS” (the letter C stands for Chicken; it shouldn’t take much to figure out the S).

Matt Stiles wrote, “Houston police officers continue writing tickets to motorists with brackets bordering their license plates despite a new law passed last month making it clear drivers should be cited only if the plate is significantly obscured.” He further explained that there was some “confusion” because of a poorly written law which continues to be in effect.

As a retired street officer I can recall some officers who seemed to think that such “technicalities” justified “ginning” the public. “To Gin the public”, a police term which means the same as CS because the violation either didn’t really happen, it was marginal at best or had little chance of being proven in court and the officer needed to have another “duck” on his work card. They’d write a CS ticket and leave it up to the citizen to go to court; adding court appearance time to his paycheck, regardless of the validity of the ticket issued; either way the officer was in good standing with his supervisors for having done his/her duty, writing traffic tickets.

I won’t go into a long explanation of whether or not a “traffic ticket quota system” existed in the past or continues to this day. I don’t care that the folks in the ivory towers of the HPD deny that such a quota has ever been in use; there has always been and always will be some kind of “minimum production” requirement regarding traffic tickets.

“It was never the intention of the Legislature for people to be receiving traffic citations for having license brackets," said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who sponsored the bill.”

{. . .}

“In their defense, police commanders note that the state's highest criminal appellate court has ruled that, because of the 2003 prohibition's wording, the ban technically extends to any covering of a license plate.”

I used to enjoy writing tickets to folks who ran red lights and stop signs; my favorites of all traffic tickets because those folks could end up killing somebody driving with reckless regard for the rest of the public. If things were slow there were always expired inspection stickers or expired license plates; not very threatening to the safety of the public but, “technically”, one ticket on the work card counted the same as another as far as my supervisors were concerned. I don’t think I ever stopped anyone for having a “cracked tail light lens” or any of the marginal violations that can be used to justify stopping a vehicle just to see if something else would turn up; then again my memory is starting to develop CRS and I could be mistaken.

My son in law mentioned that he’d received a Camera Red Light ticket issued to a vehicle which he sold over a year ago. He tried to explain that he no longer owned the vehicle, that it had been sold and then resold once more. The bill of sale has been lost and he has no idea who owns the vehicle now; all the same who ever is driving it continues to run red lights and enter the toll roads via the EZ Pass lanes, violations which the Toll Road Authority claim is my son in law’s responsibility regardless of his explanation that he no longer owns the vehicle.

I can see how the loss of a bill of sale might make it difficult to “prove” that he no longer owned the vehicle the first time the Toll Road Authority sent him notification that somebody had entered the toll road without paying; however, once my son in law took the time to explain that he no longer owned the vehicle, that somebody else was violating the law it should have been noted and changed at that time. It would seem, at least from the attitude of those sending out summons, that they don’t really care who violated the law as long as the tickets gets paid.

I hold firm in my opinion that camera issued traffic tickets are an abomination, that they are in conflict with our judicial system here in America, the system which holds that citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Camera issued tickets take pictures of the license plate of vehicles which are believed to have violated a law, not the driver, and presume that the last documented owner somehow is responsible for any and all violations. In a nutshell, to presume guilt in this manner should be considered to be against the peace and dignity of the State of Texas; but that minor technicality would deprive the general fund of so much money.

I went back into my digital file box and found a letter which covers most of my concerns regarding the subject; it was part of my reason for becoming a “blogger” as is indicated in the header of my blog.

Open Letter to Members of the Houston Police Department
December 8, 2004

By: T. F. Stern, Retired Badge 908

I read an article in the Houston Chronicle, April 29, 2004, “Hurtt Calls for Cameras to Catch Traffic Violators”, that pointed out an agenda that would eventually be put into place. This past week the Mayor and City Council have said that this will become a way of life for all Houstonians. The State Legislature has specifically admonished all municipalities against such actions. I wrote an Op-ed piece which was printed in the Houston Chronicle on December 8th. Unfortunately the editor omitted one important word from my piece of sarcasm, “I have no problem with such a scam as long as it is presented properly.”; however, I noticed the omission of the word “SCAM”.

A scam would include any operation that is intended to bypass acceptable or lawful means. I have folks attempt to scam me over the telephone everyday with “free” this, that, or the other if only I will send them $4.95 to cover the shipping and handling. The City of Houston will do almost anything to increase its revenues. The Mayor and City Council attempted to nullify their contractual agreement with retired employees by passing it along to voters in the form of a referendum long after the ink had dried on the dotted lines. That was a scam. It violated the terms of a signed contract. The Mayor and City Council will sidestep the State Legislature’s stipulation that such camera issued tickets will not be used. It is dishonest because the citizen’s rights are sidestepped in order to be more efficient, not more safety conscious. It has to do with money; not safety.

When I was working downtown the “unofficial quota” was understood to be “2 and 10”; 2 moving tickets and 10 parking tickets per officer per day. They call it “productivity levels” now; in either case it’s an illegal quota system and always will be. The City of Houston is faced with near bankruptcy because of unbridled spending on new projects and old debts which include pensions and retirement obligations. One solution that they have agreed would help solve some of their budget woes is the magical infusion of money from camera traffic ticket fines. The City wouldn’t even need any up front investment money to purchase the cameras because these units would likely be supplied by a private company whose only desire is to make the streets safer for all Houstonians; that and a major profit from its percentage of the take. Talk about being over zealous; the cameras would ticket each and every violator, twenty four hours around the clock with no need for commissioned police officers or traffic courts. Since the violator cannot subpoena a camera as a witness there can be no defense; everyone is automatically Guilty, now how’s that for efficiency? The City of Houston will make a large fortune and it will only cost us a little thing we used to call Justice. I hope I’m not the only one who sees something frightfully wrong with this picture.

I used to joke about the chance to work on commission for a percentage of the fines generated by traffic tickets. That would never work because it would lead to officers getting rich off the tickets they wrote. I can see no difference with what has been proposed other than that fact that police officer will still not make any more from his or her efforts based on productivity. I guarantee that the City of Houston and the private contractor will push for every nickel, dime and dollar that the cameras can produce.

When a citizen is issued a traffic ticket by a commissioned law enforcement officer several points of law have to be met. The first is that the officer is commissioned, or acting for and in behalf of the citizens. The officer has to have a knowledge of the laws as well as the spirit of the laws that he/she is enforcing. A mechanical device can record incidents but is not capable of interpreting circumstances. When an officer issues a ticket; for example, excessive speed, several issues may be brought into play. The first would be the officer’s initial observation of existing traffic conditions; to include all other vehicles traveling on the roadway, road and weather conditions at the time of the incident, and a comparison with that of the violator’s actions during that same moment. If a mechanical device such as radar equipment is used to corroborate the officer’s original observation, then the officer must also prove in a court of law that his/her training with such equipment is documented and valid. The part that is being omitted by this SCAM is that there is no 1st observation by a commissioned law enforcement officer to justify the second step, that of backing up the observation with a mechanical tool. This one missed step in the process invalidates any and all mechanical “testimony”, and I use the term testimony quite liberally. Testimony cannot be given by a machine. There are many who have already chosen to use the thought process that testimony might be permitted by an inanimate object, that is as long as we can make enough money and thereby turn our attention away from such a minor point. A human being can give testimony and he can use photos or data from mechanical equipment to corroborate his/her testimony; not the reverse.

Many years ago the Department came after me with a vengeance claiming that my activity in the area of issuing parking tickets was “over zealous”. I had upset the boat and the smooth waters. I had issued parking tickets to some “good ole’ boys” that were on the “do not write” list. I still had way too much mouth for my brain at the time ( still do) and so the more weighty matter of insubordination was my undoing. If memory serves me, I said something to the effect, “You can climb up my ass”, to my Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain and three Assistant Chiefs. It turns out that they wouldn’t all fit, at least not at the same time. I got an indefinite suspension which was eventually over turned into a 40 day suspension. I bring this up because there remains a bitter taste in my mouth about that incident; even though I went on to complete my 20 years and obtained my retirement.

As far as my suspension from the Department; that’s water under the bridge. If you think about it, a suspension is not actually a loss of pay. Prior to retirement any time that was lost due to suspension has to be made up on the other end. It’s like a short sheeted bed, the material still all adds up the same. Productivity is all in the eye of the beholder, just remember to make it to your own retirement. “Y’all be careful out there.”, as they used to say at the end of each and every roll call.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Artful Prevarications

No, I’m not running for elected position; I never learned how to lie that well or convincingly. I was looking at this picture my daughter posted on her site and noticed that off to the side of the huge gantry mechanism built to support the vehicles which take men into space there’s a fairly simple water tower. (click on picture to enlarge) Judging by its appearance the water tower was built long ago; water towers that crop up in neighborhoods all around the country now hide the internal plumbing with all manner of “skins”.

Bonnie’s a “space nut” for lack of a better name; anything to do with astronauts, rockets and space makes her entire face smile. I can take credit for some of her enthusiasm; having similar interests that I may have inadvertently passed along.

We had the opportunity to watch as a brand new water tower was constructed near our house many years ago when Bonnie and Jennifer were very young. Bonnie was old enough to recognize the purpose of elevating the water supply in order to obtain water pressure and went about explaining the science involved. I was impressed with her calculating mind and ability to link all the data to come to the conclusion that it had to be a water tower.

I told the children that the structure was indeed a water tower; but, also part of the nation’s security network of missiles carrying atomic warheads. The newer missiles, slim enough to fit easily into the vertical shaft which also transported the community water supply, were hidden within water towers all over the United States and that our enemies wouldn’t know which ones were simple water towers and which ones held total destruction and death at the push of a button. I made sure to let that special sparkle in my eye attach itself to the smile that crept out from the corners of my mouth.

I grew up listening to the most wonderful fabrications, artful prevarications if you will. My grandfather had me convinced that Soy Sauce was actually made from pigeon’s blood. He had a way of smiling, a sparkle in his eye that let me know that what ever the brown liquid being splashed across my chicken chow mien, it wouldn’t hurt me. I knew that my grandfather loved me and nothing he did or said would ever intentionally injure me; note that I didn’t say that I believed every word he said as “gospel”, only that I knew that it was intended to help me in some way.

I posted on this subject not too very long ago (linked via title bar), time being less important the older I get. It’s a record of my experience while walking with my grandson, JJ, and how much he would look forward to seeing the “dinosaur bones” at the end of the block in our neighborhood. It’s how young people develop a sense of curiosity, a sense of wonder, a sense of humor and how they learn to think out things and come to understand that not everything is exactly as it may seem.
I learned to question the relevance of most everything I heard; good advice for those reading a newspaper, listening to the nightly news, sitting in a classroom taking notes from the teacher/professor or just about any other form of information being handed out as the “truth”. You can see how I was a major pain in the rear as an employee for the Houston Police Department.

Part of a parent’s job, to include grandparents, is to provide a particle of doubt within those young minds, those special relationships in which trust and love are taken for granted. Stewardship opportunities provide moments when being silly or expecting the impossible create a lasting bond along with the teaching element, the necessary thought process of doubting, which process must always be engaged in order to survive.

Friday, June 15, 2007

DPS/PSB Locksmiths License – Follow up

June 15, 2007

Representative Debbie Riddle
Room EXT E2.208P.O. Box 2910 Austin, TX 78768
Fax: 512- 463-1908 & 281- 537-8821

Subject: DPS/PSB Locksmiths License – Follow up (linked via title bar)

Representative Debbie Riddle,

I wrote you last month explaining how the DPS/PSB was imposing unrealistic mandatory continuing education requirements that determine renewal of locksmith licenses. Thank You for having one of your staff respond with an invitation to continue dialogue on this important issue. Since contacting your office I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain legal council from law firms which specialize in such litigation and offer pro bono service.

I contacted the Institute of Justice, a non-profit organization and got the following reply, “ Unfortunately, I do not believe there is any realistic way for IJ (or anyone else) to challenge continuing education requirements on constitutional grounds at this time. In a nutshell, the state of the law regarding occupational regulations like these is so horrendous that the government can get away with just about anything -- no matter how stupid, wasteful, venal, anti-competitive, or unfair. In essence, courts have simply declared that evaluating occupational regulations to ensure they are fair, reasonable, and actually likely to achieve their stated ends is none of their business.” (emphasis added)

I tried to enlist a “heavy hitter”, the firm of Bracewell & Giuliani, their being well respected in name recognition and also for their generous pro bono service in Texas and the Houston area. I was disappointed when told, “Unfortunately, this firm will not be able to provide you with legal assistance--pro bono or otherwise. The firm does considerable legal work on behalf of the State of Texas and would not likely be able to circumvent the conflict of interest your representation in this particular matter could create.”

I’m finding out the quality of representation required to enter a challenge to the DPS/PSB’s unreasonable and arbitrarily mandated licensing stipulation either does not exist or is not available by virtue of my limited resources. I cannot believe the intent of the State law which created the means by which locksmiths are licensed in order to “protect” the public interests, which created a board of overseers to implement rules and regulations based on sound judgment and reason; I refuse to believe that this body of government would condone or permit virtual expulsion or forced retirement of a senior working locksmith based entirely on a “created” regulation which has limited, if any, measurable level of safety garnered for the consuming public.

One solution which would satisfy both the intent and the spirit of the law would be to limit the burden placed on working locksmiths to more reasonable parameters; to include exceptions based on a presumption of qualification associated with “tenure”. The free market system has a way of determining which locksmiths work and remain in business and which ones move on to some other form of employment; satisfied customers. The DPS/PSB have attempted to insure perfect tranquility, a state in which every locksmith is qualified to the highest standards in order to protect the professional integrity of the locksmith industry; a lofty and unattainable goal even with the best of intentions.

The many varied avenues of profitability within the locksmith industry have led to specialization in order to remain marketable and gainful. The larger locksmith companies employ many specialists; those who install and work on safes, home security specialists who install and maintain residential locks, industrial and commercial locksmiths who master key large complexes and automotive specialists who apply their skills replacing automotive keys with the newest transponder technologies.

Smaller locksmith companies find a way to carve out a “nitch” in order to be competitive; mine is such a business. The automotive locksmith industry requires a considerable investment to include the latest electronic devices used to program transponder key systems along with the basic “antique” locksmith skills used to generate a mechanical key which will work properly. The skills necessary to generate a mechanical key have been built and improved upon for many years, each layer of skills added upon the foundation of the previous generation of locksmith skills.

Transponder technology has advanced the necessary skills of automotive locksmiths to such a degree that many locksmiths cannot afford to maintain the equipment necessary to service customers and have had to withdraw from this particular segment of the locksmith industry. Each year is met with additional computer software update requirements and, to remain competitive, automotive locksmiths have no choice but to obtain these expensive “tools” and learn how to apply their use in the field; this is the free market’s version of mandatory continuing education.

Locksmiths, it would seem, must also “prove” to the DPS/PSB that they have not “forgotten” the basic skills required which would permit the use of the advanced technology; why else could a working locksmith take any “lesser” required course and satisfy the all encompassing requirements of mandatory continuing education? The wasted and unnecessary requirement of “continuing education” which can be met through taking any number of unrelated “basic” locksmith classes is the issue which appears to be redundant in qualifying for a renewed locksmith license.

The DPS/PSB has not taken into consideration that many locksmiths have no desire to expand their level of expertise; these locksmiths are content to be very competent in the area of service which they provide and let other locksmiths with a wider range of skills grab that portion of the “free market” which is beyond their level of ability and/or desire. This in no wise makes these locksmiths “unacceptable” or creates a situation which would deny a working locksmith the opportunity to renew his/her occupational license.

The market place, comprised of the customer seeking service and the locksmith who can satisfy that need, will determine which locksmiths stay in business; such natural self governing aspects of our lives should not be interfered with through well meaning overseers who wish to protect consumers from unscrupulous and improperly skilled professionals.

Those who enter into the locksmith profession with the intent to take advantage of the public will have only a short time in the market place until they are found out; nothing could or should be done to prevent crimes “before they happen”; one need only view some recent Sci-fi films for examples on how this turns out. No amount of mandatory continuing education would weed out such “undesirables” from among those with integrity and similar skills.

This isn’t much different than a patient who schedules surgery with a gastrointestinal specialist to remove a gall bladder, a gall bladder filled with stones, rather than asking his regular family doctor to step outside of his comfort zone. While both are “qualified” medical doctors, presumably holding a piece of paper stamped and signed, it would be past ridiculous to expect the GP to perform delicate surgery and yet they both are considered honorable and respected professionals.

The fact remains that at one point the decision to “self qualify” must remain at the individual level; trusting in the natural integrity of individuals to remain within the limits of his/her ability to satisfy the specific needs of a given situation. The other half of that equation is also natural; most customers have sense enough to withhold payment until services have been rendered to satisfy a mutually agreed upon conclusion.

The DPS/PSB needs to reconsider the language used in the section devoted to mandatory continuing education to reflect the fact that we live in America where citizens determine a significant portion of life’s challenges based on the assumption that a goodly percentage of fellow citizens are honest, law abiding and intent on providing the best individual efforts available. We are not, at least not yet, some communist country which drastically interferes with an individual's agency bestowed by our Creator, that same benevolent God who inspired Thomas Jefferson to pen the words of our Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,. . .”

I like that part, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”, perhaps those in positions of authority at the DPS/PSB should consider the import of such foundational thoughts which apply to every aspect of government. It is not, nor has it ever been, the intent for those trusted to implement policies regulating a free market system to restrict any God given right, any naturally occurring circumstance in the name of tyranny. These members of our community may have temporarily forgotten their purpose, while intending to serve a wide range of issues that include, predominantly, the “safety” of the consumer; they have taken it upon themselves to trample on God given rights and common sense.

The fact remains an occupational license is required and I’ve resigned myself to the necessity of such licenses. It is imperative that board members who have power over occupational licenses understand the far reaching impact on individual rights as they complete their stewardships with a specific charge to protect the public and the individual locksmiths rights, rights granted by God, not by any government or agency of that government.

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” Doctrine and Covenants 121:39

This was originally directed to the priesthood of the Church; however, it is true for government’s elected, appointed officers and nearly any other position which subordinates one individual to another. Our nation cannot long survive when it no longer considers that it gains its power from the governed; not the other way around.

I have entered this article in the Carnival for Principled Government sponsored by Dana over at Principled Discovery, each Monday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Almost Father’s Day Gift

I got home a few minutes ago and had a Philly Cheese Steak that I bought from my friend Robert over at the Lenny’s Sandwich Shop he owns. I had my Dr Pepper, the one that I’d hidden in the refrigerator so it would be nice and cold by lunch time. I was in the den enjoying the extra grilled onions and savoring every bite when William showed me an Astros “Cuzy” that he bought at the ball game last night.

A friend of his got some last minute tickets in the Club Level, some big oil company perks that his dad couldn’t use. William saw this neat looking soda insulator device and brought it home; thinking that he’d keep it for himself, at least until he showed it to me and realized that it would make a neat Father’s Day gift.

I can remember working at the Astrodome when the team wore those funky looking uniforms. I never liked them all that much as they looked more like something a softball team might wear. I changed my mind the year Mike Scott pitched a no hitter to clinch a play off spot; 1986 if I’m not mistaken. That was the image that passed through as I saw the familiar jersey wrapped around my Dr Pepper bottle.

Last night’s game was a similar roller coaster ride with the Astros coming from behind to take the lead on an Ausmus two run homer ( his first homer all year ), a Lidge blown save in the 9th followed by a game winning single by Ausmus in the 11th. The boys had a great time and I got this silly looking Cuzy that will make me smile each time I have a soda. Thank you, William.

What Would Honest Abe Have Done Differently?

I went through the mail yesterday and found a check from the local Joe Myers Toyota dealership, the one where we’d bought Lucy’s Solara three years ago. It was a refund for $3.75; apparently they’d over charged on the vehicle safety inspection which was done routinely to every new car before being sold.

A letter accompanied the check which explained that the error was “brought to their attention” and that we might have trouble depositing the check since it was more than 90 days since the check was issued; that’s when I looked and saw it was dated 07NOV06. Why would they hold the check half a year if they knew they’d over charged us from three years earlier?

A couple of items come to mind; the first is knowing that when you purchase a new vehicle there are going to be additional charges that spring out of nowhere and end up on the invoice, secretarial fees for typing invoice, dealer preparation fees to remove all the stickers glued to every window, tire inflation fees to remove toxic air imported from outside the US and exchange that toxic air for toxic home grown air, and any other fee that can be thrown onto the deal and be ignored by the buyer since these minor annoyances are microscopic in comparison to the total price of the new vehicle and will be spread out over the next 5 years as monthly payments; I almost ran out of breath trying to get all that down in one sentence.

Why does a brand new vehicle have to go through a mandatory State of Texas Inspection; I meannnnnnnnnn, in my best Arlo Guthrie imitation, I meannnnnn, how many brand new cars fail to pass the inspection? The State of Texas wasn’t satisfied with gaining 8 percent of the sale through sales tax and they needed $21.75 to make ends meet? The State of Texas couldn’t supply new car dealerships with a special sticker to place on the windshield, one that indicates to law enforcement officers the fairly obvious fact that, “da!”, it’s a new vehicle and won’t need to be inspected until a year later? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how much money the State of Texas hauls in from mandating inspections of every single brand new vehicle that gets sold, $21.75 a pop times however many units sold; that’s a lot of pop!

My guess is there’s a special rate for inspecting brand new vehicles that don’t really need to be inspected; slightly less than inspecting vehicles which might really need inspecting. I’ll go a step past that and guess that the difference between inspecting vehicles that don’t need inspecting is $3.75 less than inspecting vehicles that might really need inspecting; kind of a discount for not having to do anything other than say you did something which was required. So, Joe Myers Toyota was charging $3.75 more than the State of Texas considered acceptable when fleecing the public for an inspection which really didn’t need to be done except that it was more money for the State of Texas general fund and who’s going to notice $3.75 that Joe Myers Toyota could put towards their own general fund; is that about how you see it too? Well, somebody noticed and forced the issue.

Next on the list is, “How come the check was issued last November and just now being sent out?” Once again you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that while one check for $3.75 may not seem like much; try figuring out how many vehicles Joe Myers Toyota sold in the past three or four years, inspected those brand new vehicles that didn’t really need to be inspected except the State of Texas wanted more money, over charged each customer $3.75 to put into the Joe Myers Toyota general fund and then got caught and had to refund all of that money. If you were the financial manager of a considerable amount of money that was in a bank drawing interest; would you think it wrong to continue drawing interest on all that money until such time as you had run out of excuses not to refund all that money?

I remember reading about Abraham Lincoln having over charged one of his customers a nearly insignificant amount of money; something like a half penny, and walking over to that customer’s house immediately upon recognizing the error to repay the amount owed. I don’t think Honest Abe would have made it as the financial manager at Joe Myers Toyota; he understood what integrity and honesty meant.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Texas Locksmith License Requirements

Here’s a copy of a letter I sent off to the DPS/PSB which will decide whether or not I remain a card carrying licensed locksmith when it comes time for renewal. The Nanny State will have to decide if it wants my yearly $400+ license fees and the sales taxes generated from my business; I’m already up to here with these folks.

June 8, 2007

Texas Department of Public Safety
Private Security Bureau
P O Box 4087

Austin, Texas 78773-0001

Subject: Locksmith License Requirements

Dear Sirs;

I currently hold license #B12254 which permits me to operate as a locksmith in the State of Texas. I took the mandated continuing education courses last year which included 1 hour of Ethics and 8 hours of Automotive Hands on Training in order to “qualify” for my renewal.

I have been involved in the locksmith industry since 1976 and specialize strictly in automotive locksmith work. I have no desire to learn other aspects of the locksmith business and regularly refer customers to competent licensed locksmiths, even other automotive locksmith work which is beyond my desire or ability to perform. I find it repugnant, a mild version of my truest thoughts, to submit to a yearly mandatory course put on by one of my competitors, one which I must attend and pay for, when I am just as qualified if not more so, than those putting on the class. This I find unacceptable regardless of the wording within the guidelines of the DPS/PSB rules and regulations.

I am suggesting that a change be implemented that would show proper regard for the expertise a senior locksmith brings to the table, an acknowledgment that supersedes any required yearly continuing educational requirements in order to “qualify” as a licensed locksmith. To argue to the contrary presupposes that basic knowledge which is used on a daily basis is forgotten from year to year and must be taken by an already qualified locksmith.

I respectfully submit this prior to deciding on whether or not to renew my license when it comes due in August. Please respond in a timely manner.

T. F. Stern
T. F. Stern & Co.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Senior Locksmith is Now a Security Consultant

The State of Texas requirements imposed on the locksmith industry have become too restrictive and so I’m announcing my retirement which will, in all probability, take effect upon the expiration of my current locksmith license. I’ve been engaged in the locksmith industry for over thirty years; my training having begun in 1976 when I started out as an apprentice working for free. I can remember working at Reed’s Key Shop on Westheimer every Saturday, one of my regular days off from the Houston Police Department.

Jim Reed and his locksmith friends taught me the “secrets of the trade”; it wasn’t called a profession until later on, while I assimilated as much information as I could. My only “payment”, if you could call it payment at all, was a sandwich at lunchtime and the friendship of some really knowledgeable locksmiths; Sonny Hunt, Feller Goff, Patty Merriman and; lest I forget, “Stu” Stewart who died so many years ago. I gained information, not money, and that information formed the foundation which became a means to obtain a substantial side income and eventually retire from the Houston Police Department without sacrificing my standard of living.

It has become increasingly difficult to justify the necessary investment required to remain an active licensed Locksmith; yearly State of Texas License expense is excessive and the fact that I must subject my business practices to pencil pushing bureaucrats, bureaucrats with about as much common sense as God gave a door knob. These folks have seen fit to impose redundant mandatory continuing education courses which provide no meaningful measure of improvement to a working locksmith’s skills and serve only to increase operating expenses and time lost from making a living as a locksmith.

Membership dues in locksmith professional organizations such as the Associated Locksmiths of America or the Greater Houston Locksmith Association further the misconception that individual locksmiths desire to be part of an imposed serfdom under the thumb of the Texas Department of Safety’s Private Security Bureau. Add to that the expense involved in maintaining and updating computer software programs for modern transponder equipped vehicles; the real world’s version of mandatory continual education, the time spent learning how to apply these needed skills and the tools necessary to work on modern vehicles that are now everyday items which the public has been saddled with and I’ve come full circle; nearly working for free once again.

Okay, so I’m not working for free; that’s a considerable exaggeration intended to show my disgust for having to pay so much of my hard earned money out the back door just for the privilege of being a locksmith. What’s the old saying, “Millions for defense but not one dime for tribute!”; I think that has entered the equation on why I can no longer pay the State of Texas an annual Locksmith License fee. This is nothing short of extortion under the guise of protecting the industry, a crime against the free market system, a tax imposed simply because politicians saw a means of grabbing more money for the general fund.

I figured that my extensive knowledge in the specialized industry of automotive security devices makes me highly qualified as a Security Consultant, a yet unregulated and unlicensed segment of the market place. The State of Texas has no laws governing Security Consultants who provide nearly the same “services” as Locksmiths; the primary difference being the product definitions articulated by State Law (House Bill 2243).

“The above legislation was not intended to apply to tow companies or other businesses who perform lockout service using a slim-jim or similar tool to open a vehicle upon the request of the owner or operator of the vehicle, but who do not perform locksmith service. The definition of locksmith service (“sells, installs, services, or maintains mechanical security devices, including deadbolts and locks”) does not include lockout service where the vehicle is simply opened. Clearly, in this situation, the lock (or “mechanical security device”) is being neither sold, installed, serviced nor maintained.”

The beauty of the English language, as currently constituted by our elected officials and those appointed by our elected officials, is the wide range of convenience applied to each word’s actual or intended meaning. For example the illegal alien legislation that the progressive segment of our Senate wants to push through, or is that push down our throats, I can hardly tell the difference; but where was I, oh, yes, these industrious individuals who have entered our country’s borders without gaining proper documentation or permission shouldn’t be looked upon as being criminals or undesirable simply because they ignored existing laws. Wouldn’t it be so much better for all concerned if we just accepted them as new neighbors looking to improve their way of life; no different than anyone else trying to make a buck here in this blessed land of opportunity? Do you see how altering the meaning from “illegal alien” to “new neighbor” makes it totally ridiculous to waste all that taxpayer money on a fence along our southern border?

The DPS/PSB took it upon themselves to define what they consider to be a locksmith, an all encompassing definition so ambiguous as to presume a perfect understanding of the English language; words such as, “sells, installs, services, or maintains mechanical security devices, including deadbolts and locks.” On the other hand, the DPS/PSB neglected to consider a professional locksmith who had surpassed the entry level position so elaborately defined, professionals who’ve provided sufficient proven abilities over an extended period of years and risen above the State of Texas legislator’s concerns over public safety and requiring no bureaucratic overseers; the Senior Locksmith advanced in stature to the level of Security Consultant.

It might take several years for the exact definition of a Security Consultant to be worked out, not wishing to defame or insult the reputations of these stalwarts of the community, individuals who have earned the respect and admiration of the pubic through years of providing impeccable service without the slightest hint of impropriety; similar to the elitist status granted to elected members of congress. I look forward to many years of limited service to the community as a Security Consultant.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Build the Fence !!!

Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison
Honorable John Cornyn

I’ve written to you before and I got a lovely letter from Senator Hutchison expressing how much you appreciated my input; but you still don’t get the message, build the fence first. I never got so much as a go soak your head letter from Senator John Cornyn, not one word like, “I’m the Senator and I know more than you so shut up and let those in the know do our job”; well at least I know where you stand, Senator John Cornyn. Once the fence is built to keep out the illegal aliens from the south we can get rid of the unwanted ones. This isn’t rocket science folks; build the fence now.

Stop telling the public how you want to work out a compromise, a piece of bad legislation that will help so many illegal aliens blend in, improve their lives, become good citizens or some other feel good pap; build the FENCE!


PS: Tell John McCain that his Presidential bid is now officially over, pack it up and go home, “We’re not going to erect barriers or fences”; ….the guy just doesn’t get it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Following Another Vendor

I got a call this afternoon from a lady who’d lost the keys to her 1994 Lincoln Town Car. I wasn’t the first locksmith she’d called; but the first one wasn’t much of a locksmith to begin with. She told me that she’d left her son home so there’d be somebody to meet the locksmith. He showed up and immediately told the young man that because he couldn’t obtain a key code for the vehicle that he couldn’t cut a key; all the same he demanded payment of a “show up fee”, fifty five dollars. I listened as the lady told me how her son paid the amount even though no work had been performed and the fellow had not attempted to do any work, it being beyond his abilities.

I promised her that I wouldn’t take any money until I finished making the keys and they had been accepted as replacements for the ones that got lost; unlike the buzzard who’d taken them for a ride earlier. I gave her my wholesale rate rather than retail and she knew I was doing what I could for her. When I arrived I made the door key, a ten cut system, in short order. I explained that I still needed the last four cuts to make the key complete, a basic course in ten cut keys.

The chrome “ears” on the ignition switch had reached the end of the line as I showed the young man how they were about to come off. I had him call his mother back to get permission to change out the ignition switch; yet another expense that I was reluctant to add to her day. I basically gave her the switch at cost and matched it to the door key so one key would still work the way it was intended. I impressioned a trunk key and completed the job; all of fifteen minutes had passed from start to finish as the young man explained that he needed the “clicker” that was also lost to turn start the car.

I looked around under the dash and showed him where the manual bypass button was located that would permit him to start the vehicle without the “clicker”. It had been hidden fairly well and had been installed professionally with wire ties that kept the extra wires from dangling everywhere. He’d never had to use the bypass button and had forgotten that it was even there.

Now, what to do about the buzzard passing himself off as a locksmith? In my book he’s an opportunist at the very best, a thief with a work order book and none of the skills which I’d associate with anyone who claimed to be a locksmith. His statement, “I can’t make a key to your car without a key code”, would indicate that he knows nearly nothing about making keys. Most customers have no idea what the codes are for a vehicle they own and Ford, Lincoln and Mercury didn’t start keeping key codes until 1997 and so he should have known that no key code could have been obtained for a 1994 Town Car.

Just for argument’s sake, let’s say that key codes were available for a vehicle of that vintage; what kind of locksmith presumes that every key code will be correct? What if the code wasn’t good; isn’t that why locksmiths are needed, to figure out what the key looks like when all else fails? If he couldn’t satisfy the customer’s request to replace a lost key then he should have walked away empty handed and apologized for having wasted the customers time; not collect a show up fee for a job he was unable to complete.

In this day of locksmith licenses and government agencies to protect the public from unscrupulous vendors; I might be tempted to turn this buzzard’s name over to the Texas DPS/PSB and let them rake his worthless behind over some hot coals as a lesson to other buzzards taking advantage of the public. The problem with that is I can’t stand those vermin at the DPS/PSB any more than the buzzards they’re supposed to be protecting the public from. No, I wouldn’t give those vermin the time of day even if I wore a watch. I’m going to recommend to that particular customer is to take the buzzard to small claims court, something which has always been available to sort out minor issues which involve unscrupulous vendors who take advantage of their customers. I’ll volunteer my expertise in the area of automotive locksmith service which I’ve gained over the past thirty plus years in the business, even if it means wasting a day in court without compensation.

I don’t want buzzards feeding on my neighbors any more than the DPS/PSB; the big difference, at least the way I see it, I don’t have the chutzpah to impose my standards on how to operate their business or collect a fee so that I can enforce my particular standards on anyone else as they run their business; I’ll leave that up to the courts where it should be done when one individual claims to have been injured. I could attempt explaining this until I’m blue in the face to those who want the State be their “Nanny” and it wouldn’t do any good; this is how the free market system was supposed to work, at least that’s the way it worked until it was taken over by a bunch of well meaning socialists who haven’t any faith in America.

I did call the phone number of the other “locksmith” and asked for his side of the story, my having dealt with the public reminds me that there’re usually two sides to every story. He claimed that the customer didn’t have a key code and that he told her he would have to charge her for three and a half hours labor to figure out what the key looked like and that the customer wasn’t prepared to pay that amount and so he charged her only for the service call and left. I have to wonder what kind of locksmith doesn’t quote a price for a complete job, one that includes service call fee, a set labor and parts amount so that there is final amount that is agreed upon by both the vendor and the customer before showing up on site. I’d also have to wonder what kind of locksmith “wannabe” who claims to be able to make a key for a 1994 Town Car tells a customer, much less another locksmith that it would take three and a half hours to do a fifteen minute job. “What a Crock!”, as my dad would say when he has to put on his brown shoes so that if he steps in it the stain won’t show.

Sorry, Pal ( a generic name unless the customer takes my advice and goes to small claims court ), but that doesn’t wash with me. You’re a buzzard pretending to be a locksmith; unfortunately you’re associated with the same locksmith industry that I work very hard providing the public in a professional way and I hope this one blows up in your face.

  • 1. Business Licenses – Jump for Joy

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  • 3. Wake Me Up From This Bad Dream