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Friday, December 28, 2007

Artificial Wildness is Poor Policy for Tiger Keepers!

I was saddened to hear over Christmas that 3 young men were victims of a Christmas Day tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo and that one had died as a result of his wounds. I would also like to express my condolences to the staff of the zoo who also lost Tatiana, a female Amur tiger in the incident. It is the policy of many AZA zoos to minimize contact between keepers and the big predators like tigers, but keepers do develop a strong affection for the creatures they care for.

It is natural, in the wake of an incident like this to look around at the smaller tiger refuges, zoos and animal theme parks and wonder just how safe visitors are there. We don’t like to think a simple outing at the zoo with our children can end with a tragedy like this.

“Captive is captive,” says Tiger Missing Link Foundation director, Brian Werner, “…and you cannot duplicate a wild setting in captivity with captive tigers, all captive tigers should be acclimated with people as this better ensures safety of the tigers and people.

At Tiger Creek and facilities like Jack Hannah's Columbus Zoo, the keepers work extensively with the cats to develop a relationship with the animals. This provides an extra layer of safety so that should a cat escape for some reason, it is far less likely to attack someone. Many AZA accredited facilities discourage keeper interaction with their tigers and lions on the theory that somehow it is better for the captive animal to remain in a "wild" state.

Jack Hannah, interviewed on Good Morning America argued against this policy saying, “Tigers you see in captivity today, are NOT taken out of the wild. Tigers are born and raised here in the states. Tigers are endangered. You see more AZA escapes and attacks as each year goes by due to human error, AZA zoos do not encourage any handling of their animals, this is where the fault lies. If there was human interaction then maybe the outcome would have been different.

As we have seen, if a "wild" tiger does escape its pen, its instincts are going to be to find prey- which is exactly what happened in San Francisco. In this case, there may have been some taunting of the animal by the victims and if this proves to be the case, it only accentuates the need for adding every layer of additional security possible to our animal exhibits.

“While tigers are always wild animals,” says Brian Werner, “One advantage that we have here at Tiger Creek is that our animals are conditioned and have what we refer to as ‘cage manners’. Basically our tigers are imprinted or acclimated to people through various types of training and teaching methods. The tigers at Tiger Creek could still be dangerous just not typically as aggressive as the zoo cats. The zoos like to keep their tigers in their "wild state". They actually pride themselves on this fact. At Tiger Creek we know that this zoo approach makes a tiger much more aggressive and more stressed and even scared of people, which in turn could more easily lead to an adverse situation if confronted without barriers.

“A secondary factor is that some of our best-trained and experienced staffers here have been in with a tiger and know how to work with the cats and not against them. Zoo staff has zero experience at that level which in turn could make for an even more nervous situation if confronted head on with a tiger. It's just as important that staff be trained and acclimated to tigers as it is for the tigers themselves. Nonetheless despite all of what we do we do not mean to undermine that in general tigers are and can be dangerous.”

Maintaining a 'wild' tiger in captivity only makes the animal more angry, unhappy and likely to hurt someone. A hand-raised tiger that knows and has genuine affection for its keepers, that lives in an environment with plenty of mental stimulus and opportunities to play is unlikely to summon up the sort of rage that Tatiana (the SF tiger) exhibited in breaking out of what should have been a safe area. Had keepers paid more attention to her and to making her content and happy, the incident might never have happened. At least, someone should have kept a better eye on visitors to the tiger viewing areas.

At Tiger Creek, we escort visitors around the facility and even when they are allowed to “look around” on their own, there is never a staff member far from the party to prevent young people from taunting the cats or doing foolish things that could get them hurt. We keep double and triple barriers between the cats and visitors and maintain two additional safety barriers – Our staff and the relationship they have with the cats.

Tiger Creek staff maintains a close watch on visitors at all time, eliminating the chance of a visitor causing a tiger to become agitated as apparently happened in San Francisco. There is also a strong interactive relationship between tigers and the keepers. Because Tiger Creek’s cats are either hand-raised or have a great deal of human interaction during rehabilitation, our keepers know their personalities. Problem or spooky tigers are kept farther from the public behind more barriers where visitors can’t disturb them. They are rotated to exercise yards and given play toys. Staff do target training to make it easier to provide care to the animals without having to risk getting in the cages with them. Access to the animals’ living spaces is limited to senior keepers who know their business and take no chances. A content, happy tiger is a lot less likely to jump over a wall and attack a visitor.

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is working on building a new program at the refuge to train zookeepers and wildlife professionals in how to implement this multi-layered captive management approach that layers facility, maintenance, training and relationship building into an integrated safety system with greater redundancy built into it. As the number of tigers and other large cats in captivity inevitably increases, it is important that we thoroughly train a new generation of captive managers and keepers.

If you’d like to be a part of creating that training program and improving the safety of our zoos, refuges and wildlife parks, contact me at (903) 714-2353 or by e-mail at to find out what you can do to help us prepare provide a safe home for our tigers and a safe place for our children to watch and learn about them. You can also visit us at and to find out more about what we do at Tiger Missing Link Foundation.

There are just over 320 tigers in AZA accredited zoos in the US. There are more than 3,000 in refuges, animal theme parks and smaller zoos. The majority of attacks, however have occurred in AZA zoos and often in large ones like San Francisco, San Antonio and Denver, while smaller refuges like Tiger Creek and zoos like Tyler’s Caldwell zoo, which shares the Tiger Creek philosophy of hand-raising captive cats, have had few major incidents. Tiger Creek has had no serious injury or incident on its grounds or during the many sponsored rescues it has conducted since it opened 12 years ago. Tiger Creek manages nearly 40 cats in its facility with up to 9 intern/trainees on staff at a time. The Refuge's safety policies have worked there as they have in hundreds of other refuges and small zoos and I believe it is because these folks take a practical approach to captive management that recognizes that a happy cat is a safer cat. That's one more safety layer that AZA should consider recommending to its associated zoos.

Finally, we're already hearing from the left-wing Animal Rights community declaring we should hold no animals in captivity EVER and using this incident to support their position. Ironically, it's the zoo's misguided attempts to placate the AR people that I believe has led to the too-common policy of keeping captive animals in a supposedly pristine "wild" state. Like Brian said, "Captive is captive." It's not safe or responsible to deliberately cultivate large captive predators "wild nature". The Environmentalist newspaper, 'Daily Green' calls San Francisco Zoo's policies "enlightened". If so, is there a correlation between enlightenment and poor safety. This is the second time Tatiana has attacked a human.

How many more tigers and humans need to die before someone rejects this politically correct, but wrong-headed nonsense. There's not enough room in the wild to maintain a genetically healthy tiger population or insure the safety of humans living in Southeast Asia. Sending all tigers back to the wild as The Daily Green proposes, merely insures their extinction. It would be nice to do for all animals to live in the wild, but we can't right now unless we're willing to accept their extinction. Self-righteous pressure from the greenies to keep animals in some idealized "natural state" has only promoted half-measures by zookeepers and compromises public safety.

Just one man's opinion


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Santa Kinda Creeps Me Out Now....

It's happened again. In the constant evolution of the English language, there are moments that change our culture forever. The invention of such phrases as "You know" as an interjectory interrogative (I'm like, you know, going to, you know, go fix some, like you know, supper, you know!" have really slowed down the pace of American life. Other great moments in the evolution of English include the addition of new usages for words like , "Dude","Man", "Like" and "Inappropriate".

Well, listen up all you fans of politically corrective changes in the language (remember the attempt at substituting "hir" for the use of "his" as the standard possessive pronoun when you didn't know the sex of the person). We've got it goin' on this Christmas.

You'll be pleased to know that in the interest of interracial sensitivity, Santa Clauses are now being prohibited by the owners of toy stores, malls and department stores from saying "Ho, ho, ho". We all recognize that there has been a lot of uncomfortably negative recent publicity surrounding the use of the word "Ho" by radio shock jock Don Imus.

Apparently the word is a colloquial reference to women employed in a less than prestigious line of public service.

Santa Clauses now have been instructed to say "Ha, Ha, Ha" instead of the traditional "H.." word. One Aussie Santa has even been fired for refusing to go along with the switch.

Now, I'm all for political correctness and all, but having heard Santas out there going "Ha, ha, ha", I have to admit it kind of creeps me out. Frankly, it sounds like he's laughing at the children rather than with them.

I know, when I was 8 years old, if Santa had said to me, "Climb up in my lap little boy, Ha, Ha, Ha....", well I'd have been climbing up over the fuzzy red barrier and crawling for safety using the fake reindeer for cover.

I mean we might as well have Santas up there going, "Hey, ever played the 'altar boy' game - ha, ha, ha!" or maybe, "Pssst, kid! Ever watch gladiator movies?" I actually put on my Santa suit and tried out alternative laughs in front of the mirror.

"Hee, hee, hee," sounds too rodent-like.

"Hoo, hoo, hoo," sounds like a baboon (or Tim Allen when he's not actually playing Santa Claus). That's no good.

"Haw, haw, haw," is way to British aristocracy for my taste.

"Hmm, hmm, hmmmph," came out sounding a little sinister ( that a candy cane in your pocket, there Santa, or have you been out standing in the cold north wind again?)

"Ho, ho, ho" is really the only way that sounds non-threatening.

Look this kind of thing has been tried before. Remember when Enco discovered that it's company name was some kind of obscene insult in French or Belgian or one of those snooty European languages. They did a search to find a new name that wouldn't offend anyone. What did they come up with?


A name which apparently offends nearly everyone equally - at least everyone who "counts" in the incestuous world of the politically correct.

Oh, well. from this Santa, a big old, a non-threatening, culturally neutral...

"Ho, Ho, Ho!"

And a very Merry Christmas, Hannukah, Ramadan, Kwanza, Winter Solstice and Fiscal New Year (the sacred holiday of all tax accountants)!*

*No offense intended to any person living or dead. The expression "Ho" is not intended as a comment upon the occupational choices, worth as a human being or personal habits of any woman, man or person of ambiguous gender. Anyone using this essay for the purposes of hurting the feelings of any person living or dead, their family, friends, lawyers or CPA's are advised that such use violates the implied writer/reader contract implicit in the posting of this work of attempted humor/opinion in a public space. May not be used without permission of the author, the RCIAA, ASCAP, Michael Jackson Properties, Ltd, Halliburton, Inc. and the National Association of Serious Tax-Accountant Yuppies (NASTY). Improper use of this essay will force the author to send his cousin, "Thumbless" Guido O'Hoolihan, the Irish-Italian enforcer over to your house to let the air out of your tires, to put a stink bomb in your mailbox or to toilet paper the trees in your front yard, so you better just watch out! (c) 2007 by T. King esq.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Happy Birthday Song

The issue of copyright infringement and the payment of royalties for "The Happy Birthday to You Song" has gotten ridiculous!! You know the song I mean. We all grew up singing it to each other on our birthdays. We've all sang, "You look like a monkey and you smell like one too!"

But I won't put any of the actual lyrics here since I can't afford the royalty payments and this could be considered use of the song for profit making if my readership ever gets large enough to support advertising. The movie The Corporation claimed that Warner/Chappell, the copyright holders charge up to US$10,000 for the song to appear in a film. The Walt Disney Company paid the copyright holder US $5,000 to use the song in the birthday scene of the defunct Epcot attraction Horizons. In a 1987 documentary about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eyes on the Prize, there was a scene in which Dr. King was feeling discouraged. In the scene, at a birthday party for him, there was a significant beginning of his discouragement lifting. The film was not able to be released when the filmmaker could not afford the $10,000 it would cost to include the sequence that included the "Happy Birthday to You" song. (cited in Wikipedia's article on the song)

The furor of copyrights has gotten ridiculous in some quarters. So, I propose we create a new birthday song. Now is the perfect opportunity for someone to make up a new Birthday Song to replace the old one.

So, today, I decided to write a new birthday song and promote it to replace the old copyrighted one. My Sweet Baboo helped me come up with this rather pretty one in the car coming home from Christmas shopping tonight. She's got a good ear for composition and we both contributed ideas.

I'd love to put the greedy Happy Birthday song hijackers out of business and send a message to ASCAP, BMA and RIAA that we're "Mad as an old wet hen and we're not going to take it anymore!"

So, here is Tom & Sheila King's "New Happy Birthday Song"

The Birthday Song
Lyrics by Tom & Sheila King
Tune by Alexander Hume - 1850
(a setting of Robert Burns' "Flow Gently Sweet Afton")

Today is your birthday
And we’re all gathered here
To say that we love you
And wish you good cheer.
Rich blessings and joy,
Happy birthday to you.
Happy Birthday dear (insert name here) .
May your dreams all come true.

Copyright 2007 – Public Domain (No one living or dead may charge anyone for the use of this song in any public or private gathering, on any type of recording, film or live broadcast.)

The tune we used is at this link:

Now if everyone will just pass it on, we can make this song famous and strike a blow for free use of birthday songs (and maybe we can supplant that awful one they do in restaurants now!

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Friday, December 07, 2007

Forget Their Very Names

Today, in the wake of the Omaha Mall shooting, the news media is rushing to get the killer's image on their front pages as quickly as possible. In the next two weeks we will be treated to an exhaustive study of the young man who killed 8 innocent people - his history, his psyche and his motivation. Endless television, radio and print media reporters will beat their chests and cry "Why, why, why?"

They are answering their own question.

The news media will trot out pundits who cry for more gun control and for less gun control because political fights are fun for reporters, who enjoy tossing raw meat in amongst the hyenas and watching the fun that follows. The wise men amongst us will speculate as to who is to blame as though the issue were entirely black and white.

It is not. I have extensive experience confronting violent people. I worked for many years with violent children and teens. I've stood nose to nose with a young man who had a 6 inch hunting knife pointed at my unprotected belly and talked my way out of it. Violent behavior cannot be understood in black and white.

Many speculate about whether allowing mall patrons to carry guns would have made a difference and in the ensuing verbal smoke, we all ask ourselves whether, if we had been there and we had been armed, would we have been able to fire the shot that ended that young man's life - even if it might have saved the lives of the innocent bystanders.

I know that answer for myself because of my training and experience with violent people. If I were the only one in the line of fire, I would think twice. I used to work with mental patients and with a patient who was having a violent episode, I would always try to talk him down before doing any sort of restraint of physical intervention. I am prepared to turn the other cheek so long as that cheek is my cheek alone.

However, if there is another person, in danger, threatened especially by an armed individual, I would not hesitate to take the attacker down. The large teenaged boys I dealt with in the psych facilities where I worked, soon learned that so long as they only threatened me, they were not likely to suffer the indignity of being taken to the ground by a paunchy old guy and were more likely to walk away with some dignity in tact. They also knew that if they continued to attack or seriously threaten someone else, especially someone smaller, it was the quickest way imaginable to find themselves pinned to the floor by the paunchy old guy. The sudden ignominious end to the confrontation entirely spoiled the drama for them, so they quit threatening others in those situations and confined themselves to shouting obscenities at me - much more dramatic and satisfying for them.

There is a reason every major massacre in recent years has taken place in a gun-free zone. No homicidal killer wants to raise his gun and have someone shoot him in the head before he can start killing people. It would totally ruin the effect he is aiming for. It takes a way all the drama. My work with deeply troubled teens gave me a real insight into what goes on in the minds of people who resort to large scale violence to cope with their unhappiness.

I actually had kids in therapy who told me they planned to "die in a hail of police gunfire". They wanted to die spectacularly and to become famous. It's a pathetic search for a way to leave a mark in a world that they feel they have no stake in.

But, if we deny them the fame, then we deny them the very thing that motivates them to kill. The most effective tool we have to prevent this sort of mayhem is to make sure that whoever does this kind of thing is wiped from our collective memory - their names forgotten for all time.

It's the only thing that will work. To ever do this, we would need to re-invent our culture and make our morbid curiosity generally unacceptable. We could still allow for the morbidly curious to get their news fix about the victims - simply use an obviously fake name.

Those who want to die in a hail of gunfire have a deadly fear of being anonymous. The last thing they inevitably say in this life is something to the effect that "I'll show them. They'll never forget me."

How about let's show them. How about let's forget them. Let's not even remember their names. It would be a kindness to their families. It would be a kindness to the victims families. It might even dissuade others from copying this young man's example. It might just save some lives and all it requires is that we give up our morbid fascination with mass murders. How hard is that?

Sure, with a free press, you'll always get bloggers and sensational newspapers that won't go along with it, but even then, if they are in the disapproved of minority, the killer still loses his or her desired fame and attention. If you're only going to be remembered by some obscure blogger or weekly gossip rag, what's the point. These guys are going for national news media and front page headlines, not a place beside Bigfoot and that space alien that tells the presidents what to do.

I'm doing my best to forget them all. When I read a news story, I deliberately avoid paying attention to the name of the killer at all. To this day I couldn't tell you who the Virginia Tech guy was or name a single high school shooter or the McDonald's guy, the Killeen shooter or any of the other mass murders of the past 20 years. You can deliberately forget someone if you try hard.


What if every one of us pledged to never say or write the name of a mass murderer again? What if we each told ten friends and asked them to do the same and they, in turn, told ten friends and so on and so on. In just a few repetitions, you can wind up with an astronomical number of people who have heard the idea. If half of us took the pledge, we could create a cultural phenomenon where a culture (or at least a sizeable chunk of that culture) conciously decided to change itself and renounce the glorification of these people.

What if we threatened to stop watching news media that ran endless photographs and profiles of the killers. I noticed today that I haven't seen one single photo of the victims, yet, but that smarmy delinquent that murdered 8 innocent people is on the front page of everywhere. It makes me sick and it's cruel to his family.

So, let's just stop it. I'll write my ten letters. How about you?

Just one man's opinion...

Tom King

Thursday, November 29, 2007



I've sailed this sea in temptest, storm and trial.
Some think I'm cursed, I think I'm blessed.
The way I see it, if this life is truly all there is,
I may as well lay down and molder with the rest.

But on the outside chance that all of this makes sense,
I'll trust that I am watched by He who made the stars.
That He who set the worlds to spin in space.
Knows exactly where his troubled children are.

How sweet the sound, the unseen wind in treetops
That, if it will, may bring down mighty oaks about my ears
Or yet may fill my sails and drive my tiny boat
Across the pitching, heaving sea of years

I choose to raise my sails and catch the wind.
And cling to the tiller, cloak wrapped up against the spray
Trusting that soon again will come the morning
Steering small and ever on, only stars to guide my way

by Tom King

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Denominations as Evidence of God's Presence

I read about a man who was re-establishing a forest on land that had been stripped of vegetation by a passing African war. He began by planting pine trees. Once those were established, he began introducing insects that fed on pine needles. The insects added nutrients to the soil and soon they were able to add plants along the forest floor to balance the pines. Soon animals and birds were re-established and more complex plant forms took root.

In the early stages of the project, crews had to work very hard to keep the forest balanced and move the emerging eco-system forward more quickly than nature usually does on its own hook. What they discovered is that the simpler the forest, the harder it was to keep alive. Conversely, the more complex the system became, the more stable it was.

What I got from that was this apparent law of nature. Complex eco-systems are more stable than simple ones. Why is that?

It's because complex systems have more redundancies in which more than one member of the system helps deliver key functions that make the system healthy. Our forester found that the less he was in control of the forest and the more God was in control, the stronger the forest became.

Human eco-systems always get into trouble when they follow the seductive path of simplification. Look at the monumental disasters in human government throughout history. Whenever we've tried to centralize all of government into one monolithic system, great misery and instability has been the result. Stalinism, Naziism brutal monarchies have all destroyed the very countries that these systems sought to stabilize with powerful central authorities and institutionalized uniformity. Grim black or gray or drab looking uniforms and goose-stepping soldiers tend to be harbingers of instability wherever they appear.

Rome expanded rapidly under the Republic and even managed to thrive for some centuries so long as authority and actual working power was decentralized and more capitalist. The harder the Caesars tried to consolidate power, reduce individuality and discourage individual achievement through social "bread & circuses" programs, the faster the empire slipped from their fingers.

So many people today point to Christianity as though Christ's church were the root of all evil in the world. They point to the thousands of denominations as proof that God couldn't possibly exist for surely he wouldn't allow his church to be such a confusing rabble.

If Christianity is seen as nothing more than another power mad quasi-government created solely to control people, we have no one to blame but ourselves as Christians. We are constantly struggling to get everyone into one single church, to believe exactly as we do and to obey the same church authority. We have fallen prey to the notion that simplification of our religious institutions will somehow make them stronger and more stable. If there was only one denomination, the thinking goes, everything would be as it should be.

Quite the opposite is true. In no other country of the world has true Christianity taken hold so strongly as in the United States. Why? Because this country was founded on the principle of religious freedom. As a result faiths of every stripe have thrived in peace here and, if not always in harmony, then with at least with a modicum of polite tolerance.

Why do you suppose the Middle East is in such a turmoil? A single monolithic faith has rooted itself there and adopted the principle that because it is the "one true faith" all other religions must be surpressed. The fruit of this "simplification" process has not resulted in a single harmonious congregation of Muslims, but has created inevitable striving for power amongst violent sects, each seeking to wipe each other out and take their rightful place as the "one true way" to Allah.

Our problem as persons of faith, no matter of what ilk, is that we fall prey to the Satanic lie that we can and should "control" human systems. But like nature, human systems thrive on complexity. The more complex and less top-heavy a society becomes, the more stable it becomes. If we are all so utterly inter-connected that no one can afford to go to war against his neighbor because he will hurt himself, then war will cease. It becomes no longer profitable. It would be unthinkable to go to war against Canada or even Mexico any more because North America is such an entertwined economic system that any such war would hurt the attacker as much as it would the attacked.

After the war of 1812, America and Britain became such powerful trading partners that war between us became unthinkable. It was barely possible in 1812. The American Civil War taught us the folly of attacking yourself and set the United States back a half century before it recovered and began to take its place on the world stage. After World War II, American business became so entwined with Japanese business that war with them is now unthinkable. It would hurt us both severely. The Chinese are pretty much there with us now.

I believe God permits his children to create so many denominations of churches because his people begin their journey toward heaven from so many different places. By having so many routes to salvation available, God sweeps up the maximum possible number of his lost children.

Our problem is that we don't trust Him to be able to save us. We think we need to make everything uniform so that all of us know exactly how to execute our Christian walk. How is it we give lip service to the idea that it is Jesus who saves us and then we fight so bitterly among ourselves about how we ought to go about saving ourselves by having the "right" religion. Having faith means letting things get out of our control and into His.

The complexity of Christianity parallels that of nature. The more complex the structure of what C.S. Lewis called "The Church Triumphant", the more stable Christianity becomes. What other religious persuasion offers so many variants of itself to its adherants? If you believe a church is a hospital for sinners rather than a museum for saints, you could view church denominations as a variety of clinics, hospitals and aid stations scattered across the face of the Earth. And because there are so many kinds of places to go to for help, no matter what your need, God seems to have a place for you to go to get that need met.

No other religion is quite as resilient as Christianity and none is quite as complex. This fact reassures me that the same God who created the natural world is the same one behind the "Church Triumphant" as glorious and as terrible as an army with banners....

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Firing Squad as a Political Metaphor

There was a book once called "Droodles". It consisted of a series of off perspective line drawings that were difficult to identify - a combination of a doodle and a riddle - therfore, A DROODLE!

You tried to guess what they were. I remember this was one of them....

It's a bear climbing up a tree as seen from the other side...

A bunch of us in college used to do them as an intellectual exercise. One of my favorite is this one. In the original it was an "Aggie" firing squad (Texas version of the blonde joke). I like this title better - An Aerial view of a Congressional Firing Squad.
The way the presidential race is going, it could be a presidential campaign firing squad.

This one is a church or nonprofit firing squad..

If you've ever sat on a church or nonprofit board, you understand this one.

This one's an environmentalist firing squad....
A firing squad as done by Academia...

...A United Nations Firing Squad (the ones in the blue helmets)

Finally, a firing squad as done by the US military!!!

Now that's what I call "point & shoot".

Simple, goal-directed, effective!

Just one man's opinion...

Tom King

P.S. Somebody asked me what a Texas Firing Squad would look like.

Something like this......

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, November 05, 2007

America the Inarticulate

Public school teachers face a tremendous challenge. They face, not only unruly kids, but also parents with lawyers on retainer who firmly believe little Beevus can do no wrong.

It takes courage to teach. When faced with an unruly class, you pick out the ringleader (there's always one) and you remove him fast and hard. Then you ask, "Anybody else?" Send as many as necessary to the principal till the class settles. Thank those who stayed out of the fray and thereby helped you do your job and THEN get busy and teach something; something besides this vapid, politically correct treacle we've been spoon feeding our young-uns for the past 30 years. Teach them from the classics. Make them learn hard words. NEVER ACCEPT A WRITING ASSIGNMENT THAT IS INCOHERENT! Make them rewrite it until it makes sense.

It can be done. One of the biggest problems I see in American classrooms is that teachers will accept incoherent writing and give it a passing grade. Kids are not learning how to organize their thoughts and use words so they make sense. If you don't know how to express yourself, how in the world can you be expected to think for yourself.

I see student work that looks like someone poured words out of a dictionary onto a page and the teacher seemed to be grading by how many remotely relevant words they accidentally put into the thing. If we accept gobbledy-gook writing from kids on the assumption that this is the best they can do, then we doom them to a life of ignorance.

If you can't form clear thoughts, you can't think them. Our minds are the sum total of what we put into them and if we let kids dribble vague disjointed bits of rap music, MTV segments, video games and Anime' into their skulls willy nilly and never make them sort out all that junk and make something intelligible out of it, our kids will gradually lose the ability to think. This is frightening. How will they ever understand how to listen to political or religious speech and be able to make a rational decision based on what they hear and read?

What we need are better English teachers.
Unfortunately, teachers of English are a disrespected profession and it's no wonder. I asked my granddaughter what a sentence meant that she had written in an essay. She took two or three stabs at it and finally, after I made her lose the $50 words, she was able to do so. But she argued with me that her teacher wouldn't give her a good grade unless she used the big words.

It took me a while to shake that belief, but after working her through three or four essays that made top grades despite not having the bizarrely used big words in them, she realized she could write more like she talked and get better grades. The teacher was shocked. Her papers stood out from the pack because they were actually readable.

When did teachers surrender to mediocrity? When did they decide our kids were stupid and feeble and resolve to accept that standard of behavior? It's a pain to have to ride the little darlings, but somebody better do it or we're going to have nothing left but citizens who wander around with a vacant stare, an I-Pod in their ears and drooling on themselves.

I maintain a web page on another forum called the Banjo Hangout. I've noticed there is a high level of intelligent writing on the BHO. Apparently, people who are articulate are drawn to the banjo as a musical instrument; either that or playing the banjo makes you brighter. I've been to the guitar forums. The level of clarity of thought is not the same. Here, banjo players are bright, funny, articulate and quite fascinating to read.

Perhaps that's the solution. Let's introduce all our kids to the banjo at a very young age. I say we start them in 3rd grade or so - get 'em before they are corrupted.

Let's save America. Bring out the banjos!!!!!!

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Broken Compass

Phillip Pullman is the answer to liberal atheist's prayers (if they actually ever prayed). Pullman is the author of the Northern Lights trilogy of children's books which is soon to be released as a controversial new children's movie starring Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards.

Series author, Pullman's books have been lauded as one of the ten most influential children's books of the past century by the Carnegie Medal people and roundly condemned as anti-Christian by Catholic and Protestant groups.

Now, I've got some problems with dogmatic Christianity myself - the once all-powerful "Church" that used to dictate behavior belief and which and as Pullman claims, takes all the joy out of life. I agree with much of Pullman's cricicism of the political Christian church and understand the man's anger.

Unfortunately, Mr. Pullman takes out his anger not only against fallible, often corrupt human religious institutions, but also directs his vitriole against God, who, by the way, never okayed the establishment of instutions filled with greed, corruption and pederasty in the first place

Angry liberal atheists seem to forget that God has some particularly harsh things to say about people who do evil acts in His name. Pullman hates the Narnia Chronicles and though he denies writing his own series as an antithesis to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, he casts his anti-religion world with many of C.S. Lewis' storytelling devices and symbols.

I get tired of people who are angry at phoney religious people and take it out on God and ridicule His children as at best fools and at worst corrupt exploiters of their fellow humans.

I will not see "The Golden Compass" and after J.K. Rowlings announcement that Dumbledore is gay, I'm pretty much through with the Harry Potter series too. It's a nice thing about living in a world dominated by people who believe a person has a free choice (a distinctly Christian concept by the way). You don't have to spend money on something you don't like.

I bet the "Golden Compass" doesn't earn enough to clear their expenses, much less become a successful trilogy of movies.

Sorry, Phil. Biting the hand is a dangerous business. I'm willing to bet a lot of parents will have problem with a children's story where the kids knock off God at the end. They might even decide (gasp) not to buy the books.

Just one man's opinion

Tom King

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Home for Homeless Tigers

I'm helping raise money for 3 homeless tigers in Nebraska that face euthanasia if we can't get them a new habitat built soon. I'm joining with a whole bunch of folks on Myspace to do this. Just click on the box and you can donate through Paypal. It's quick, easy and every dollar counts!



Monday, October 22, 2007

Electronic Willpower

We had a lovely church youth group get together at the little park across from my house at Lake Palestine this weekend. We sat out by the shore in folding chairs and enjoyed one of the last warm weekends of the Fall. We dragged out the guitars and banjos and our brand new washtub bass and had a good old songfest.

After a bit, the kids began to get restless, so we played a game and then had a short sermon talk before releasing the restless hordes of children for lunch. As we closed the meeting with prayer, a friend shot the picture of me leading prayer with the sun pouring down through the trees and the smoke from our campfire. It was a nice shot.
Now for the confession part of this. The photo to the right has been doctored. No, it's not the rays of sunshine. That photo was a straight shot.

Nope, what got altered was me. In the original photo I am about 35 or 40 pounds heavier than I am in this picture. When I first saw the picture I was shocked at how heavy I had become over the past 18 months since Micah's death - stress will load the pounds on you. I instantly vowed to stop eating for three weeks or till I lost 50 pounds. I imagined myself drinking lots of water and only eating fresh fruit and veggies day after day. Start walking 2 miles every day, do some cardio and maybe work out on the ab-machine, quit spending so much time on the computer......

"Hmmmm?" (faint smell of smoke as long disused portions of my brain fire up suddenly).

I double click on Photoshop and load the picture.


I select the "clone" tool. Select the parameters and make a couple of quick swipes and voila!

Forty pounds are history!.

Wow, how great is that?

Of course, I should still probably cut back a little on the cheese a bit anyway. And I don't like desserts much, so I could probably skip that.



"Be right there, honey...."

I wonder if there are any of those cheesy puffs left?
I just love technology!

Just one man's weakness...


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Creative Sentencing for Hackers

I've just spent the better (or worser if the truth be known) part of a week trying to rebuild my computer after malware got in and ran amok in the danged thing.

I just don't get it. Where's the fun in writing a program that totally screws up someone's computer? You don't get to see the frustration you cause. You don't profit from the damage you do. You don't even know the people who's lives you hijack while they are going through the incredible hassle of reinstalling Windows and all their programs.

Who would have a reason to do something like that? Here is may personal list of suspects:

  1. Terrorists - You want to screw up the American economy, shut down business and personal computers and make it hard for us to get our propaganda about freedom out there, that would be one way to do it.
  2. Anti-Virus software companies - If they were to release new viruses regularly, then you'd have to "update" your software and then you'd have to pay them renewal fees every year. Sounds kind of like paying tribute to the Romans doesn't it? Nobody has ever proved that occurs. Also, if it worked, you'd see similar schemes cropping up in other areas. Oh, wait..... I just realized I have anti-spyware software, anti-malware software and a firewall on my computer to protect me from other "threats". That's part of the reason they tell me that my computer takes half an hour to boot up.
  3. Juvenile Delinquents - Yes, I know some of them are in their 40's now, but some people never get over being anti-social. Little twerps at their computers spraying graffiti across the Internet just because they can do it and it makes them feel powerful!

A bunch of us on the banjohangout forum came up with some interesting consequences for these guys, in case the government ever gets around to catching them. It's too bad that you can't sue these folks for the full value of wasting your time.

Bailiff: Will the defendent please rise.

Judge: You have been found guilty of willfully creating computer software which deliberately hijacks and ruins computers costing tens of thousands of citizens of this country millions of hours of lost work and recreational time just trying to get rid of this pernicious garbage.You are hereby sentenced to ...............

  1. Estimate the time he's wasted, double it for the aggravation, that's the time he spends being made to watch Tina Turner and Michael Bolton videos. - Scarecrow
  2. Make them listen to Barbara Streisand 24/7 for the length of their sentence. - Fiddlebuster
  3. Since exposure to Vogon poetry is not possible in reality, how about 1 day in solitary for every 1 megabyte of storage found on his hacker machine, with 20 or so different renditions of Rocky Top piped into the cell 24 hours a day, at least 5 of which include a bass solo. - MrNatch3L
  4. The worst punishment I can think of is making them listen to clawhammer banjo playing 24-7.. - Stelling Man
  5. Since we'd rather not be visited by Vogons for obvious reasons, play recordings of the poetry of the Famed "Worst Poet on Earth", Scottish Bard William McGonagall. "Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay! Alas! I am very sorry to say. That ninety lives have been taken away. On the last Sabbath day of 1879, Which will be remember'd for a very long time." About 3 months of that the poor guy would be gnawing off body parts trying to escape...-Tom King
  6. Hopefully they are into grundge or heavy metal rock or something. Then, what you do is play Ralph Stanley records and Alan Lomax's field recordings, some Earnest Tubb and some Wagner. By the time they got through the ring cycle....... Can you imagine?
  7. I agree that the punishment should fit the crime so my suggested punishment would be to force them to continually eat spam until they were puking out of their eyeballs. -Wheatstraw
  8. Polka music. Nothing but polka music. - anonymous
  9. Locked up in a cell with nothing but a Sinclair 1000 computer and a broken tape recorder. - scruggsfiend
  10. Chain them up in a music school in a practice room with the beginning fiddle, accordion, banjo and bagpipe students. - mandoguy
  11. Something creative with chains, syrup, ants and aardvarks. - banjoman

It goes on like that for some time, but you get the idea.

Too bad judges can't do that anymore.

Just one man's opinion...

Tom King

Friday, October 05, 2007

On Becoming an Author

Got an e-mail last week from a publisher looking for an author for a book on charity golf tournaments. I just happen to have such a book and I sent him the manuscript. He called back after he read it and bing bang - with that I've got a deal to publish my book and possibly do a second one on nonprofit boards. I've read books that this editor shepherded to publication and he's good at what he does.

It's funny how stuff like this happens in my life. I've been fiddling with this book for 5 years and running it by publishers right and left. Then, suddenly it finds a home at last, just at the time I need it.

Romans 8:28 says "All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose."

I'm finding that proved every day that I live now. Moving into a new phase of my life, I find myself called to do new and unexpected things.

A multi-book contract could mean that I may be able to retire after all. That's something of a relief and I am grateful to God for his care.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Rose by Any Other Name - Wouldn't Have a Festival....

Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a real problem. It's not worldwide opposition to his nuclear program. It's not the collapsing Iranian economy. It's not unrest in his own country.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's name is too daggum hard to pronounce.

I'm serious. How'd this guy every expect to be an evil dictator with a name like that.

Look at all the really great evil dictators in history. Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Atilla the Hun, Nero, Napoleon, Ramses and Idi Amein. All great evil dictator names. Even the old Persian kings were named crisp clean names like Darius and Cyrus. The Macedonian, Alexander, and his dad, Phil. All the really good ones had names that were short and easy to pronounce. Even Osama Bin Laden is one of the easiest Muslim names to pronounce I've seen.

President Ahmadinejad just doesnt' strike fear. Too many convoluted syllables.

You just watch. Before it's all over, he's going to be replaced by somebody named Bobama or Fredmoud or something and then watch out! Those wacky Iranians are just liable to do something rash if they get a leader with three syllables or less in his name!
Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Thursday, September 20, 2007

For Tim

Moonlight streaming across a midnight lake
Stars sprinkled like buttercups on glass
Without taking my eyes away,
I slip the paddle alongside my canoe
And push myself along midst holiness

Look up...
For there is glory in the heavens
Look up...
For there is beauty beyond this earth
For though the mud is where our roots are
The mud cannot be where we remain
For though the water nourishes and fills us
We are not fish nor creeping things

Look up...
We spring toward the stars instinctively
For in us we know that mud and water
Is not all that there is
Nor all that can be....

Uncle Tom

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Truth & Art: Storytelling & The Value of Repetition

I recently shared a story on my blog with someone who had been there when the actual event transpired. He expressed surprise that some of the details of the story appeared have been invented.

I expressed surprise that I had got as many details correct as I had. Between my faltering memory and a bit of poetic license some have found my stories entertaining. If you are in one of my stories and don’t recognize certain elements of the story, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised. As Mark Twain said, "When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but my faculties are decaying, now, & soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the latter. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it."

As I grow older, I live with rosy memories of things as I wish they had been. I used to could tell which memories were fact and which were, in fact, fiction, but if you tell a story incorrectly enough times, in an effort to be funny, witty or erudite, you soon forget what originally happened in the story. All really good literature and powerful biography is based on this principle. If you tell a story well and repeat it frequently, people who actually witnessed the event soon come to doubt but what the story was as you originally told it.

The story of "George Washington and the Cherry Tree" is an excellent example. It was repeated so many times over the years that soon practically everyone believed the story to be true though it might well have been made up - an early American myth. Then, historians, in a bid to excite public interest in their latest books, all began to tell everyone incessantly that the cherry tree story was, in fact, not true at all. With repeated repetition, soon everyone believed that the cherry tree story was made up and not true at all, even though it may very well have been a true story despite what the historians say. There were cherry trees at Mt. Vernon and George actually did chop some down as a kid.

So take your pick. Unless you can communicate with the late president, you'll never know.

Just enjoy the story. A good story is a powerful thing!

Just one man's opinion...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Top Ten Hardest Musical Instruments to Learn to Play

Instrument: Didgeridoo
Difficulty factors: Hard to build, impossible breathing technique, sound varies from instrument to instrument, Noise to music gap is wide, practice tolerance by others - low
- Aboriginal craftsmen spend considerable time searching for a suitable tree to make into a didgeridoo. The difficult part is in finding a tree that has been suitably hollowed out by termites. If the hollow is too big or too small, it will make a poor quality instrument. Then, you have to learn circular breathing where you have to breath in through the nose while breathing out through the mouth. You can make a noise, but is it music?

Instrument: Bagpipes & Uillean pipes
Difficulty factors - Noise to music gap very wide, practice tolerance by others extremely low
- Bagpipes can be painful to listen to when well played. Poorly played they can be excruciating. That's why pipers march when they play - Makes it harder for snipers to hit them. Uillean pipers have to sit, so they don't last long. I don't think there's a soft setting for practice. At least with my banjo I can stuff a towel in the back and take the edge off it a little. With pipes you can't plug them into headphones or anything, so in order to learn to play the pipes you have to be able to afford an isolated practice site where the neighbors or your wife won't kill you.

Instrument: The violin and its cousins
Difficulty factors: Fretlessness, bow technique difficult to master, awkward position, noise to music gap wide
- Bowed instruments like the violin have a long learning curve, practice time can be painful for loved ones and neighbors. Not as loud as the bagpipes, but the slightly off-key scales and practice tunes can grate on the nerves of everyone, including the player. You have to have a good ear for pitch to master it. If you don't, you'll never be any good.

Instrument: Pedal Steel Guitar
Difficulty factor - too many things to do at once
- This one is simply physically challenging, practice isn't too painful for the listener, but the distance between making the notes pretty well and good music can take a while.

Instrument: Banjo
Difficulty factor - Doing 3 things at once, getting up to speed
- Banjo is easy to make sound on, chording isn't too tough, but getting your fingers up to speed and coordinated takes a lot of hours. Doing repetitive runs and rolls, practicing hammer ons, pull offs and slides and bumbling around high up on the neck and can make you distinctly unpopular round the house. If you're naturally uncoordinated, you may never be able to master it. Fretless banjo adds the difficulty of finding the pitch if you don't have naturally good pitch. You don't get any help from the frets.

Instrument: Oboe and anything with a reed in it
Difficulty factor: Getting rid of the squeal
- My wife was good at the oboe. Nobody else in her band would even get near the thing. She has perfect pitch and is a genius on the musical aptitude scale - it makes me crazy. She can just listen to something and know if it sounds right. Me, I can only judge whether I'm in tune by the rate of incoming wilted vegetables and spoiled fruit.

Instrument: French Horn
Difficulty factor: Getting sound from the thing
- All the difficulty of getting the lip thing going plus you have to hold it funny and it's hard to get sound from.

Instrument: The Human Voice
Difficulty factor: You need perfect pitch to be any good, you either inherit a good voice or you don't
- Though Bob Dylan seems to be the exception to the rule, the rule is pretty tough to overcome. You can whisper sing like Richard Harris and get away with it, but he did some training you can bet. If you're Earl, you let Lester do the singin'.

Instrument: Accordion
Difficulty factor: The constant ridicule and lack of respect
- You've got to admire Flaco Jimenez and the guy from Lawrence Welk and all the Irish squeezebox guys and the polka guys and the guys from Brave Combo. The accordion player gets so much abuse, never gets girls and has to deal with the back strain of carrying around what is essentially a small pump organ. It's a wonder anyone ever learns to play Twinkle, Twinkle little star, much less masters the thing.

Instrument: Electric sewer pipes
Difficulty factor: Telling your Dad he's paying for you to go to Julliard so you can study the electric sewer pipes
- I don't know of anyone but Blue Man group that plays the sewer pipes. I had hoped that, upon hearing them play the sewer pipes that PVC pipes would become the next musical fad, but was disappointed. I guess the instrument is so original that everyone else would have been derivative who tried to pick it up (kind of like Riverdance without Michael Flately or like the fat sweaty step dancers in that commercial).

Instrument: Tabla
Difficulty factor: No one will tell you how to play unless you marry one of their women
- The playing technique for these drums from India involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different types of sounds; these are reflected in the mnemonic syllables. The heel of the hand is also used to apply pressure, or in a sliding motion, so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay. This "modulating" effect on the bass drum and the wide range of sounds possible on the instrument as a whole are the main characteristics that make tabla unique among percussion instruments. The preservation of these techniques is important amd for centuries the secrets of playing were closely guarded and only passed along family lines. Being born into or marrying into a lineage holding family was often the only way to gain access to this knowledge. Now that makes an instrument really tough to play. Kind of like if you had to marry Earl's daughter (assuming he had one to spare) in order to learn Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I'd hope she was really cute, you know.



Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Advocacy 101 for Conservatives.

It's funny that I've always been drawn to folks who were advocates for the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. I became an advocate myself over the years despite the fact that I'm a died-in-the-wool conservative on issues like taxation, the war in Iraq and the size of government. I like folk singers, activists and do-gooders, even though we argue violently over politics. Someone once said I should explode from the sheer contradiction between my work for seniors, children, people with disabilities and low income families and my right wing views.

Me, I never have understood the lure of left wing socialism and communism for advocates of human rights and freedom and practitioners of the Golden Rule - other than that the left has always portrayed itself as the opposite of the bigots of the times.

But pretending to be a friend of the workers is something much different than being a friend of the workers. I never got Communism as it has been practiced since the days of Lenin and Stalin or socialism as practice by Hitler, Castro, Pol Pot, Kim Jung Il and half-heartedly by much of Europe today. To me a system that tries to legislate equality by taking away freedom is a serious mistake. For that matter so is a system that denies equality in the name of majority opinion disguised as freedom. Both extreme left and right have real problems doing both freedom AND equality at the same time. It's either "freedom for me, but not you" or "equality for me, but not you". They can't seem to find a system that works well for guaranteeing both freedom AND equality. I suppose that's because freedom is easier to legislate than equality. It's easier to enforce a person's right to do what he wants than it is to force everyone to treat others as equals I guess. You can't write a law upon the heart. Only God can do that.

If you remember 7th grade, you know what I'm talking about - especially if you were a geeky 90 pounder with glasses and good grades. Junior High was a socialist system if there ever was one.

I love the guys that marched for civil rights - don't get me wrong. I marched with them. But as soon as they start advocating the passage of laws that arbitrarily take from some and pass it to others while creating a permanent elite to tell everyone what to do, they lost me. Such a system, however idealistic, only kills individual exceptionalism and discourages people from exceling at their chosen pursuits, just as it did in junior high. Did we learn nothing in school people!

That's what the cheerleaders and jocks did in junior high and high school. It was not an equitable system. It was socialism at its ugliest. Some were always more equal than others, however much they talked about what was "fair" for everybody else. There was an elaborate unspoken legal system in junior high in which everyone was allowed to participate equally as long as no one stuck his or her head up out of the crowd and did anything spectacular. Exceptional effort was always seen as "unfair" in the tribal world of pubescence. The consequences of doing better than your peers at anything (unless you were one of the privileged class) were often painful for the poor geeks that tried it. I remember. I have the scars.

My favorite activist story was told me by my Uncle Art. There was a boy in his 8th grade class named Chester. He stood nearly 6 feet tall and weighed close to 190 pounds. He was a gentle soul in a large body. He never fully fit in with the elite social crowd although they respected him. Instead, Chester made friends with the smaller, geekier kids in the class, treating them with the respect that he, himself received from everyone due to his size and athletic prowess.

One of the chosen few decided one day after lunch to torment one of the boys. My uncle was the 8th grade teacher (it was a small parochial school). He had a firm rule against fighting and in those primitive days, he gave swats to both combatants when a fight broke out. That day, when he came out to supervise the playground, he found Chester standing in front of a small boy shielding him from the larger, more popular boy. Words were exchanged. The jock told Chester he couldn't always protect the 'little punk'! To demonstrate that he could, indeed, defend his friend, even if he were not around, Chester instantly flattened his opponent (an early form of the proactive defense policy later practiced by the Bush administration in Iraq). In so doing, he delivered a very effective message to the bully in question that there would be consequences for tormenting Chester's friends, even if Chester weren't around. The lesson was not lost on the bully as he lay stretched out in the dirt contemplating the clouds spinning overhead.

Uncle Art broke up the one-sided fight and took Chester inside as the instigator. The other boy was released on the grounds he had never hit anyone. My uncle didn't want to punish Chester. He liked the boy. Also, Art Bell was one of those teachers that paid attention and knew what was going on in his school. He knew Chester was defending his smaller friend from a boy known to bully the smaller kids. To avoid spanking him, my uncle offered Chester 3 days of after school detention as an alternative to taking 3 swats.

Chester pulled himself up straight, "I'll take the swats, Mr. Bell," he said firmly. "I knew I was going to get 'em when I hit him." You hear parents say, "This is going to hurt me worse than it does you." You never really believe that, but Uncle Art says he really suffered as he delivered the swats. He didn't take any of the heat off them either. The rest of the school would have known if he went easy on Chester and he would have become less effective as an impartial arbiter of justice. Chester took it without flinching. When it was over, he wiped away a tear, said, "Thank you, Mr. Bell." and left the room with his head high.

Word quickly got round the class that Chester would not only pound you, but would also didn't mind taking a whipping for it if you messed with his friends. My uncle said it was one of the most peaceful school years he'd ever experienced as a teacher.

Now that's my kind of advocate!

Just one man's opinon.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Preparing for the end of the world....

Somebody started a discussion on global warming on one of my favorite forums ( What banjos have to do with global warming I'll never know 0ther than misguided attempts by the political correctness crowd to have banjo playing classified as a source of rural noise pollution and to include in the Kyoto Protocols, a ban on the use of banjos, accordions and bagpipes in all public places.

Actually, we've had a cool summer in Texas this year - lots of rain and flooding. It hit the 100's today for about the first time all summer. Is global cooling back? I remember 25 years ago we were gonna have an ice age for the same reasons we're now being told it'll be a melt down.

I decided after living an exciting year in Houston, Texas that it just don't make good sense to live along the coast. Hurricanes WILL hit everywhere along the coast at sometime or other. And if the sea rises or a tidal wave rolls in, it's going to be a mess. I deliberately don't live on earthquake fault lines or downrange of volcanoes. I live far enough south where blizzards are not a problem.

Our only headache here in East Texas is the odd tornado and they prefer trailer parks and small Oklahoma towns and besides they're only a couple of hundred yards wide, so if you go sideways really fast, you can avoid them most of the time.Every century you get an evil despotic dictator who starts a nasty war or conducts a genocide. Asteroids and big meteors - you're never gonna see 'em coming. Space aliens would pretty much whup us with their technology.

If the Apocalypse and the Second Coming happen, there's gonna be no place you can hide.

So, I figure I'll just sit on the porch with my banjo and work on Foggy Mountain Breakdown till I get it right. My plan is to master the high up on the neck part before we all freeze, roast, explode, get rolled over by a tank or caught up in a cloud....

It's not a big dream but it's mine.
Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What it is, is Porches!

Modern life is missing something and I just happen to know what it is. I've noticed a disturbing trend in the home-building industry around here in East Texas. New communities are springing up like dollar weed in springtime all over the rural landscape around here. People move in, stay a while and then move out. They live at the mortgage lenders, negotiating for a new and better house.

They add dens and mudrooms, jacuzzi's, pools and decks. They get a second floor loft or a home office or a three car garage and they aren't happy.

I'll tell you why they're not happy. There are 10 essential things that make a bunch of houses in a pasture into a neighborhood. It's not that they all have the same color brick, the same shape roofs, the same two car garage and 8 foot cedar privacy fence. It's not that the whole neighborhood looks like a theme park - Welcome to Gray Brick and Haystack Roof Land, the happiest place on Earth.

Those aren't communities. Those are houses in a pasture. No wonder people worry about property values all the time. They move in planning to turn around and sell it when they can make a little money on it. It's little wonder nobody feels like they belong in a neighborhood. Most people don't even know more than one of their neighbors, if that many, and that's only because their dog poops in her yard and it pisses her off.

So, here are Tom's 10 Essential Ingredients for a proper Neighborhood.

1. Sidewalks. People around here are getting old. One in four East Texans will be over the age of 65 by 2010. We're having a little baby boomlet around here. All those yuppies that waited to have kids are running out of time. Kids and old people need sidewalks so they can walk, ride bicycles or cruise the neighborhood in Grandma's Hover-round. Sidewalks encourage people to get out of their houses where they can meet people.

2. The sidewalks should go somewhere. Every community should be built around something. A church, a day care center, a school, a drug store or a Little League ballfield. Every community needs a center or people living in it will find their center elsewhere. Then the community becomes a pasture full of boxes where people in boxes with wheels come to sleep at night.

3. Trees. I just love it when developers bulldoze a forest of beautiful old oaks and build row houses (starting at $200,000) with sweetgum saplings stuck in the ground in identical holes strategically placed in every yard so as to offset the identical arched front windows of every other house down the street. That's just wrong, okay? Where are you supposed to put the treehouses?

4. Chimneys that work and burn real wood - not just propane or natural gas. Fireplaces are not about the flames. They are about the gradual combustion of logs. They are about the crackle and the breakup of logs as the fire burns low. They are about the woodsmoke you smell as you huff along on your evening walk, blowing steam out your nose and breathing in the scent of oak logs burning.

5. Porches! And I DON'T mean those 3 foot wide strips of concrete in front of your door where you stand getting drowned in a rainstorm while waiting for someone to answer their doorbell. Those are NOT porches, I don't care what kind of chair or swing you set on them. A porch is not a porch unless it's got a wooden deck, a roof over it, a low railing you can see over while sitting and it has to be on the front of the house where you can see the neighbors walking by blowing steam out of their noses and breathing in the scent of oak logs burning.

6. Old people. You need old people to sit on some of those porches to watch out for the neighborhood, to keep track of the neighborhood boys who are up to no good you can bet and to wave at you and say howdy and ask, "How are you doin'" and "How's the family?" as you walk by blowing steam out of your nose and breathing in the scent of oak logs burning.

7. Water. You need a lake or a pond or something big and wet so that folks can sit and watch the sun go down and skip rocks into it. If you're not going to take the trouble to dig a hole for some water to collect in, you shouldn't be given a license to build more than one house at a time and in a neighborhood that someone else designed.

8. Individuality in design. There should be an ordinance that says to people right next to each other shouldn't accidentally walk through each other's front doors because they can't tell their houses apart. That's only for city dwellers and those folks seem to like having the same house as everybody else - makes 'em feel secure. Everybody ought to decide what their house should look like for themselves and quit allowing themselves to be bullied into a gray brick, steep roofed McMansion that looks like 300 other McMansions in this same cow pasture.

9. Terrain. Neighborhoods should not be flat. The hills should roll and the roads should wind. When it rains, the water should run in the gutter or bar ditch deep enough for a 7 year old to float his boat down the street for at least 3 blocks before it goes over the mini-Niagra Falls and sinks in the pond (see item #7).

10. Banjo players. Now this "essential" is admittedly controversial, but I maintain that every neighborhood needs a "colorful character". Where better to find such colorful characters than amongst the ranks of banjo players. They should give them free houses, just to add some local color to the neighborhood. They could cruise the banjohangout website looking for likely candidates. I myself could be persuaded....

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Monday, July 09, 2007

They Just Don't Get It - The Stink Bait Ain't Workin'.

The president is baffled; the Democrats and Republicans befuddled; the media can't explain it. The American public doesn't seem to trust anyone anymore. You can check out the polls. They tell a story of a massive lack of public confidence in the very people and institutions who are supposed to be looking out for the best interests of the American people. Instead what we get is one betrayal after another by so-called public servants, who may be serving someone, but I'd be willing to bet it's not the public.
We don't trust the Congress.
We don't trust the President.
( ).

The congress, the administration and the media establishment are all like a bunch of fishermen who have brought the wrong tackle with them on a fishin' trip. They keep casting out shiny, colorful lures - the kind of bait they would just love themselves if they were a fish (or a voter in this case) and they can't get the unwashed masses to bite.

It's the dangdest thing.

To carry the fishing metaphor a little further (at the risk of sinking this entire essay in a bucket of stink bait), imagine politics as just that - fishing for votes. Now if you're going to fish for fish there are just two philosophies.

1. You try to understand the fish, what it wants to eat, where it likes to swim, what attracts its attention. Then you go where it lives, use bait that makes the fish happy and wiggle it in front of them so it looks like lunch.

2. Take whatever lures or bait or tackle that YOU like, fish where YOU want to fish and dangle the bait in a fashion that amuses YOU.


Now I want to admit up front that I am a member of the second philosophical group where fish are concerned. My sympathies always lay with the fish. I just like throwing lures in the water and cranking them in. There's a sort of Zen quality to it that I find relaxing. Actually catching fish interrupts the "flow" for me.

That's probably why politics never was terribly interesting to me.

Now, my question is, if getting elected or re-elected is the point of politics, then why do politicians seem to be doing what would be counter-intuitive if they want to be re-elected.

The general public has some pretty clear ideas of what we need in this country. They want security, a healthy economy and not to have to pay a lot of taxes for all this security and prosperity. Over 80% want our borders closed. Seems to me someone would be talking tough on that subject if they want to win the next election. Why aren't they? How did they get the Immigration Bill so wrong? Why are they doing so many things that have alienated voters? Who are they fishing for?

Maybe the analogy to politics is more like pro fishing or commercial fishing. The fish isn't the real target. For pro fishermen, it's less about how many you catch, but what kind. When you come down to it, pros are often fishing for sponsors rather than for fish. Commercial fishermen are fishing for canneries or markets. They have to have the funding to go where the specific fish they want are and the gear to harvest them in the largest numbers.

So, let me suggest a third "Fishing Philosophy".

3. Fish in such a way that you catch enough fish to make your sponsor happy by using his brand of tackle, or his brand of boat or by catching his particular "target" fish demographic or by attracting the kind of customer he wants to sell to.

I think politicians looking for voter support have stopped really trying to please voters. Always, they have to have one eye out for the sponsor and what the sponsor needs or wants. Really, the folks providing the money for the nets and gear and boats become your first priority in this analogy. You have to make them happy. The fish, like the voters, become just a crop to be harvested using the most efficient method money can buy.

Maybe that's the problem with politicians (and the media for that matter). Perhaps, they're not working for you and me. Instead they're working for their sponsors. Maybe rank and file voters have become merely a crop to be harvested and the politicians and the media have begun working for the ones who pay for the advertising. Ironically, it's the same companies and people that pay for all the advertising that keeps the media afloat that also funds the candidacies of both political parties.

Now knowing who everybody's actually working for (and it's not us), is it any wonder the American People don't have a lot of confidence in these guys?

No matter what they say, professional politicians and media guys are pretty much working for the people who pay for the commercials.

Me, I think I'll sit in my boat and drag my big old noisy bass lure through that school of crappie over there. I like makin' me happy!

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Who Are the Jedi Anyway?

The History Channel has been running a special on the political and social ramifications of Star Wars lately. It's fascinating - especially the part where they compare George Bush and the Iraq War to the Evil Emperor and the betrayal of the Jedi.

Well, you knew that was coming. The problem with that is that the Star Wars Rise-of-the-Evil-Emporer / Rise-of-George-Bush metaphor breaks down really quickly when you take a look at it. Here's how.

1. The Evil Emperor is for larger government.
Republican George Bush keeps talking about shrinking government.
Now who is it that wants to increase taxes, expand the bureaucracy and insinuate the government into everything from health care to education to what you can say on the radio?

2. The Evil Emperor started out as a senator, is an expert politician, discredited and marginalized former chancellor Valorum and skillfully maneuvered his fellow senators into granting him unlimited power.
President George Bush started out as a governor, not a Washington insider, has been derided as stupid, transparent and has been skillfully marginalized by political opponents and the media to the point that Democrat senators keep trying to call for a vote of "no confidence" at the least or to impeach him at worst - kind of like what happened to the Old Republic's Chancellor Valorum.
Now just who was behind discrediting the Republic's chancellor in Star Wars and who is behind discrediting the Republican President in the US Congress?

Starting to become clearer?

3. The Evil Emperor started up a war to deliberately draw attention away from his own lies and machinations back at home and to lead the Jedi into a trap and reduce their numbers.
While George has been charged with the same thing by his opponents, let's also remember that he's a true believer that terrorism must be fought where the terrorists live instead of waiting for them to come over here again - an idea that makes a strange kind of sense when you think about it.
BUT, who was it that when he got caught lying, all of a sudden decided to start up a little war in the Balkans - entirely coincidentally, of course to draw attention away from his own perjury and foolin' around with the White House help? AND isn't it interesting how quickly some folks came up with the idea that Bush was using a war to consolidate his power. It's like there's a script out there and everyone of them is saying the same thing like mindless drones, accusing a president who's been trying to respond to the most devestating terrorist attack on the United States in history of playing cheap politics. These guys have even accused him of staging the attack himself? And who was that who came up with that ludicrous scenario? The same guys that ran Vietnam out of the White House and hamstrung our troops in the field so badly, that the most powerful Army in the world was reduced to impotence against a far less powerful bush league peasant mob. The same guys that have proven devestatingly adept at creating crises for the purpose of getting elected.

4. Finally, the Jedi! Who are they? These are wise and powerful knights who protect the Old Empire, defend freedom and promote independence and limited government. They are respected by ordinary people, but are badly outnumbered by the forces of evil who seek to silence them forever.

Now who is it who leads the fight for the constitution, the Republic, freedom and limited government, even against those who once believed as they did and have fallen away, seduced by the power of the dark side, uh I mean the power of being a big deal in government. Who holds an almost mystical power that holds back the power of those who would make government bigger, more intrusive, more controlling of all aspects of our lives. Who would the forces of darkness like to silence. Who would they like to take all the power away from? Who is the target of the Fairness Doctrine Proposal - a law that would make a certain type of media financially impossible to maintain?

Oh, my...

I think I know.

The Jedi Knights are.....................................................Talk Radio!

Who woulda thunk it?

Sir Rush, Sir Sean and Sir Glenn - the US's own Jedi. These boys better watch their backs, that's all I can say. The Clone Wars have already started.

By the way, have you noticed how much all the presidential candidates are alike. Nobody really stands out from the pack. Clones, that's what they are!

Hey, if they start pinching interns on the butt, we'll know who the template was.

Now, if we can just get Sir Fred to run....

Just one man's opinion.....


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nearer My Banjo to Thee (Going Down With The Ship)

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

An acousitic jam session on a pontoon boat in the middle of Lake Tyler sounded like fun, so we all picked up guitars, fiddles, banjos and other implements of destruction and climbed aboard Naomi's leaky pontoon boat and struck out across the lake. Two of the musicians were Gordon and Christy McLeod of the Celtic Group Beyond the Pale. There was a bank president with a guitar, a nonprofit director and guitar, her husband (an unarmed architect), Naomi who was driving the boat, me with my banjo, guitar and assortment of harmonicas and a couple of innocent bystanders. We banged our way through bluegrass, Irish songs, country, western and an assortment of other nondescript tunes, serenading the rich folks sitting out on their very expensive porches in their very expensive houses that lined this exclusive lakefront. We were having a good time.

Gordon got out his fiddle and he and I did a fiddle & banjo rendition of the Jimi Hendrix version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower". Gordon can play just about anything and I did my best to follow. During the set, a couple of our heavier passengers moved forward in the pontoon boat (probably in an effort to distance themselves from the band in the back and any projectiles that might be launched or fired in their direction by irate East Texans along the shore.

As about 400 pounds of ballast moved toward the bow, however, the lead edge of the pontoons caught a wave and drove under the water. Naomi panicked and shoved the throttle forward, pushing the bow even further beneath the waves. As a low wall of water came rushing over the bow, everyone on the boat grabbed their instruments and held them over their heads, wondering how they were going to swim a half mile to the nearest shore while holding their guitars out of the water. Someone grabbed my guitar and held it to her chest like a flotation device. I tried to get it back, but unfortunately, nothing that would float was safe from the panicked nonswimmers aboard who were preparing to abandon ship with anything that looked remotely buoyant.

Fortunately, before my guitar became a canoe, I managed to convince Naomi that speeding up would probably not be helpful and as the propellers came out of the water she backed off the throttle. Since the boat appeared to be beginning its death dive, someone wiseacre with remarkable presence of mind began playing "Nearer My God to Thee" and the rest of us (not to be out smart-alecked) quickly joined in.

The nice thing about having the props out of the water, was that we stopped accelerating toward the bottom almost immediately and the boat lost momentum and settled back by the stern with a thumping great splash. We got the engine shut down and her bow popped back up streaming water from the decks.

Without pause we launched into "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and Naomi turned us toward home.

Since then, we've held our hootenannies on the dock or someplace where we don't need lifejackets. Some who have attended them, hoping to hear music have offered to take us all out again on various leaky boats, rafts and other potential submersibles.

As my grandpa used to say, "Some people got no sense of humor...."