I've gotta say, I wouldn't have passed Mr. Nooncaster's Senior English class* if I had this many tardies.

* look for the chapter "A Coach for All Seasons" on page 103 if you are unfamiliar with Aubra Nooncaster.

Much of Nothing

I never should have started with the old picture bit. This is another one that haunts me, not necessarily in a bad way though. This is another photo of Dad.

Spring is my favorite panhandle season. It usually happens on a Thursday.

Born in 1918, so I'm guessing early to mid 1930's? It's hard to tell his age, isn't it.

Those clothes don't fit, maybe the boots. Probably the riding heel boots he once said he lived and earned his living in.

Is that tie blowing a little? Maybe a calm spring day in the panhandle. Easter?

That road just disappears. It seems to go nowhere, or maybe it's just too much for the camera to take in.

How often do you think he was seen outside without a hat?

The whole thing seem so posed, so staged, but why this huge, empty stage? And yet, he seems to be staking a claim to this wide open space, just standing there like 'here I am.'

That pasture seems to be pretty green. Spring rains maybe.

Those tracks seem to be from pretty narrow wheels. Wagons maybe.

Those hands. Those black, working hands, so uncomfortable at his side wondering 'where are the damn reins.'

It Figures

Here's a photo of the Sinclair station I mentioned earlier. Dad is on the left. I'm not sure about the origins of the photo, but I do remember seeing it around the house in a black frame. In the photo it looks like Dad's left arm was amputated at the elbow, but it really wasn't.

Up to this point I've mainly talked about things my Dad said and thought. I suppose I've been a bit neglectful of Mom's lessons. That's probably because the one phrase from Mom that is burned in my brain was "I can't get five minutes peace to myself!" To my credit, I only made the mistake of saying, "It's not my fault you had seven kids!" once. She had her own way of teaching, which typically didn't involve a folksy turn of phrase like Dad.

This particular photo was one of her teaching tools, at least for me. I couldn't figure out how or why my Dad didn't have an arm in the photo. I was positive he had one, at least he had one any other time I saw him. I couldn't very well ask him. If he was missing an arm, and I had not noticed, I would feel embarrassed about bringing it up. If he wasn't missing an arm, I'd feel silly for asking. If he was missing an arm, the prosthetic was incredible! It was much more impressive than the hook/pincher thing the old man who lived over on Dwight St. had; it would be a must for show and tell.

And so, naturally, I asked Mom. I didn't get "He was waving when the shutter was open and either the shutter speed or the film speed was too slow to capture the motion." I didn't get "Oh you silly boy, of course your Dad isn't an amputee, it's just a bad photo!" And I didn't get "Here, look closely. See that blur?* That's because your Dad's arm was moving."

No, I got something along the lines of "You're so smart, figure it out yourself." And eventually, I did.

To some people that may sound a bit harsh, but I certainly didn't take it that way. I took it as a challenge. I suppose if I had never figured it out I might have developed some self esteem issues, though I'm not sure those existed for kids in the 1960's.

Instead, I did figure it out and I found there's satisfaction in solving a puzzlement. And I learned that if it seems there should be an obvious answer, there probably is and it's likely just a lack of knowledge that keeps you from seeing it. I learned that a first glance, even a cursory one, can alert you that something is out of place if you truly know what you're looking at, and that the little flag that pops up in your head when you notice the anomaly is a signal that something needs to be studied a little more closely.

Figuring things out for yourself is a good skill to have. I highly recommend it.

* The Sinclair logo on the other guys shirt (Bill's) was the key to me actually recognizing that there was a blur. The blur covered up the logo that should be there and then it was simply a matter of figuring out what causes blurs in photographs.


Those People

Dad ran a Sinclair station on the corner of Hobart St. and Highway 60 in Pampa when I was a kid. This would have been in the mid to late 60's. Sometimes I would ride my bike up there and hang out, checking the oil level and tire pressure on customer's cars or pumping gas. And sometimes just monkeying around in the service bays. In those days you 'monkeyed around', you didn't 'eff things up'.

Anyway, one thing I noticed about Dad during that time was that he was the same guy at work as he was at home. He'd take too long to tell a story. He'd patch a tire instead of sell a new one. He seemed perfectly content with his station in life ... never pushing too hard to get ahead ... always seeming to accept things as they were and doing his best to just roll with it. From his Dust Bowl and Great Depression shaped perspective I'm sure he thought he was doing just fine, thank you.

One of the men who worked with Dad was named Bill. Bill was a small, wiry guy with a lined face. He was also a tobacco chewer, which fascinated me, especially because he seemed totally unconcerned about the spit and the stains and the great, gross wad of wet weed in his mouth. Dad said he was a 'drinker' too, which, in his opinion, was better than either 'drunk' or 'teetotaler'; extremism of any kind was frowned upon. Bill also had what Dad called 'short man's disease', what others might call a chip on his shoulder or self esteem issues, but in the end all that mattered to Dad was "he's a good hand."

Dad went out periodically to "collect", which meant that he drove around town and collected payments from all the folks who bought gas or service on credit. They didn't use a credit card, they just signed a ticket and once a month Dad wrote them up a bill, went to their house or business and collected the payment. Sometimes they paid the whole thing, sometimes they didn't. If they didn't pay something, their credit at the station got cut off.

Dad came back from collecting one day and someone had paid him in trade ... he had accepted a 12 gauge Savage Arms pump shotgun* in lieu of cash. I did not know the details, the who's or the why's, but Bill certainly had a strong opinion about it. He didn't know why Dad did business with "those people", much less give them credit, they were all "no good and lazy" and next time they would pay him with "a fried chicken and a yella meat melon." Dad's reply was simple. He said, "'Those people' that pay their bill, that's who I do business with and give credit to. That's the only kind of people to do business with."

Dad was ahead of the civil rights curve for a man of his generation; he brought up that incident every time we took that shotgun bird hunting and would drive the point of the story home with words like:

It don't matter what people say. A white guy will screw you just as soon as a black guy will.

I don't need to know where a man goes to church, I need to know if he paid the last guy.

Watch what folks do, not what they say, 'cause what they do to others is what they'll do to you.

The basic theme of these lessons was to judge people on their merits and actions, not their skin color or their community standing. Dad wouldn't have much trouble deciding who to vote for in this year's presidential election and his decision would have nothing to do with who's white or who's black.

Obama used a technicality to get elected to the State Senate in Illinois which was called either "not honorable" or "shrewd", depending on your particular perspective.

Then he said he would not run for president in 2008 because he felt he was inexperienced, but he did anyway. I'd post the link to the video on youtube, but surprisingly (?) they have all been removed.

He went from State Senator to U.S. Senator to Presidential candidate in a very short time span, because he is, well, pick your adjective ... greedy? opportunistic? arrogant? confident? Wait, I have one ... "destined" ... that's it.

I'd like to buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he'll bring.

Then, of course, he reneged on a pledge to accept public financing for the presidential campaign. His campaign has also "motivated" supporters to flood the lines on radio talk shows, to threaten prosecution for advertisements, and has recently decided to take their ball and go home rather than answer tough questions.

Contrast that with the career and actions of John McCain. Which one would you do business with?

When Biden gets tough but fair questions, he runs and hides, but Palin expands her role despite the entirely unfair attacks. Biden lies so smoothly it comes off as intelligence when it's really ignorance. Palin can't even tell a white lie convincingly; I don't think it's in her. Which one would you give credit to?

It is John McCain and Sarah Palin who are "those people" in this election ... the kind who pay their bills and you can give credit to. If Dad were asked about Obama and Biden I can guess he'd say:

They're as worthless as tits on a boar hog.

They wouldn't know an honest days work if it bit 'em in the ass.

They're just like a blister ... they show up after the work is done and want to get all the attention.

What you see is what you get, folks. The question is are you paying attention to what they are showing you? Are you right sure you know who you're doing business with?

* I still have the shotgun, though I don't go bird hunting much anymore. Who knew poodles were gun dogs? He loves the smell of gun oil.


Channeling My Inner Relationship Guru for the Good of the Country

In an effort to understand why anyone would support Obama, I put my trust in Google, entered the quoted phrase "why should I vote for Obama" and clicked the "I feel lucky" button. Google rewarded me with an obamapedia.org page entitled "Why Should I Vote for Obama in 2008?". Amazing, isn't it?

My theory was that although conservatives have amassed many valid reasons for the case against Obama, perhaps they did not refute the specific reasons for supporting Obama and therefore their reasons were being ignored or discounted. I thought if I, or rather Google, could find definitive arguments that support electing Obama, those arguments could then be deconstructed. I thought, perhaps, in rational, logical fashion I could step through the case for Obama, refute or confirm the claims and prove the opposite case in terms that Obama supporters might be willing to accept.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any logic.

I don't understand how 'hope' and 'unity' and 'charisma' and 'salesmanship' translate into "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" or being Commander-in-Chief. I kept turning up the sound as I was reading the page because I could have sworn I heard Kum Ba Yah playing in the background. Geez. That's the best Google could do? Why bother making a logical, rational case to someone who is obviously more concerned with perception than reality?

  • "Obama ... has a history of working across the aisle and listening to opposing viewpoints [ed.: when?], and is stressing a united America [ed.: strike the 'a united' part] within his campaign."
  • "If he was elected, Obama would do a better job [ed.: objection. speculation] of not only passing the necessary legislation [ed.: define 'necessary'] by incorporating other peoples points of view [ed.: he's a 98% Democrat voter historically so as long as those people are Democrats, sure!], but also persuading the American people that he is acting in their interest. [ed.: note that 'persuading' is more important than 'actually working' in the people's interest]"
  • "He makes the country feel hope [ed.: as in 'everybody felt Hope, so Hope got mad and left the party'?] and want to move forward and be a better country [ed.: because we just suck right now]."
  • "I support Barack Obama because, after reading both his books, I believe him to be the kind of leader America needs now."*
Do any of these statements sound like they are based in reality?

The only thing I can think of that might allow me to communicate effectively with an Obama supporter is to channel my inner relationship guru (I've been to California so I'm qualified) and try to explain why an Obama presidency will not be "healthy".

Dear Obama supporter,

Look, I'm sorry, I know you didn't ask for any relationship advice, but you are a good and beautiful person, and you deserve the truth. It may be painful right now, but in the long run you will appreciate my honesty and perhaps this will help you to move on to a healthy, and more mature, relationship.

You shouldn't get involved with someone with the 'hope' that they will change! You know that doesn't work. You either love them for who they are or spend the rest of the relationship trying to make them into what you want them to be. Honestly, and I know you don't want to believe me, but honestly, he's not who you think he is. If you're truthful with yourself and open your eyes you can see that I'm right.

Don't believe me? Think about this. He had a twenty year relationship, a close, deeply spiritual relationship, and he threw it all away; he just up and walked out because it was no longer convenient! Not only that, apparently, he never actively listened to what his partner in that relationship was saying! Is that the sort of man you can count on?

And that's not the only relationship he's distanced himself from, either. You know what I'm talking about. I don't want to get into all the dirty details, but speaking of details, don't you get the feeling he's hiding something ... like he hasn't been completely honest? What about those years at Columbia? And what's the deal with his cousin, Odinga? And has there ever been another editor of the Harvard Law Review who didn't publish something in it? It could all be innocent coincidence, but it just feels wrong, doesn't it?

And his grandmother ... look how he treats his grandmother! My mother always told me that you can tell a lot about a man by how he treats the woman who raised him. Here this woman gave him everything, and he paints her as a racist. Where's the loyalty in that?

I know, I know. Believe me, I've been there. We've ALL been there. At first they're all charming and attractive and bright and clean. He says all the right things, promises to spend a lot of money on you and take care of you forever. You're actually proud to show him off to your friends in Europe and the Middle East, right? It shows what an open minded and progressive person you are, doesn't it? Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all! It seems perfect, and then bang, something happens.

What happens when things get tough. Someone says he's a socialist or a radical or even a marxist! Will you defend him? Or will you ignore or deny it because it's a little too close to the truth? Oh sure, he sounds like a moderate, but when you listen closely, when you really listen, what do hear? ... taxing is about "fairness" ... he wants to "spread the wealth"... the union card check 'promotes' freedom of choice, yeah, right. You know the truth, but can you admit it?

What happens when your neighbors start to take advantage of his good nature? Will he defend you? Or will he do whatever it takes to make them happy and keep the peace? Close friends of his are guaranteeing that there will be a dangerous crisis in the first year of this relationship. Does that make you feel safe? Do you trust him not to throw you under the bus with his grandmother?

There's something else your mother probably told you that you should remember ... when you commit to the man, you commit to his family, too. Can you get along with the in-laws? You know how shrill Pelosi can get; how long can you tolerate that? What about Dodd and Frank, the drunk uncles, constantly blustering about how smart they are and what brilliant business moves they've made, and then you find out the business went broke so there's no more Christmas bonus from Aunt Fannie and Uncle Freddie to fund the next campaign. And what about Harry Reid? He's family loyal to a fault (seriously), but dumb as a box of rocks.

And don't make me remind you about the foreign relations. Has he even told you about his brother back in Kenya? And trust me, you don't want cousin Odinga over for Thanksgiving. There's some unpleasantness there, something about Muslims slaughtering Christians for political purposes, but never mind that. I'm just saying, you need to consider those potential family issues, too!

And although you have to live with your family, you get to pick your friends, so you can learn a lot about a person by their friendships. Oh, sorry, you told me you don't want to talk about Tony or Rashid or Saul or Frank or Klonsky, didn't you?

Anyway, it's an important decision, and I'm sure you are getting conflicting opinions. Chris and Keith are practically in a tingly swoon in anticipation of the consumation. And you get so much affirmation from Oprah and Whoopi and those highly esteemed folks at the New York Times it's got to be hard to quiet your emotions and think rationally and carefully about the future. But you need to try.

I know you've heard the "he's a socialist!" rumors already. And surely he's completely discussed his past relationships with you by now ... he has hasn't he? And the family stuff? You're comfortable with that? With putting up with his family for the next four years? Ok, ok ... I'm sorry. I'll back off. I know that when someone pushes you too hard to get out of a relationship it makes you want to cling to it even more. Oops. Sorry again. I forgot that "clinging" brings up bad memories in the relationship.

As I said in the beginning, I know you didn't ask for any advice, but as someone who cares about you, I felt I should say something before this thing goes too far. Let me be completely honest ... I don't think this would be a healthy relationship.

I've given you a lot to think about, and I'm sorry if this has sounded hyper-critical of the person you have committed to, but I'd like to leave you with one final thought. Way back at the beginning I mentioned that you shouldn't commit to someone who you hope will change. Instead, you should really get to know someone and then love them for who they are ... that's the only way to ensure mutual respect and trust and faith in your partner. Know them first, and put your trust in them only if they've proven themselves worthy because it's faith and faithfulness, not hope, that can support a healthy relationship.

You're a good and beautiful person. You deserve a healthy relationship.

With love and peace and unity,
(and just a pinch of charisma)

The Inner Relationship Guru

* This is probably not a person who wants to hear about Jack Cashill's theory.


Intellectual Property Training

Periodically my employer requires refresher training on the legalities* of intellectual property.
I usually take copious notes and diligently file them for future reference.
Sometimes, however, I just doodle.

* And, in case you're wondering, yes, I cleared it with our legal department and have the email to prove it ... I own my own doodles, not the company. Apparently, they don't want them!


Texas politics & head rattling

The "just talking to hear your head rattle"* line that my Dad often used had various meanings. Sometimes it meant that the case had been overstated, much like Shakespeare's lady that protests too much . Sometimes it simply meant that the comment served no purpose, the sin of wasted effort. Most often it meant that the comment had no value because it was repetitious, extraneous or nonsensical.

The point of bringing this up is to state my intention to keep this blog from being just another head rattle. Just remember, intentions are not guarantees.

I'm also going to take an opportunity to point you to a political debate that, believe it or not, had no rattling that I could hear.

I don't live in Midland, or in Texas House district 82 for that matter, but a high school classmate of mine, Bill Dingus , is running for State Representative out there, and I spent a little time watching the online replay of his debate with Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick. I was impressed with both candidates, though I have to admit I could still see some smart-assery from Bill that I remembered from dear old Pampa High School, and which I still admire.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't seen or talked to Bill in at least 20 years, so it's not like we are close pals. I just heard about the race in the news because Bill's name caught my eye and because Speaker Craddick is, shall we say, "newsworthy". I also have to admit that yes, I was one of those people "outside the district" that was discussed in the debate who contributed to Bill's campaign. I know, I know ... he's a Democrat, but what can I say? I believe his slogan that he's "One of the Good Guys."

I was a little concerned about the "change" theme I heard from Bill in the debate. I thought he might be trying to tag along with the Obama mantra, or that the main reason for needing change was simply because Mr. Craddick had been there too long. That's more valid than the Obama thing because politicians in the same office for such a long time tend to get entrenched and obligated (not to mention a pension in excess of $100K per year and $1,000 toilets), but it could be seen simply as change for change sake, which is not always the right thing to do.

But here's the difference maker for me. Obama talks about "fundamental change", but his version undermines American values ... he wants to "spread the wealth" and give labor unions the right to intimidate which I don't believe reflect our values. He says, essentially, that we, meaning our values and moral premises, are broken and need to be fixed. I don't believe that.

Bill, on the other hand, is seeking change that restores American values ... that says we can do better like electing representatives that are responsible to their constituents instead of special interests , and voting out representatives that don't reflect democratic ideals.

If only I could vote in the District 82 election ... anyone know of an ACORN office in Midland?

The opinions expressed here are my own.

* The Joe Biden bobble-head doll ... I hope they remember to make the head rattle.

Hockey & head rattling

Last Saturday my sister invited me to a Dallas Stars hockey game. Great seats, an entertaining game and a row of knuckle heads behind us. They were, apparently, a couple of newly minted couples, who were much more interested in advancing their relationships than watching hockey. I'll confess to some major irritation at having to hear them, especially after they had repaired to the bar. When they returned their vocal volume was stuck on drunk.

At one point one guy was describing his high school athletic accomplishments and promised that he could "totally" teach one of the girls how to play soccer or ice hockey or roller hockey or any sport that's "fast paced and has a lot of speed, because I really love speed". Her response? "We should totally do that! For real! I would LOVE to be a soccer player!" I've just hit the high points here ... the entire conversation took a good portion of the third period.

At that point a Dad saying popped into my head:

You're just talking to hear your head rattle.

I think their communication would have been more efficient, and less head rattling if it had gone like this:

Guy: I'd really like to get in your pants.
Hmm. Well. How much time, attention and/or money is it worth to you?
Well somewhere between changing my oil and repainting the living room.
Gee. Well, I was thinking more like buying a car or remodeling the kitchen.
That doesn't work for me. Know anyone who needs their oil changed?
Sorry, no. Maybe you should try the baseball game.


What's the deal with Sarah Palin?

In Peggy Noonan's WSJ column today, "Palin's Failin'", she is critical of Mrs. Palin saying things like:

"But it's unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn't think aloud. She just . . . says things."


"She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for?"

I would argue that she should ask that question of each of the four candidates under consideration. Allow me to speculate on the answers, from my decidedly non-elite perspective, though I should probably warn you that sometimes I just 'say things'.

John McCain's purposes and ambitions, I believe, are closely tied to his sense of duty and his family tradition of service to America. There may be some feeling of vindication and justification for the time he spent in a Vietnamese prison, but who can argue that he has not earned the opportunity? Of all the candidates, he is the most deserving.

Barack Obama's purpose and ambition is quite simply "fundamental change" in America. All of his arguments, policies and concepts center on "fairness". He believes America is unfair and must be changed, regardless of the potential damage to American principles such as individual freedom, personal responsibility and unlimited opportunity. He feels we must be fair, above all else, regardless of the impact that philosophy has on our economy, our international relationships and the psychology of the citizenry.

Joe Biden's purpose is to keep his job. He has no greater ambition that I can see. How else do you explain 30 years in the Senate without a single major accomplishment outside of continually being re-elected? It's a job with great perks and social standing, but in the end he's just selling good ol' Joe, like he's the latest model from Detroit, to the voters in Delaware.

Sarah Palin's purpose and ambition is possibly the most ambitious of them all. She wants to serve. That's it. Perhaps Ms. Noonan didn't catch it in her acceptance speech, which is odd considering who she specifically addressed the comment to. She said:

"But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."

Since that speech, what has she said or done to make anyone think that's not a sincere and truthful answer? Perhaps you don't understand the concept of serving others, but Sarah does, and that's why she resonates with the people.

Sarah understands service to others through her public service, her roles of wife and mother and, perhaps most importantly, through her Christian faith. The American people understand service to others, therefore we understand Sarah.

We get it. Do you, Ms. Noonan? What are your purposes and ambitions? What do you do to be "of service"? Does your writing reflect that? If so, then you should understand, too. If not, then perhaps you should work on that, if only to help you understand the answers you've already been given.

What in the Hell???

My Dad, B.A., would often turn a corner, look at me with surprise on his face, and simply say:

What in the hell???

It might be because I had the lawnmower apart, or perhaps I would be blowing up red ants with Black Cats, but no matter the situation, I knew what he meant. He meant 'What do you think you are doing and why would you even consider doing it?'.

My answer, as I got older and bolder was always:


Reading this blog, you may have already asked yourself his question. And I've already given my real answer, but I suppose, in this context, I should offer some sort of reason or purpose or explanation.

My parents, like all parents, provided me with a set of tools for surviving in this world that range from genetic intellectual capacity to a unique weltanschauung* built from the opportunities and experiences they provided, as well as their counsel and correction. Typically, my Dad would provide the counsel and my Mother would provide the correction. They did, however, agree on one thing:

That boy will argue with a fencepost.

My intent is not simply to argue here, but it's become apparent that I need some outlet for the things I want to say (I've always been a sucker for peer pressure) and metaphorically an internet blog is a Texas panhandle fencepost. I could do as my Dad constantly advised whenever I complained about anything ...

Put your head in a bucket and holler real loud.

... but where's the fun in that? It was much more fun when Dad would pick up a Black Cat, light it and say:

Oh, what the hell.

* No, I didn't make that word up. Honestly, I read it somewhere. It means "world view". I've been looking for years for a way to work it into something. Man, I am so glad to be done with THAT.