Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Bob’s Apology to the Children of the World

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

O little children, how I regret the need to write this letter to you. If we big people had done our duty for many years now, this apology would not have been necessary. You might not be able to read or comprehend by yourselves what I shall say here, so you perhaps should wait until you are a little older and have learned more and bigger words. (I will try to rein in my tendency to use complicated words, but that is very hard to do.) Or your parents might sit down with you and reduce the content to your level of understanding. I doubt that they will, because it could be too embarrassing for them.

I don’t have any children of my own, but there was a time when I deeply wanted a baby. However, I was already past the age when being a good daddy was practicable; and, anyway, I didn’t have a wife. A mommy is just as important in a child’s development as a daddy, usually more so. But my being childless is not really important: I am still just as responsible for our troubles as any parent.

But, let’s get on with the basic message I want to share with you.

The world is in a sad situation right now, both in an environmental way and in a social way. Perhaps the primary cause of that sad situation… (Let me introduce a new word to you here: dire. I would rather use that word than “sad” because, although it contains much the same meaning, it also means more. You see, a situation can be “sad” and yet limited; it might affect only one person or just a few people, and it might be just a temporary mood. “Dire”, however, adds more meaning — the element of threat. If something is a threat then it is neither tied to a mood nor likely to be temporary; it could mean the end of all life, even all things.)

One current threat is Climate Change. The Earth’s temperature is increasing; at least that is what about 300 of the world’s scientists have told us. And many things that we can see, if we look at them, appear to back up the scientists’ claims: the Arctic ice is melting, threatening the habitat of the polar bears and the Eskimos; the coral reefs, on which many sea creatures depend for food, is receding; the schedules and flight patterns of migratory birds are changing; and, perhaps the simplest test of all, the recording on temperature gauges is inching upward year by year. And those are just a few of the observable changes.

Now, a sizable minority of the world’s population refuses to acknowledge these changes or to attribute them to Man’s use of energy sources that come out of the earth, such as coal and oil. And other people, who might recognize Man’s guilt in all this mess, don’t have the political will to do anything about the problem. What hinders them is that to take the urgent actions needed to try and reverse, or at least moderate, disaster would require eliminating some industries, such as coal-mining and oil/gas-drilling, which have employed many people — perhaps your daddy or mommy — for a long time. You can understand, can’t you, why your parents, if they work in one of those industries, would fight to keep their jobs? They want to be able to feed and clothe you just as they have always done. And when the cost of a solution closely affects a person’s family his or her range of vision becomes severely narrowed.

Another threatening element in our world’s scene is tribalism. If you are Americans, you probably think that only the Native Americans (formerly known as “the Indians”) live in tribes. Actually, though, we are all members of tribes in that our facial features, skin colors, cultural attitudes, political arrangements, and even spiritual beliefs are shared by varying fractions of the world’s population. Throughout the centuries, tribes have often been in conflict with one another; this is very noticeably the current case in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. But it is also an issue in Europe and the United States, where mass migrations of peoples who are fleeing oppression and poverty in their homelands continue. Especially when a bunch of them move to any one country, they tend to congregate in the same area so that they can share themselves with others of their own culture and language; thus, we have neighborhoods that become known as “China Town” or “Little Mexico”. Large influxes of peoples bringing with them their traditions, religions and other cultural habits appear threatening to native peoples, who want to protect their own cultural norms from alterations. Now, some of the native people — particularly the farmers — often welcome the foreigners because those refugees are willing to do work that some natives do not want to do. That causes quarrels between the farmers and their urban neighbors.

There are also, naturally, more practical problems that come with mass migrations: how to house, feed, clothe, educate and medicate the foreigners. The governments in Europe, the United States and some African countries are wrestling with those problems right now. A subtle and dangerous aspect of this social turmoil is the element of racism and religious bigotry involved. Ethnic jealousy and political partisanship also are part of this poisonous mixture. Such a seemingly small matter as whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear her religion-prescribed head scarf in some places has engendered debates in parliaments and the media.

Religion itself is a major element in the world’s general conflict. In the Middle East, one branch of Islam attacks another branch over the question of who was the rightful successor of Mahomet as leader of their religion. In China, the government is again trying to extinguish Christianity. And here in the U.S., one political party is working hard to infuse the Christian religion more deeply into our political system; they want to establish Christianity as the official religion of the U. S.. In all our conflicts, a primary element is the “us versus them” mentality, and that is especially true of the religious divisions.

Then there is the question of how you children are going to earn a living when you grow up. Robotics and mechanization are already reducing the number of humans who are needed for many types of jobs. In Japan, I read recently, they are already using robots to work the reservation counters at airports. A batch of sociological studies all indicate that many more positions will be taken over by robots over the next 25 years, including those of lawyers, doctors, and news reporters. So, what will you do? How will you spend all your “free time”? How will your food and shelter be paid for? Don’t expect the owners of factories and other businesses or the political officials to care: they want to eliminate the need for human employees because doing so will save them money. Why should they spend that savings on your needs?

Now, I should give credit to those grown-ups who are trying to solve some of the problems I have too briefly described above. There are many individuals, companies and even governments who are altering their practices regarding gaseous emissions from factories and vehicles, which are a major cause of the Climate Change problem. There are also some statesmen who are trying to tamper down the social strife caused by religious and cultural differences.

And there are your parents, who had enough faith in humanity to bring you into the world. I feel some mental and emotional conflict within myself at this point because, on the one hand, I wonder at their wanting to bring children into a world full of direful and daunting difficulties; while, on the other hand, I admire them for their faith and for providing us with you. The solutions will require people — intelligent, energetic and loving people — to discover and put them into practice.

Thus I leave you, Children of the World, with my most heart-felt apology for the messes we have left for you to clean up, and with my earnest hope and encouragement for your success.

Bless you,

Bob Litton

Blossoms, Death Watch, Bread & Circuses

Trees Blossoms Full View

NON-BEARING PEAR TREES with their snow-white blossoms started their annual decoration of the drive at my apartment complex in late February. (Photo courtesy of Chris Ruggia)

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

It’s one of those days, people, one of those days when I have nothing solid enough in my noggin to offer as a single, coherent essay or poem. But I have to prove to you that I am still alive, even though each morning I am filled with wonder when I rise out of my bed that I am still here.

Death becomes a preoccupation for many of us humans when we pass the 70 mark, which is probably a primary reason for my current interest in American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), many of whose 1,775 poems were meditations on death and immortality. I bought a paperback volume of Emily’s poems last month and a much smaller hardback volume of selected letters she wrote. I am absolutely determined to learn to understand her poems, some of which even Dickinson scholars acknowledge are tantalizingly obscure.

Tree Blossoms Closeup

BLOSSOMS IN MORE INTIMATE VIEW will soon entice the bees, who will loudly hum among them. And in a few days the blossoms will begin to fall, covering the ground like snow. (Photo: Courtesy of Chris Ruggia.)

Mortality is always closely evident in this housing complex, where all of us are either aged or severely disabled. The neighbor on my right, a blind fellow who writes a witty column for one of our local weeklies, has dubbed the complex “Mausoleum Manor”.

The neighbor on my left is dying very slowly of lung cancer. All of his meals have to be created in a blender because his esophagus has shrunk. Last night, just after I had settled in my bed, I heard a racket out on the front porch. I could guess what was going on, because similar noises — rollers passing over the rocks under the evergreen hedge — have happened three times before. The sound of a police radio-phone cinched it. They were wheeling my neighbor off to an ambulance and then to the hospital, probably because he was having trouble breathing again. But then, they might have been taking him off to the funeral home or to a distant hospice, which I consider a better option than the hospital because he had turned away from chemotherapy weeks ago. He needed to go somewhere that he could get attention day and night; otherwise he would die of suffocation.

The only other tenant in this unit (each of the nine units has four apartments) is a woman at least a couple of decades younger than we three males. Her affliction is fibromyalgia. I haven’t really met her; she stays in her apartment practically all of each day’s twenty-four hours, so I have only saluted her on the sidewalk a few times as one of us goes to our vehicle or the mailbox. I don’t make any special effort to introduce myself to people who live so near to me, for there is always the strong likelihood that some event, attitude or word will eventually cause an argument. As one of Robert Frost’s characters in his poem “Mending Wall” says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” (I don’t believe Frost himself held that view, but I do.)

So many things on my mind, so many that I have a difficult time focusing on more creative ideas and projects. Politics also beleaguers me, as I imagine it presently does most adult Americans. Many of us are worried that some of the candidates would make a dangerous president either by becoming a totalitarian tyrant in the style of Hitler and Mussolini or by chopping away at the socio-political structure that has taken more than three hundred years to build, and institute a theocracy.

But perhaps we deserve such a collapse, since, without even being totally conscious of it, we have weakened the substructure of our national unity. For too many years most of us have been so secure and comfortable that we have become complacent. We ordinarily have exceptionally low voter turnout.

Also, since 1968 at least, we haven’t had any presidential candidates that struck us as either crazy or extreme; now we have a passel of them. I hate to admit this, but one of my primary criteria for gauging a presidential hopeful is his/her demeanor…his/her stage presence. And remember, folks, we are going to have to watch the next president on TV often during the next four years. It is incredible how obnoxious in their various ways most of the Republican candidates were. I won’t take space here to caricature the top three vote-getters, but I will acknowledge that John Kasich is the least objectionable. Kasich is not handsome, certainly, but he doesn’t pose or bellow or whine or over-talk his opponents’ remarks.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has good stage presence, immense experience in government, and acute intelligence. On the other hand, she has associational baggage, a taint of dynasty, and an FBI investigation dogging her: I have bad mental images of her being led away from her inauguration stage in handcuffs.

Still, I agree with as many of Hillary’s proposals as I can understand, just as I approve of Bernie Sanders’ socialistic bent. But Bernie has a slight problem with stage presence, too: he stands up there with his shoulders bent, waving a finger in the air like a scolding school teacher; he needs to modulate some. Also, Bernie is only two years younger than I; I don’t think he realizes how the presidency ages a person; just look at photos of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from the days of their first and last years in office; ditto for Barack Obama. I doubt that Bernie could survive four years.

But it is we the people that worry me most. If the crowds at Republican primary debates and the number of their voters going for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are a true indication of the mood and intelligence level of Americans overall, we are in for a major disaster.

Too many Americans are believers in “pie-in-the-sky”. They are addicted to get-rich-quick gimmicks such as the various lotteries. The politicians — of both parties — frequently use the phrase “hard-working Americans”, when the fact is that few of us work hard enough to break into a sweat, and too many young people dream of becoming rock stars or outstanding athletes (which I concede will bring up the sweat for a few fun hours) because that is where the big money is. We import Latinos and Asians to do the truly menial work and then we accuse them of stealing our jobs. What we want for ourselves, just like the ancient Romans, is bread and circuses.

♦ ♦ ♦

P.S.:  I went to visit my neighbor at the hospital this afternoon. He appeared to be in much worse shape than the last time I saw him, in his apartment two days ago. Moreover, it was difficult to understand what he said because his head was enveloped in a complicated device to aid his breathing; it was similar to that nosebag that Hannibal Lecter wore in “Silence of the Lambs”. But I did get enough out of our conversation to discover that the hospital will keep him there as long as necessary and that he can shorten the period by telling them to “pull the plug”. Not a good prognosis, of course, but certainly better than one of us entering his apartment to find him in his bed, dead from suffocation.

Finis

 

More on the Separation of Church and State

© 2016 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS:  In my January 7 post, I related the beginning of a local controversy involving the placement of religion-oriented decals on the windows of county vehicles driven by our sheriff’s deputies. In concert with similar episodes in this state and other states, this incident has swelled into a debate about the “wall between church and state”. Actually, though, such events have peppered our nation’s history almost ever since the U.S. Constitution, together with its first ten amendments, was ratified by the legislatures of the thirteen original states between 1787 and 1791.

My homeland is now agitated by disagreements over a few parts of the Constitution. Some citizens, known generally as “strict constructionists” or “originalists”, are in verbal conflict with other citizens loosely describable as “believers in a living, evolving constitution”, over a few sections of the Constitution, particularly those concerning immigration, women’s rights, appointments of judges, and the right to bear arms. The First Amendment issue of separation of church and state is not currently the subject of a national quarrel, but it does pop up occasionally in pockets around the country.

The decal debate here apparently is of interest only to a few vocal citizens, including myself; however, the Texas governor has weighed in; and so has the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the latter of which announcing that they would enter the legal fray if any local citizen would file suit in court. Like me, however, most of the people here are not financially able to pursue a lengthy court battle with an undeterminable outcome. And I prefer to fight my battles in the newspaper.

Which brings me up to the present. This past week, one of my letters-to-the editor was published in one of the local weeklies. (I did not submit it to the other paper because the publisher/editor there has a bad habit of excising sentences from my letters.) For those of you who were interested in that first letter I re-published on this blog, you might find this one just as entertaining.

Enjoy!
—BL

The brown-and-blue cross decals on sheriff’s deputies’ vehicles here in Brewster County have reportedly attracted the attention of state politicians. Gov. Gregg Abbott, in a “brief” to State Attorney General Ken Paxton, is quoted as saying that ‘the cross has a long history in America and elsewhere as a symbol of service and sacrifice’. I suppose he is referring to the historical practice of burning crosses on the lawns of colored folks, and to those red plus-signs on the sides of Red Cross medical vans. He did acknowledge that the cross does have “its religious significance”.

Now, Abbott’s message is what I call a capital case of sophistical demagoguery. A Republican politician who is trying to establish his position early as a religious conservative in preparation for the next gubernatorial campaign, Abbott is diving into an issue that he apparently hopes will give him an advantage with the evangelicals in this state.

Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said at the beginning of this cross decal controversy that he views the sticker as a symbol of the cross that Jesus died on and of the religion that evolved from that incident but that he would allow any Jewish deputy (if he had one) to apply a Star of David decal, or any Muslim deputy (if he had one) to apply a Crescent-and-Star decal. He said he sees the decals as a way of invoking God’s protection for his officers. Therefore, the religious significance of this decal is the primary accent to be interpreted, and as such it amounts to an intrusion of religion into what is supposed to be a non-sectarian government.

Now, I am not opposed to the deputies sticking those decals on their own, private vehicles, i.e., those vehicles not purchased with funds derived from taxes. But when the decals are stuck on the windows of official government vehicles, then they constitute a violation of the First Amendment principle of prohibiting any law respecting the establishment of religion. (Jews and Hindus have helped pay for those vehicles.)

The religious conservative crowd wants to involve their personal religion into every governmental activity they can. They do not realize what such an approach can lead to. But a bunch of them in Phoenix, Arizona, got a jolt recently when the local Satanist church petitioned to have their turn at giving the invocation at a city council meeting. The nonplussed council members — faced with the dilemma that any officially recognized religious organization must have its opportunity to share in invocation presentations and yet unwilling to allow the Satanists their chance — discontinued prayers at council meetings altogether.

I am not an atheist and definitely not a Satanist, but oh, how I wish we had a Satanist church in Alpine! That would be a hilarious scene to watch! And it might benefit us defenders of the doctrine of separation of church and state (Everson vs. Board of Education [1947].

 

Crosses on law enforcement vehicles

NOTE TO READERS: I know I have been presenting bare blog posts the last few months because of physical problems and depression over the national and international scenes. Well, I am back now — sort of — but in a different tenor.
     My repressed anger is beginning to force itself into expression. I am contemplating a fairly lengthy jeremiad about the world around me, but that will take a while to develop and compose.
     For the moment, I am involved in more immediate and very local issues. The other night I attended a city council meeting and, with the help of another local activist, convinced the council members that they should be more concerned about the needs and convenience of the citizenry. It was over a fairly small issue — the scheduling of council meetings — that likely would not interest global readers.
     This morning, however, our two local papers published a letter-to-the-editor I had written protesting the pasting of religious decals on the rear windows of county sheriff department vehicles. That letter, I figured, should be of interest to citizens all over my homeland, maybe even the world. And that is the reason I am publishing it here today. I have expanded it slightly.
     I hope you find it interesting, even provocative.
—BL 

     * * * * * *

I hear the Brewster County Sheriff’s office has received more than 1,000 comments on their web page applauding the sticking of religious-oriented decals on their vehicles, and only a few condemning the practice.

Many people in Brewster County, being Christians of one sort or another, are undoubtedly in favor of that advertising. Others, not wishing to alienate themselves from their fellow citizens, probably will shy away from criticizing it. Our natural inclination is to say only positive things, not negative ones. Many others, not being Christians or not even being religious, will probably shrug their shoulders, thinking, “What’s the use of quarreling over such a petty matter? Let the idiots run with it. We’ve got more important issues to tackle.”

Well, I think the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the favoring of any religion, is very important. I will be as fervid in my defense of the 1st Amendment as the NRA gun-runners are absolute in their espousal of the 2nd Amendment.

The vehicles driven by our state, county and city law enforcement agencies are purchased with money coming from taxes paid by ALL the citizens of those jurisdictions. And not all the citizens are Christians; many are not even religious.

What is the message intended by the decals with their white over tan crosses and thin blue lines intersecting the horizontal bars? Are we to interpret them to mean that if you are a Christian you will be treated preferentially by the officer driving that patrol car? When he or she pulls you over for driving too fast or recklessly and you inform him/her that you are a Christian, will he/she give you a warning ticket and wish you a merry Christmas?

I am not so rigid in my insistence on the separation of church and state that I find “Merry Christmas” greetings repugnant; the political correctness notion has its own extreme. Nor do I see anything wrong with Sunday school classes holding Easter sunrise services at public parks where beautiful natural settings are most available, for those services last only a couple of hours and then the folks will depart. Such gatherings are private and relatively isolated and presumably no proselytizing will go on there.

But setting up crèches on courthouse lawns or hanging a bunch of paintings of angels in the county clerk’s office (as they do in Ward County) is promoting a particular religion. And a few decades ago, the Monahans, Texas, school board granted the First Baptist Church there permission to use the school district’s multi-purpose building for a revival. Those practices are repugnant and can even be viewed as bullying.

Finis

Acorns, etc.

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 — Luke 2:19

The fairies’ berets

Well, it’s the first week of October, although you can’t tell it by the daytime temperatures around my town; it is already scoring 92 degrees today (10/01/15) at 3 p.m. I don’t recall it getting that warm in July and August, maybe last June, which for some reason I can’t fathom has the reputation of being our hottest month. I know the steering wheel in my truck told me on several June days that hell was nearby. But we have only ourselves to blame, what with our carbon emissions history since the Industrial Revolution started.

Still, we always expect October to be a kinder month, even a time when donning a windbreaker is ordinarily the normal thing to do. In spite of the broiling heat, though, there are a few signs by which Nature is letting us know that Fall is nigh, such as a slight hint that the leaves want to change color from green to yellow, scarlet and purple. In our case here, however, the most telltale sign, that I have noticed, is the drumming of the acorns on my back porch’s metal roof. I see those nuts on the grass and sidewalk when I leave each morning for the coffee shop: they seem unusually large this year. And why have their loud tumbles never drawn my attention in the past twelve years? Yes, they simply must be larger this time.

As a child, influenced by some illustrations in fairy tale books, I would wonder if there were any “little people” around wearing parts of acorns for their caps; I was entirely ignorant at the time that what I was looking at was called a “cupule”. That was way before the age of the Internet, and my curiosity was stifled by a sense of futility until today.  I also used to occasionally wonder why we don’t eat acorns as we do pecans, walnuts and other nut delicacies. I assumed that acorns must be different from other nuts by being poisonous, but somebody told me that, no, the acorn is just bitter to the taste.

I read in Wikipedia today, though, that the ancient Greeks ate them after pounding them into a grain and that the Native Americans and Koreans still do favor certain dishes prepared using acorns. The processes involved, however, look formidably complicated and time-consuming to me. For the rest of us, grains have superseded any comparable meal ingredient. One would have to be near starvation, I suppose, to gather acorns. Yet, some of our media sites are recommending that we consider munching on various insects for sustenance: a hardly subtle reference to the likelihood of famines if climate change develops to its greatest extent.

But we want to believe that Fall is imminent, even though there seem to be no “four seasons” any more, only Summer and Winter. Autumn, like Spring, is being squeezed down to a week. Why is Fall also called “Autumn”? I wonder.

Out of balance

A Methodist minister told me, when I was about sixteen, “Life is going to be hard on you, Bob, because you are mature beyond your years.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, and I have pondered his assessment often since then. I now do not believe he was saying that my IQ was above average or that my store of common-sense was abundant: both of those qualities would, I believe, be very useful coping skills, not stumbling blocks. No, I think his point must have been that I do not have much tolerance for ambiguity, ambivalence, and the smaller details in life. I expect the world to be much more plain and decipherable than it is. The pastor’s remark was uttered not many days after I had opined, during a meeting of our church’s governing board (of which I was an ex officio  member), that I believed we needed to do away with Santa Claus. I won’t expound on the Santa Claus issue here any further than to explain that the persona of Santa I perceived was that of a caricature of God — an image that I thought confuses children and might eventually lead them spiritually astray.

No, the issue I wish to dilate on is what personality characteristic my comment reflected. My intolerance for ambiguity and small fictions became, I think, an obsession within me, an obsession that cannot be contained now, if it ever could, even though I am aware of the discomfort it causes for me. When (at age 20) I started reading philosophy, particularly Bertrand Russell’s discussion of Zeno’s paradoxes, I sententiously declared it my ambition to resolve all paradoxes; I wasn’t going to leave any room for an ounce of doubt.

Of course, most of my readers will be aware of how naïve was my goal. As the years multiplied, so did the paradoxes and dilemmas. Even Bertrand Russell, I read later, retreated into symbolic logic to discuss rather basic matters because he saw the plain old vernacular as being the cause of many philosophical rabbit trails¹. I did not have the mathematical ability to follow his lead, so I simply gave up and tried to close my eyes and ears to insoluble problems.

But the questions attacked me anyway, very surreptitiously via my observations of Nature and the people I encountered — nay, viewed, even if I did not meet them. Why is that young man, for instance, wearing a ring in his nostril and two rings in his lower lip? Why do two people not get to know each other better before they get hitched into a relationship that leads to an acrimonious and expensive divorce? Why does a group scream, beat loudly on drums and guitars, set off explosions and claim they are making music? Why does a season of the year have two names: Fall and Autumn? All such questions invade my mind unbidden, and I don’t think I have enough life span left to research such matters. (I know, by the way, that “fall” and “autumn” are not usually capitalized, but I prefer to capitalize them for two reasons: (1) Since “fall” has two meanings, the capital “F” prevents confusion; and (2) since the words are names for seasons of the year, I consider the capitalization better etiquette.)

Subtle biases in our vocabulary

The turbulence in my brain, however, is not all perturbing; sometimes amusement results from the roiling. I often find in it fodder for my teasing humor. One evening, for instance, when I was a guest in the home of former friends — a college professor and his wife — I mentioned, almost as an aside, that I thought it peculiar there are no terms for a hectoring man (except of course “hectoring man”), while there are several for a hectoring woman: harridan, shrew, termagant, virago, harpy, vixen, and nag. Whew! I half-expected the wife to jump out of her chair and attack me, but she disappointingly remained calm, recognizing, I suppose, that I was simply being impish, not sardonic.

And then, returning my spotlight to Nature, it occurred to me this morning, as I was driving to the coffee shop just before the sun rose above Hancock Hill, when the sky was just beginning to glimmer, that we have only two words for the sun’s rising: “sunrise” and “dawn” (basically the same stage), but three for its different stages of setting: “dusk”, “sunset”, and “twilight”. There is something poetically disconcerting about that imbalance.

Many other odd imbalances have occurred to me over the past half century, but I don’t recall any of them right now, which is a good thing, because enough is enough, for the time being. It is time to say good night, dear readers.

Happy pondering.

¹”Rabbit trails go here, there, and everywhere, and pretty much tend to lead nowhere. (Have you ever watched a dog sniff out a rabbit trail? It wanders in small then wider circles, around and around, feverishly looking for the rabbit – literally, a meal and, figuratively, the point of one’s argument.) No one knows what’s at the end of a rabbit trail (the point of one’s argument). Is there even an end to it? It’s a confusing maze of pointless leads. In short, a rabbit trail leads (us) nowhere. It serves only to confuse the prey/the reader. It keeps them preoccupied and confused.”  (“Cassiopea” at UsingEnglish.com.)
²Of course I recognize that “curmudgeon” can be used to describe a man, as can the colloquial “grumpus”, but they are not gender-specific, being applicable to a habitually complaining woman as well.

Finis

Gaggers Held At Bay…Somewhat

© 2015 By Bob Litton

In my last blog post, I introduced readers to a small slice of my community’s political structure and conflicts. After describing briefly the intention of our city council to reduce the opportunities for citizens to comment at council meetings, I pledged to combat their scheme. I therefore attended the next council meeting (August 4) and stated my case against the limiting of citizens’ comments to the very beginning of meetings. (Actually, I read my case because in my senior years I tend to forget the most common of words, not to mention names and dates; so I write out my comment whenever I know beforehand that I intend to say something.)

Below is a copy of that statement. Since, however, the city council is the smallest governmental unit in one of the world’s oldest democracies, and many readers of my WordPress blog do not dwell in similarly governed countries, I think it necessary to provide some background information here so that the sentences can be more readily comprehended. Another element that makes such background info desirable is that some of the facts and persons mentioned need their separate clarifications.

Firstly, our council consists of five “council members” plus the mayor; each of the council members represents one of the five wards in the city. Two places on the council are up for election in one year for a two-year term; and the remaining three places are open the next year. The mayor is elected for two years also.

As for “citizens’ comments”, for a decade or more, the order of the agenda specified three times when citizens could voice their views, after being invited individually by the mayor: (1) at the beginning of the meeting (after an invocation and pledges of allegiance to the nation and to the state); (2) during the “discuss/act” part of the meeting, as each item was taken up by the council; and (3) at the meeting’s end, after the council members have made their own comments about a variety of things.

Nearly every year, that order has been attacked by some of the council members as being disruptive and time-consuming and as a perceived invitation to verbally attack council members, either individually or as a group. Last year, after a contentious debate among themselves and some heavy criticism from several citizens, the council did away with the last period of citizens’ comments. This year, four of them wanted to drop the second period as well. However, after half a dozen of us citizens protested at the second, and expected final, reading of the ordinance the council was persuaded by our arguments that the wiser course would be to drop the first “citizens’ comments” period instead.

Another elitist element in the council’s proposed revision of the agenda was to restrict citizen-comment opportunity to persons who owned property or who operated a business within the city limits. Non-owners of property might speak, provided there was enough time after the council and property-owners had had their say. Since I agreed that non-property owners—such as myself—should not say anything regarding the property tax rate or anything else involving personal property, I did not object, although I felt that the council would be depriving themselves of potentially informative and sagacious advice.

I was the first to address the council; and, after I had had my say, other frequent attendees at council meetings (including one recent member of the council) pretty much echoed my sentiments.

During the “discuss/act” portion of the meeting, I found myself compelled to respond to some remarks by three of the council members. They had complained that citizens did not call them and express their views over the phone; and they brought out their statistical research which indicated that our town had more comment periods than most of the cities in the state, many of which do not allow for citizens to comment at all. I responded that many citizens—like myself—find it hard-going to talk to people, even friends, over the phone, especially about controversial subjects, because we cannot perceive and therefore cannot adapt our remarks to their reactions, positive or negative. Also, I said, we prefer to comment at council sessions because we like to hear our fellow citizens’ views on the same topic; we like the sense of community fellowship. As for the reference to statistical matter, I said, if the councilman wanted to compare us to the rest of Texas, why not go all out and bring up the world? Gauging our governance by comparison with many other countries—seeking the lowest common denominator—would leave us with no citizens’ comment period whatever.

Now for some clarifications:

  • Ray Hendryx is the retired owner of radio stations KVLF-AM and KALP-FM. He reported on city council meetings before I assumed that responsibility in 2002.
  • Ted Cruz is the freshman U.S. senator from Texas and currently a candidate for the presidency.
  • The “Texas Open Meetings Act” (TOMA) is a state legislative prescription for how all meetings by public entities (city councils, school boards, hospital district boards, etc.) are to be conducted and how public officials are to conduct their actions and speech at meetings as well as out in the public arena. Ludicrously as well as hypocritically, the state Legislature exempts itself from the TOMA’s rules.
  • The reference to “street signs” has to do with my protesting—on two occasions—petitions by groups of citizens seeking to have their streets’ signage changed from either a numeral (“1st Street”) or a letter of the alphabet (“Avenue B”) to the name of some individual they admired. I had experienced several problems with such changes, for my avenue’s name had been changed from 2nd Street to Fighting Buck Avenue. You readers can imagine at least some of the problems that can cause. Nonetheless, I failed to prevent the changes.
  • The reference to individuals parking their vehicles in hangars at the airport actually involves only one person—a construction contractor who parked his business truck and other business-related materials in his hangar at the city airport. The city rents hangars to local pilots at a very sweet rate of ten cents per square foot per year! Other local businesspersons, of course, pay much more for warehousing elsewhere.
  • The “pipeline issue” refers to a 42-inch gas pipeline which two billionaires—one a Texan and the other a Mexican—want to lay between the oil patch a couple of hundred miles north of here to the U.S.-Mexico border (the Rio Grande River) and beyond. The project aroused a big protest in our county and in two of our neighboring counties because of the potential for huge explosions and the resulting risk to lives and properties in this area. Although my property was not at risk, my life was, so I felt it was appropriate for me to comment.
  • “Molly” is the City secretary. She was recording the minutes of the council meeting while I was speaking.

Below is the text of my comments to the city council on Aug. 4, 2015:

My name is Bob Litton. I reside in an apartment on Fighting Buck Avenue, in Ward 1.

I will offer my view—perhaps for the last time—on the council’s proposed revision of Ordinance 2014-08-01…or Action Item Number 9… on the agenda.

I have been attending Alpine City Council meetings since August 2002, when I started reporting on the meetings for radio station KVLF. I retired from that contracted career in 2011, but I kept coming fairly regularly because I was interested in what was happening and what was going to happen here through the City council’s efforts. There used to be more regular attendees than there are now, including Jack McNamara, Pete Smyke, Bob Brewer, and Bennett Jones who was very interested in pushing the council toward alternative energy sources. They were all energetic participants in the conversations here. Jack moved to Oregon; Pete is still here, as is Bob Brewer; I don’t know about Mr. Jones. Anyway, they don’t come anymore, or only seldom. It could get a bit rowdy in here at times; there was even a little dirty politics. The meetings could extend overly long, up to five hours, mostly because of a mayor who was inept at moderating the sessions.

There were attempts to squelch comments. On one occasion, when the council passed what became known as the “gag rule”…this was before I started reporting…Ray Hendryx arose from his chair and stomped out.

Yes, we have citizens who hem and haw, who repeat what has already been said by someone else, who yell or at least have naturally very loud voices, and some who don’t understand an agenda item well enough to say anything sensible about it. But this is a democracy, people! City council chambers and state legislature forums all over the nation, and the congressional meeting room, have regular exhibitions of rambunctiousness and absurdity. Do you recall Senator Ted Cruz’s reading a Dr. Seuss book during his filibuster?

This is not a corporate boardroom, ladies and gentlemen. I repeat: this is not a corporate boardroom. This is one of the meeting halls of the people in this community. Instead of trying to squelch the odd democratic conversation, you should be trying to broaden and enliven it.

I like the format for the council meetings as it is now. But what do you want to do? You want to limit people’s comments to early in the meeting, when hardly any citizen knows the details—the pros and cons—of proposed actions. If you wish to persist in being autocrats, then delete the first comments period and retain the citizens’ opportunity to comment during the “discussion/action” period of the meeting, when they can have a clearer idea of what the hell is going on.

As for your limiting comments to property-owners, I—as a renter—would accept that with the proviso that the rule applies only when matters affecting private property are being considered. I have never commented on the tax rate. Nor have I ever commented on anything that concerned how people take care of their property. I have restricted my remarks to the Open Meetings Act, street signs, and individuals who have been using airport hangars to park their private business vehicles. I did also suggest an approach to the pipeline issue. Molly, correct me if you recall any subjects I have omitted.

I suggest that you drop this silly revision and leave the agenda as it is, which is quite satisfactory.

Good evening.

Fin

Off My Head

© 2015 By Bob Litton
During the past 2-1/2 years I have written a few posts “off the top of my head” because I had no deeper topics ready for publication. That is the case again today, but I feel that old journalist’s demon — deadline — breathing hotly on my neck.

It is very odd for me to feel any deadline pressure, since this blog is not a job in the sense of working for somebody else and expecting remuneration; nor do I solicit advertising. The blog is supposed to be a labor of love, yet I often find it to be a spur in my side because I don’t want my regular readers to imagine I have tossed away my computer or died.

I do in fact have a couple of longer, more serious topics roiling in my noggin, but they need more time to develop; so I will let them simmer for a while.

In the meantime, I have pulled out my cylindrical kaleidoscope and will now twist, peer, and record.

Citizens’ Comments

Every year about this time, the city council of this little town (population: 6,000+) reviews the order and procedures for council meetings as published in the city charter. And each time they do that, some two or three council members, in concert with the order-fanatic titled “city manager”, connive to set tighter restrictions on citizens’ comments.

This year, a revised “order and procedures” ordinance has already been approved on first reading and is scheduled for its second, final reading next Tuesday (August 4th). The salient changes are (1) the “citizens’ comments” period would be restricted to early in the meeting — before items are discussed and acted on by the council; no citizens’ comments will be allowed during the “discussion/action” period as they have been allowed to date; and (2) only citizens who own property or operate a business within the City limits will be permitted to comment. Non-property-owners will be allowed time at the mike only if there is enough extra time available, a decision that belongs to the mayor. Each commenter’s time to speak will be limited to three minutes, a limit that has been in effect for a long time.

I have no problem with the three-minute limit. I know it seems too brief in print, but actually I and most of the other citizens who have commented during those nights I was in attendance have managed to utter our opinions and suggestions unhurriedly within the three-minute period. Last year, however, the city manager wanted to reduce the comment time to two minutes. After a bunch of us citizens raised hell about that reduction, the proposal was dropped.

Other suggested changes last year — ones even more arbitrary and authoritarian than the time issue — included (1) requiring citizens who wished to comment to come into City Hall a couple of hours prior to council meeting time and sign a roster; (2) limiting the number of commenters to eight; and (3) reducing the periods open for comments from three to one. (In the past, citizens could comment prior to the discussion/action time, during the discussion/action time, and at the end of the meeting.

I and several other citizens complained about those proposed changes, pointing out how absurd and draconian they were: an acceptable compromise was worked out in which all the proposed add-on requirements were dropped, and only the end-of-the-meeting comments period was deleted. Such is the agenda we have today, which is threatened by the proposed ordinance revision.

Will any of my readers in the United Kingdom, Canada, India, France, Brazil, etc., be surprised to read that I am “mad as a wet hen(rooster)” about the suggested new restrictions on citizens’ comments? I wonder.  Well, I’ll tell you now, I intend to be present at next Tuesday’s council meeting and fuss at them. I just hope a bunch of other citizens will be there as well.

Twist the kaleidoscope again and peer:

Bird potties

The campus on which my apartment is located is dotted with a surplus of trees: scrub oak and non-bearing pear. The scrub oaks are scattered all over the place; the non-bearing pear trees line the drive and parking area.

The only positive things I can say about  the scrub oaks is that they provide welcome areas of shade and, like all other trees, clarify the air of some carbon atoms. The bad thing about them is that, when their old leaves fall, they get blown to, and collect on, my porch—right in front of my door. The leaves are devilishly reluctant to be swept off, too. (I swear they are sentient!)

As for the non-bearing pear trees, I will acknowledge their great beauty in the spring when they blossom in gorgeous white petals for a few weeks. Also, they attract honey bees, which I favor because I love honey and appreciate the good deed bees perform in pollinating our food plants. The bees’ survival is now threatened by some kind of virus and predator wasps.

The negative aspect of the pear trees, as such, is that they exude a sap after their blossoms fall, and that sap drips onto our parked vehicles: it is no fun to wash off. The fallen blossoms are a headache for the lawn keeper to sweep, but that is not my problem.

But the biggest nuisance of all when considering the pear trees is that, since their canopies are partly above the parking area, the perching pigeons, sparrows, swallows and even the occasional song birds bomb our cars and trucks with their blasted poop.

Now, you all know, I am sure, that bird baths and bird feeders have been around for a long, long time. We have a few bird feeders here on the campus, but no bird baths. Perhaps the apartment manager should invest in a couple of those. However, I wish somebody would invent a bird potty and train the birds to use it. It would take only a generation or so, I should think, for the birds to become accustomed to the innovation: It would become part of their nature.

Time for one more twist of the kaleidoscope:

Food and Drinks

Well, it looks like “Big Brother” is leading the way!

I have read recently that bathing every day is not a necessity; in fact, that it is bad for your skin cells. We need, they say, a layer of dead cells to protect the developing new cells. So, a bath only once or twice a week should be sufficient. I have been able, so far, to maintain the twice-a-week regimen; but I cannot stand my masculine aroma after a weekly regimen.

Moreover, they are saying now that the old recommendation of eight glasses of water a day to drink is too much. I did not pay much attention to that article, since I drink only about three glasses of water (with my pills) a day.

They are even searching for alternatives to water, such as treated urine. You recall, do you not, how NASA installed a urine-purification system on the space station. I have not heard yet how the astronauts and cosmonauts have reacted to that.

As for food, the new cuisine now apparently includes ants, crickets and grasshoppers. I recall a 1962 film, Mondo Cane (Dog’s World), in which an affluent couple dined on a $125-plate of chocolate-covered ants in some exclusive New York restaurant: The thesis of the documentary film was how foolish we humans—all over the world—are. Also, there was the 1960 film, The Savage Innocents, in which the Eskimo protagonist (played by Anthony Quinn) offered a small bowl of maggots to an intrusive missionary; when the missionary refused that food as well as an invitation to “laugh with” the Eskimo’s wife, the Eskimo became angry and cracked the missionary’s head against an igloo wall. I read somewhere years later that maggots are in fact rich in protein, although they are more readily accepted as food when transformed into insects.

And now it is time to put my kaleidoscope up. Good night!!!

Fin

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