Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Pedestal is a Prison

Gloria Steinem once said "Don't put me up on a pedestal.  A pedestal is a prison, like any other small space."  When we idolize someone or some entity or some thing we confine it.  When we, say, idolize a football team, we put that entity up on a pedestal and when they break out of that prison in our mind's eye, the only place to go is down.

For years I have been an avid fan of the University of Texas Longhorn football program.  When we moved back to Texas in 1986 one of the first things I did was purchase season tickets to the Longhorn football games.  We have attended nearly every home game for 26 years and have had a huge tailgate set-up for over 15 years, celebrating with friends and family over BBQ and margaritas on the "40 Acres" on game day.  We have been members of the Longhorn Foundation, a student/athlete support group since its inception.  I follow the team in the news and hang on every word written about them.  As a younger man, my week would be made or shattered by either a win or loss, respectively. It does not affect me quite that much anymore, but I do hate to see them lose.

The Texas Longhorns have had a marvelously successful athletic program over the years; excelling in all sports from football to golf, swimming to track, baseball to basketball, volleyball to gymnastics with both men and women's teams.  The coaches of these teams are legends in their own time; Darrell Royal, Abe Lemons, Augie Gurrido, Rick Barnes, Jody Conradt, Cliff Gufstafson and Mack Brown, just to name a few.  The Longhorn football team, in particular, is one of the most respected and successful college programs of all time.  It has been ranked in the Top 25 in the country, with few exceptions, every year since I can remember.  It is the second winningest program in college football history behind only the Michigan Wolverines.  It is one of the most financially successful teams in the nation and proceeds from its program fund practically every other sport at the University.  In 2012 the Texas Longhorn Football Program was acknowledged as the most valuable program in the nation, estimated at $ 805 million dollars!  That is more than many NFL teams.

In addition to competitive and financial success, the Texas Longhorn football program has achieved a high level of integrity over the years.  It has never been investigated or sanctioned by the NCAA for any infractions, let alone banned like Ohio State or Penn State.  And it graduates a relatively high percentage of its players in an era when the NFL can snap up the top talent after their sophomore year.

So, is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands of loyal fans routinely put UT football up on a pedestal?  Ah, but then, when you escape the pedestal....the fall can be great.

Texas plays Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl tonight.  On Thursday night, two of the Texas players violated curfew and were embroiled in an incident which shocked the Longhorn nation.  Accused of rape, Case McCoy, quarterback and brother of NFL quarterback and Longhorn great, Colt McCoy, and linebacker Jordan Hicks, have been suspended from the team and sent home.  At this writing, no arrests have been made or charges filed.  The alleged rape was made by a 21-year old woman who reported she invited the boys back to her hotel room after an evening of drinking and claims she was violated by one while the other boy watched.

Currently, the detail of this sordid story are sketchy, but Mack Brown took swift action in suspending the players involved pending a complete investigation, even though not having his back-up quarterback and star linebacker for this important bowl game will hurt the team.  The action is exactly what a good coach, a coach with integrity, would do even though a loss tonight and a verification of his players alleged wrong-doing will probably cost him his job.

It is a sad moment in UT history, whichever way it ends up, and one more reason why it is not wise to put anyone, any entity or any thing up on a pedestal.


Friday, December 28, 2012

An American Hero Falls

Last time we spoke I was lamenting the decline of leadership in our country.  Well, of the few that are left, we lost one of our great leaders and true American heroes yesterday, General Norman Schwartzkopf.  "Stormin' Norman" came into the limelight and our living rooms as the voice and face of the first Persian Gulf War while serving as Commander of U.S. Central Command in Desert Storm.  He became the star of the first 24-hour news cycle war, fostered by the cable news networks, and a man who commanded respect wherever he appeared and whenever he spoke. 

Most people had never heard of General Schwartkopf before he commanded the U.S.-led international coalition troops who pushed Saddam Hussein's supposedly-elite Republican Guard from Kuwait City back to Iraq with their tails between their legs in 1991.  After that brilliant victory, his became a household name and our fighting troops regained the respect of all Americans that had been lost during the Vietnam war.

Schwartzkopf was a hero in Vietnam, rescuing an entire platoon caught in a mine-field by personally leading them to safety.  For this action and many more he was the recipient of a Purple Heart, the Silver Star, a Bronze Star medal and many Commendation Medals, just to name a few.  He was a man of strength, courage and valor.  He was a man of integrity and determination.  He was a visionary leader and his leadership will be missed.

Norman Schwartzkopf was the kind of man we need in Washington.  We need his kind of leadership in the White House and in the Congress.  What we have instead are, for the most part, a bunch of self-serving, egotistical, even borderline narcissistic men and women who put the needs of American people and our future second to everything else, especially their own re-elections.  The only way for us to fix that is to vote those who do not represent us and who do not exhibit the courage to make the hard decisions to solve the difficult problems we face today out of office.  Someone once said that all politicians are like baby diapers, they need to be changed often and for the same reason.  Well, it is time to change the stinks!

Like the General, however, who would never have asked his troops to do anything he wasn't either willing to do or had not already done himself, we ALL have to make certain sacrifices.  To get out of this massive budget deficit, we are ALL going to have to pay more taxes.  We are ALL going to have to do with fewer services, fewer entitlements, fewer hand-outs.  We are ALL going to have to tighten our belts and learn to live with less....not just the super rich (all those "millionaires and billionaires" the President keeps demonizing) but every American citizen.  Those who incurred the debt need to pay the debt. It is the only way to keep from mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren. 

In my opinion, neither political party has a flawless strategy or a clear plan to turn our economy around and set America back on the path to prosperity.  Neither has the perfect solution to our problems nor the backbone to stand for what is needed and what is right.  Neither has the leadership skills of a Norman Schwartzkopf and, for that, our nation should mourn all the more. 


Thursday, December 27, 2012

USA Went Over the Cliff Years Ago

Here is hoping all my readers had a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah this year and that each of you will experience a healthy, prosperous New Year.  The operative words in the last sentence, "healthy" and  "prosperous", are so very important.  One is quite possible.  A new round of New Year's resolutions, a little will-power, judicious exercise, the willingness to watch Dr. Oz and give up white flour and sugar can contribute significantly to the former.  Only a unified Congress and a supportive Chief Executive can ensure the latter.  Which do you think is harder?

Some say individual prosperity in our country next year will be defined by the fiscal cliff.  Unfortunately, this Congress seems to lack the intelligence to find the unity necessary to avoid financial disaster.  Hell, if our country goes over the cliff, plunging to our fiscal doom, this Congress couldn't even remember what number to dial to reach 911 for help.  And as far as the "Leader of the Strongest Nation in the World" is concerned, he couldn't find the edge of the fiscal cliff or his rear-end with two hands and a flashlight.  BUT, it doesn't matter.  The United States went over the cliff years ago and we have been in free-fall ever since.

O.K., so you say, Smith, aren't you being a bit harsh?  You tell me.  Our collective debt is $ 17 trillion dollars.  Too big a number to even fathom, well look at it this way.  Every man, woman and child in this country owes right at $ 49,000.00 to cover their portion of the current debt.  Each one.  My youngest granddaughter is only 2 years old.  That is a heck of a big tab for her to pay and she doesn't pay taxes yet let alone even have an allowance.  But the cliff I am talking about the U.S. going over years ago isn't of a fiscal nature.

The cliff I am referring to has to do with leadership, or more precisely, a lack thereof.  In my opinion we have not had a President with any kind of vision for this country since Ronald Reagan and he wasn't perfect.  These days we don't even have that much vision going on.  No one measures up....certainly no Bushes or bush chasers and certainly no one named Barrack.  Where are the Washington's, Hamilton's and Jefferson's of our day?  And that is only part of the problem.  Our congressional leaders have been just as sadly lacking.  Aside from a few stalwarts in the most recent 20 years whose time is now past, are you telling me that John Boehner and Harry Reid are the best and brightest our country has to offer?  If we don't climb out of this abyss and find some men and women who have vision and the fortitude to make the hard decisions needed for our country to turn itself around, our plunge over the leadership cliff will make this coming fiscal one look like a speed bump. 


Jud Smith

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun Control - The Impossible Dream

As the mayor of Newtown said yesterday, "Evil visited our community today".  A nation mourns as the state of Connecticut is added to the growing list of states which have experienced a tragic mass murder perpetrated by a lone gunman.  This time 26 innocent lives were lost, including 20 young children, ages 7-10, at an elementary school situated in this upper-middle class town, population under 2,000.  When I was 7 I lived in the neighboring village of Brookfield Center, barely 5 miles from Newtown, both bedroom communities for Danbury, CT and less than an hours train ride from New York City.

Collectively, as a nation of basically caring people our hearts grieve when these things happen.  They grieve for the senseless loss of life of innocent people.  They grieve for the parents, family and friends of the victims.  And before the mourning is over our thoughts turn to how in the world we can prevent this from ever happening again.  Our anger and outrage search for the easy, permanent solution and we want our leaders and elected representatives to fix it and fix it now.  Since this massacre involved handguns, the outcry for "gun control" increases to a fever pitch and people line up on either side to debate the issue.

Let me say up front, I am a gun owner.  I have three handguns, a large caliber hunting rifle, a small caliber target rifle and two shotguns.  I acquired these guns over the years from legitimate sources for the purpose of hunting and target shooting.  They are, by the way, safely locked in a gun cabinet at my office, not in my home, as we have young grandchildren who visit for long periods and there is no sense in tempting fate.  I will also admit I have been, although no longer, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and was even one of their elite Golden Eagle members at one time in the past.  There, now you know the whole truth.  With this as a background, let me put forth the following argument which you have no doubt heard before.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  Some who commit homicide use guns, some knives, some use rat poison, some use crowbars, some use baseball bats, some use rocks.  Statistics show in 2011 there were 16,799 people in America who were killed by intentional gunshot.  That is 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population.  Gun homicides ranked # 15 on the list of causes of death.  So 14 other methods of homicide were employed more frequently than guns.

President Obama, in a heart-felt address to the nation yesterday said we must take "meaningful action" to ensure this kind tragedy does not happen again.  He did not specify what that might be but the implication is fairly clear he was referring to gun control.  Let's take a look at what kind of challenge that might be.

There were 35,900 deaths from automobile accidents, or 11.0 per 100,000 people.  Of those nearly 36,000 deaths, roughly 50 % involved alcohol on the part of the person causing the accident.  The death rate from automobile accidents has come down slowly as cars have been made safer and laws passed and enforced to help protect drivers and punish those who drive under the influence; however, the death rate has virtually plateaued for several years.  So over three times the number of deaths from cars versus from guns.

There are over 255 million privately registered vehicles in the U.S.  This means the government knows who owns them and, roughly, where they are at any given time.  On the other hand, there are estimated to be 310 million non-military firearms in the U.S.  A Gallup poll in 2007 showed that over 47 % of all Americans have at least one handgun in their home.  Over 40 % of those handguns are unregistered.  This means the government doesn't know who owns them or where they are at any given time.  You don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on cars because of the deaths they cause.  It would be impossible.  And, people understand that cars don't kill people, people....well, you get the point.  Likewise, you don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on alcohol, even though its inappropriate use is at the heart of more deaths every year than handguns and that is just when alcohol is mixed with driving.  

Attempting to ban handguns would be a wasteful and hugely expensive exercise in futility, much like Prohibition, and to even attempt it would mean overthrowing the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution not to mention getting over 165 million Americans to voluntarily give up their guns.  I have not fired any of my guns in over four years but I am not inclined to give them up and my bet is neither would my fellow gun owners, regardless of what Bob Costas thinks.

So why am I no longer a card carrying member of the NRA?  Because I disagree that a ban or certain controls on handguns and automatic weapons is a violation of my 2nd Amendment rights.  I don't believe, as they do, that any restriction on gun acquisition and ownership is bad.  Specifically, I believe that the sale and ownership of automatic weapons should be illegal with stiff penalties for violators, there should be a mandatory five-day waiting period for all handgun sales coupled with background checks and there should be a mandatory 25-year sentence (life for second offenders) for anyone using a gun in the commission of a felony.  I also believe we should enforce the laws already on the books as it relates to gun management.  However, focusing on gun control in the aftermath of a tragedy like the one in Newtown, CT is focusing on the wrong issue.

It has been reported that the alleged perpetrator of these murders was a 20-year old loner who possibly had Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism.  He is reported to be a past honors student but with no close friends.  He wasn't even on Facebook!  He had an older brother who hadn't spoken to him in two years. He was living at home with a single mother, and described by a fellow classmate as a goth.  For those of you who are not up on this particularly weird subculture in our society, it is person with a proclivity for the dark side of life and fascination with death.  Their attire is dark clothing, mostly black, known as deathrock, punk or Victorian, dark make-up, and favor music styles in the Gothic rock, death rock, post-punk and darkwave.  I mean, DUH!   Could it be this young man might be crying out for help or at least deserved some special attention?  This is where our focus needs to the home, in the neighborhood, in the schools and with an eye for individuals who might need help before it is too late.

The guns, as it turns out, were not his.  Apparently, the guns...two handguns and a semi-automatic weapon...belonged to his mother, a law abiding school teacher at the very same elementary school where her son wreaked havoc.  So in this case, a waiting period or a background check would not have prevented this.  But a gun ban would you say?  I'm sorry, proposing a ban on guns would be just as ridiculous as proposing a ban on cars, or knives, or crowbars or rocks.  


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Positive Reinforcement

A great man with a great story died yesterday and a world of positive thinkers will mourn his passing.  The name Zig Ziglar is synonymous with inspirational speaking and his life was a testament to positive thinking and tenaciousness.  A devout Christian and force for wringing the most out of life, Ziglar once said, "I am not going to ease up, let up, shut up or give up until I'm taken up!   As a matter of fact, I'm just getting warmed up!"

Many epitaphs will be written about this man, who died of pneumonia at age 86, so I won't attempt to compete for the job of recounting his amazing life story.  However, I will recount how I felt the only time I heard him speak in person.  It was at the old Dallas Reunion Arena in the early 1990's.  He was the keynote speaker for a seminar on salesmanship and leadership skills attended by nearly 15,000 people.  Other speakers were Bryan Tracy, a world-renowned author and motivational speaker; Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People"; and even Troy Aikman, 3-time Super Bowl Champion and Hall of Fame quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.

As each speaker came forward that day, the crowd became more and more motivated.  They applauded, laughed and cheered and, basically, were whipped into a frenzy of positive thinking.  I was right there along with the crowd and wondered at one point how it would be possible to get any more motivated.  Then Zig Ziglar came to the podium.  In the vernacular of our time, I was like OMG!  This man had the ability to have you hanging on his every word and from his first sentence the audience was hooked. 

My brother-in-law and then Manufacturing Manager for my six-year old companyADvent Supply, was with me that day.  I thought it would be great for him to hear and see what great training and motivation was all about.  Frankly, while hopeful, I was concerned that David might not be impressed.  He is a laid back person and gravitates toward the basics without a lot of appreciation for high-powered rhetoric or sparkly foo-foo.  Half way through Ziglar's presentation I looked over and David was totally enthralled, riveted as I was to this man's charismatic style and rock-solid principals.  At the end of seminar I felt like I could run through a brick wall.  I felt empowered to go back to my business and fulfill the vision I had for it, my customers and my employees.  David felt the same way.  And the reason for that was Zig Ziglar.  It is often said about people when they leave this earth they will be missed.  In the case of Zig Ziglar, it could not be more true.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake, Baker's Man....

Anyone remember the pure pleasure of sinking your teeth into a lighter-than- air Hostess Twinkie snack cake or creamy chocolate Hostess cup cake with the little white squiggle of icing on top and your tongue lavishing on the rich hidden filling inside.  Or how about the pink, coconuty sponginess of a "Snowball"? Forget calories.  Forget cholesterol.  These were just devilishly sinful delights.

Well, better go stock up this next week because Hostess Brands, Inc., also known as Interstate Bakeries, the company who has brought you not only Twinkies but Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride and Dolly Madison products since 1930, is shuttin' it down! 

Hostess Brands filed for bankruptcy back in January, citing the rising cost of labor and pension funding as the principle reason for their financial woes.  As a part of the court-supervised restructuring, Hostess bargained with their two largest unions, the Teamsters and Bakers/Confectionary/Tobacco Workers, to gain concessions which would keep the company afloat.  Their final offer did include some wage (8 % cut), benefit and work rule concessions but it also gave the twelve unions a 25 % ownership stake in the company, $ 100 million in reorganized debt AND representation on the Board of Directors.  The Teamsters approved the offer by a narrow margin but the Bakers decided that dough wouldn't rise.  They voted "No".

The bankruptcy judge decided the offer was a good one and gave Hostess management the authority to implement the contract anyway.  The bakers went on strike crippling the operations at 33 of their plants nationwide and bringing production to a virtual standstill at less than 50 % of capacity.  Management threatened that if the bakers did not return to work by yesterday at 5:00PM they would be forced to cease operations.  The bakers thought management was bluffing and refused.  Oopps!

Today Hostess announced the layoff of all 18,500 of its workers, keeping a skeleton force of 3,200 for several months to "wind it down".  A year from now only 50 workers will remain of this once thriving 82-year old company. 

Now, I am not anti-union.  Honestly.  I do not always take the side of management in these confrontations.  And I am certain there was a degree of mis-management even at Hostess.  Forget I grew up on Wonder Bread ("Builds strong bodies twelve ways").  Forget I went to school for years with a Twinkie in my lunch box.  But, for nearly 20,000 workers to ignore a court order to return to work and give up their jobs in this economic environment?  Seriously?

There is something wrong with an organization of workers whose leaders so mis-read the handwriting on the wall that they allow nearly 20,ooo jobs to evaporate, never to return.  This is unionization out of control and at its worst.  Let's hope there are 20,000 donut shops who need bakers to take up the slack.  Frankly, I would not give that scenario a  "Snowball's" chance in Hell.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Veteran's Day 2012!

Happy Veteran's Day!

Just thinking about all of the men and women who are serving and have served our country over the past 236 years; their sacrifices, their courage and their patriotism.  Every American owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude.  For those who paid the price of freedom with their lives, it is a debt we can never repay.  I sincerely hope we, as a democratic nation, understand how valuable a gift we have been given to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

My youngest daughter, Brittany, just called me to thank me for my service.  I was surprised, first, because I do not think about myself as a veteran and, second, my service, as it were, was completed before either of my girls reached the age of reason.  I have told them a few stories of my time in the Army and Air Force National Guard, but they are more humorous than tales of daring do or bravery.

It was December, 1967 and I was about to end 48 hours of non-stop studying and take the mid-term final in my history class.  I was struggling that semester in all my subjects; a consequence of having discovered beer and the love of my life and new fiance, Vicki, both of which I spent entirely too much time with that fall instead of having my nose in the books.  On the way to the test I heard a public service announcement on the radio  about the formation of a new Airborne Army National Guard unit opening up at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.  The radio said that only 40 recruits would be taken starting the next morning.   As I miserably failed the test that evening I realized that not only was my semester in the dumpster but my student deferment was about to hit the trash heap as well.  The next morning I withdrew from UT so my potential string of F's would never hit my transcript, drove out to Camp Mabry and enlisted.

I shipped off with my fellow recruits on February 9th to basic training at the aging Fort Polk, outside Leesville, By God, Louisiana.  There I learned to love my poncho, shoot an M-14, do the low-crawl through 200 yards of ice cold mud, and tune out a 20-year veteran drill sergeant hell bent on breaking my ear drums and turning me into a 180-pound block of chiseled steel.  Try three months of that for a living while you feast on S.O.S and something we called "the brown meal".

Next up...MOS School.  MOS is the acronym for Military Occupational Specialty and I spent my time at Fort Sam Houston, Texas training to become a Medic.  It was actually excellent training and I learned a lot about medicine, anatomy, biology and emergency human repair.  Unfortunately, our company commander, a brand new Captain with an alcohol problem, had us white-washing everything that didn't move during the day while we were not in classes and scrubbing the barracks floor with a toothbrush half the night.   No problem for a 180-pound block of chiseled steel, right.

Now it was crunch time.  Off we went to Ft. Benning, GA.  As cold and rainy as it was in Louisiana in February, central Georgia in July and August was hotter than hell and HUMID!  Bottom line on Airborne (Jump) School?  Fantastic training but even louder drill sergeants.  At least it was all designed to keep you alive as we jumped out of perfectly good C-119's five times before graduation.  After five weeks I emerged as a 169-pound block of even more chiseled steel and ready to get the hell out of active military duty.  Six months total plus six years of monthly duty with a two-week summer camp every year.  I served, I guess.

We were attached to the 101st Airborne Division.  A similar group up in Columbus, OH was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division.  Their National Guard unit was called up to Vietnam.  Ours never was.

So I was a veteran and put in my time, but have never considered my service in a league with those who have fought, died, or even put themselves in harm's way.  Those are the real heroes of our nation....and we honor them today.

God bless our service men and women!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Sun Came Up

Well, some would have had you believe, if President Obama got re-elected for another four years, the sun might not have come up this morning.  But, I am here to tell you, unless my eyes deceive me, it did.  In fact, I was ready for it.  I was well rested because it didn't take but until 10:30PM CST for the major media pundits to call this election with less than half the vote in across the country.  Of course, Florida is still out but it is not due to hanging chads this time, but perhaps just a bunch of retired and transplanted New Yorkers who apparently can't count too fast.

They used to call Ronald Reagan the "Teflon President" but he had nothing on one Barrack H. Obama.  It seems that the still stagnant national economy, the unacceptable unemployment rate, the skyrocketing national debt, the tragedy of American lives lost in Libya, non-existent energy policy, weak trade policies, an impossibly unfair tax code, and a host of other failures, foreign and domestic, are still George Bush's fault. 

I thought the Tea Party might be the "wild card" but it never materialized.  The Senate still belongs to the Dems and the GOP's grip on the House will guarantee at least two more years of gridlock.  We will hear a lot more in the days to come about "The Cliff" and how close we are or aren't to going over it, financially speaking.  We will hear much more about jobs that have or have not been created.  We will hear who was really responsible for the tragedy in Libya but it will be too late by then.  We will have to endure much more haggling about ceilings; debt, glass or otherwise and no one will mention abortion again until the next election cycle.

My opinion is, for all the hundreds of millions of dollars which were spent on this election, nothing will change.  We didn't get the change promised to us in the last four years (except for a health care plan we cannot afford) and no change was promised for the next four years, so it will be same ol', same ol'.  We will survive the new four to six trillion dollars in new debt that will be added to our almost seventeen trillion we have now and it will be Bush's fault I am sure.  I liken it to jumping off a cliff with a parachute but with no rip cord.  The ride will be exciting and there will be at least the feeling of safety, but the landing will be disastrous. 

My concern is not for my wife and I.  We are as old as the people counting ballots in Florida.  It would be difficult for any President or policy to screw up our last 15 years or so on this planet.  My concern is for my children, grandchildren and our great grandchildren.  They are the ones who will pay the price for this election.  They are the ones whose lives will be unalterably affected.  They are the ones who will wonder where the rip cord went.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Size Does Matter

It is a seminal question.  Does size matter?  During normal times, most adults might automatically, upon hearing that question, conjure up images of things south of the belt line.  Ah, but this is the political season and the "most important election of our lifetime", as some have postulated, is just 23 days away.  So let's redirect our attention above the belt line to just north of the neckline to answer this important interrogatory.

We have now seen two election debates with two more to come.  In the first debate between President Barrack Obama and presidential hopeful, Gov. Mitt Romney, the myriad polls tended to indicate that candidate Romney perhaps had scored a victory.  Of course, most of these polls are with fewer than 1000 voters with a margin of error nearly as large as the federal deficit, but, be that as it may, Romney seemed to develop some momentum in his heretofore "yawner" of a campaign.  Next up to bat, the existing Vice-President and his challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan.  Looking dashing, as usual, albeit a bit long in smiley white tooth, "Uncle Joe" bumbled less, interrupted more than an alarm clock with a broken snooze button, and, in general, overcame the inept initial outing of his boss.  The young Rep. Ryan, loaded with facts, figures and a ton of well crafted and oft delivered sound bites, tried to look calm, cool and prepared even though his big doe eyes made him look, at times, like a deer in the headlights of the Biden Bulldozer.  Polls say.....a draw,  with + or - 5% margin of error.
We have two more debates before November 6th.  Obama will be sharper, more aggressive and the number, "47%" will definitely be mentioned this time.  Romney will be just as sharp and mention of the tragedy of the American Embassy in Libya will definitely be used to point out the current administrations failures in foreign policy and lack of leadership.  Listen to all of that or don't listen.  It is, in my opinion, virtually irrelevant.

I believe it has become virtually impossible for our citizens to sort through all of the sound bites, the PAC-controlled negative ads, the facts or fictions which are being thrown at them from every direction anymore.  I think the clutter of conflict has numbed the mind and confused the spirit of the American voter.  Our news media complicates the issue by mixing news with editorial in an unprecedented and unconscionable way.  The line between truth and fiction has been so blurred I know many people who have become so cynical they say they may not vote at all.  This would be a mistake.  Let me see if I can simplify.

The question the American voters have to answer is simply "Does size matter?"

The Founding Fathers of our great Republic were all pretty, if not very, intelligent men.  Though personally flawed in many ways and certainly not perfect politicians, as patriots the likes of Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Washington have never been matched and as intellectuals....well, they were brilliant.  The principal argument, back in their day, as they struggled to frame our Constitution and Bill of Rights, was whether the new central government, this Federal entity, should be big and powerful or should it be smaller and secondary to the States in power and authority.  Big or not so big.  To the majority of the Founding Fathers, size not only mattered, it was the only consideration and it was crucial, in their minds, that size be controlled.

Today we have to make that same determination as a voting public.  Do we want larger government taking over power and authority from the States and competing with the private sector to perform services for the American people, a trend which will inevitably inflate the national debt substantially and possibly disastrously, or not?  Do we believe that the federal government can provide these services better, more economically and with more control and oversight than the States or private industry, or not?  Do we agree with the Framers that state and local governments can best provide for the needs of their constituents, regardless of their economic status?  Do we want the Federal government to step back to providing only those services that the state and local governments cannot perform adequately (national security, border protection, etc.), or allow it to grow bigger and take on more responsibility?

So to me it is simple.  If you want large government, higher taxes, more spending, please vote for President Obama.  If you want smaller government, not as high taxes, not as much spending, vote for Gov. Romney.  If you don't care, move to Greece.  The outcome for our country will most likely be similar.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tea Party Trashing?

Vicki and have just returned from an absolutely fabulous 20 days in Italy where we visited Rome for a couple days and then spent our 44th wedding anniversary with friends up in Tuscany. I will do my first travel post in a few days as soon as I get my photos organized and finish setting up this blog site so you will be able to see the beauty and charm of this most historical part of the planet.

In the meantime, recognizing that we have less than two months to decide who the next President of the United States will be (or will remain), I thought I would once again venture into the always treacherous waters of politics and voice an opinion about a program I recently watched on HBO. The new series is called "The Newsroom" and is the most recent creation of Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is, in my opinion, one of the most creative screenplay writers of our time. His credits include the Golden Globe-nominated "The American President" feature film and "The West Wing" television series; the latter winning over 90 Emmy Awards in its eight seasons on NBC.
 "The Newsroom" has the same punch, provocative as well as timely topics and rapid fire delivery of "The West Wing", but without the censorship of network television.  It's stars, including Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterson, Emily Mortimer, Allison Pill and Jane Fonda, among others, are quite brilliant and Sorkin's dialog makes them come alive.  You might tune in if you like this kind of intellectually stimulating, often humorous, drama.  Now let me tell you what I don't like.

Politically speaking, Aaron Sorkin is a typical "left coast liberal" and his slant is definitely present in his writing.  In the aforementioned works his characters in and around the White House were Democrats.  So it was not surprising when issues concerning gun control, environmental legislation, armed conflict, social welfare and political correctness were presented they reflected a liberal position.  Many times I was positively influenced by these presentations or, at least, they gave me pause for reflection about my own positions on these topics.

In "The Newsroom" the Anchorman and News Director of this fictional cable news network is a self-confessed Republican.  It is inferred that the General Manager and Owner of the network are conservatives as well.  For the first five episodes, I was drinking the Kool Aid.  Even though a ray of liberalism shown through the crack in the door occasionally, I was enjoying seeing how Sorkin was able to suppress his left leanings and present a "fair and balanced" slant on the hot news topics of our day.  Then came the season finale where the topic of some states new voting laws requiring a government-issued photo identification to be able to vote was debated.  Personally I don't think that is too much to ask.  Anyone can go down to their local DMV and get an ID even if they don't want or are not applying for a driver's licence, but I can see how the very poor, or those without a car or adequate transportation, the disabled, or the very elderly might find this an inconvenience.  And, to be honest, voter fraud in the United States is quite low by most informed estimates.

What I found repugnant, however, was that Sorkin used this topic to launch into a full frontal attack on The Tea Party.  Now, to be sure, the Tea Party Movement is a conservative movement.  It is to the very right of the Republican Party and was most likely spawned from the failed bid of Ron Paul in the 2008 Presidential race.  It is a movement which has gained momentum since then and has even influenced the outcome of several state and congressional elections.  And I think it has the liberals scared to death.

 Back in my college days the opposing factions at the fringe of the political system had radical camps on both ends of the spectrum.  On the Left was the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS.  It was an ultra-liberal, anti-war, protest-rallying and sometimes armed and dangerous coalition of malcontents.  On the Right was the John Birch Society.  It was an ultra-conservative, anti-communism, anti-Civil Rights, protest-avoiding and sometimes armed and dangerous coalition of malcontents.  I never thought that we would ever see again two diametrically-opposed political factions as these.  While never mainstream, both these groups stretched the fabric of the political middle and influenced thinking of liberals and conservatives in the decades that followed.

In "The Newsroom" episode, the Tea Party Movement is described in an editorial newscast using the following background bullet points:

*  Ideological purity
*  Compromise as weakness
*  Fundamental belief in spiritual literalism
*  Denying science
*  Unmoved by facts
*  Undeterred by new information
*  Hostile fear of progress
*  Demonisation of education
*  Need to control women's bodies
*  Severe xenophobia (fear of people from other countries)
*  Tribal mentality
*  Intolerance of dissent
*  Pathological hatred of the U.S. government

The news anchor then summarized his attack on The Tea Party by characterizing them as "The American Taliban"!!

Not only was I shocked at this horribly biased, seemingly unfair, broad-brush and very negative portrayal but the insulting characterization is just totally below the belt.  O.K., personal reaction any of it true?  I do not profess to know everything about The Tea Party Movement or what it stands for but from what I have observed and read, the movement seeks to fix some of the problems that are seriously effecting the stabilization and growth of America and do it with strict adherence to our Constitution.  What they say they want is:

*  Identify the constitutionality of every new law
*  Simplify the tax code
*  Legislation to balance the federal budget
*  Repeal Obamacare and replace it with a health care system we can afford
*  Set annual limits to growth in federal spending
*  Reduce taxes
*  Repeal "cap and trade" 
*  Develop reasonable energy policy which will provide independence
*  Reduce "earmarks"
*  Audit federal government agencies to ensure constitutionality 

Now, if you see any relationship between these two lists or any reason an organization whose soul purpose seems to be to develop a new path to prosperity for our country should be labeled the "American Taliban", then please help me to to see it.....cause I don't. 

In my opinion, the Tea Party Movement could become a game changer come November; effecting needed change in the Congress and possibly even in the outcome of the Presidential election.  At a minimum, The Tea Party will stretch the fabric of the political middle and could influence thinking among liberals and conservatives alike in the decades ahead.


Jud Smith

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Equal Opportunity, No Equal Outcome"

I just watched the presumptive Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, name his presumptive running mate for Vice-President, the handsome and articulate U.S. Representative from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan.  Conservatives will arguably say this is a great pick.  Moderates will probably agree and Liberals will most likely be wary, as this young lion has a reputation of being a pit bull.....not to mix my animal kingdom metaphors too much.

We won't really know until November whether this was a good choice or not.  Well, we might get a hint during the Vice-Presidential Debates where Ryan will go toe-to-toe with foot-in-mouth Biden....not to mix my anatomical metaphors.

I am more interested in opining on something Congressman Ryan said during his brief acceptance speech on the navel shipyard pier in Norfolk, VA this morning.  In a well crafted sound bite, which will probably NOT get much repeating, he said, "We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcome".  I just love it when someone says so much with such brevity...not something I am necessarily that good at myself.

Equal opportunity, not equal outcome.  WOW!  America is built on many foundations which we all learned in 9th Grade social studies; life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, et al.  However, no where in the Declaration, the Constitution or the Bill of Right (or any of the Amendments) does it say one of those foundations is that every American should benefit regardless of effort, regardless of input, regardless of output, regardless of tenacity, or regardless of a passion for success.  That would be a doctrine espoused by people with last names like Marx and Lenin, not Jefferson and Hamilton. 

President Obama would like to keep the focus of Americans on all those evil "millionaires and billionaires" and convince us if "they" will just pay their fair share of taxes, all of our economic woes will disappear.  He has even suggested that those entrepreneurs who are responsible for creating businesses and jobs, both past and present, were not responsible for their own successes or the success of their companies.  Of course, this statement has been taken out of context but the implication is clear....the wealthy are responsible for our woes. (Did Obama start the "Occupy" movement or is he just a closet member?)  Unfortunately, I don't think President Obama gets it. 

No one disputes that a good day's work is deserving of a good day's pay.  And, I for one, believe in the system of compensation based on performance, where the harder you work and the more you produce the more you should get paid.  I do not believe in a system that pays people not to work or rewards mediocrity.  And lest anyone thinks I would deny people who are down and out a helping hand, you do not know me.....but a hand up, not an unlimited handout.   Government policy that advocates the "redistribution of wealth" is a path to bankruptcy for our economy and our country.  It denies the basic tenant of our economic system which promotes initiative and rewards capital-at-risk. 

So it remains to be seen if Ryan is a good choice or not, but for today, let's here it for equal opportunity, not equal my opinion.

Jud Smith

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Beginning . . .

Born in late 1945, I arrived at the dawn of the "Baby Boom", which began at the end of World War II and continued until 1964.  This unprecedented period of fertility on the part of our forefathers and mothers produced 76 million new Americans, most of  whom having contributed to the growth, prosperity and continued legacy of the most powerful nation in the world. 

Growing up in the '50's and '60's was an exciting time full of challenge and change and, like most adults, my relationships and experiences helped to shape the person I am today.  While most people gain wisdom over their lifetimes, it is my observation very few individuals have been blessed with the rich combination of unique people, unusual experiences, an inquisitive, creative mind, vivid imagination and the ability to communicate.   

Now, I don't pretend to be in the same league with the great thinkers and writers who have populated the top echelon of genius in many fields of endeavor from politics to religion, literary masters to filmmakers, poets to philosophers.  However, over the past 55 years or so, I think I have learned a thing or two about life.  It is my hope that relating those lessons might prove a benefit to others, be it a life changing epiphany, an interesting insight, a mistake not made, or just a good laugh.  The blog will represent kind of an iconic everyman's American journey and, hence, the blog's name.

Permanently posted on my blog will be letters I have written to my grandchildren, beginning from the moment of their births to the present.  We call them "Pearls" and they are some of the life lessons I wanted to pass on to them (and their parents) while, hopefully, helping them to know and remember their grandfather better after I am gone.

Also permanently on the blog will be rememberances of experiences from 1966, a seminal year in my life.  Besides being my sophomore/junior year in college, this was the year I met the girl I would marry, Victoria Ann Matthews....a marriage, by the way, which has lasted 44 years.  These short stories, some of which will seem outrageous, are all true and I believe will entertain and amuse.

Vicki and I have done and continue to do a lot of traveling.  We are cruisers and have been to over seventy countries around the world.  A part of my blog will be travel updates from past and future travels with pictures. 

In the main section entitled "A Baby Boomer's Opinion" I will comment on the current events of the day; political, religious, and everything in between seen through the eyes and with the mental filter of a sexagenarian.  I hope my readers will engage in the discussion....the livelier the better. 

Bear with me as I construct this new blog site and then let's have some fun.

Jud Smith

Sunday, June 24, 2012

1966: Avoiding Death By Roommate

I had just been in a horrible accident during my freshman year in college but this didn't stop my roommate from trying to kill me.   Brian Beach made the varsity weightlifting team at UT his freshman year in the 165 pound class.  His normal weight was about 175 but the day of the meet he would chew gum and spit off 10 pounds before the weigh-in, just to make class.  He could clean and jerk 340 pounds, a massive amount over twice his body weight.  He never practiced or trained.  He was just a naturally strong person with a 28 inch waist, 42 inch chest and huge biceps.  At 5’ 7” he looked a little top heavy but he had a baby face and a radiant, almost innocent, but somewhat mischievous smile.  He had a Latin-like temper and could get upset by the smallest things.  No one wanted to mess with Brian.

Brian’s father was the manager of the huge new J.C. Penny’s store in the newest Dallas-area mall in Irving, Texas.  He also owned a Ford dealership, a Coca-Cola Bottling plant and was a partner in Fame Fashions, a women's clothing line.  You could say that Mr. Beach was rich but that would be understatement.  Consequently, Brian had more money than any 18-year old I ever knew.  He was always driving a new Ford Mustang convertible, took girls on the most lavish dates and never had to scrounge for beer money.  Brian was tough on his cars and he had to have them replaced about every four or five months. 

One spring day Brian was between cars and driving a rental car he had picked up from a used car dealer in Austin who would rent cars off his lot to the underage college students for special weekends.  The car was a two-year old Chevrolet Corvair in mint condition.  The Corvair was the car that consumer-advocate Ralph Nadar proclaimed was “unsafe at any speed”.  My father was one of the first Corvair owners in the country and I grew up learning to drive these sporty little rear engine vehicles.  The had independent suspension on all four wheels and a peppy, dual-carbureted six cylinder engine which made them really fun to drive on curvy country roads. 

Brian was napping one Sunday afternoon in our room, still slightly hung over from his Saturday night excitement, when I approached him.  “Hey man, can I borrow your Corvair for a little while?”  
Opening one bloodshot eye, Brian mumbled, “What for?”. 
“I just want to take a little drive in the country”, I replied, thinking he might want to stop by the local Blood Bank and have his eyes drained. 
“Keys on the desk”, he murmured, but then as I snatched them up and headed for the door, he barked, “Just don’t wreck it or I’ll kick your….” the door slammed on his description of my posterior part.

Gathering up two floor mates from the dorm as my traveling companions, I promised them a lessen in road handling they would never forget.  We headed out to south Austin in the little two-door, white coupe and drove until we were out in the country.  I found a little country road with lots of curves and corners winding through cattle ranches and cotton fields.  The car handled really well and I was pushing it to its limits, drifting through the turns with the tires squealing in protest.  After negotiating two very tight turns at excessive speed, I hit an S-curve.  The car careened through the first curve and I cut the second turn perfectly, pressing on the gas.  Then, as they were prone to do, the Corvair over-steered in the third turn kicking the rear of the car way out left.  Overcorrecting, I plunged the car into the final curve, realized I was going too fast and stabbed at the brakes.  The cars left tires hit the gravely shoulder and we drifted sideways into a ditch.  At that point, everything went into slow motion. 

The left wheels left the ground and the car rolled over on its side, still going about 30 MPH.  Then it completed the roll over onto the top.  The windshield started to crack as the roof crushed in, splitting from right to left in one loud, eerie crunch until it shattered, spewing glass into our faces and cutting our clothes.   When the car finally came to rest, upside down in the ditch, all you could hear were some cows mooing on the other side of the barbed wire fence we had managed not to hit.

“Are you guys O.K.?” I asked, half dazed.  Two stunned responses confirmed we had avoided disaster.  I quickly turned off the key, remembering that if gasoline were leaking an active ignition switch could cause an explosion.   The roof of the car was totally crushed to within 12” of the tops of the doors and dash.   I told the guys to crawl out of the side openings as fast as possible and we all made it out with nothing but bruised muscles and egos.  

A farmer who had been plowing his field and saw the accident came running over as we stood there looking at the total wreck of the Corvair.  “Are you boys alright?”, he blurted out, breathlessly.  We assured him we were all fine and said we just needed some help to roll the car back over.  “You ain’t goin’ no where in that thang”, he said.  I assured him it would still work and he helped us roll the car back onto its tires with a big thump.   The roof was caved in, the right side was all smashed up,  all the windows were broken and the doors were jammed shut.

I squeezed through the window and crawled back into the drivers seat.  Turning the key and pumping the gas, I cranked the engine until the battery started to fail but then, it suddenly fired.  Oil had drained down into the cylinders and plumes of blue smoke billowed from the tailpipes but the engine was running....roughly, but running.
With a hoot and holler my buddies crawled back into the car, we shouted thanks to the farmer and off down the road we went, me hunched down in my seat, peering out through the slit once occupied by a windshield, wind blowing in our hair.

We actually made it back to the dorm and I parked it outside and trudged up to our third floor room, ready to take Brian’s wrath.  He wasn’t there so we spent the next hour telling our dorm mates our tales of daring do.   All of a sudden my blood curdled when we heard the scream from the street, “SMITH!  SMITH!  I’M GONNA KILL YOU!”   I looked out the window and saw Brian standing by the wreck, veins popping out of his muscular neck, mixing my name with various expletives.  Then he saw me looking down at him and dashed into the dorm. 

Our heretofore rapt audience were diving for cover and I locked the door to our room and put a chair up under the doorknob.  Brian’s screams of promised death were getting louder as he bounded up the stairs, three at a time.  I decided the chair might not be enough so I slid the large double desk over against the door as well. 
Brian hit the door with a loud thud and finding it locked, let out a roar of frustration that vibrated the transom window. 

Brian repeatedly used his body as a battering ram trying to break down the door, which made me thankful our dorm had been built in 1933 by the WPA with doors of solid oak.   Brian got a broom stick and tried beating a hole in one of the panels.  All the while I am trying to calm him down, promising I would take care of the damage and pay for everything; although how I didn’t have a clue.   After two hours, Brian’s exhaustion and my powers of persuasion combined to bring about serious peace negotiations; which included not only my promise of full restitution but my agreeing to do his laundry for a month and providing a case of his favorite beer.

All-in-all, it was a fun, albeit expensive day, for me and I had successfully avoided death by roommate.

1966: Beer Garden Voyeurs

As early spring arrived on the University of Texas campus, I was spending more and more time in the beer garden behind the fraternity house on those long, mild nights instead of hitting the books as I should have been.  Brian Beach and a couple of the other hardy-partiers were always there, sucking down brews and using their binoculars in an attempt to look in the open windows of the girl's dormitory that was down the hill and just to the west of our property.  We actually did see some pretty amazing things through those windows when the girls had forgotten to close, or purposefully left open, their shades.  But Brian was the worst.

Brian was my roommate during our freshman year. We were second semester sophomores at the time.  He was a varsity weightlifter with a C- average and dated a different girl every week. However, because he dated Farrah Fawcett once and was considered by many somewhat of an expert, albeit mostly self-declared, in the field of women, we occasionally acknowledged his opinion.

Brian had an overall look that attracted women like flies to honey.  Of course, once they scratched the surface of this particular Adonis and discovered the 90 IQ-like thought processes with the one-track mind, most of the flies flew off to other treats.  Although, some didn't.

On this one especially warm spring evening, Brian, several other brothers and I had spent about two hours and a case of beer out in the beer garden, “dormitory watching”.  The fact that this obvious invasion of privacy made us all, technically, voyeurs was the last thing on our minds as one particularly accommodating co-ed entertained for an exceptionally long period of time.  I was depressed that particular evening because the news reported Sophia Loren had just married Carlo Ponti in Paris, thus taking her off the market.  When I fantasized about women, Sophia was always in the scene.  She was older than me by a dozen years but she was just flat gorgeous and erotic like no other woman of our time. 

“She’s in love with me!”, Brian proclaimed, totally convinced that this girl in the window was putting on a show just for him.  The rest of us laughed at his hubris.  “I am going over there”, Brian declared.  As usual, no one paid much attention.  At this, he staggered out of the beer garden and made his way along the parking lot behind our house to the edge of the dormitory.  Downing the rest of my beer I went back to thinking about Sophia until I saw Brian on a thin ledge that was on the third story of the dormitory, inching his way toward the girl’s window, 36 feet above their parking lot. 

“Oh, my God!”, I exclaimed as we trained the binoculars on Brian.  The ledge was narrow, 6” at best, and a fall would have certainly meant serious injury or possibly even death.  These facts were most likely beyond both the practical and intellectual capacity of Brian to comprehend, especially in his current state of inebriation, coupled with unbridled lust. 

Hushed calls for Brian to get off the ledge and abandon his mission were met with waves of his arm and a slow, yet steady progress toward the window of his desire.  “Well, I have had enough of this”, I said, “Call me if he falls and kills himself…..or if he gets the girl”, I concluded, admitting to myself that once Brian set his mind to a conquest, it seldom went unrequited. 

I walked across our lower parking lot behind the house and went through the back entrance up to my room on the third floor.  As I entered, I saw my roommate, Gene McMullen, sitting on his bed, lights out, rocking back and forth as if he were in a rocking chair.  The reason I could tell he was rocking was the periodic glow from the end of a cigar he had in his mouth which weaved back and forth in the darkness.  “You're home early”, he spat with his usual dry humor, “run out of beer?” 

“No” I said, “Brian is out there trying to kill himself and I couldn’t watch anymore”.  I plopped myself down on my bed with my economics textbook and clicked on my reading light, leaving the rocking Gene mostly in the shadows, sucking the last bit of smoke out of his Corona.  Two pages into the exciting text with my eyes already starting to droop, our door flung open, crashing on the wall and bringing me bolt upright in my bed.
“If anyone asks, I have been in my room studying for the last two hours!”, Brian screamed at us and dashed down the hallway, leaving Gene and I with bewilderment on our faces.  About the time Gene was starting to ask me what the hell was going on, we heard this incredible sound of shattering glass.  My first thought was that Brian had broken the huge mirror in our bathroom.  I got up and raced down the hallway to the community restroom and showers.  The guys in there brushing their teeth had the same look of surprise and foreboding on their faces as they stood in front of the still intact mirror.

My mind racing through the alternatives, I returned to the hallway and made my way down to the spiral staircase and looked over the railing to the foyer that was surrounded by two-story high, floor to ceiling glass on two sides.  There I stared incredulously at the scene below.  Sitting in foyer at the foot of the staircase in a random scattering of large and small glass shards and a growing pool of blood was an Austin police officer.  His legs were sprawled out and he was bent over holding his face in his blood-soaked hands.   There was a huge hole in the two-story glass window behind him. Accompanying this ghastly vision was an eerie silence in the house. 

Before I could even move, another Austin officer stepped through the ragged, gapping hole in the window and started to lift the wounded officer to his feet.  At this point I dashed down the staircase three stairs at a time, my mind racing with what could have happened.  When I reached the foyer the two officers, one helping the other, were hurriedly rounding the front corner of the house and heading down the driveway to the lower parking lot.  By this time several of my brothers were on my heels as we followed them through our parking lot, down the grass embankment to the girl's dormitory parking lot below ours.

The scene at this time was chaotic.  Most of the girls from the dorm, in various states of dress, were out in their parking lot and residents of the various other fraternity and apartment complexes that surrounded our neighborhood were starting to filter into the asphalt paved area strewn with cars.  The officer, helping his wounded comrade, sat him down beside their patrol car, lights still flashing, illuminating the otherwise dimly-lit area, and leaned him against the rear wheel.  Someone offered a towel to the downed policeman and he used it to try to stem the flow of his own blood from a nasty gash across the bridge of his nose.

At this point, an ambulance reeled into the parking lot followed closely by another police cruiser, lights flashing and siren blaring, responding to the “officer down” call from the first car on the scene.  The ambulance driver wheeled his vehicle to the left between rows of parked cars and threw his transmission into reverse, planning to back up to the injured officer.  The second squad car pulled straight up directly behind the first police cruiser.  Then, as if from an episode of the Keystone Cops of silent movie fame, the ambulance backed up quickly, with people all around screaming a belated warning, and rammed the side of the second squad car with the officers still inside. 

Again, there was a deathly silence and a quick look around the crowd of people gave the impression that everyone’s jaw gapped open in a single instant.  Then the ambulance driver pulled forward and got out of his vehicle.  With not the slightest recognition of what he had done, he and an assistant proceeded to open the doors of their unit, extract a gurney and wheeled it hastily to the fallen officer.  The policeman in the damaged car just sat there shaking his head, adding to the surreal nature of the scene.  Then he tried to open his crushed door and discovered that his exit would have to be on the other side of the car.  His expletive could be heard for blocks.

All this time, Brian is nowhere to be seen and for good reason.  As the whole story unfolded, it seems Brian, making his way along the ledge to the aforementioned window of his desire, passed several windows where co-eds were not accustomed to seeing a man outside their third story dorm windows.  Several calls to the police forced the dispatch of the closest squad car and, as it turned into the dormitory parking lot, Brian made a hasty retreat back down the narrow ledge, scrambled up into the DU parking lot, sprinted around to the front of the house, came through the front door and bounded up the staircase with the officers huffing and puffing in hot pursuit behind him.  The officers began the chase as soon as they saw Brian leap off the ledge and head up the steep hill and through our parking lot.  However, as the officer leading the chase rounded the corner on our front porch, running flat out, he lost his footing and, going too fast to make the turn, crashed his entire body through the two-story window adjacent to our spiral staircase in the foyer.

A huge shard of glass above him came straight down and caught him, squarely, across the bridge of his nose, bringing him instantly to his knees and then to a collapsed position on the marble tiles, which is where I saw him for the first time.  The officer, though injured severely, was getting the proper care and was going to be all right. 

The police, who were somewhat embarrassed about how this call had proceeded, let alone the eventual outcome, told our fraternity president that if we produced the offending party, he would not be prosecuted and they would ask for a light sentence when they reported this incident to the University and the Fraternity Counsel.  The initial reaction of the bothers was noble.  We met and all agreed not to turn Brian in but, to his credit, he gave himself up for the promised lighter sentence for the fraternity.

The fraternity was suspended until the end of the semester (only 3 weeks) and we would still be able to rush in the fall.  All in all, it could have been a lot worse and Brian was back in the beer garden with his binoculars the day before final exams.

1966: Count Your Blessings

“Now that is a bitchin’ babe”.  The speaker was Brian Beach, my roommate during our freshman year at the University of Texas in Austin.  We were first semester sophomores at the time of this declaration and attending a fall football fraternity party.  He was referring to my date for the evening, Debbie Bickerstaff.  Normally, I never paid much attention to what Brian said.  He was a jock with a C- average and as far as creativity went....well, let's just say, for Brian, painting-by-numbers was a challenge.

I acknowledged his comment.  “Yeah, I guess”.

“That’s more like it, son!” he continued, “She looks like she could ride the donkey all night”.  Imploring him to keep his voice down I defended her, “Yeah, well, she is a nice girl”. 

“My ass”, Brian exploded, raising, rather than lowering, the decibel output of his normally boisterous approach to just about everything. 

Turning my attention back to my date standing across the room, talking to one of my fraternity brothers, I observed her perhaps in a different light. Debbie was a bleached blonde with streaky highlights at a time when that was not yet fashionable.  It made her look a little hard but she had a very pretty face to soften it.  She was somewhat petite at 5’ 2” but had a firm, fit body with a nice bosom.  There was a “trashy” edge to her and that is what attracted Brian, I was certain.  She did love to party.  When I was tired of studying I would call her up and in a Texas minute she would accept my invitation to go up on Mount Bunnell with a six-pack of Jax beer and look down at the Austin city lights, “grub” a little, lose track of time and rush back to her dorm just ahead, sometimes just behind, her curfew.  She was fun to be with.

“You have been dating such skaggs”, Brian went on, “it’s about time you came up with a bitchin’ babe”.  He slapped me on the back and cruised off with his beer sloshing out of his cup, hailing some girl across the room with whom there was better than an even chance he would have carnal knowledge later in the evening, but who was ignoring him at the moment. 

“Yesterday”, the Beatles # 1 hit came on the stereo in the main living room and people began to dance slowly in the thick of the crowd.  Debbie was definitely better than the bevy of girls I had been dating my freshman year. There had been a short string of “skaggs” since Diane Jolley. Fact was, I had been engaged to Diane out of high school.  She went to Sam Houston State when we graduated and I headed off to the University of Texas at Austin.  Our engagement lasted exactly two months after our paths diverged.  In October of our freshman year she met a senior who was graduating top of his class in ROTC and had accepted a commission to fly in the front seat of F4C fighter jets.  Why a girl would dump me for some jar-head flyboy, who was most certainly going to Vietnam at a time when most college guys were going to great lengths to preserve their deferments, was beyond me, but she did.  When I got the “dear John” phone call, I trashed my dorm room, spend half the night walking around the track in Memorial Stadium, then woke up one of my friends from high school at the Scottish Rite dorm.  She snuck out, still in her nightgown, and we sat on the lawn talking until dawn. 

By noon the next day I was over it.  Diane was not the girl I would marry and I told myself I should count my blessings.  She sent back the ring I gave her. The diamond ended up in my UT senior class ring…a gift from the girl I would marry. Diane ended up marrying the aviator.  He survived Vietnam and the last time I heard from her she was raising show dogs in New Jersey.  I understand she spent most of her time at dog shows while her husband got really fat being an armchair quarterback and watching all sixteen games a week on the DirecTV NFL Premium Package.  I guess we get what we accept.

By October of 1965, some things going on in the world were getting pretty hard to accept.  The Democrats were in power in the United States and President Lyndon Johnson was beginning to listen to what some people thought was bad advice from his commanders-in-chief.  Back in March, President Johnson had ordered the first “official’ combat troops into Vietnam.  As we watched on TV and saw the first 3,500 servicemen land at Da Nang, many of my college buddies, including myself, started to get nervous about our draft status.  Apparently we were not alone.  Exactly two weeks after the landing, the first “sit-in” to protest the war was staged on the University of Michigan campus.  It was followed closely by another protest at Columbia University and then others, mostly on northern campuses.

By the middle of the summer, B-52 bombers were attacking Viet Cong strongholds and the first major land offensive, which included 3,000 US troops from the 173rd Airborne Division along with over 800 Aussies, spent a month tracking the enemy through the jungles of South Vietnam.  It should have been considered a bad omen that, despite this huge force of men, they failed to make contact with the Viet Cong.  The military’s solution was more troops.  Before the year was out, there would be nearly 185,000 American servicemen in Southeast Asia, but tonight, watching all these happy people celebrating the Longhorn’s victory earlier in the day, all of that seemed so unimportant and so far away.

Debbie was now talking, in animated fashion, with Jack Slayton.  Jack was a huge figure of a man, with dark, thick brown hair, which always looked a little disheveled.  He stood 6’ 4” and weighed well over 250 pounds.  Even though he was not that bad looking, he was our entry every year in the campus Ugly Man Contest. 

Debbie was fun and funny.  She was sexy, perky, even bubbly at times.  She looked like she could drink more than she could possibly consume in food.  She could drink many of my brothers under the table but could still kiss you goodnight without slobbering all over you.  She was intelligent and made good grades.  She looked good on my arm.  So, what’s to lose?  Count your blessings and move on with it.

I wanted to take the relationship to the next level but Debbie was hesitant and suddenly became cool.  She wanted to date other people before she committed to one man, she said.  We dated on and off into the winter, but on the night of our fraternity Christmas formal, she had to go back to Dallas for a “family gathering”.  The same thing happened at our Spring Formal.  I found out later it was to see her old high school boyfriend who was attending SMU.  Consequently, I attended our Spring Formal as a single.  It turned out to be a turning point in my life and another blessing to be counted.