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Monday, May 25, 2015

Texans Love a Hero; Texas Democrats? Not So Much.

TNS Austin, Moore's flagship at the Battle of Campeche
On May 16, 1843, the outnumbered wooden sailing vessels of the Texas Navy fought two steam ironclads of the Mexican Navy crewed by British officers to a standstill and forced them to retreat - the only time sailing ships EVER held their own against ironclad steam battleships. And these were no ordinary battleships. They were armed with Paixan guns which fired explosive projectiles. The Texans and their Yucatan Republic allies were armed with solid shot.  The Mexicans took a severe beating with many casualties. It was close to a draw, but the Mexicans retreated much to their embarrassment.

Commodore Edwin Moore
Commodore Edwin Moore sailed home to Galveston, a hero to his fellow Texans. On landing he was promptly arrested and court-martialed by Democrat governor, Sam Houston starting a Democrat tradition of animosity toward successful military commanders that lasts to this day. 

Texans, however, love a hero. They demanded and got an aquittal for Moore. Houston sold the Texas Navy for spite. For some reason he hated the navy. It might possibly be because the presence of a successful navy guarding our shores from a threatened Mexican invasion, might have delayed Texans from entering the Union. Houston always saw himself a big fish in a larger pond and delays in becoming part of the U.S.A. would have denied him any shot at the US presidency! I suppose he was afraid Texans wouldn't clamor for U.S. protection from a Mexican invasion if the Texas Navy was still at sea sinking Mexican troop ships. For that matter Democrats still don't have any interest in protecting us from a Mexican invasion. Ain't history instructive?

Ugly 70 foot tall statue of Sam Houston
So, Texas joins the union. Houston gets himself elected governor. Texas secedes, gets itself a new Democrat governor because Houston is still thinking about a presidential run and doesn't want to spoil his reputation in Washington by signing a proclamation of secession. Civil War ensues. Democrats lose it big time. Houston dies. Corruption, corruption. KKK. Spindletop. Sam Rayburn. More corruption. Kennedy assassination. More corruption. Lyndon Johnson. More corruption. Dan Rather.

Fast forward to 1994. Democrats, get over being mad at Houston for opposing secession, build a giant ugly statue of him alongside a Texas freeway going toward the city of Houston. 

Texans, finally fed up with Democrats, dump most of them in 1996 elections. 

Texans live happily ever after.

The End*

*At least that's how I would have spun the new Texas History books instead of the way progressives have done it.

Friday, May 01, 2015

So You Think Our Country Isn't Doing Right by Our Veterans

EVERY DAY I get a post or an email about how terribly our nation treats its soldiers. I agree. We should do more

So why by all that's holy are you people waiting for the government to do something?

These posts often crawl all over the government for not doing enough. Perhaps that's all true, although the VA and other agencies do help vets and often the help is substantial. If the help is erratic or too little, we can debate that, but it doesn't answer the real question.

What have you done for our soldiers lately? Have you donated money to a charity for soldiers. Volunteered your time in a VA hospital. Do you know a veteran that's having problems that you personally could help him with. Does a wounded/disabled vet in your neighborhood need help cutting his grass. Could you invite his kids to join your Little League baseball team?

A friend of mine is a retired officer and helps a soldier he knows who has a problem with alcoholism. He carries him to group sessions and to the hospital sometimes. He gives him little jobs when the guy gets into financial trouble. He does what he needs to do to help the guy. It's not easy. Sometimes his efforts cost him considerable time and effort, but he gives that time to befriend a fellow serviceman.

I know what your saying. How about you, Tom. What are you doing?  Okay, fair enough.  I spent almost a year of my life starting a center for independent living in East Texas. My darling wife was our primary support at the time while I managed to rake in just a few dollars here and there while I was writing a very complex federal grant. The center serves as many or more disabled soldiers as all the rest of its clients put together. I worked for months for free during the startup. I raised 1.5 million dollars for the center altogether and then stepped aside so that the people who run the center were all people with disabilities.

So, let me ask you again, "What have you done lately?"  It's all well and good to recognize that our wounded vets should be supported by our nation, but let's not forget. YOU are part of that nation. So, do something. You have no excuse for not helping. There are hundreds of charities helping veterans in need. It doesn't have to be a charity, though. In fact, if you're stopping with giving a few bucks to charity, you aren't doing enough.

You really want to help?  Great!.  Then go out and find a soldier who needs help and then do what you can to help him. Perhaps he's recovering from PTSD. Could you just lend an ear - let him tell someone his troubles? Perhaps he's struggling with alcoholism or homelessness or is in financial difficulty. Give him a job if you have one. Speak up for him with an employer you know. Help him get a job or a place to live.

For heaven's sake, do something! Don't sit around on your feather pillow and congratulate yourself for complaining about it on Facebook!  It's all well and good to lament the way our soldiers are neglected, but if you don't do something yourself, you're just bitching to make yourself feel less guilty for not doing anything!

That's just one man's opinion,

Tom King
(c) 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Do You Do When You're Sick of the Whole World?

I watched the news yesterday morning after my sleep apnea study and it was downright depressing. Admittedly, it had been a bad night without my CPAP while they were collecting data, so I wasn't really bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while sitting in the waiting room eating my oatmeal. But in the half hour I sat there, the local media gleefully trotted out pundits and film clips aplenty to justify the rioting that's been going on in Baltimore the past few days because white people support cops and thus are abusing black people. Then they spent the last half of the newscast explaining how religious people like me were causing health problems for gay and lesbian people because of our belief that homosexual behavior is a sin. I had to leave and get out for a walk in the fresh air to try and get my sense of perspective back.

A friend posted a note on Facebook saying she was "
really disgruntled with mankind & need a reminder there's still lots of good out there."  I know how she feels. Here is my suggestion for anyone who is kind of feeling fed up with it all.  At least it's what works for me.

Look around your kitchen. Find something that doesn't work well, a pan that sticks, a can opener that's dull, knives that won't hold an edge, a mixer that is inadequate. Go out and buy a replacement - new and better. Get yourself a Kitchen-Aid with a dough hook, a set of eversharp knives or one of those $10 deluxe can openers. Get yourself a set of glass tupperware containers. I love those. The other day I found that buying a small $11 Paula Deen frying pan made me rejoice in the ingenuity of human beings. I needed a little pan that I could do an egg in without having to wrestle the big old monster stainless steel one I use for big jobs. I replaced my sticky Wok with one that the Chinese veggies slide right out of and only requires a light application of olive oil.

For guys who don't cook, look around your garage or shop. Go get yourself that tool that missing from your toolkit or replace something that doesn't work well. Get something for yourself that will make your work easier and more fun.

It's silly how happy stuff like that makes me. I can go out and buy a pair of thick warm socks in winter and walk around the house in them all day long grinning stupidly. Last week I bought myself a model sailing ship and every time I think about working on it, it makes me smile, even though book deadlines have kept me from doing anything on it yet.

Take the dog for a walk in the early morning with the sun slanting through the trees. I take a deep breath and just listen to the breeze murmering in the tops of the Douglas firs. I can feel my heart relax. I can feel my soul smiling.

Turns out it's not the big things we think we need - fancy vacations, new cars, the fanciest houses or cocktail parties with the best people. It's sharing a joke with an old friend on Facebook. It's calling your kids to find out how they're doing and to tell them you love them without any strings attached. It's the last page of that chapter you've been working on. It's plunging into a lake in the summer and swimming out a ways just to put yourself in a quiet spot, away from the shore with the arch of blue sky overhead and the cool water wrapped around you like a hug. I like paddling a canoe out on the river or a lake. It's pretty cheap to do and immensely satisfying if you know how to paddle well.

Any day I spend sitting on a porch with someone I love watching the sun go down; maybe playing my guitar with my feet propped up on the porch rail....that's a good day.

If you're sick of human beings, go to a website called Godvine. The videos there will make you smile and will at the same time make you feel a lot better about people. It's the upside of the Youtube phenomenon that we not only capture the bad things that happen, but we also capture the good side of the human race - the side that blesses, not curses; that sings; not complains; that loves, not hates.

Life is too good to let the people who are miserable drag you down with them.

© 2015 by Tom King

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wait for Me, I'm your Space Commander!

© 2015 - Space-X public domain

Space X Gets Closer, NASA Gets More Uncomfortable

Oh, so very close!!  Hitting a tiny floating barge is asking a lot of what is pretty early stage experimental tech. You can see in the video, the booster having to make last minute adjustments for wind and the position of the barge that affect the angular momentum of the rocket. If they'd had a larger land-based pad to land on, I think that one would have been a success. I still get excited about all this stuff. I have ever since I watched Alan Shepherd ride the first Mercury capsule into space. I had pictures from magazines hanging all over the place. I had records and tapes and books about Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. I bought telescopes and model rockets with my paper route money. Space-X is doing some of the most exciting stuff in commercial space exploration, while most of the others are still talking about it.  There's a reason why landing a reusable booster is so important.

The moment that Space X lands it's first booster successfully, the cost of launching rockets will drop significantly. And the cheaper it is to launch, the more likely it will be that someone of moderate means will have the opportunity to go to space, to work in space and to see us do something wonderful with rockets that doesn't involve killing each other. Also, the less likely companies launching satellites and such are to want to pay 156 million per launch when Space-X will do it for 53 million (or less if the boosters are reusable. The numbers may have changed a bit, but Space-X really is launching almost double the weight of material for less than any of its competitors including NASA. The economy of space business is about to get a pretty radical boost.

Space-X's Dragon capsules are already reusable and are delivering more supplies for less to the ISS (International Space Station for you non-geeky types). Soon their capsules will be certified to deliver up to seven astronauts at a time to the station. The Dragon spacecraft will also soon be able to land on solid ground through a combination of parachutes and braking rockets which were built into the design from the very first. The cargo version was originally designed to be convertable into a crew carrying version. How economical is that?

And Space-X launches its cargo missions at less than half the cost of NASA's own multiply-blessed-with funding United Space Alliance.  And Space-X has been using American designed and built booster engines from the start instead relying on 30 year old Russian rocket engine designs that Boeing and Lockheed (the principle owners of United Space Alliance) are currently using.

I know some folks at NASA really are uncomfortable with the speed at which Space-X is pushing forward. NASA's development and contracting process is notoriously slow and expensive. That's why the Space Shuttle launched with computers so primitive onboard, that astronauts finally resorted to carrying laptops with them.  Space-X has been so good at development, that NASA is now having to run PR campaigns for ever little "success" their own spacecraft development program has had in order to build up their image as the leader in space. 

NASA is running along behind Space-X shouting, "Wait for me, I'm your leader!"  All the while they're pouring money into a mammoth booster that's pretty much recycled Apollo technology for a mission that doesn't even exist yet.

It's little wonder two mega-corporations, Google and Fidelity just put one billion dollars into Space-X. Google wants to launch a fleet of Internet satellites to bring down the cost of the Internet. That's very smart since the real money is not in providing Internet service, but in getting more customers onto the nets to do real business. I think Fidelity just wants to make money in space (and what kid who grew up in the 60s and 70s doesn't.

Not only that, but there are satellites, orbital hotels and commercial moon bases all waiting to be built. Without NASA's iron-handed control over the contracts and launch facilities, that's likely to happen far more quickly as aerospace companies try to get out front of the pack. NASA knows it doesn't have the control it once had over access to space. With private companies being heavily funded, launches can be done from any other country that would like to get into the space Texas where Space-X is building launch facilities along the Gulf Coast with solid support from Texans. I mean what other state did you expect to make a spaceport viable.

Companies are looking at developing other amazing technologies to get us to space, like space elevators and magnetic catapults that fling satellites into space. Countries along the equator with high mountains like Ecuador could find themselves with booming economies if such launch facilities were built in their countries and would likely make very attractive offers to anyone who cared to invest there. If NASA wants to stay in the game, they have to play ball with the private companies or the space agency may find itself left behind, spending it's time playing political games and trying to make Muslims feel good about their "contributions to science". President Obama really did tell NASA chief Charles Bolton that was to be a critical part of his job when he was appointed to the position. 

Fortunately, the free-market capitalist system has the capacity and energy to overwhelm ding-batted government policies, and, in doing so, has created a new private space race that may change everything. One hopes so.

© 2015 by Tom King

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mission Orange - This Negotiator's Drink of Choice

It's funny what we remember from our childhood. My first job was as a paperboy for the Cleburne Times Review, riding the Keene, Texas paper route Sunday through Friday, about 5 miles a day.  I spent about 4 hours on Sunday morning collecting for the paper and used to end my route and my grandmother's house. I'd stop by for a visit and usually got a Dr. Pepper and a longhorn cheese sandwich. My Honeymama (the name her grandkids knew her by) was a firm believer in young people working.

When I was starting high school, my mother demanded that we give up the paper route. My sister and brother also ran short paper routes and Mom had to take my sister on her route in the car in bad weather or when she didn't feel like riding it. It probably cost them more than Debbie earned to keep the route. I rode in all kinds of Texas weather, including one time when I rode the route in a 22 degree driving snowstorm. I had to stop periodically and turn my back to the wind in order to get my body temperature back up enough to ride into the wind again.

I went to work at E.K. Birdwell's broom and mop factory in Keene Texas when I was barely 15. I may actually have not quite been 15 yet. My grandmother, a firm disbeliever in unemployment of young boys, hit up Mr. Birdwell on my behalf. E.K. came by my house and asked me if I wanted to go to work for him in the mop shop. I said okay and showed up for work the next day.

The job was combing out the tangled yarn of newly made mops, taping the end of the yarn and trimming them. Then we'd wrap them in bundles of half a dozen mops and stack them in the warehouse. We used these incredibly sharp-edged scissors and I still have some nasty scars on my left hand where I snipped off skin from my knuckles. I probably should have got stitches, but, hey. Later I used to claim they were dueling scars. Not that anybody believed me you understand.

Later I picked up some new scars when E.K. moved me to the mop-making machine when I turned 16. It was entirely piecework and I had to work very hard and very fast to make anything close to minimum wage - a new innovation at the time. We were allowed one break. We didn't get paid for the time.

There was a little gas station next to the mop shop. My favorite break snack was a Mission Orange and a candy bar. I never really had a favorite candy bar, but my drink of choice was either a Mission Orange, Dad's Root Beer and Dr. Pepper. Sometimes I'd get one of those packages of peanut butter crackers - the unearthly orange looking kind that probably had enough red dye #40 in it to sterilize a water buffalo, but oddly it didn't seem to effect me at all so far as I can tell, although others might dispute this.

Kids today would consider those kinds of jobs slave labor these days, but they prepared me for later jobs that were way better than the paper route and mop-making. One of my favorite moments of my life was telling Mr. Birdwell I was going to quit and work at summer camp the summer of 1971. I was a newly baptized Christian and ought not to have enjoyed quitting that job so much, but I did. Mr. Birdwell asked me where I thought I was going to get a job when I came back?  I told him I'd find something.

It's hard to tell you how empowered I felt. That summer I worked for the ridiculous sum of $10 a week hauling trash, cutting wood and painting anything that was anchored to the ground with barn red paint. It was the best job ever!  We got to water ski on our lunch break. We paddled canoes around the lake at night with actual girls in the boats with us. The director gave me an $800

I worked there for 5 summers, working my way up to waterfront director. The job changed my life. I learned how to be a leader, how to give my best and how to teach. I learned how to work with a team. I even learned to stand up for my team with the boss when he was wrong. I also learned how to see things through the boss's eyes too and learned to negotiate agreements that helped both sides of an argument get what they wanted. I also learned that some problems cannot be solved and that you had to learn to walk away.

I drank a lot of Mission Orange - the 16 oz. bottles - during breaks in the day's work. There's nothing like a Mission Orange for cooling you down and restoring your damaged calm.  I miss them. I really do. I don't think they make them anymore, which is kind of sad.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


When I hear rumbling in my neighborhood, I take it seriously!

When Daisy and I went out for a walk this afternoon, I noticed a low rumbling in the distance. The sound was diffused through the trees so it was hard to tell which way it was coming from, but it maintained a steady rolling boom, boom, boom almost so low you couldn't hear it.

In the State of Washington in my particular area, there are only a few possible reasons for such a sound out of doors. Indoors, it might have been a tennis ball in the dryer, but outside, such a sound is more ominous.

First, it could be a distant rumble of thunder. In Texas, I'd have shrugged and dismissed the sound. Up here, if it was thunder, it would be just the third time I've heard thunder in the four years I've lived up here. The sound was too indistinct to identify. The sky was it's usually gray and there was no rain in evidence and given the rarety of thunder up here, my vivid imagination went cruising for another explanation right away.

The second thing that it could have been was artillery practice over at Fort Lewis. The howitzers often sound like distance thunder. The sound of such an artillery cannonade is far more common in this neighborhood than thunder. I've heard artillery banging away at all hours over at the practice range about 10 or 11 times since I've been here, far more often than I've heard lightning and thunder.

The third thing could be something I've never heard before up here, and I hope I never hear do hear it - the rumble of Mt. Ranier erupting in the distance. I don't hear any warning sirens, so it's probably not the rumbling of our local volcano. There is a pretty good chance that the volcano will go off. We're overdo for some activity up there. There are volcano evacuation route markers all over the place, regular siren tests and they give you this packet of information if you're a new resident here that will scare the pants off you.

The other thing it might be is the deep rumbling in the earth of two tectonic plates rubbing against each other. I've yet to experience an earthquake up here, but we live in hope. It's funny the kinds of stupid things that human beings think they want to be able to say they've experienced.

I'm thinking I blow it off as thunder and enjoy walking the dog. I fairly sure I don't really want to be in an earthquake and I'm very sure I don't want to be 26 miles from a major volcanic eruption.

A vivid imagination isn't always the advantage one might wish it to be.

Tom King © 2015

Monday, March 02, 2015

Counting Coup at Potluck

Several native American tribes used to have this charming custom of "counting coup". It went like this. To prove your superior skills as a warrior, you took this club and rode toward your enemy very fast. Before horses you'd run at your foe or lurk in the bushes and jump out at your enemy. The purpose of this behavior was to designed to deliver a whack upside your enemy's head, that would raise a knot. Such a knot on the head ostensibly proved the courage of the warrior who delivered it.

You didn't try to kill the guy or anything. You were just trying to show him up. Humiliate him a little; that was the point. They are not the only tribe or culture to ever engage in such behavior.

Seventh-day Adventists have a long tradition of hosting regular Sabbath afternoon potluck dinners after services. Everybody prepares a dish on Friday, brings it to the church where the ladies warm up the most amazing casseroles and side dishes in the fellowship hall kitchen while the service is going on. One reason SDA services end pretty much on time on potluck Sabbaths is because of the smell wafting in from the fellowship hall.

Adventist potlucks are pretty genial affairs, with everyone loading their plates and generally feasting to celebrate the Sabbath and the goodness of the Lord. The food is amazing and traditionally, entirely vegetarian, of at least lacto-ovo vegetarian. If anyone does bring a meat dish, it gets set to one side on a special "meat" table where shame-faced individuals sneak over to indulge their weakness for flesh food. Otherwise potlucks in my church are relatively nonjudgmental affairs. Some of the best vegetarian food you'll ever eat is served up at these feasts. The food is pretty healthy too. Adventist generally live 5 or 6 years longer than most Americans and the diet is likely part of the reason why.

Unfortunately, there are always a few bony-fingered old birds, that show up at potluck with massive bowls of almost inedible lentils, salads chock full of kale or vegan concoctions that feel like you're doing some kind of penance when you eat them. Now, officially, Adventists don't believe in doing penance, but these folk pride themselves in producing dishes, which are healthier than anybody else's and making people eat them through the thick application of guilt. They generally plant themselves by the serving table, where they can bully everybody that comes by into trying whatever it is they brought. It's gluten-free, soy-free, fat-free, free of animal products and, they assure you, tastes great. Most of the time it doesn't, but you always feel obligated to take a big scoop of whatever it is in order to demonstrate your vegetarian street cred.

This week, I'm debuting my new weblog, "The Potluck Vegetarian" to memoralize the wonderful lacto-ovo vegetarian dishes that populate the serving tables of Adventist churches around the world. The first recipe went up this morning.  I decided to start off with Sheila's premier vege dish - Barbecue Tender-Bits. The blog is about potluck vegetarian food - the kind we bring to potluck to feed masses of hungry young people and their families.

My wife is the chef here and comes up with the recipes. I just chop up stuff and put it together for her. This is Adventist comfort food. We're going to test every dish personally with some help from Loma Linda and Worthington, who will be supplying some vege-meat for testing purposes.

This is not the kind of vegetarian cooking that allows you to count coup at potluck. It's just good-tasting food, everybody will love and will want the recipe for. And best of all, no chicken or cow had to make the ultimate sacrifice to make them. The blog will be a celebration of traditional Adventist lacto-ovo vegetarian food.

If you feel your nose turning up and you are smitten by an urge to tell me how terribly unhealthy one of the recipes is because it's not gluten-free or soy-free or radical vegan or has too much salt, sugar or spices, save your time. I won't post the comment. Who needs that kind of negativity. The Potluck Vegetarian will be a happy place. Take your criticisms to Facebook or Google Plus. Just not there.

And if you have a great recipe, you can send it to me there. I'll put a link on the site so you can email it to me. I'll credit you and if you'll send me a picture of yourself, I'll post that too. A picture of yourself with your amazing dish would be even better.  I looking forward to collecting all sorts of amazing recipes and posting them on The Potluck Vegetarian.


© 2015 by Tom King

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Making a Memory

Micah is the big guy standing at the right leading the singing.

When Micah was about 12 or so, he paddled bow in my canoe on a Pathfinder canoe trip down the Brazos River. Ever once in a while, when life's little stresses had piled up and I was at the point that I wanted to stick needles in my eyes, I'd suggest a canoe trip with 20 or 30 10 to 15 year-old kids. You wouldn't think that would help the stress much, but it was surprisingly effective. Don't ask me why.

Anyway, Micah used to like what he called "making memories". I think I've told you about the time I found him in the backyard sitting in a wheelbarrow full of water with a water hose in an earlier post. Anyway, Micah was a pretty good actor - won several awards in UIL competitions in school. He used to put together impromptu bits of drama like the time he goaded the boys' basketball team to stand up in the stands and sing the girls' team's theme song while they were out on the court playing. It was some disco song called "From East to West" by Voyage. This was the early 90s and Disco was dead, but it was a chick song that the girls team liked and one of the girls complained to him that the boys never supported their team like the girls did for the boys team. So Micah made a disco memory, singing in falsetto and everything. It was classic. The picture above is from that "memory".

Paddling with Pathfinders
Meanwhile, back on the Brazos River, Micah and I were paddling drag, picking lousy paddlers out of the bushes along the bank and sending them on their way.  We were paddling down the middle of the river and passed a black Laborador retriever in the middle of the river, trying to swim against the current. He was holding his own, but not gaining any ground (or water). We heard his owner calling him up the river. We figured the dog had heard the call and made a beeline back to camp. Unfortunately, the river made a little bend there and "straight home" was across the river bend.

We could tell the dog was in trouble and starting to wear out. Micah looked at me and we whipped that canoe around and paddled up beside him. Micah caught the dog by the collar and held him up. He was too big to put in the canoe, so we paddled him over to the bank where he could climb out and get back home. The big lug was all excited about getting his feet back under him again, gave Micah's hand a perfunctory lick and bounded off through the brush toward his increasingly anxious-sounding family.

Saving a life is particularly gratifying when you get a chance to do it. That was the second dog I'd rescued in my canoeing career and along with a half-starved Hereford, my third animal rescue.

I highly recommend taking a Red Cross Life-saving course sometime in your life. It's fun and there's no telling what life you may save.

© 2015 by Tom King