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Saturday, July 04, 2015

Potato Salad in Red

My Sweet Baboo suffers terribly in the heat of Western Washington. Those 85 degree temperatures can be brutal to someone who has lost their heat resistance after nearly 5 years in residence in a climate that consists largely of drizzle and mild cold. She already has heat flashes to go with her medications, various surgeries and conditions, so she is suffering mightily this summer.

My wife also believes that if she is miserable, everybody must be miserable whatever they might say to the contrary.

I was making potato salad for the 4th of July (and doing it wrong, of course). There is a swamp cooler in the kitchen blowing in a generally southerly direction and a small fan in the window blowing generally westerly.  Together they make a nice southwesterly draft that carries the cool air past me as I work.  There is a third fan at the  edge of the living room which I have pointed in a westerly direction to carry the cool breeze on through the rest of the house.

My wife has this theory that if you point two fans directly at each other things will be twice as cool.

So when she looked in a few minutes ago and decided I looked overheated, acting on her theory of double coolness, she turned the big west-facing fan around to the northeast pointed directly at me a few feet away and straight at the other two fans creating an invisible vortex around me of which I was blissfully unaware.  I was adding spices to the potato salad at the time.

Having been raised in Texas I am mostly impervious to heat or temperature change and when I'm working on something you could have set fire to the place and I really wouldn't have noticed. So I didn't - that is until I went to add a touch of paprika to the taters - at which point a sudden tornadic swirl of red paprika rose up in front of my face. In fascination I watched the little red cyclone take a couple or three swirls and then break apart, half of it sailing off across the kitchen and a generous portion of the lower half collapsing into the potato salad bowl.

Paprika is red.

And now so is my potato salad - a nice pinkish shade of red.

Sheila looked in a few minutes later.

"Potato salad isn't supposed to be red," she commented. "That's not MY recipe!"

That is how holiday legends are born and somehow it will be the "Dad's Red Potato Salad" incident and will give much hilarity to my offspring, friends and relations.

I tried to brush it off.  "I'm a very funny guy," I said.

"It would be nice if it was on purpose," the household's other resident wit shot back without hesitation.

© 2015 by Tom King

Thursday, July 02, 2015

When Reality Really Stinks!

This girl was drugged - only way I would ever get in a
pen with one of these beautiful but deadly creatures.
 I was doing PR for Tiger Creek a Texas tiger refuge when this short-lived reality show rolled into town. The premise was a WWF Girl, Lauren Jones, becomes a local TV reporter much to the resentment of the "real" news reporters at Tyler, Texas' CBS-19. The show died after just two episodes, but before they left town, I invited the ersatz reporterette out to see our new baby tigers. So here comes Lauren Jones across the pasture toward the tiger cages wearing a spray-on mini-skirt and stilletto heels, tailed by a sturdy, harrassed-looking woman shouldering a video camera and tripod.

They set up in front of one tiger's cage (I don't remember his name right now - we'll call him Gombe) to talk about his recent surgery or his birthday or whatever thin excuse I gave the reality TV people for coming out to give us some free publicity. I think the boss lady was kind of put out with the fake reporter even though we were getting good PR out of this whole thing. Probably something to do with the stillettos and the Versace handbag. Anyway, the boss lady neglected, in her pre-entering-the-cage-area safety briefing, to mention to Lauren, a key bit of information about this particular tiger. We had some females in nearby cages who were, shall we say, "in the mood" and this particular tiger was a notorious horn dog. So, he was likely to be a little randy.

Now male tigers have this interesting capability they don't tell children about on PBS. They like to mark their territory and they have a special gland-like structure beneath their tails which allows them to eject a pungent tagging fluid 20 or 30 feet like a water cannon (and quite a lot of it too). Well they didn't tell Lauren Jones in her tight dress and serious perfumication about this. Also they make a little chuffing sound when they like you. She did explain this to Lauren for some reason.

Lauren and the CBS-19 News Team
So, I'm watching her shoot her piece for the news. She's standing directly in front of Gombe's cage. I hear a little chuffing sound and see Gombe rubbing his face against the wire. Lauren turns and smiles sweetly at him then turns back to the camera. A few seconds later, out of the corner of my eye, I see a slow stripey kind of movement behind Lauren. The Gombers has quietly reversed his position against the chain link fence, so that he is no longer facing the camera. It's his hindquarters that are facing the camera and his tail has come up! Instinctively, I dived right to save myself, but didn't have time to shout a warning. Suddenly there's a spray like from a garden hose shooting past me and playing over the TV crew.  Lauren squeals and lights out across the grass faster than anyone I've ever seen run in stilletos. She runs a half a block shrieking before she comes to a stop and starts checking out her outfit for unsightly stains.

Meanwhile, I turn to look beside me and there's this poor bedraggled looking camera gal standing there, just dripping. Gombe had hit her square on. She really looked pitiful. I tried not to laugh, but God has not perfected my character quite that far yet.

I looked her up and down, sniffed the air and wrinkled my nose.

"I think like he likes you....." I said.

Oddly enough, she didn't think that was terribly funny. Gombe, however, was rolling on the floor of his cage, a big stupid grin on his face.

Sadly, that bit of video never made it to air. They canceled the show before that episode. Too bad too. That would have got about a million hits on Youtube.

Here's another camera guy who did record his similar experience for us, however. Watch this, then click on the Lauren Jones link and imagine her standing slightly to the left of the camera position and you'll get the idea.

© 2014 by Tom King

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Working With Crazy People

I've spent a good deal of my life working with people with various "quirks" shall we say. Actually, I've worked with some folk who were full goose Bozo as Robin Williams once described them. Extricating yourself from dysfunctional relationships with such people can be a tricky business. I described one client's style of "collaboration" thusly:

Here is what it's like to work with you.

I say: "Rain is coming, we need to put up an umbrella."

You say: "Forget the umbrella. I need you to make a pair of blue pants for me."

I say: "What kind of pants?"

You say: "The kind that has a pocket for my watch. And by the way, where's my pocket watch that I ordered.?"

I say: "You asked for pants not a pocketwatch."

You say: "I want to hear a recording of where I asked you for pants."

I say: "I've had it with this. It's raining and we don't have an umbrella."

You say: "What umbrella? Why do we need an umbrella?"

I say: "Because it's going to rain and we don't want to get wet."

You say: "Well it's starting to rain now, so, where's my umbrella? I thought you were going to get me one!"

I say: "You told me to forget about the umbrella."

You say: "Show me where I wrote down for you to forget about the umbrella."

I say: "Aha! I have a recording of it!"

You say: "If it's not in writing, it's not legally binding! The original agreement stands."

I say: "But that was a verbal agreement too!"

You say: "Verbal agreements are binding in this state."

At this point I take off for the weekend and go hang out with my other crazy people. By Monday I'll have to deal with the lawsuit, but I'll have had a couple of days to recover my strength.

(c) 2015 by Tom King

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Blame Jean-François Lyotard

He's French - 'nuff said!
I have an ongoing irritation with post-modernist philosophy and the philosophers who preach it and the movie makers and novelists who make works of supposed art that are characterized by their thoroughly unhappy endings . I first encountered the post-modernists in my studies of literature. My thoroughly fundamentalist religious college did not encourage trips into post-modernism, but me being  curious as to what I was arguing against, I began to study up on the subject. I never did a lot of serious reading in post-modernist thought because being a follower of Christ, it rang so utterly false for me that I could only stand very short exposure to it. I've left theaters in the middle of post-modernist movies, turned off the television and threw away whole books full of it and I NEVER throw away books willingly. Okay, I can hear you relentlessly gloomy post-modernists now."But how can you say anything against post-modernism if you don't give it a chance.

I'll tell you how - the same way I can tell you I don't like Brussels Sprouts.  Oh, you can dress 'em up pretty and my wife, who is chronically depressed, loves them. She actually makes mildly edible Brussels Sprouts, but it is significant that she always eats twice as many of the little cabbage-like things as me every time. Now, I used to dislike onions until my sweetheart forcibly introduced me to them. It was eat onions or starve, so I ate the onions and learned to love them - rather like some of the commandments that were less easy to love than the other ones.  Like Brussels Sprouts, however, post-modernism always leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I've never been able to love it.

I looked up some post-modernist philosophers out of curiosity, just to see where all these dismal films and books were coming from.  Jean-François Lyotard jumped out at me as a suitable post-modernist villain for me for a lot of reasons.

  1. Jean-François Lyotard spent his whole life trying to explain why socialism always failed so badly. Hey at least he was honest about it having failed and didn't try to rewrite history to cover up the catastrophic mistake that is socialism. Lyotard's criticism of the practical implementation of socialism was that the men who influenced the socialist movements, despite being avowed atheists to a man, were too heavily influenced by religion.  Karl Marx, who was Jewish and baptized Lutheran, Lyotard says was too catholic. Freud who was also Jewish, Lyotard says was too Jewish, even though Freud mostly worshipped at the church of sexual deviance. Lyotard, himself, as a self-procalimed expert on the subject, thought he could figure out a better way to make socialism work. Hitler thought the same thing too as I recall and look how that worked out for the rest of us.
  2. "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.” - Jean-François Lyotard.  The man said stuff like that all the time. What he meant was that there are no absolutes; no truth. I would not recommend spending an afternoon reading Jean-François Lyotard quotations. He didn't think much of those of us who search for truth and beauty or, worse yet, for God. Such "metanarratives" were beneath him.
  3. In Jean-François's world, nothing is absolute. Everything is seen and experienced in relation to everything else - only limited bits of everything else; no more, no less moral; no less, no more right and proper. Lyotard's is a relative world in some ways like Einstein's, but without the systems within the chaos which give a reliable meaning to the universe so that one might muddle along in it with some sense of security. Lyotard thinks that having no generalized ideas, no ten commandments and no moral absolutes sets us free.  Personally, I think that if JF's world was the one I had to live in, a B.F. Skinnerian nightmare of humans as nothing more than stimulus programmed robots, I would not feel free at all. 
I watched an old Danny Kaye movie yesterday called "Me and the Colonel". The theme of the movie was that there were always at least two choices.  A Polish Colonel played by Curt Jurgens is in Paris just ahead of the Nazis. He is trying to get to England on a mission for the Polish government. In a conversation with the Danny Kaye character, the Colonel argues that if one were a man of honor there is only one choice in any difficult situation. Danny Kaye, who played a resourceful Jewish man on the run from the Nazis argued that if there was only one choice, he was left with no room to maneuver and without room to maneuver, he would already have been dead long ago back in Poland. In the end, the Colonel decides that there might indeed be more than one choice in a difficult situation, even for a man of honor.

They don't make movies like that anymore.  Instead, at the end of most movies - at least the ones that are considered for Oscars these days - either (a) everybody dies, (b) most everybody dies and one person is left to contemplate the futility of his own survival or (c) everybody just wanders off to do whatever comes next. We don't always see those endings, but directors film them all the time. We don't see them because they don't test well with audiences who want some resolution.

Jean-François Lyotard would see the need of the proletariat for sappy endings as a weakness brought on by our failure to reject religion and moral principles.  You know I'm kind of happy God made us long for happy endings and for closure. I think He made us storytellers for the same reason that I believe, B.F. Skinner notwithstanding, that humans do possess free will, I believe we also have a powerful need to resolve things; to find meaning in our lives here on this planet.

It's why we build things and finish them. Unlike beavers and bees and ants who never stop building, people like to get through with things. We may do maintenance or someday a remodel, but we like to come to an end at some point and then step back and admire our work. In that way we are like God, who built the world, we are told, in 6 days and then spent the 7th day leaning back in his celestial Barcalounger smiling with satisfaction at what he had made. We are, I firmly believe, made in His image. We're like our Dad in that we like to see a project finished.

Jean-François Lyotard would have us muddle along without resolution, without core beliefs or moral absolutes and would convince us that by denying our fundamental mental makeup, we would somehow make ourselves free.  Moses warned us about guys like JFL in the first book he ever wrote. Lyotard's philosophical father told a naive young woman in a garden that obedience was passe' and that, in fact, disobedience would make you like gods.

It always comes back to the lie about how we can become gods.  All the perfect man-made societies that ever failed, all the utopias that have crumbled to dust and all the best-laid schemes to end war, poverty, disease and suffering and didn't, stand mute witness to the devil's false premise. Every misery, every injustice, every life ended too soon can be traced back to that pernicious lie. 

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Tom King
(c) 2015

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