Author Archive

London Calling

January 18, 2007

I’ve got a golden opportunity, and I don’t want to blow it. Therefore, I need a little help from my friends.

Today I put down my first payment on a study abroad opportunity in Europe. While I haven’t seen the itinerary, the focus of the trip is a European perspective on broadcast news. We’ll visit the BBC, and SKY, and also venture over to Paris for a peep at Canal Plus. (I believe we’ll only spend a day or two in Paris.)

The profs will arrange the itinerary from May 15 to June 1. And while that will all be enjoyable, I want to take in all I can. Therefore, I plan to arrive a few days early or stay a few days later.

Here’s where the vast knowledge of the Houseflies applies. I’m considering a six-day itinerary. Not sure if I should just see the sights of London or take the rail to Manchester, Edinburgh, or over to Ireland.

As an aside, I don’t want to be the typical American tourists taking a glance at some of the world’s most treasured sites just to check them of my list of things to do.

If you’ve been (or are dying to go), what things in Great Britain must be done/seen/tried/experienced?

BONUS:
The person with the most helpful comment might receive a cheap tourist shirt upon my return!

”The saints are coming" Its been a long time sinc…

January 16, 2007

”The saints are coming”

Its been a long time since I’ve been as emotionally invested in a sporting event as much as I am this Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

The Houseflies first video is my new rally cry. (It does give me an Oprah moment every time I watch it.)

But here’s the deal. I need a reality check. I could be swept up in my own frustrated Saints fandom. Or am I less crazy than I suspect? Is this team one of the more transcendent sports phenomenon in American history?

I vote yes.

Whether the Saints win or lose I know there will still be plenty of suffering on the Gulf Coast.

But I really enjoy considering how those people, bruised and broken by the storm and the broken system, will feel when our New Orleans Saints win in Chicago.

It may not take away all of their pain. But I hope the team gives them a feeling of satisfaction — even if it is a bit superficial. If just for a moment, I hope they get to feel victorious.

For all of this I dedicate this space for future discussion of Saints Football and how great it will be to celebrate an NFC (and soon a Super Bowl…) Championship!

Posted on Whitney’s behalf: Because I’m not a "re…

December 22, 2006

Posted on Whitney’s behalf:

Because I’m not a “real” contributor to DH, I was hoping to start a conversation on a link I just saw on MSNBC about disabled couples who are trying to genetically engineer (?) their babies to have their same disability.

I don’t know how to link to articles, or I would. (But Joe knows: Linky.)

Basically, what caught my eye the most was a couple, both of whom have dwarfism, who are pushing for this type of embryonic manipulation.

This particular quote seemed, um, ironic…to me: Gibson and Cara Reynolds of Collingswood, N.J., are outraged by opposition to using embryo screening to allow dwarf people to have dwarf children. “You cannot tell me that I cannot have a child who’s going to look like me,” Cara Reynolds said. “It’s just unbelievably presumptuous and they’re playing God.”

Isn’t that exactly what she is wanting to do? Play God?

If someone is willing to post a whole new topic, that would be great. Maybe no one is interested. That’s OK, too. 🙂

Merry Merry Merry Christmas to you all. New and old friends alike. I pray for you all peace and happiness.

Whit-

Farmers Branch: I wish I never knew you

November 16, 2006

Forgive me for barging in to the Houseflies domain after going so long with nothing useful to contribute. But I finally have something to talk about.

Larry James contributed to our blog some time ago. For those that don’t remember, James serves as the President/CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, “a human community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas.”

On his blog today, he put forth a great articulation of my hunch that most Americans are ignorantly nodding their heads in agreement with bigotry, and I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the pundis that portray “illegals” as greedy, criminals that weasel their way in to our country taking jobs from deserving Americans.

I was repulsed to see the portrayals of immigration in the Pennsylvania Senate race. Does Pennsylvania really have an imminent threat of border jumpers? Take a look at the tone from the front lines of the issue in places like California (this link is well worth the read!) and Arizona. The term “illegals” is almost universally replaced by the moniker “migrants.” In a previous post James questioned, “How can a human being be illegal?”

Enter Farmers Branch, Texas. Growing up I considered Farmers Branch Church of Christ my surrogate church. They hosted a youth leadership conference I attended from 8th grade until my college years.

In James’ post he discusses FB’s new attempt to crack down on these illegals. I find it noisome, this legislation led by FBCoC member, Tim O’Hare.

Where is the compassion? Where is the concern for humanity?

I don’t profess to be the most informed person on the history and origins of our border issues, but I know racism when I see it.

James makes excellent points about the notion that migrants take from “hard working Americans.” Even though, as Larry points out, they pay sales tax, contribute to property tax. If employed, they contribute to social security with no expectation of return.

When it comes to the security concerns of our porous border, our elected officials certainly have a difficult problem on their hands. However, they ran for office to deal with the tough problems facing our country.

When they resort to preying on American jingoism and xenophobia, I don’t know whether to fight, cry or puke.

Hail the Conquering Heroes!

November 9, 2006

I’ve been absent for a while, but some of you may remember me. I’m the grouchy old retired guy who dabbles in history and long convoluted sentences.

I ‘d just like to echo Juvenal in sending out Congrats and Condolences to all concerned. Our election process has gotten so brutal that anyone who is willing to enter the public arena, whatever their motivation, deserves a little respect. Politicians being what they are, however, I’m sure that some of those on the short side will see their defeat as the final straw that ushers in a new “Dark Ages” of chaos and tyranny, while some of the winners will see their victory as the well deserved vindication of their morally and rationally superior character and philosophy. As usual, both will be mistaken.

More than anything, however, I’d like to congratulate us, the American electorate, for having peacefully completed the 109th election cycle under our present Constitution. The first assembly of Senators and Representatives convened in New York City on March 4, 1789, and it’s been pretty much business as usual ever since – except for two cycles during the Civil War (or, as some of my un-reconstructed friends call it “The War of Northern Aggression”). During that time, there were actually two congresses sitting – one in Washington and one in Richmond – resulting, I’m sure, in twice the bickering, back stabbing, name calling, and general all around “politicking” we’ve all come to know and love. Some of those election cycles were calm and uneventful, and some would make even our modern mud slinging contests look like church socials. Through it all, our country has survived and prospered beyond the wildest dreams of those men who first took office back in 1789. Hurray for the average American!

So much for the good news. For those of us who are sick to death of political hog wash from either side, the bad news is that the 110th election cycle has already started.

In 2008, it will have been 56 years since we’ve had a presidential election without either an incumbent president or vice-president on the ticket for either party. The last time this happened, we were in the middle of a confusing and not very popular war with American boys dying every day in some far off place; there were accusations of scandal; and the party in power’s approval ratings had sunk like a stone. The opposition nominated a very popular figure who ran on the platform of cleaning up the government, ending the war, and bringing the troops home. Does any of this sound familiar?

Fifty-six years ago, the opposition party candidate won 55.2% of the popular vote and 83% of the electoral vote. Running as an incumbent four years later, he received 57.5% of the popular vote and 86% of the electoral vote. History doesn’t always repeat itself, but, in this case, it has to make the current party holding the White House very nervous. Two years from now, it may be a different lady ordering new drapes for the Oval Office – again. For those of us who enjoyed watching the “Bill and Hil” show in the ‘90s, we might wake up some morning now long from now and hear some TV pundit saying

They’re Baaaaaaaaaack!

Fasten your seat belts.

Natural Disasters – Past and Present

August 24, 2006

As we come up on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, with all the controversy over the preparedness and response of various groups, it might be instructive to look back in history at another disaster which happened on this day, 1,927 years ago. Some of the similarities with Katrina are interesting.

About noon on August 24th 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius, on the southern edge of the Bay of Naples, erupted. The two towns most effected were Herculaneum and Pompeii. In light of our recent experience with Katrina, some of the facts surrounding this earlier disaster sound a little like the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Bay of Naples, especially around Herculaneum and Pompeii, was a resort area, with many summer villas owned by wealthy Romans.

Many artifacts found in the Pompeii area pointed to a significant gambling and prostitution industry.

As with Katrina, much of the early relief response was the result of individual initiative. A fellow named Pliny the Elder was in charge of the government fleet in the bay. On his own authority, he went with several ships across the bay to investigate the phenomena and help, if he could. He was unable to reach Pompeii but managed to evacuate some people from Herculaneum and Stabiae before they were destroyed and buried by pyroclastic flows rolling down the side of the volcano. Unfortunately, Pliny himself died in the attempt – most likely of a stroke or heart attack.

Even though the eruption came as a surprise, the 10,000 to 20,000 residents of Pompeii had almost 18 hours to escape before their town was buried under ten feet of ash. Recent excavations have shown, however, that at least 10% of the people decided to “ride it out” in their homes and died where they lay. Sound familiar?

Also like today, the Roman government, in the person of the new emperor Titus, realized that a natural disaster on such a scale required more assistance than local and private groups could provide. Even though he was dealing with the expense of finishing up the ten year project of the Flavian Amphitheater [Colosseum], begun by his father Vespasian, Titus used the Roman treasury to contributed substantial “Federal Disaster Relief” funds to the rebuilding effort.

The 79AD incident is the first volcanic eruption in history for which an eyewitness accounts survives. A 17 year old named Caius Plinius Caecilius, whom we call Pliny the Younger, wrote two letters describing the Vesuvius eruption (and the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder during his rescue attempt) to his friend, the Roman historian Tacitus. In Pliny the Younger’s case, the disaster had an up side. Since his uncle had adopted him as a son, he inherited Pliny the Elder’s estate and became a very rich young man. He entered politics, became a member of the Senate and eventually Consul. Probably his most famous letters are those asking guidance on dealing with Christians, written around 110 AD when he was The Emperor Trajan’s ambassador to Bithynia and Pontus.

Coping with natural disasters and other “Acts of God,” as the insurance companies like to phrase it, are a common human experience. Unfortunately, many of the lessons learned are soon forgotten.

Happy Hurricane Season 2006

BTW: History Trivia Alert!

Regardless of all the claims and counter claims in recent political history as to military experience – or lack of same – by candidates from both parties, today is also the anniversary of the only time in American History that a sitting president actually excercised his powers as Commander in Chief to personally command troops in combat.

Who? When? Where?

Personal note:
I’ll be off the grid for a couple of weeks, so I guess you kids will be unsupervised for a while. Vacation out West. History Geek’s holiday. Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, Custer Battlefield, Yellowstone, Santa Fe, Billy the Kid’s grave site etc.

Love Me Tender

August 16, 2006

Another edition of Where Were You Then?

Where were you 29 years ago today?

I had been flying for FedEx for four years and was on a trip to California – Burbank, I think. I had flown most of the night and slept most of the day. When I got up late that afternoon, I turned on the TV and heard that Elvis Presley had died in Memphis, at the age of 42. I flew back to Memphis that evening, landing just after midnight. At the time, I lived about 5 miles from Graceland. It wasn’t on my usual route to and from the airport, but I had heard something on the radio about some fans gathering there for a vigil of some sort, so I went a little out of my way to see for myself.

As I neared the house on Elvis Presley Blvd. (What else would you call the street that went by Elvis’ front door, after all) there were people as far as I could see! It was 1:00am and there were literally thousands of folks jammed into the little strip shopping center parking lot across from Graceland and more – the lucky few, I’m sure – crowded against the rock wall and large iron gates with musical notes on them that was all that kept the crowds from swarming onto the grounds and up to the front door. I heard the next day that a drunk driver had come by about an hour after I was there and veered into the crowd and killed one of the fans. Some time later, after the crowds finally died down, they had to sand blast the rock wall in front of Graceland because it was completely covered with people’s names and other graffiti.

For some reason, I was never a big Elvis fan. Not sure why. Maybe because he hit the scene a little before my peak teenage years. When he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, he caused a sensation with the young girls and a panic with their parents. By his third appearance, Sullivan would only show him from the waist up. All that seems a little silly today, but back then, it was serious business, and not just with the ignorant backwater Southern evangelicals.

Fast forward to 1977:
Needless to say, Elvis’ death was front page above the fold news in Memphis, and an invitation to the private funeral service was the toughest ticket in town. I knew a couple from chruch who were friends of Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father, and Vernon’s 2nd wife, Dee. They were invited, and the sermon was done by a well known local C of C preacher. He told me, years later, that the only recording of the service was made by him on a little cassette recorder that he put on the podium. He supposedly refused very lucrative offers over the years to copy and market it. He died recently, and I’ve wondered what became of that tape. As for Elvis, I hear that he is making more money now than he did when he was alive. He might have gotten very weird toward the last, but the Colonel and now the marketing team at Graceland were – and still are – very shrewd.

Were you (are you) an Elvis fan?
What’s your favorite Elvis song? Favorite Elvis movie?
What do you think of him as a cultural icon
Why do you think he turned into such a lonely and troubled soul and ended so badly?

As The King would say:

Thank you … Thank you very much!

Little Boy

August 6, 2006

Haven’t said much the past few weeks. Just didn’t think I had much to contribute to the subjects.

Evil, hypocritical, xenophobic, anti-semitic Christians:
I’m sure they’re out there. I just don’t know very many.
After all, you have to take some sort of test to be called a doctor or lawyer or college professor, or even an airline pilot, but anybody can call themselves a Christian.

Alma Mater sarcasm:
Yeah, I thought it was a pretty dorky song too, when I was there 40 years ago. The music was written by one of my teachers. He was a fine man and a decent band director, but certainly no Mozart. As for the school, if you think it’s a little provincial and straight laced today, you should have been there in the early ‘60s. Some folks then probably thought it was a real concession to allow the married students to live together. All that said, it also had some of the finest, most intelligent and spiritual people I’ve ever met. When I re-entered the real world after four years there, I was amazed to find that I had received a first rate education, in spite of all my efforts to the contrary.

Principalities and Powers:
Wow! I’ll leave that to the intellectual big guns for now.

All pretty heavy duty stuff, but as luck would have it, today’s History provides us with a lighter, happier subject for those of you who might want a change of pace:

Nuclear Weapons

Sixty-one years ago today – at 08:16 local time – the world’s second nuclear device detonated approximately 1,900 feet above the Aioi Bridge in downtown Hiroshima, Japan with a nominal yield of 15 kilotons +/- 20% (roughly equal to 30 million pounds of TNT). The first device had been successfully tested in New Mexico twenty-one days earlier.

Code named “Little Boy,” the device was a “uranium gun”design containing 64.1 kg of highly enriched U-235. By today’s standards, “Little Boy” was an extremely crude and inefficient weapon, and was the only one of it’s type ever produced. In it’s final assembled form, it was 10.5 feet long and weighted 8,900 pounds. Three days later, a second device – a plutonium implosion design called “Fat Man”- was dropped over Nagasaki. It weighted 10,300 pounds, contained 6.2kg of plutonium, and gave a nominal yield of 21 kilotons.

In spite of “Little Boy’s”extreme inefficiency – less than 2% of it’s uranium actually underwent nuclear fission – it still managed to incinerate one square mile of the city and about 70,000 human beings, including 2,000 Japanese Americans who were trapped in Japan at the beginning of the war, and 11 American POWs. Additionally, it set on fire or damaged every other structure within a 4 square mile radius. By the end of the year, another 70,000 people would die of burns, radiation sickness or other injuries.

Within four years, thanks to information furnished by spies within the Manhattan Project, the Russians had their own bomb, thus giving rise to the Cold War military strategy known as MAD – mutually assured destruction. I remember quite well, as a junior in high school, standing in my grandfather’s back yard during the Cuban Missile Crisis and wondering if his storm cellar would make a decent bomb shelter. I figured we could live for a while on the canned goods my grandmother had stored down there.

The nature of the nuclear threat has changed over the years, but it hasn’t gone away. For your homework assignment, imagine this scenario:

It’s January 20, 2009.
Having finally become disillusioned by the candidates from both parties, the public at last comes to appreciate your dazzling intelligence and profound wisdom and, thanks to a massive write in campaign begun by your friends on Desperate Houseflies, you have been elected the 44th president of the United States, sweeping the electoral college and receiving 99% of the popular vote. Today you are inaugurated, giving what is unanimously hailed by all the TV pundits as the finest address since Abraham Lincoln. With overwhelming support in both houses of congress, all your cabinet and judicial nominees will be confirmed and your legislative programs are assured of passage.
[In a related story, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News corespondents on the scene report that Hell has just frozen over].

One week later, during the noon hour, a young Middle Eastern man stands on a street corner in downtown St. Louis Missouri. A few passers by notice that he is chanting some sort of prayer and holding what looks like a garage door opener, but most ignore him. A few seconds later, he shouts something about Allah, raises the remote control device in his hand, and detonates a small Russian or Pakistani made nuclear weapon hidden in the back of a Ford Minivan parked across the street. It’s yield is about equal to the Hiroshima device, but, thanks to the shielding of the buildings, it only vaporizes 10 square blocks and something over 40,000 people, with extensive blast damage and flash fires extending out another mile in every direction and causing another 50,000 casualties. Within minutes, the mushroom cloud climbs seven miles high and the prevailing winds begin to blow the radioactive fallout from the ground burst eastward, causing elevated radiation levels, mass evacuations, and further casualties as far away as Indianapolis.

Five days after the terrorist explosion, you have on your desk solid intelligence from the CIA, corroborated by several other nations’ intelligence services – including both the Israelis and the Saudis – giving irrefutable evidence of the group responsible as well as their state sponsors.

What do you do Mr. President?

Still want the job?

Does anybody think that this scenario is far fetched – except for you being elected president, of course?

Have a nice day.

"Never Trust a Woman or an Automatic Pistol" … John H. Dillinger

July 22, 2006

Sorry to slip in an extra post, but I couldn’t let this one pass.
Maybe I’ll count it as my next weekly effort.

72 years ago today, John Herbert Dillinger was intercepted by Federal Agents (they wouldn’t officially become the FBI for almost another year) and local police as he came out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago with two women. The feature showing was Manhattan Melodrama starring Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy, and some say Dillinger chose that theater in the middle of July because it had a new feature – air conditioning. Supposedly he went for a gun and tried to run for it. Still some controversy over what really happened, but whatever the real facts, he was shot dead on the spot. Even though his “career” lasted only 14 months, he was, far and away, the most famous of the Depression Era outlaws of the ‘20s and ‘30s (by “outlaws,” I mean the independent operators as opposed to the organized crime guys like Capone).

Using Dillinger and a few others like “Pretty Boy” Floyd and “Baby Face” Nelson as high profile adversaries, J.Edgar Hoover was able to get legislation passed and build support for his little known Department of Justice operation and build it into America’s first national police force. Hoover ruled with an iron hand, building up a significant domestic intelligence and anti-terrorist operation starting during WWII. Until his death in 1972, Hoover was the scourge of bad guys as well as being feared by every politician in Washington from the president on down. None of them really knew what he might have on them in his famous private files. Those files, by the way, were, as per his orders,immediately taken from his office upon his death and haven’t been seen since.

BTW For any who might be interested, some of my “Gangster Geek” friends actually have a slightly tongue in cheek fan club called The John Dillinger Died for You Society.

Where were you when … ?

July 20, 2006

All of us have times in our lives which were so special that we can remember details even after many years. Likewise, some events in history command our attention at the time so much that, even years later, we can tell others exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time.

My mother and grandparents told me many times about being gathered around the old battery powered radio and listening to the newscasts on Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941. One of my uncles was home on leave from his Navy assignment at the New York Navy Yard where he was part of the crew preparing the new heavy cruiser “USS Atlanta” for her sea trials. He went back to his post, helped get her commissioned, and went down with her 11 months later in Iron Bottom Sound off Guadalcanal.

I was a Freshman at Harding College, coming down the stairs from my 2nd floor dorm room just after lunch when I heard someone yelling “President Kennedy’s been shot in Dallas.”

Those of you who were alive, do you remember where you were 37 years ago today?

My wife of one year and I were visiting my parents in Alma Arkansas, and I was sitting on the floor in front of their old Zenith console TV, watching the network coverage of the Apollo 11 mission. At 9:56pm CDT, we all watched the live feed coming from the camera mounted on one leg of the Lunar Excursion Module as Neil Armstrong hopped off the bottom step and become the first human being ever to set foot on another object in our solar system. It all seemed rather routine. Scientific “miracles” had become normal. It was hard to get the feeling that you were witnessing a unique event – a first in the entire history of mankind – but we were.

Comments on the Space Race of the late ‘50s and 60’s? Comments on the current Space Shuttle program and what comes next?

BTW This day has WAY too many good anniversaries to limit the comments to just one.

July 20, 1869 – Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, publishes his first full length effort, a travel book based on a series of newspaper articles written while he toured with a group who sailed from New York and visited Europe and the Holy Lands in 1867. He called it The Innocents Abroad: A New Pilgrim’s Progress, and it may have been America’s first popular “Best Seller.” In the first 18 months, it sold – door to door – over 82,000 copies at $4 apiece, netting Twain $16,500 in royalties, roughly equivalent to $218,000 today. At age 34, Twain became arguably the first “Rock Star” in American culture and remained so until his death in 1910.

July 20, 1881 – Sitting Bull, probably the most famous American Indian chief, surrendered to the US Army at Ft. Buford, Dakota Territory (near present day Williston, ND). Having eluded the American authorities for 5 years after the Little Bighorn fight (most of that time spent in Canada), he finally brought his starving little band of followers in to the reservation. Once the leader of thousands of what one Army officer termed “The best light cavalry in the world,” at the time of his surrender his band consisted of only 40 families – 44 men and 143 women and children.
After his surrender, Sitting Bull lived peacefully on the reservation and traveled a year with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Later, because of his supposed encouragement of the Ghost Dance movement which swept through the Sioux nation in 1890, Sitting Bull was ordered arrested by James McLauglin, the Indian Agent. On December 15, 1890, the Indian Police attempted to take Sitting Bull into custody, but a fight broke out. When it was over, Sitting Bull was dead, along with his son Crow Foot and 6 other of his followers. Six policemen, who were also Sioux, died as well.

July 20, 1944 – At 12:42pm, local time, at Hitler’s headquarters at Rastenburg, a bomb, hidden in a briefcase and planted by Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, detonated during a briefing. Four Nazi officers were killed, but Adolph Hitler, the bomb’s target, escaped serious injury. Hitler regarded his survival as a sign from fate. He later said:
“I regard this as a confirmation of the task imposed upon me by Providence”-and that “nothing is going to happen to me…. [T]he great cause which I serve will be brought through its present perils and…everything can be brought to a good end.”
The war in Europe continued for almost 10 more months.

Pick your subject and go for it.