Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Hardly Anything Beats a Full House

I started blogging several years ago; gosh and oh by golly, I was blogging before it was called blogging truth be known. I had my early “training” as a police officer writing letters up the chain of command; an exacting science of words necessary to justify some of the bone headed incidents I was a party to or had been accused of being a party to. I could, if given enough rope, annoy and antagonize my immediate supervisors while properly and logically documenting my actions, such actions falling under the letter and spirit contained within the rules and regulations of that august organization, the Houston Police Department, long enough to achieve enough years to retire; all this would fall under the category, Religious Manifestations and Miracles.

My “skills of expression” naturally fanned out to include political opinions, a banned topic within the ranks of the police department; but something which I continued to have as a God given right. As a citizen, my opinions could be expressed on my own time as long as I kept a rigid distinction between my actions as a citizen and my being a representative of the Houston Police Department and employee working for the City of Houston.

Back then, BB (Before Blogging), most of what I wrote were letters to the editor of the local newspaper, letters so long as to be termed “essays” and never short enough to print. I just figured they didn’t like what I’d written and kept on writing. I’d sent off to the Reader’s Digest without success; even so, I needed to keep writing regardless of who got to read my “stuff”, a form of venting which kept me happy.

One day I actually had one of my op-ed pieces published in the Houston Chronicle, a piece of sarcasm directed towards the City of Houston’s use of cameras to enforce red light violations and subsequent “cash cow”. The problem which struck me as unacceptable was the editor’s alteration of my opinion’s wording, without first asking for my permission, in such a way as to change the entire piece; it now appeared as if I were in favor of the huge money grab all because one word was removed, “Scam”.

The editor and I exchanged pleasantries and I couldn’t tell you how many times the words, “We are truly sorry for this misunderstanding” came out either in our telephone conversations or in the letters of apology which later were sent. The editorial staff “claimed” they honestly thought I’d accidentally typed “Scam” when referring to the City’s new ability to obtain money. To this day the banner on my blog, T. F. Stern’s Rantings, has a reference which reads:

“My Op-ed pieces are generally too long, and most definitely too far to the right for our Liberal friends in the press to print. The one time they printed my rantings, they edited it so badly as to destroy its meaning...and so I now have decided to BLOG.”

I found out something about blogging, a hidden prize I hadn’t known existed, comments. I’d write about something, figure out how to mechanically get it onto the blog, a whole new world of “tools” to become familiar with by the way; lo and behold, folks would leave a comment. Total strangers from all over the world had read my article and either agreed or disagreed, enough to take a moment or so out of their day to write a note.

Now I have to admit, calling me a “%$&!” or some other profanity doesn’t exactly fall into the compliment category; but at least I’d gotten someone’s attention. I’d been a police officer for twenty years, you think calling me “%$&!” is going to work; folks, “you ain’t heard nothin’”, compared with what I’ve heard coming from the back seat of a patrol car. I only wish I’d kept tape recordings so you could get an idea; but “ you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself”, at least that’s what Ricky Nelson had to say in his song.

I’ll share one and only one “police war story” at “this juncture” (you should see an exaggerated Saturday Night Live imitation of President Bush) to make a point.

I’d arrested a young man for DWI and while filling out the required forms asked him his name since he had no driver’s license or any other form of identification. His reply, “F*** You!”; shouldn’t take much imagination to fill in those blanks. Instead of getting in a huff I left that part of the form blank, at least until I took him to get finger printed and could ascertain his true identity; filling in his answer under the category, AKA or alias.

A couple of months passed and the case came up for trial; I sat in the court room as a potential witness wearing my blue uniform. The defendant wanted to enter a plea, his lawyer having reached some kind of agreement with the prosecutor. That all changed when the judge happened to look down at the form in front of him, the one which had the defendant’s alias.

The judge wasn’t amused, called me up to the bench and asked me how that information came to be included on the arrest blotter. I was more than happy to enlighten the judge and a new round of negotiations took place between the defense lawyer and the prosecutor, one which would take into consideration the defendant’s friendly disposition; that glib comment from the back seat of my patrol car came back to bite him on the butt, now didn’t it.

Call it an ego trip, for surely that term applies to the comment section; the more comments at the bottom of an article, the better I felt about having spent so much time writing when I could have been doing other things, making a living, reading a good book, making a living, watching re-runs of Mary Tyler Moore and of course, making a living. Is this where you hear a little voice go off in the back of your head, “Get a life!”?

My wife, Lucy, of Lucy’s Frugal Living , has the kind of personality which draws friendly folks out of hiding. These are wonderful people from all walks of life who, like myself, quickly claim Lucy as their buddy for life. Even when Lucy has something to say which runs counter to everyone else in a “thread” of comments, to include the author of the article; even then Lucy has a way of diplomacy which would make her an excellent candidate for most any Department of State position around the world. I should have prefaced that remark; Civilized folks find Lucy’s way of handling adversity appealing; the Palestinians would still be doing their best to push Israel into the sea.

You see, I just antagonized an entire population, a dangerous malignant society run by ignorant rag headed thugs and I’ve only gotten to the first page. Lucy will read this and quietly shake her head, as if to say, breathing out a heavy sigh, “You’re not going to leave in that line about the Palestinians, are you?”.

Every now and again I hit pay dirt and the comment section grows with faithful admirers; okay, often times I have to duck as a rotten tomato whizzes past my forehead. The errant tomato tossed in anger only goes to show what kind of a genius I am for painting the wall in the dining room a deep red, that wall directly behind my “writer’s chair”.

Blogging makes me the master of my op-ed pieces. The New York Times may need to down size in order to stay in business; I’ve only one way to go, up! My regular readership might average twenty a day, and that’s on a good day.

I used to wonder if anyone, anyone at all stopped by to read my articles; not to be confused with the Anyone Atoll located in the South Pacific. I added one of those Stat Counter things and found I was right; hardly anyone stops by, breathe out and keep typing. I started to feel like Charlie Brown, unappreciated and in serious need of help. It’s a good thing I have Lucy, who only charges a nickel for “free” advice. (“That’s a joke, boy, a joke”, in my cartoon rooster voice)

I thought about putting the “Lucy” cartoon logo here on this page, the one we stole from Charles Schultz’ cartoon, Peanuts, the one we put at the top of her blog in place of an actual photograph; but that would involve copyright infringements, permission from the trust fund and all kinds of legal entanglements. Picture in your mind the cartoon character in her medium blue dress on the other side of the hand made booth waiting to explain how the cow ate the cabbage to Charlie Brown, having paid his nickel in order to obtain “free” advice.

There are different categories for blog articles, at least in my file system. Some bloggers go through the trouble of listing the various file boxes when they post, it’s called “technorati” , a search engine tool intended to help draw readers in. I have file boxes, general in nature in which I store my articles; Observations, Government, Politics, History, Locksmith, Police and Religion. I have one last file for Posted Blogs where I edit original articles by adding the Comment Section remarks when and if these come about.

If, for example, I write from the pulpit about Religion or most anything associated with faith; that article will bring out what I call, “the Zero Comment” response. Interestingly enough, the Stat Counter will show quite a few “hits” indicating it was read by a wide range of folks; however, the comment section will be barren, much as the aging Elizabeth prior to the birth of John the Baptist. I could say I visited with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John over the weekend and be fairly confident knowing a Zero would float ominously in the comment count box.

On the other hand, if I said I talked to a fellow named Peter who said we should render unto Uncle Sam that which was issued by Uncle Sam in order to pay for a never ending stream of entitlement programs; that would fall under Government or Politics. Nothing like pouring gasoline on an already well stoked fire; the comment section would pop like pork fat on a barbeque grill on the White House lawn. Altering the name of something in order to attract attention and comments is an art in and of itself.

I learned how to link other folks’ blogs within the text of my articles with the links being hidden rather than have to leave a space and type in


The use of hidden links makes any paragraph look more professional; call it eye appeal. I even learned how to use the trackback function in Haloscan , a little like leaving a comment and yet much more complex in the nuts and bolts. I was aided in my progress by Mike, listed on my blog roll as Mover Mike ; a truly patient individual able to teach even an imbecile as was proven when I proved I could actually link and trackback.

Here’s the “template” used to hide links; I keep it at the bottom of my page for easy reference any time I write a blog. I need only Control C/Control V and place the linking template tool where I want it, substitute “short description” with key words in my sentence and then substitute the actual URL in the space provided between quotation marks of “url”. If I can do it, anyone should be able to; just make sure not to alter any of the instructions on the template.

short description
(Note: It’s impossible to attempt showing the hidden link tool instructions on blogger as it instantly sees anything close as either a link or a screwed up attempt to link, thereby pointing out the error which won’t let you proceed)

I’ve found a certain amount of satisfaction when others link to one of my articles; it stands to reason other bloggers enjoy being included by way of a link or trackback. The use of trackbacks extends an invitation to other readers, those reading the comment section of someone else’s blog as they need only click on the provided link which leads them to read my blog. (Make a note to myself, trackback more often)

Blogger “burn out” can happen for any number of reason, either from the feeling of wasted effort when nobody leaves a comment, from having exhausted a limited range of thoughts (be careful here, be very careful), or getting in the way of other important functions such as making a living, reading a good book, making a living, watching re-runs of Mary Tyler Moore and of course, making a living.

Recently a fellow blogger was asking “why bother anymore”, wondering if the time and effort required for a blog was a waste. My comment equated blogging with attending church meetings; you never know who will be touched by what you have to offer, even if it’s only one person the effort isn’t wasted. While that is a true statement, having lots of comments is a lot more fun; hardly anything beats a full house.

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